Ian Thomas Malone

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Monday

27

June 2022

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COMMENTS

Classic Film: Double Indemnity

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Society generally does a horrible job explaining the concept of crime to children. Separating the world into a false binary of good vs. evil barely even orbits the reality of injustice. A person hardly needs a rotten soul to find themselves wrapped up in a situation far beyond any lay person’s assessment of their moral fiber.

1944 launched the film noir genre with the iconic masterpiece Double Indemnity. Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is a fairly hapless insurance salesman, overconfident in his own ability to sway any scenario to his own liking. Neff is quite the easy mark for Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), a disgruntled housewife looking to murder her selfish husband. Neff puts up an obligatory meager resistance to the idea of committing a capital offense, before realizing that his knowledge of the insurance would prove invaluable to the success of the scheme.

Director/co-screenwriter Billy Wilder masterfully identifies the low-stakes pressure point in Neff’s character that defines his weakness as a person. Neff is not an evil man by nature. He is, however, very bored. Undervalued at work, Neff’s boss Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) pressures him into taking a desk job viewed by Neff as a demotion beneath his skills as a salesman out in the fields.

Stanwyck plays her feminist icon with an understated sense of poise that demonstrates that while she’s firmly in command of Neff’s psyche, she hardly needed it to exert much pressure to achieve her goals. Phyllis promises the thrill of a lifetime, one that his desk job could never care to deliver. The murder isn’t the result of a battle between good and evil, but rather a natural response to a system that had no place for either Phyllis or Neff, both pawns in someone else’s game. Capitalism is the true villain of Double Indemnity.

Wilder understood an innate truth of crime thrillers. Some find satisfaction at the end of a whodunit when the killer is brought to justice, but that’s not the sum total of the appeal of the genre. Plenty seek a deeper understanding of why someone might turn away from the path of justice, to commit atrocities that make us feel uneasy to even think about.

MacMurray’s status as the “leading man” is almost an oxymoron. Stanwyck is the real driving force, but Wilder positions the two in a clever way that heightens Neff’s lingering emasculation at the hands of his boss. Neff can’t stand the uncomfortable claustrophobia of life square in the palm of capitalism’s mighty hand. The murder is not the work of an evil man, but the temper tantrum of a grown adult tired of living his life like a child, without a whiff of agency.

Noir delivers these uncomfortable truths, the layers of ugliness that often define the human experience. Crime thrillers teach us to rejoice when the bad guys are brought to justice. Noir isn’t interested in demonizing those who walk off the straight and narrow path, instead determined to present their full humanity, the kind of reality that can’t be boxed into the good vs. evil binary. Neff and Phyllis are criminals, but Wilder’s triumph lies in the way he successfully brought out the best in his characters.

Thursday

9

June 2022

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COMMENTS

Friday

3

June 2022

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COMMENTS

Jay Northcott, Big Brother Canada 10

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We are delighted to welcome Jay Northcott to discuss their time in the Big Brother Canada house. Jay is a nonbinary theatre director and drag performer based in Toronto, who made quite the impression ahead of their week two eviction, setting the stage for the epic week three house flip that shook up the entire game.

Jay shares so many fascinating insights into the gameplay, as well as the unique challenges presented to LGBTQ houseguests. Ian & Jay talk quite a bit about the season as a whole, one of the all-time greats for BB North America.

 

You can follow Jay on Instagram @jaythemcott and on Twitter @jaythemcott

Be sure to check out our prior BB CAN 10 coverage, including an interview with Kyle Moore.

Headshot courtesy of Jay Northcott. Production still courtesy of Big Brother Canada & Global Television Network


 

Wednesday

1

June 2022

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A Requiem for ”How Are You?

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ITM loves Tinder, a dream come true for a liberated transsexual as the dawn of hot girl summer lies ahead. Tinder is full of beautiful people of many genders, but it’s also a place where boring fuckboys come for their pound of flesh.

Ian unpacks the most tedious opening of them all, the “how are you” maneuver farted into the void to deflect the burden of courtship. Casual relationships need not be meaningless interactions, an important reminder to view yourself as the catch that you are.

If you enjoy Estradiol Illusions, please consider leaving a review wherever you get your podcasts. 

Wednesday

25

May 2022

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COMMENTS

Top Gun: Maverick demonstrates the vitality of the big screen through its devotion to practical effects

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The original Top Gun helped solidify Tom Cruise’s status as a leading actor. More than thirty years later, Hollywood tends to rely on franchises rather than its A-listers to bring fans to the theaters. Top Gun: Maverick is a marriage of two different eras of cinema, a nostalgia-laden action romp structured fueled by Cruise’s pursuit of high-octane stunts and his effortless charm.

