Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: December 2020

Monday

28

December 2020

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COMMENTS

Soul is a touching film that doesn’t tug too hard on the heartstrings

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Pixar has a knack for tackling the existential. Most of the themes present in Soul are bound to be foreign to the younger members of the audience who haven’t necessarily had to grapple with grown-ups struggles yet. Many have tried to figure out “the meaning of life,” with varying degrees of success toward a somewhat unanswerable question.

The film follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a jazz musician who works as a middle school music teacher to support himself. Teaching full-time presents stability that musicians rarely enjoy, but Joe isn’t quite ready to give up on his true passion. Consumed with the prospects of playing a gig with the popular Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), Joe accidentally falls down a manhole, sending him to the “great beyond.”

An effort to cheat death lands him in the realm of pre-existence, where spirits named Jerry mentor young souls before they head off to the world for their own adventures. One soul, 22 (Tina Fey), doesn’t see the point in the great adventure called life. An effort to get to the bottom of this great mystery creates a bit of a Freaky Friday moment, leading to a fun and thoughtful adventure for Joe and 22.

Foxx and Fey have quick chemistry, a rapport designed to carry just about any feature. Pixar’s always-spectacular animation eases the burden on the leads, crafting a delightful narrative that breezes through its 90-minute runtime. Soul has one of the most satisfying third acts of any Pixar feature.

There are morals in the film that have been pretty thoroughly explored by other Disney films. The overall messaging might be a little lost on younger kids, passion being a concept that takes maturity to appreciate. Soul manages to speak to its broad demographics simultaneously, never letting weighty themes drag down its engaging narrative.

Disney loves talking about death, scarring countless children by killing off its protagonists’ parents. For a film that partially takes place in the afterlife, Soul doesn’t really concern itself with death. Instead, the film offers a celebration of life that doesn’t tug too hard on the heartstrings. It’s weird to be moved by a Pixar film that doesn’t really try to make you cry.

Pixar has aimed for more ambitious goals than Soul, but the first-rate nature of its craftmanship ensures that this film belongs in its upper echelon. Soul is a thoroughly satisfying narrative. Sometimes the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented to make for a worthwhile experience.

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Saturday

26

December 2020

1

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Wonder Woman 1984 is a complete mess

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Superhero franchises often peak with their sophomore installments. Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United, Batman Returns, The Dark Knight, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeeded at least in part through an understanding of the opportunity that sequels push harder into their respective ethos, without the weight of origin stories. The stage is already set up.

Wonder Woman 1984 never really understands what it wants to do with its title hero. Diana is adrift in the 1980s, still mourning Steve Trevor’s death, decades earlier. Grief is a natural human emotion. Superheroes are supposed to be relatable, but there’s something inherently jarring about the idea that an ageless warrior would spend close to seventy years upset about one man.

The film centers itself in Diana’s professional life, working as an anthropologist in Washington D.C. Diana still masquerades as Wonder Woman, mostly handling small-scale issues like mall crimes, taking great care to destroy any security camera footage that would give her maskless face away. Professionally, she seems to be doing okay, albeit dragging around the baggage of a normal human lifespan’s worth of grief.

Kristen Wiig largely carries the film as Diana’s coworker Barbara Minerva, Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis Cheetah. Barbara is insecure, desperate to carry herself with half the poise of Diana, a dynamic that forces the viewer to see the sullen title hero as a figure worthy of envy. That lust serves as the catalyst for the whole film, manifested through a stone recovered from a foiled robbery.

The “dreamstone” is the object of intense desire for Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a made-for-TV businessman armed with a war-chest of Reaganomics cliches and thinly-veiled Donald Trump impressions. Pascal is fun, working great opposite Wiig. Director Patty Jenkins provides plenty of scenes to flesh out Lord beyond his Wall Street caricature.

At a certain point, the scenes fully fleshing out Minerva and Lord become a bit excessive, exacerbated by Jenkins’ uncertainty with regard to Diana. Wonder Woman 1984 belongs less to Wonder Woman as a character than it does to Wonder Woman, its predecessor. This is a 151-minute-long feature designed to help its lead get over the events of the past film, close to seventy years after the fact.

