Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Thursday

6

December 2018

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Syfy’s Nightflyers Is a Pitiful Incoherent Injustice to George R.R. Martin’s Good Name

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For some reason, it feels weird when cable networks try to emulate their streaming counterparts and debut shows at a faster pace than the standard week-to-week model. The idea of broadcasting a new show on consecutive nights certainly can present the notion that such an occasion is “event viewing,” but the mind also wanders to the motive behind such a deviation from the typical rules that govern television. For SyFy, airing a show like Nightflyers four times a week over a two-week stretch could be advertised as a special holiday treat for those who detest Santa-themed offerings, but instead mostly comes across as an attempt to be done with this incoherent mess as quickly as possible.

Nightflyers is based off a novella by George R.R. Martin, written a little over ten years before the release of A Game of Thrones, the first volume of his magnum opus. With the wild success of his A Song of Ice and Fire series, it seems inevitable that more networks would want to jump in on adapting his extensive back catalog. The biggest problem for Nightflyers is that the show plays like somebody took that too literally, jumping into a series without taking the usual steps that go into crafting a narrative that anyone watching would actually care about.

The plot of the show is fairly simple. A group of scientists go looking for alien life and bad things happen. It’s the kind of show that spends such little time on character development that describing any of the people onboard the ship seems like I’m doing the show’s work for it. There’s an obligatory pain in the ass brought on the ship who no one likes and an engineer who seems to be doing an impression of an indifferent android. There’s romantic tension among the other characters. The show kind of throws this stuff out there without ever really conveying a sense that these are actually people anyone cares about. As a result, it’s hard to get invested in any of them.

That kind of hollow strategy might work over a ninety-minute horror movie, but falls flat over the course of a ten episode season. The early seasons of Game of Thrones each sought to adapt a thousand-page book. Nightflyers seems completely lost with one-tenth of the material. There’s a fair amount of filler, which is presented in a way that makes it hard to differentiate from the moments where it wants to advance the story. The show has random cutaways at times that feel like a student filmmaker fooling around in the editing room.

Nightflyers is the kind of show that feels like it exists solely because of the fame of the author of its source material, with little to no effort put in to actually create a worthwhile experience. The show has decent production values, even though much of it feels like it was created by a Kubrick fanatic assigned to knock off The Expanse. Nightflyers is a plodding derivative mess that never seems interested in giving its viewers anything to care about. SyFy appears to have dumped this one over a two week period in order to make sure everyone has forgotten about this turkey by the time the holidays are over.

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Wednesday

5

December 2018

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Titans Sets Itself Apart from Other DC Adaptations in a Strong Debut

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Titans debuts with an additional burden not attached to most new television shows. As the marquee offering of the new DC Universe streaming service, the show is inevitably judged not only by its own merits, but also those of the place it calls home. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the additional weight of expectation brought upon it as the first live-action Teen Titans adaptation, a franchise that has exponentially grown in popularity this century due to the success of the animated Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go!

None of these burdens are particularly fair. As we saw with Star Trek: Discovery, which similarly serves as the flagship offering of CBS All-Access, television shows take a little bit of time to find their groove even if they’re supposed to carry the weight of an entire streaming service. What impressed me the most about Titans was how little it seemed bothered by the mandate attached to it. It needed no flashy pilot designed to justify its existence. Rather, the show takes a methodical approach to its early episodes, carefully introducing its four lead characters in a way that seems neither rushed nor deliberately slow-walked. By the time the Titans finally come together midway through the season, the viewer has a sense of the stakes at hand for each of the heroes.

Perhaps fitting given the emphasis on teenagers in its source material, the early breakout star of Titans is its youngest member Raven. Played by fourteen-year-old Teagan Croft, the powerful empath anchors the show’s emotional core, delivering a raw performance that conveys the character’s overwhelming sense of abandonment. Another early standout is Anna Diop, who brings a cool confidence to Starfire that exists in stark contrast to the character’s memory loss. Diop dominates nearly every scene she’s in while her character constantly keeps the viewer on their toes, never quite sure what’s coming next. The character’s bright aesthetics are a refreshing contrast to the typically grim color scheme deployed by the show.

Bruce Wayne’s presence looms heavy over Titans despite the lack of an appearance from the caped crusader. Robin’s story is inescapably tangled in Batman’s world, which creates a tricky web to navigate for a show that exists adjacent to the dark knight, a beloved character that most fans would welcome on screen if it weren’t for the fact that this isn’t his show. Titans does a great job presenting Dick Grayson’s story in a way that isn’t purposefully distant from his past while at the same time not creating a situation where the viewer longs for Batman to show up at every corner.