Maverick hasn’t changed all that much since 1986. The same reputation that earned him legendary status as a pilot kept him from climbing the career ladder, stalling at the rank of captain. After a botched stunt threatened to end his career, Maverick is sent back to Top Gun to train a team for a high-stakes mission to take out a facility manufacturing enriched uranium. The complex mission parameters leave little room for error, placing a heavy burden on Maverick to select his team from the Navy’s best, among them Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his best friend Goose.

Top Gun: Maverick is an expertly paced testament to the power of practical effects. Cruise’s tireless devotion to blockbuster filmmaking bleeds through the screen in every scene, a modern cinematic marvel. The script is not exactly Dryden’s Aeneid, full of clunky jokes, but you can’t help but smile at the way Cruise pours his heart and soul into the whole production.

While Cruise is the focus of practically every scene, the supporting cast find their magic as well. Teller carries the emotional weight of Goose’s absence in every expression. Rooster’s beef with Maverick is a bit predictable, but the film finds time to give him a mini-rivalry with fellow trainee Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell), reminiscent of the original Maverick/Iceman feud/angsty bromance. The rest of the trainees, including Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Jay Ellis, and Danny Ramirez, are clearly having the time of their lives, the group possessing impeccable chemistry that makes up for their limited screen time.

The film does have a bit of a clunky romance. Jennifer Connelly plays Penelope Benjamin, a local bar owner with a long history with Maverick. Connelly and Cruise are fun to watch together, but the script does a poor job selling the idea that this plotline exists for any other reason than to give Cruise something to do when there are no planes in the air.

The beauty of director Joseph Kosinski’s feature is that everyone understands the real reason fans are in the seats. The plane sequences are unbelievably spectacular, a true sight to behold on the big screen. Much of the 131-minute runtime is spent in the air. Rarely more than two scenes go by without a plane sequence, a non-stop adrenaline rush. The crew’s dedication to top-notch action choreography is about as strong a selling point for movie theatres as can be made.

Top Gun: Maverick blows the first film out of the water. The script could have used another draft’s worth of revisions, but it’s hard to care much with the cast’s abundant heart. The film pays great homage to its predecessor without using anything for cheap nostalgia, particularly a touching scene with Val Kilmer. There are some moments played for obvious fan service, but Cruise sells them with his signature smile.

There may come a day when Cruise isn’t able to up the ante on his age-defying stunts that push filmmaking to its limits. Some actors make new films to relive their glory days. Cruise is firmly committed to the present, bringing the advances of modern technology to enhance the traditional craft. If only more actors would use their star power to push back on Hollywood’s over-reliance on CGI.

Tuesday

24

May 2022

18

COMMENTS

Ricky Gervais recycles tired grievance nonsense in the odious bore SuperNature

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There is a belief that free speech is under attack in comedy. Subjects such as transgender rights are apparently so taboo to talk about that many of the world’s highest-paid comedians spend most of their new specials saying things they’re forbidden to talk about. Ricky Gervais wants you to believe he’s been canceled for SuperNature, his new show that Netflix paid him millions of dollars to perform.

What did Netflix receive for their money and inevitable PR headache? Early in the special, Gervais returns to the subject of transgender women being rapists in public bathrooms, a topic that had started to lose its edge in 2016. For a man who talks about how comedy evolves, Gervais seems oddly stuck in the past regarding a cultural subject that even the Republican Party has lost interest in fighting, instead turning its attention to targeting mainstream medical care for trans children.

Gervais jokes that the 1%, namely his millionaire buddies are the new Rosa Parks. A thin layer of sarcasm can’t really hide the idea that he fundamentally believes this notion, that comedians are the real marginalized group. He dedicates extended riffs to the “cancellation” of renowned masturbator Louis C.K., who is so canceled that he recently won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album earlier this year, and Kevin Hart, the A-list martyr who stepped aside from hosting the Oscars in 2018 after refusing to reiterate regret for old homophobic Tweets.

It’s not particularly complicated to see why Gervais is so fascinated by trans people and social media criticism directed at anti-LGBTQ comedians. He doesn’t really have anything else to talk about. SuperNature touches on the differences between cats and dogs, AIDS, abortion, and religion, delivering observations that aren’t particularly original even by 1990s standards. Gervais’ brand of grievance politics exists as a shallow cover-up for the staleness of his material, a Trump rally masquerading as a comedy special.