The 80s setting serves no function other than to evoke nostalgia for shopping malls and brightly colored leotards. There is no point where the film tries to justify its time period, increasingly awkward as the narrative lugs around the first film like an anchor weighing the whole experience down. There are too many scenes that don’t serve any broader purpose, which might have been okay if it wasn’t so boring most of the time.

Chris Pine makes for a very good Steve Trevor. This notion should in theory operate independent of the question of whether or not this long-dead love interest should play a major role in a sequel, where he is still very much deceased. Trevor isn’t just out of place here. His presence practically sinks the entire movie.

Worst of all, Jenkins could’ve essentially cut out all of Trevor’s scenes without fundamentally changing the narrative. Such a decision would’ve produced a much more palatable runtime, a sorry state of affairs for a film that pretty much solely relies on its two villains for entertaining moments. Gal Gadot is pretty adrift throughout the whole ordeal, shrugging her shoulders at the notion that this should be her movie.

Wonder Woman is the most iconic female superhero of all time. Jenkins kneecapped her feminist hero by forcing Diana to channel every emotion through the prism of a man. The movie never really decides on a path for Diana, despite a lengthy flashback opener ostensibly designed to set those intentions.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a meandering slog that evokes little other than pity for its title hero. Diana deserves better than this too-often joyless mess of a narrative. One of the most disappointing superhero movies of all time. There is nothing inspirational here.

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Saturday

19

December 2020

1

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season 2 Review: Chapter 16

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As a franchise, there’s little Star Wars loves more than the past. Two of the three entries in the sequel series existed primarily as shrines to nostalgia, while its middle installment sparked endless controversy for daring to engage the idea that maybe we should, “let the past die.” The Mandalorian has mostly charted its own course, albeit carrying plenty of crowd-pleasing Easter eggs along the way.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a current work possessing deep reverence for its broader lore, as the season two finale proved. Great storytelling can be powerfully enhanced by interweaving the present in with the characters fans have grown to love. Luke Skywalker never looked more powerful than when he was mowing down Terminator-esque Dark troopers one by one, delivering on a wish fans have clamored for since Return of the Jedi.

This episode combined all the best elements of the show, a near perfect finale. The show’s supporting bench was mostly all-hands on deck to rescue Grogu from Moff Gideon’s light cruiser. Dr. Pershing is a fairly compelling tertiary character, though his quick defection to Team Mando seemed a bit rushed.

The stand-off on the Imperial Shuttle was perhaps the episode’s lone clunky bit of fan service, a back-and-forth over the ethics of blowing up Death Stars ripped straight out of Clerks. A chief complaint of the Skywalker Saga as a whole has been how small the galaxy seems with everyone knowing every else. Between the shuttle and Bo-Katan’s instant familiarity with Boba Fett, it felt like this episode was crafting an intimate family drama rather than a giant space epic.

The action sequences were predictably phenomenal, giving the female members of the team plenty of chances to shine while only just barely dipping into the cringey “girl power” energy that Avengers: Endgame consumed to excess. The Dark troopers were appropriately menacing, even in scenarios where they didn’t really get a chance to wield their full power. Mando destroying one with his flamethrower might suggest that they’re easier to beat than the show lets on, but it’s understandable that none of Mando’s crew didn’t want to test this theory too much.

Moff Gideon has been a pretty menacing figure despite only making sporadic appearances. Giancarlo Esposito has a gift for playing characters who display a transactional sense of villainy. For a second, he really makes you believe that he’s simply okay letting Mando and Grogu walk away, before swinging the Darksaber right at Mando’s back.

The fight itself was pretty solid, though the sight of an old man parrying with an armored bounty hunter, albeit one who was recently bashed in the head, ran the risk of carrying on past the point of plausibility. Gideon seemed like a likely candidate to not make it past the episode, though Chapter 16 opted not to add to the show’s body count. All hands are still on deck for an eventual war on Mandalore, as the show is increasingly hinting will be its focus for next season.

Luke’s entire sequence was perfect, a moving tribute to the franchise’s most beloved hero. The use of body-double Max Lloyd-Jones mostly worked, though the dialogue portion was a bit clunky. The sight of R2-D2 brought tears to my eyes, a beloved character who was woefully neglected by the sequel trilogy.