The show was smart to make Robin out to be the parent figure of the team rather than its hotshot leader. Unlike the other three, Dick Grayson doesn’t have any actual superpowers, initially relying on a borderline excessive amount of violence to win his battles that’s toned down in later episodes. Brenton Thwaites brings a welcomed reservation to the role even though Dick Grayson possesses the obvious chip on his shoulder by token of his estranged relationship with his foster father.

Ryan Potter’s Beast Boy often feels like the odd man out in the show’s early episodes, as the character is featured far less than the other three. This issue is perhaps exacerbated by the second episode’s focus on Hawk and Dove, two other DC superheroes who are recurring characters on Titans. It’s not really until the introduction of the Doom Patrol, who are set to star in their own spinoff series, that Beast Boy’s place in the narrative starts to make sense.

Titans manages a much better balance in tone than its recent DC film counterparts. Visually, the bleak settings feel right out of a Zack Snyder movie, but the show possesses a keen ability to reign itself in at times, with well-placed humor to lighten the mood when needed. The production values are a big step up from the DC shows on The CW, justifying the “prestige drama” labels that follow many programs airing first-run on streaming services. The CGI for Beast Boy’s Tiger transformations is especially well-done, looking right out of something you’d find in a feature film.

With a third of its first season still remaining, Titans has gotten off to a great start. There’s a bit of a course correction in tone from the earliest episodes, but you get the sense that the show is quickly learning what works, abandoning the initial ultra-violent combat for more nuanced fight scenes. The cast functions well as a unit, giving the sense that the characters actually like each other as they find themselves in a makeshift family. Like Robin, Titans has a lot to live up to, but the show never allows itself to buckle under the weight of its enormous expectations. DC Universe’s first original show is a well-constructed take on a beloved franchise.

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Monday

3

December 2018

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Love Actually in the #MeToo Era

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It’s not hard to understand how Love Actually became a modern Christmas classic since its premiere in 2003. Backed by one of the most star-studded British casts outside of an entry in the Harry Potter franchise, the film’s tales of seasonally inspired romance hit just about all the right notes this time of year. Just about. The #MeToo era has brought about a much-needed re-evaluation as to the ways we as a society approach love in the workplace. As Love Actually celebrates the 15th anniversary of its release, it is worth exploring the various problematic ways in which some of its characters exploited their positions of power over their subordinates.

The characters David (played by Hugh Grant), Jamie (Colin Firth), and Harry (Alan Rickman) stand out in particular as having committed workplace abuses of power, the first two in pursuit of their own interests, with the latter meddling in the affairs of his employee, Sarah (Laura Linney). David and Jamie commit over-the-top displays of seemingly romantic affection, despite the absence of groundwork that would justify such carnal love. As viewers, there’s a fairytale aspect to both of their efforts, the kind of gestures that wind up as viral videos on social media. Neither situation holds up well to scrutiny when you look at the particulars.

As Prime Minister, David is the most powerful man in the country. By his own admission, politics gets in the way of his love-life, not only commandeering his schedule, but also creating a barrier of power between himself and practically anyone he comes into contact with. Not only does he wield authority over his subordinate Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), he exercises it, having her transferred after witnessing an inappropriate encounter with the U.S. President (Billy Bob Thorton). A holiday card from Natalie expressing affection brings the two back together, and with that the problematic dynamic.

One of the most important aspects of the #MeToo movement is the way in which it’s caused the country to re-evaluate the nuances of consent. David and Natalie are adults. For many, the concept of consenting adults is all that is needed in order to bypass any additional concerns, namely the idea that David possesses the ability to take away Natalie’s job and ruin her life if he chooses. Natalie can’t. However cute their story is shouldn’t take away from the idea that their entire relationship is completely inappropriate.

In another of the film’s workplace romances, Jamie falls in “love” with housekeeper Aurélia despite not being able to speak her language. His effort to learn Portuguese is adorable and picturesque, but fundamentally in service to a misplaced notion of love that lacks foundation. He doesn’t actually know Aurélia. This notion doesn’t seem to factor in at all in his decision to propose to her in a crowded restaurant full of her family, coworkers, and general community. In choosing such a public setting, Jamie creates a dynamic where he alone is in control, either getting his wish or setting her up to be humiliated in a moment that would follow her for the rest of her life. He proceeds with this situation knowing full well that her answer could go either way. In doing so, he put his thumb on the scale, taking away any sense of power Aurélia could hold over her own life at that moment.