Gervais loves to frame intersectionality as an “us vs. them” equation, suggesting that LGBTQ people want to ban anti-transgender jokes as a way to drag people like him down to build themselves up. He’s right on the objective, but intellectually dishonest with regard to the motives, denying the real-world harm of a society where it’s socially acceptable to write off an entire group of people as rapists, in the complete absence of any evidence to the contrary. Gervais’ logic only works if your brain is warped enough to believe that stereotypes have never actually affected anyone.

The bitterness of Gervais’ shrill delivery obfuscates a broader truth. Gervais has no moral obligation to be a nice guy. He’s built most of his career off of being the exact opposite. Comedy can be mean-spirited. No one is asking him to stand up on stage and be anything less than the person we expect from Ricky Gervais.

There’s something fundamentally sad about a man with nothing to strive for beyond a cheap cash grab. Far from the first mainstream comedian to dedicate chunks of his act to defending C.K. or Hart, Gervais’ dull blade simply lacks the edge he thinks it wields as he stands up on stage laughing at his own jokes. For a staunch atheist, he’s pretty solely tapping into the spiritual nature of right-wing grievance with his riffs on trans people that don’t bring anything new to the table. He’s not so much trying to entertain his audience as to get them to see him as a general on the front lines, an hour-long gratification of replacement theory nonsense. With millions in the bank, Gervais might get the last laugh, but the whole ordeal is a sad sight to behold.

Friday

20

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

Downton Abbey: A New Era is too stuck in the past to enjoy itself

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Ensemble television shows are not particularly well-suited for film as a medium. Television narratives are open-ended, with plenty of space to breathe over the course of a season. Feature-length runtimes don’t have a ton of wiggle room to balance dozens of characters on top of a movie’s usual plot mechanics. The original Downton Abbey film largely succeeded because it structured itself as an extended version of the show, allowing most of the characters to essentially perform as they might on an episode of the series, particularly its annual Christmas specials.

As its title suggests, Downton Abbey: A New Era charts a bit of a different course. The narrative mostly splits itself in half, with Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) opening the great house to a film crew led by Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), and Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) leading most of the family on an expedition to the south of France to examine a villa gifted in mystery to the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), herself too ill to travel. Lady Mary and company have their fun with the crew, the lead actors Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and Myrna (Laura Haddock) making quite the impression on the servants, most of whom are looking to lives beyond service.

Series creator and writer Julian Fellowes bit off far more than he could chew with the screenplay. The film’s pacing is perpetually rushed, scenes awkwardly written to accommodate characters with nothing else to do, the supporting bench overstuffed with far too many returnees. It makes obvious sense that characters introduced in the first film such as Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), now married to Tom Branson (Allen Leech), and Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) would come back for the sequel, but Fellowes also makes time for a few recurring characters from the show that missed the previous feature.

It’s unclear how many fans were desperate for the return of Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond) or Mr. Mason (Paul Copley), two characters who have no business sucking up air in a film that’s already far too bloated to accommodate the series regulars. Much time is also made for a character who isn’t even in the film, Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode), whose consistent unavailability makes you wonder why he was selected to be Mary’s second husband in the first place. One can’t help but wonder if it might have been a good idea to write out several of the characters rather than let their awkward presences in the narrative distract from the fun.

Fellowes recycles a few tired plotlines from the show, namely the question of infidelity and mysterious poorly defined life-threatening maladies that appear out of nowhere. Director Simon Curtis is so awkward with the camera work that he transforms one of the film’s more dramatic twists into unintended comedy. The film is far too preoccupied with subplots that don’t receive enough attention to land with any sense of meaning.

The film’s biggest crime lies with the third act’s bizarre need to serve as a kind of second finale for the TV show. The first Downton Abbey film largely succeeded through its function as a light-hearted epilogue to the show, which already spent much of its fifth and sixth seasons tying loose ends together. For whatever reason, Fellowes decided to tie many of them up again.

The constant meandering, unfortunately, hinders the film’s strong core, namely the production at Downton, a not-so-subtle nod at Highclere Castle’s own history. The film’s newcomers are an absolute joy, meshing wonderfully with the characters who aren’t fooling around in France. Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) predictably supplies much of the film’s humor, easily the best character arc among the supporting cast. A New Era finds its best moments when it actually lives up to its title and focuses on the narratives present.