Luke never got a chance to bask in the limelight after beating the Empire. Regardless of how you feel about his well-crafted arc in The Last Jedi, it is a shame that Star Wars turned the page on Jedi Master Skywalker without giving Hamill a chance to enjoy Luke in his prime. This episode was a great tribute for those of us who lament the end of the Expanded Universe.

The most impressive thing about the last ten minutes of the episode was the way it managed to give simultaneously both Mando and Luke their tearjerker moments. Mando taking his helmet off to say goodbye to his adopted son had been hinted at, but it played so powerfully here. Grogu not wanting to leave was perfectly complemented by R2’s exuberance at seeing the young child.

The whole scene worked on so many levels, combining Star Wars’ vast lore with the affection we’ve built for our current cast of characters. The franchise finally used nostalgia not as a crutch, but as a seasoning for its carefully curated buffet of emotion. It’s hard to think that The Mandalorian will sideline its breakout character for very long, but the show succeeded in presenting that as a possibility.

“The Rescue” represented the finest chapter in the Star Wars saga since The Empire Strikes Back. The episode utilized every single moment to its advantage, both in the present and with regard to planning for next season. Both Mando and Grogu will have their hands full with new adventures next year, giving comfort to those who might still be sobbing over the idea of their separation. It’s hard to think of a better way to end this era of The Mandalorian.

If that wasn’t enough, we were treated to an excellent post-credits scene where Boba Fett and Fennec paid a visit to Fett’s old friend Bib Fortuna at Jabba’s Palace. Fett hasn’t had nearly enough chances to shine since his introduction, playing bit roles in the past two episodes. Looks like a spin-off is on the horizon, along with all the other Star Wars projects in development.

Quick programming note. We will return with a review of the season as a whole. Be sure to check out Estradiol Illusions’ weekly podcast recaps. Thank you so much for following along with us every week! Happy Life Day.

 

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Saturday

19

December 2020

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COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season 2 Recap (Episode 8)

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What an episode! Join Ian for a recap of what she referred to as a the best chapter of Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back. Such a beautiful tribute to everything fans love about this franchise. If only R5-D4 had come along for the adventure from Tatooine.

Ian’s written review: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2020/12/the-mandalorian-season-2-review-chapter-16/

Programming note: we will return after Christmas with a full review of season two. Happy Life Day everyone! 

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Thursday

17

December 2020

1

COMMENTS

Happiest Season is a regressive disaster of a holiday narrative

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Coming out is an almost universally brutal aspect of the LGBTQ experience. Even under the best of circumstances, the process is bound to be full of cringe and bent-up anxiety. A byproduct of the efforts at broader LGBTQ visibility has been the de-stigmatization of being gay as a whole, painting apocalyptic reactions toward coming out with a rightful shade of taboo.

Happiest Season presents its narrative in a world where being gay is still something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis) pushes her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) back into the closet for a visit to her family, after lying to Abby about having come out to them already. Not only are Harper’s parents very conservative, her father Ted (Victor Garber) is running for mayor.

This is the world that Happiest Season shapes for its spin on classic holiday tropes. Dick Cheney was elected vice president in the 2000 election on a Republican ticket while having a gay daughter. Twenty years later, the same dynamic apparently appears to be a subject of great scandal for a small-town mayoral contest. The film doesn’t really explicitly state its location, but it’s hard to imagine where, or frankly when, this mess is supposed to take place.

Harper’s parents’ issues aren’t simply limited to homophobia either. Her sister Jane (Mary Holland) is treated like a pariah, a subject of immense, open disdain and mockery from the rest of her family. Harper’s mother Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) is comically rude, abusing Abby for being an orphan right as they walk through the door. As if that wasn’t enough, Sloane (Allison Brie) makes her introduction late in the first act, a formerly successful lawyer in the middle of a crumbling marriage.

The Caldwell family are horrible people with seemingly no redeeming qualities. Director Clea DuVall, who also co-wrote the screenplay, throws them out there like we’re supposed to laugh along with these truly loathsome individuals. The dialogue is often pretty terrible. The cast, which also includes Dan Levy and Aubrey Plaza, is way overqualified for this disaster, unable to make much out of the sloppy writing.