Jamie’s situation is paralleled by Sam (Thomas Sangster), who follows the encouragement of his step-father Daniel (Liam Neeson) in attempting to win the heart of his schoolmate Joanna (Olivia Olson). What might otherwise be written off as puppy-love becomes fairly creepy when Sam is encouraged to show up at the airport to profess his love to a girl he doesn’t think even knows his name, skirting security in the process. It’s the kind of act that’s easy to think of as either adorable or fairly creepy depending on how long you think about it.

As for Harry, his workplace misconduct toward Sarah seems to pale in comparison with his own adulterous desires. While it is true that the dynamic between Harry and Mia (Heike Makatsch) is both problematic and highly unrealistic, Mia’s hypersexual conduct is so over the top absurd that it seems like a waste of time to explore whether Harry abused his power by gifting her a necklace, though it is worth noting that unlike David, Harry never meddles with Mia’s employment. Instead, he chooses to meddle in the love life of Sarah, who not-so-subtlety desires fellow employee Karl. His conversation with Sarah is extremely inappropriate, suggesting that she possesses a blatantly obvious urge to be impregnated by Karl that the whole office is aware of.

We don’t really see enough of their office to know if Harry is telling the truth or not when he says that Sarah’s crush is a company-wide open secret, but that notion hardly matters. Such a conversation would be immediate grounds for a lawsuit in the real world, for good reason. That kind of prying behavior from a boss is extremely creepy and creates an untenable work environment for anyone who took umbrage with such nosiness. It’s the kind of invasive harassment that this era is trying to move beyond.

I’m sure there are many who think this analysis is a bunch of politically correct nonsense, stripping a fictional narrative of any sense of joy by overanalyzing it to death. I get that this sentiment exists when people re-evaluate art from the past, but Love Actually exists in a weird state of being both iconic and also not that old. Apart from the primitive cell phones and the notion that someone might give a CD as a Christmas gift, the film could’ve essentially been made today.

Suspension of disbelief is a concept often expected of audiences before sitting down to watch a film. It’s how people can enjoy Star Wars even though we all know that there’s no Millennium Falcon now and there certainly wasn’t one “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” There is an obvious suspension of disbelief required in Love Actually, such as Colin’s (Kris Marshall) success in Wisconsin, but then there’s additional disbelief subtlety expected of the audience. Many of the women in these situations act very promiscuously, almost as if it was a purposeful effort to deflect from these sorts of criticisms. That idea would be a lot more tolerable if the idea of the woman “asking for it” wasn’t such a relic of the past that #MeToo is trying to move beyond. Like it or not, most of the workplace scenes in the film reinforce toxic masculine behavior.

I enjoy Love Actually, despite these criticisms and the immensely immoral behavior of Mark (Andrew Lincoln) in lusting after his best friend’s wife. It is a fun movie with one of the best top-to-bottom casts of any film. It is not, however, immune to criticism. Its depiction of love is a deeply flawed one. No amount of Christmas cheer should negate the fact that almost none of the romances depicted are portraits of healthy consensual affection.

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Thursday

29

November 2018

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Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer Is an Entertaining Mess That Successfully Carves Its Own Niche in Holiday Movie Lore

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The Christmas movie genre has hundreds of entries that play to similar themes, exploring the “true” meaning of the holiday or presenting new takes on Santa’s seminal sleigh ride. From its opening few minutes on, Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer makes clear that it doesn’t want to be governed by typical holiday film rules, casting out a wide net of issues to tackle in a ninety minute run time. Few seasonal movies care to take on broader geopolitical threats such as climate change and automation, but perhaps the North Pole shouldn’t be excluded from the crises that pose an existential threat to humanity.

The plot of Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer is best described as a blend between Olive, the Other Reindeer and the Triwizard Tournament section of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with sprinkles of All the President’s Men on top. The main narrative driver appears to be the titular reindeer’s quest to replace the retiring Blitzen on Santa’s team, but the film has several subplots that take up much of the screen time. Samantha Bee steals the show with a performance as Elliot’s sidekick Hazel, a sardonic goat with a petulance for eating garbage who supplies most of the film’s best moments.