The strong showing of the fresh faces creates much frustration toward the film’s preoccupation with the past. The narrative was never going to be everything to everyone, but Fellowes sure tried to set up that dynamic. Downton Abbey was a series about change. Old-guard characters were frequently reminded that change is supposed to be a good thing.

As a film, A New Era doesn’t really believe in change. Instead, the narrative tries to function as a film season of television jam-packed into one feature. It’s rather astonishing to see how much Fellowes messed up the screenplay after pulling together such a delightful film the first time around. With our current climate of remakes and reboots, it’s hard to imagine this is the last we’ve seen of Downton. Lighthearted fun should have been so easily dragged down by an unnecessary attempt at closure that will make even less sense by the time the next film inevitably rolls around.

Tuesday

17

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

Classic Film: Maurice

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The major advances in the fight for LGBTQ equality can make it easy to forget how much of a death sentence being gay used to be in a so-called polite society. Prior to 1967, male homosexuality was punishable in the United Kingdom by prison sentences with hard labor, a lifetime of shame, and ostracization to follow. As history has demonstrated time and time again, punishing people for being gay does not in fact stop anyone from being gay. The gay cannot be whipped, beaten, or prayed out of the individual, a reality that much of the world is still, unfortunately, grappling with.

The 1987 film Maurice adapts the E.M. Forster novel of the same name, published posthumously after the author’s death undoubtedly to shield his own homosexuality. Set at the tail end of the Edwardian era, Maurice (James Wilby) is a lazy affluent student at Cambridge, not very adept at concealing his own sexuality. A fellow gay classmate Risley (Mark Tandy) catches on, playing matchmaker between Maurice and Clive (Hugh Grant), the two possessing instant chemistry, the kind of effortless passion that fuels countless romance narratives.

Of course, gay people are not supposed to fall in love, especially not in pre-World War I England. The breezy lifestyle of the leisure class serves as an exceptional incubator for Maurice and Clive’s romance, picnics in the grass, and nothing to worry about except one’s attire for the evening. That, plus England’s egregiously regressive punishments for homosexual conduct.

Like the early 1900s, 1987 was not a particularly easy time to be gay either. With the AIDS epidemic sweeping the globe, Reagan-era puritanism looked to the virus as a way of punishing homosexuals for our perceived vile way of life, the exertion of God’s will upon the wicked. Decades before HIV’s discovery, Maurice’s generation had a similarly dismal prognosis on life.

Director James Ivory understands the political implications of his film better than anyone. Maurice rises above its predictable narrative through its resounding commitment to the idea that happiness will always triumph over a life in the closet, no matter the cost. Maurice isn’t a particularly interesting character. Wilby’s wide-eyed optimism bails out the messier aspects of his performance, particularly his clunky intimate scenes with Grant.

Gay happiness remains a radical idea, over a century removed from the events of the narrative, and fifty years after Forster’s death. Ivory does right by the source material, making great use of his locations to highlight the contrast between the freedom that all the space a country house allows, and the reality of the unsustainable cost of retaining who you are as part of that society. The punishments for homosexuality were severe, but repression is itself a death sentence.

Laws banning homosexuality attempted to craft an easy outcome for gay people. You’re not supposed to want to sacrifice everything, but that’s also a fundamental point that anti-LGBTQ legislators fail to understand time and time again. You can threaten someone with the worst consequences imaginable. You can take everything from them and strip away every fiber of their dignity, but no amount of homophobia can squash that basic human desire to be fulfilled.

Countless countries have committed egregious atrocities against their LGBTQ citizens. Maurice is a needed reminder of how irrelevant the stink of hate can feel to a mind at ease with itself. Love cannot be conquered by society’s efforts to legislate it out of existence.

Wednesday

11

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

Transgender Storytime: Pesky Bisexuality

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An episode all about Ian’s jumbled-up bisexuality, colloquially known as the leg hair spectrum (masculine of Ian’s not too feminine center). Ian talks about what bisexuality means to her, how no one else can define your own sexuality, and how it’s perfectly okay to “pick sides” in the sexuality equation. Ian just mostly wishes she wasn’t 90% heterosexual, but who would really choose to be attracted to men anyway? 

Tuesday

10

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

Tinder While Trans: Standards

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An episode all about dating apps! ITM shares her experiences as a single trans woman, navigating the complex webs of cis men, polyamory, T4T, and all the other fun stuff Los Angeles has to offer. Whatever you’re looking for, it’s important to make sure you’re holding yourself, and your potential romantic partners, to standards that fulfill your needs.