The real rot at the core of Happiest Season lies with Harper. We’re never really given a solid reason for why she feels it’s okay to push the love of her life back into the closet, an immensely inappropriate proposition in the modern era. Not only does the film push an unhealthy dynamic on gay people, it never really tries to justify itself. Davis gives a pretty wooden performance, unable to elevate her character beyond the laughably stale tropes.

DuVall does try and grapple with this dynamic late in the third act, but by then it’s well past the point of redemption. There are too many feints toward subplots that don’t really go anywhere, squandering time that could have been spent salvaging the Caldwell family. Family is complicated, but this family is so deplorable beyond their homophobia that it’s hard to care much about resolution. These aren’t the kinds of issues that can be solved in a single holiday.

LGBTQ people don’t have a ton of holiday staples to call our own. In some ways, Happiest Season doesn’t really fit this category either. It features gay people in lead roles, but this film caters almost exclusively to the guilt that heterosexual families might feel for their past behavior toward gay children. Everyone can take solace in the fact that they aren’t as mean as the Caldwell’s, but that’s not a very good message to send regarding inclusivity.

Happiest Season is a sloppy, regressive mess full of one-note characters. This films sends all the wrong messages about tolerance in the year 2020. A lot of talent were involved in the making of this film. What a shame.

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Thursday

17

December 2020

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COMMENTS

St. Elsewhere’s Transgender Storyline

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We are doing a deep dive into LGBTQ TV lore by exploring one of the all-time greats in the medium, St Elsewhere, which aired a transgender storyline all the way back in 1983. We are joined by Jessica Halem, former director of LGBTQ Outreach & Engagement for Harvard Medical School and tireless advocate for inclusivity in medicine, to help understand evolution of the medical community toward gay & transgender patients over the past few decades. Jessica shares so many great insights from her career, helping put these episodes into context.

We’ll be talking about the episodes 12-13, “Release” & “Family History,” from St. Elsewhere’s first season. Both episodes can be watched on Hulu. Ian highly recommends the series as a whole, which features Denzel Washington, Howie Mandel, Ed Begley Jr., and William Daniels (Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World) in starring roles.

You can learn more about Jessica on her website https://www.jessicahalem.com/ and on Twitter @jessicahalem

Jessica’s partner Jen Manion appeared on an earlier episode of EI promoting their book Female Husbands.  

St. Elsewhere title card courtesy of 20th Television

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Tuesday

15

December 2020

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Star Trek: The Pon Farr

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The Pon Farr is one of the weirder aspects of Star Trek lore, making it a natural topic for Estradiol Illusions to explore! Join host Ian Thomas Malone and specials guests Johnny Kolasinksi and Dr. Jackson Vane from Hi Everybody – a Bad Medicine Podcast, as well as Dr. Courtney Nicholas and Dr. Greg Winter for a wide-ranging discussion all about everyone’s favorite Vulcan mating ritual. What would happen is a transgender Vulcan underwent the Pon Farr?  Why don’t any Vulcans ever want to talk about this totally normal biological function? All of that and much more ahead!

This episode covers the following Star Trek episodes, as well as parts of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

TOS: “Amok Time”

VOY: “Blood Fever,” parts of “Blood & Soul”

ENT: “Bounty”

 

For more of Hi Everybody, check out their website https://hieverybody.libsyn.com/ (available on all major podcast platforms). 

You can also follow Hi Everybody on Twitter, @hieverybodymd and Johnny, @cycloptiko, and Jackson, @JacksonVane

 

Star Trek logo courtesy of ViacomCBS

 

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Saturday

12

December 2020

0

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The Mandalorian Season 2 Review: Chapter 15

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This season of The Mandalorian has done a superb job with its big moments. Ahsoka Tano, Boba Fett, and Bo-Katan all shined in their debut episodes. As a medium, television rarely relied so heavily on the giant splashes before the streaming era. The quieter moments need to count too.

The Mandalorian is not very good at stopping to take a breath in order to process its events. Mando has assembled an impressive team of Fett, Fennec, and Cara Dune to help him rescue Grogu, but as an episode, “The Believer” cares very little for any of these people. Chapter 15 belonged to Migs Mayfeld.