Most Christmas movies require a hefty helping of suspension of disbelief in order to digest the neatly tied up resolution at the end. Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer never seems satisfied with this device, instead choosing to explain just about every mystery of the North Pole. We learn how reindeers fly, why reindeers are specifically used to pull the sleigh, as well as the inner workings of human/animal communication. None of the exposition is particularly necessary, but there’s something oddly endearing in the film’s attempt to justify every piece of magic deployed.

The film operates with an acute awareness of the duel demographics of its audience. Films marketed to young children are inevitably also watched by their accompanying parents. From an early parody of Braveheart to a Gwyneth Paltrow divorce reference, the movie consistently offers up material that will sail right over the heads of its target base. Some might knock Elliot for shedding commentary on athletic doping kids won’t understand, but Christmas is a holiday that can’t be neatly packaged to age-specific groups. The genre as a whole is consumed in family settings. There’s something endearing in the lengths to which Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer goes to appease parents who are dragged along for the ride.

The scattershot approach creates an unwieldy narrative that will largely be lost on the young children to whom Elliot and Hazel are marketed toward, but the result is a movie that wins over its audience through its sheer force of will. The narrative parallels Elliot’s own perseverance in its effort to throw everything resembling a plot at the wall, hoping something might stick. The film is often a complete mess, but too few Christmas movies offer more than a few things to talk about after their conclusion. You could spend hours discussing the broad socioeconomic positions the Elliot takes over the course of its runtime, something that can hardly be said for most holiday movies. The film makes a sincere effort to ease the suffering that parents are expected to endure on behalf of their young children’s holiday cheer. If for any other reason, it’s worth a watch this Christmas season.

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Monday

26

November 2018

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Ralph Breaks the Internet Is an Immensely Satisfying Sequel That Never Bites Off More Than It Can Chew

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Some sequels are born out of necessity to tie up loose ends left over from their predecessor, but others exist for a far simpler reason. Movies that create worlds which excite the viewer become natural habitats for follow-up stories. 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph did not leave any unanswered secrets that had to be addressed, but its seemingly infinite world of interconnected gaming characters is a rich habitat for future adventures.

Ralph Breaks the Internet may not have been born out of necessity, but it didn’t fall into the trap that befalls many sequels in spending its time trying to justify its own existence. The film takes its world and expands it tenfold, sending Ralph and Vanellope into the world wide web to procure a new steering wheel for the Sugar Rush game before Mr. Litwak shuts it down. The plot largely takes a backseat to the simple thrill of the adventure, allowing Ralph and Vanellope to shine through their various adventures.

The internet is a difficult concept to parody, as its sense of culture never stays in one place and tends to differ widely from person to person. A YouTube! spoof from five years ago would look much different if it were made today. Ralph Breaks the Internet takes concepts like viral videos and offers commentary and jokes that seem to keep this in mind, never relying too heavily on humor that requires one to understand much about the references.

The film also exercises surprising restraint toward the inclusion of its own assets. Appearances from Disney Princesses and Star Wars characters managed to integrate themselves into the narrative instead of looking like product placement. Clocking in at just under two hours, Ralph Breaks the Internet possesses a much longer runtime than most Disney movies, but it makes its moments count. Despite its loftier ambitions, the film consistently grounds itself in its best asset, the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope. Their relationship is given room to grow without feeling forced. Sequels often stumble when they arbitrarily mess with their character dynamics, but Ralph Breaks the Internet manages to make it feel like a natural progression.

The very appeal of a sequel is at least in part tied to a desire to spend more time with the characters who made the magic the first time around. Unlike television, movies can’t spend much time showing their characters simply hanging out or doing anything else that doesn’t directly service the narrative. Sequels falter when they create plots that simply exist as an excuse to showcase their characters, as few films can succeed with a gaping hole where their narrative should be.

Ralph Breaks the Internet juggles its pieces well, resulting in a smooth sequel experience that doesn’t force an unnecessary mandate on its characters. The film has plenty of humor that seems more tailored to adults, but has something for viewers of all ages. It’s the rare sequel that doesn’t try to beat its predecessor at its own game, following its own path while never succumbing to the low-hanging fruit of too many pop-culture references. More sequels should aspire to be like Ralph Breaks the Internet, allowing themselves to succeed on the strength of their characters without trying too hard to match an impossible standard.

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Saturday

17

November 2018

1

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The Kominsky Method Is an Embarrassing Waste of Time for Everyone Involved

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The opening scene of The Kominsky Method throws a nod to non-binary people, an inclusive tone contradicted a few minutes later when Michael Douglas’ title character holds an embarrassing public inquisition to his acting class over feminine hygiene products clogging his studio’s bathroom. This contrast embodies the struggle at the heart of the show, acutely aware of the era it occupies while unable to resist the low-hanging fruit of sexist toilet humor. Quite unsurprisingly, The Kominsky Method is exactly what you’d expect if you asked someone to dream up what a Chuck Lorre take on Grace & Frankie might look like from a straight man’s perspective. The result is a pathetic attempt to sound intellectual while offering little other than the basic novelty of watching Michael Douglas interact with Alan Arkin in the comfort of your own home.

The Kominsky Method is ostensibly a show about aging. Douglas’ Sandy Kominsky is a moderately successful acting teacher who dates his students even though he’s demonstrably aware that such behavior is hardly acceptable in the #MeToo era. Arkin plays Norman Newlander, his agent who spends much of the season grieving his wife, who dies early on in the series. The show chooses a grand life question to ponder in each episode, picking at it like an unwanted salad that comes with your meal, something that doesn’t need to be seen to completion.

Occasionally, The Kominsky Method hints at modern culture, like political correctness, as if it wants to say something meaningful about the nature of humor in an era where marginalized people are allowed to publicly object. Problem is, the show really doesn’t have anything to say besides a snippet of commentary one might pull from a segment on Fox News. It never commits to any particular direction, particularly on display with the handling of Newlander’s wife, whose terminal illness is originally exploited to further Komsinsky’s romantic storyline before becoming the main plot driver for the next few episodes. The show is desperate to sound insightful, but it can’t seem to make anything out of the scenarios it forces its characters to play out.

The Kominsky Method isn’t so much bad as it is simply not good, relying extensively on the name recognition of its stars to substitute for an indecisive narrative. The entire show is constructed similarly to a scene that might be performed in an acting class, an incomplete scenario used to showcase the talent of the actors. Douglas and Arkin are talented, but this was a given already. The show is far too content to coast along on their abilities.

Part of what makes Douglas such a charm in recent movies such as Ant-Man and the Wasp is that he genuinely looks like he’s having fun. His own enjoyment is less convincing in The Kominsky Method, like a college freshman out of a place at a foreign film screening where they don’t understand the jokes. The Kominsky Method doesn’t really have jokes, but rather things to smile at occasionally if for no other reason than to simulate the concept of enjoyment.

The Kominsky Method is very watchable television, but it’s an empty experience once one moves past the novelty aspect. The beauty of television is that the viewer isn’t necessarily required to do that. A person can sit down and enjoy two actors working off each other in the latter stages of their careers, but the experience could have, and should have, been so much more. The Kominsky Method might be Netflix’s laziest offering that anyone would be expected to take seriously. The “peak TV” label is one handed out generously in this era, sometimes, sadly, to shows that expect it to be given as a birthright before laying down anything of substance to merit such praise.

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Wednesday

14

November 2018

0

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She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Brings a Feminist Icon into the Modern Era

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The controversy surrounding She-Ra’s updated wardrobe perhaps best illustrates the need for her return in the first place. Too often female representation has been centered on the needs of men, to have something pretty to fawn over. Saving the universe takes a back seat to the notion that one must look sexy while doing so. This modern era has called for something different. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power presents a number of well-developed female characters for young people to look up to and for older fans to appreciate.

The first season utilizes the Netflix model quite well, with many episodes flowing right into the next one without skipping a beat as if it was all one long flowing narrative. The plot moves at a brisk pace, wasting no time in establishing Princess Adora’s confliction between her alliance to Hordak and her newfound friends in the Princess Alliance. Most of the later first season episodes focus on introducing the show’s large cast, giving the viewer a full sense of the characters by the time the season wraps up.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power displays a quiet radicalism in the diversity of its characters’ personalities. These aren’t people with characteristics designed to fit a certain trope or niche to the audience, which makes them all the more relatable to the audience. It’s difficult to describe any of them in a single sentence, which gives them seemingly boundless space to grow in future seasons.

Preview hype broke news that She-Ra would include at least two LGBT characters, a promise that the show has a mildly complicated relationship with. There are plenty of queer nods in the ways that certain female characters interact with each other and a relationship between Princesses Spinerella and Netossa is hinted at, but there aren’t any actual explicitly gay characters. This issue isn’t something that really takes away from the show, but it’s an unforced error of sorts as it has been celebrated for inclusion it doesn’t fully deliver on.