For a show starring a puppet and a bounty hunter who never removes his helmet, The Mandalorian has done a fairly decent job building up its supporting bench. Bill Burr shined in last season’s sixth episode as the backstabbing former Imperial sharpshooter. Now imprisoned, Mando needs his services to figure out the location of Moff Gideon, whose imprisonment of Grogu apparently prevented him from making an appearance this episode.

The whole Morak quest was a fairly paint-by-numbers undercover mission. The Mandalorian often leans heavily into Western tropes, but here it was borrowing heavily from the spy/adventure shows that once populated the network TV landscape. It’s fun without being particularly inventive or ambitious.

Most jarring in the episode was the sequence after the undercover Mando and Mayfeld fought off a raiding party, only to be greeted with a chorus of applause from Stormtroopers. We rarely see Stormtroopers winning anything, let alone actually hitting a single target. If anything else, it was entertaining to watch.

Burr did a great job with fairly mundane material. His commentary on the geopolitics of Morak was a clear substitute for American interventionism abroad in places like Vietnam and Iraq, fairly out of place in the Star Wars universe. As the audience, we can follow along with his broad points as they relate to our reality, but that isn’t a dynamic Star Wars has ever really shown to us. The Empire and the New Republic are not really two sides of the same coin.

The dramatic tension in this episode mostly stemmed from Mando being forced to remove his beskar helmet. As soon as the Stormtrooper helmet went on, it became clear that we’d probably get an appearance from Pedro Pascal, mustache and all. Bo-Katan’s statements on Mando’s sect of Mandalorian being extremists set this all up quite well.

Pascal handled the dynamic well, constantly looking like a fish out of water without his security blanket. It’s not a super compelling conflict, since I imagine most of the audience would rather see Pascal on a regular basis rather than stare at Mando’s expressionless helmet. Like Mayfeld’s pontifications on relativism, much of this drama felt like going through the motions.

Mayfeld gets redemption as a character through his ill-advised rant to his former commanding officer Valin Hess (Richard Brake, who’s familiar to Game of Thrones fans as the first Night King). The whole sequence was obviously made to set up his release at the end of the episode, while maybe also serving to show him as not a bad guy. It’s entertaining while also being just a tad too predictable.

The action was mostly good, even if the sight of numerous Imperial officers running to their immediate deaths in the mess room hallway seemed a tad ridiculous. Cara and Fennec had some moments, but Fett was left with not enough to do. I guess we can blame that on some stage fright that some Imperials might recognize his face after his father served as the template for the entire Clone army.

This season has largely been about Mando coming into his own as a father. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the show wanted to have Mando send a threatening message to Gideon. It did feel rather out of place for him as a character though, needlessly showing his cards.

While a bit lazy in its execution, Chapter 15 served as an effective set-up for the season finale. Burr got his moments to shine, but with a 38-minute runtime, it’s hard to make the case for why no one else could have had a moment as well. Fett superfans were bound to be disappointed by the sidelining of the original helmeted bounty hunter. The Mandalorian needs to do a better job with simply taking a breath every once in a while.

For more Mandalorian coverage, check out Estradiol Illusions’ weekly recaps 

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Saturday

12

December 2020

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COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season 2 Recap (Episode 7)

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Why does Mando wear a mustache? Join Ian as she spends most of the episode pondering the show’s existential questions (mostly kidding!), like why Boba Fett spent much of Chapter 15 hiding. Mayfeld returns, bringing American interventionism into the equation, territory that Star Wars hasn’t quite presented as something its audience should worry about with regard to the New Republic. 

No Grogu this week, but never fear. A sighting of Pedro Pescal’s beautiful face can go a long way toward forgetting about that adorable little fella.

Ian’s written review: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2020/12/the-mandalorian-season-2-review-chapter-15/

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Thursday

10

December 2020

0

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The Year Without a Santa Claus

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Hop aboard your reindeer and be sure to watch out for the Miser brothers, because we are taking a journey down to Southtown. Join Ian and very special guest Barbara “Bibble” Malone as they break down the seminal holiday favorite The Year Without a Santa Claus. Santa may have wanted a year off, but a certain pink-bowed girl had other plans. We’d have a blue Christmas without this holiday classic! 

Be sure to check out all our holiday coverage! 

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