The plots, most of which are fairly predictable, are often the weak point of each episode. The show seems to have figured out its characters extremely well but struggles with what to do with them. The serialized nature of the show puts more of a strain on the plot considerations, amplified by the early episode’s considerable investment in the development of its characters. The first season hits enough strong notes to suggest that future seasons will rectify the story problems, having established the stakes of its universe.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is an easy show to recommend to children, never taking their intelligence for granted while giving older viewers plenty to chew on. Noelle Stevenson did an excellent job in developing a classic for the modern era, an empowering take in a genre that’s still heavily dominated by men. The show doesn’t hit every note in its first season, but gives the viewer plenty to root for as it took the time to find its footing. I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for these characters.

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Tuesday

13

November 2018

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Transgender Storytime: The Rules of Attraction

Written by , Posted in Blog, Social Issues

Transgender people have their lives policed in countless ways, from agency over our own bodies to the perception that our presence in places of public accommodation puts an undue burden on others. We see this narrative played out time and time again, despite the utter lack of evidence to support the idea that transgender people, or the act of transitioning itself, present some existential threat to society at large. The idea of “lesbian erasure,” a term used by anti-trans extremists to justify their bigoted behavior, even in the absence of any coherent definition, stands out as particularly absurd.

The subject of attraction to transgender people remains a popular talking point, even in the relative mainstream. Victoria’s Secret Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek has created quite a stink for a number of hateful comments about transgender and plus sized people, suggesting that his brand is “nobody’s third love, we’re their first love.” The implications that transgender people are only desirable in a secondary capacity to the rest of the eligible dating pool is persistent, dangerous, and quite untrue.

What are the laws that govern attraction? The question doesn’t lend itself to an easy answer, no matter how many think pieces are written about why human beings feel the way they feel. I can tell you that there’s certainly not some kind of caste system, where people are ranked by their relative attractiveness in order to match with similarly tiered companions. Life doesn’t work like that, even if some people think it should for transgender people.

No doubt, there are systematic prejudices in place that make it harder for transgender people to date. Many people subconsciously write off trans people as partners because of the discrimination we’ve faced throughout recorded history. Such thinking seems to be what people like Razek have in mind when they suggest that transgender people cannot be part of someone’s fantasy, putting aside the success of numerous transgender models and the immense popularity of transgender pornography. Obviously transgender people are part of many people’s fantasies. Not exactly a leap to suggest that transgender people would then be naturally part of some cisgender people’s dating considerations as well.

The origins of nonsense like “lesbian erasure” stems from this strange mentality that outside of dating fellow trans people, we can only find love by forcing ourselves onto cisgender people. That idea is stupid, and certainly not rooted in reality. You can scroll through hundreds of transgender social media accounts for evidence of perfectly happy relationships. I myself am in a wonderful committed relationship.

Do these relationships suggest that our partners tried options one and two before settling on a transgender alternative, as Razek suggests? That question might seem silly, trying to apply an exact science to a completely inexact process, but that’s the point. We don’t typically ask people if they came to love their partner only after seemingly superior options were pursued. Love is never supposed to seem transactional in nature.

Transgender people deserve a chance to love and be loved in an environment that isn’t constantly suggesting malfeasance when one of us actually finds happiness. Contrary to what many in the media think, a lot of us are doing perfectly fine in the dating department. Coming out is a process of accepting yourself on the inside before presenting that truth on the outside, to the world around you. It should come as no surprise that those who have embarked on that journey make viable partners, individuals who know how to love in part because they lived for so long without loving themselves. That kind of self-love comes organically, unlike say, the kind that stems from an article of clothing purchased from Victoria’s Secret. Maybe that’s why the company is so detached from reality.

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Monday

12

November 2018

0

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BritBox’s Dark Heart Shows Promise After An Uneven Debut

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Unlike their real-life counterparts, television cop shows have the luxury of avoiding handling controversial victims. Police investigate the murder of an un-convicted pedophile because the law has no place for vigilante justice, putting aside any broader moral questions an individual might care to raise. Whether those cases make for compelling television is a completely different matter, one that Dark Heart chooses to address in its opening episodes.

DI Will Wagstaffe is haunted by the unsolved murder of his parents that occurred when he was a teenager. He’s a moody detective who approaches his job with unrivaled concern for the victims, regardless of their life circumstances. Wagstaffe’s home life is complicated by the arrival of his sister Juliette, who shows up at their parents’ house with a black eye, creating an interesting dynamic between two siblings with issues neither wants the other to meddle in.

Dark Heart is largely carried on the strength of lead actor Tom Riley, who brings a sense of nuance into the well-trodden territory of TV procedurals. Wagstaffe is a rare character among the broader trope of tortured detectives. He shows a strong desire to move past the grief that haunts him. His grief isn’t some superpower to be wielded in the broader sense of justice, but an acknowledged problem that needs to be dealt with. The character’s sheer humanity is compelling because it’s relatable. Trauma isn’t something that can be wished away.

The series has had a turbulent production schedule, previously premiering on ITV back in 2016. As a result, much of the cast of the first two episodes were unable to return for the rest of the show’s six-episode first season. The need for a soft reboot creates a bit of a bumpy experience, as the show has to introduce new characters in episode three alongside ones who were barely developed themselves. Wagstaffe’s partner Josie Chancellor, played by Anjli Mohindra, stands out in particular as an interesting character who doesn’t get much time to shine.

The move from ITV to BritBox Original might suggest an effort to salvage a show that wouldn’t otherwise be worth airing on a major network, but Dark Heart’s narrative certainly seems better suited for a niche audience that wouldn’t be put off by the grim stories it wants to tell. It’s rough around the edges, but Riley delivers a strong enough performance to keep the viewer interested in seeing what happens to his character. The series isn’t likely to make enough waves to draw new subscribers to BritBox, but fans of the service will find Dark Heart worth checking out. Hopefully it won’t need another two years to find its rhythm.

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Sunday

11

November 2018

0

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Omnipresent Is a Timely Commentary on the Temptations of Technology

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For all the ways in which technology has improved the world, such as making thousands of miles seem much smaller through the lens of a Skype call, the idea of abuse of this incredible power never ventures far from the broader discussion. Surveillance is an especially hot-button topic, as the ease with which one can record an entire room can create the ever-looming sense that one is being watched. Omnipresent (originally titled Vezdesushtiyat) is a Bulgarian film about what happens when a man decides to make that fear a reality.

Emil lives a comfortable life. He has a nice family, a beautiful home, and a great job running an advertising agency to supplement his respected but stagnant career as a novelist. His situation would be the envy of many creative types, except something isn’t quite right with Emil’s paradise. He wants something more.

A ploy to catch a thief plundering his bedridden father’s antique treasures leads Emil to discover his passion for surveillance. He sets up cameras in his office, his home, his wife’s office, even his bathroom. He sits and watches for hours, sometimes using the footage to his advantage, but sometimes just out of a sick sense of pleasure. His motives are never really made all that apparent to the viewer because Emil himself doesn’t really seem to know why he enjoys invading other people’s privacy.

Omnipresent juggles a delicate balance between its plot and its protagonist, knowing that the further Emil dives into his spying, the more alienated he’ll become from the viewer. Emil isn’t particularly likable, Velislav Pavlov delivers a captivating performance that circumvents any need to identify with his character’s abhorrent behavior. The film allows Emil to be a flawed man without offering excuses, providing important commentary on the dangers of surveillance. People can venture down dark roads without even stopping to consider the risks at hand. There doesn’t always have to be an easy answer for why people do bad things.

The film juggles an impressive number of subplots for a two-hour movie. Teodora Duhovnikova stands out as Emil’s unhappy wife Anna, whose performance stretches across the ground the film would otherwise be too constrained to cover, wearing years of turmoil in every expression. Mihail Mutafov also delivers a compelling performance as Emil’s father Kirill, a man resilient against the many hardships aging brought to his doorstep. The strong acting drives home the stakes at hand, showcasing the many people on the receiving end of Emil’s selfish treachery.

Director Ilian Djevelekov did a superb job in managing the various threads of his work, fully fleshing out his storylines while never losing sight of the major force driving the narrative. Omnipresent could have gotten by playing to the viewer’s own fears of being watched, but the intimacy it gives to its characters makes the narrative all the more powerful when it stops to consider the ramifications of Emil’s behavior.

Technology is a powerful tool that’s all too easy to abuse. Omnipresent conveys the wreckage that can be created in the wake of a decision made without considering the God-like power at one’s fingertips. Bulgaria’s selection for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Oscars tells a tale that transcends language, a powerful story for today’s environment.

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