Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Monday

12

November 2018

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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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Saturday

10

November 2018

1

COMMENTS

Nesting Comfortably in Braveheart’s Shadow, Outlaw King Is an Action-Packed Delight

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As unfair as it seems to compare Outlaw King to an unrelated film made nearly twenty-five years earlier, Braveheart’s presence looms heavily over the narrative. The story, mostly set in the immediate aftermath of William Wallace’s death, functions essentially as a sequel, continuing the First War of Scottish Independence. Rather than partition his film off from a previous Best Picture Winner, director David Mackenzie utilizes his viewer’s likely familiarity with the history to his advantage, crafting a narrative unburdened by needless exposition.

At its core, Braveheart was a story of hope in the face of brutal opposition, fighting for that freedom that should be bestowed on every human as a birthright. Outlaw King is far more grounded in the brutal reality of Robert the Bruce’s uphill battle. War is ugly. Guerilla warfare against a well-organized foe leads to a lot of casualties and heartbreak. There’s little romance to be found in constantly being on the run, hoping your enemy spares those who harbored your resistance for a night or two.

Chris Pine’s Robert the Bruce is not a particularly inspiring figure. He’s totally beleaguered under the weight of his sense of duty. His face is perpetually sullen, the grey in his beard conveying the losses he’s endured in the name of a fight few think he can win. His best moments are brought out in scenes with Florence Pugh, who anchors the film’s emotional core as Bruce’s wife/queen consort Elizabeth de Burgh, delivering a compelling performance that greatly raises the stakes of the personal conflict at hand.

Outlaw King spends very little time on the macro-politics of the era. The viewer is never really given a firm grasp of the underlying cause of the animosity between Robert the Bruce and King Edward I. Much of this seems to be the result of about twenty minutes of footage, which dove more into the history of the story, being cut from the film between earlier screenings and the version released on Netflix. The film assumes the viewer knows enough about war and oppression to follow along, resulting in a narrative that rarely stops to take a breath.

The two-hour runtime passes by in the blink of an eye. Mackenzie has a firm sense of pacing, injecting just enough plot development to buoy the film between action scenes, all of which are incredibly well-crafted. The supporting cast is largely under-developed, perhaps the product of the film’s shorter runtime, but Robert the Bruce’s companions make up for the charisma lacking in their leader. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Tony Curran particularly stand out as Scottish commanders James Douglas and Angus MacDonald, making the most of the few scenes their characters are given to stretch their legs.

I came away from Outlaw King incredibly impressed with Mackenzie’s directing. The film is meticulously well-crafted, always aware of when a scene has outstayed its welcome, while never allowing itself to be bogged down by a desire to explain the mechanics of war. It isn’t as good as Braveheart, but it knows its hero doesn’t possess the same heroic larger than life sense of grandeur as William Wallace. The film is an excellent companion to its cultural predecessor, giving Robert the Bruce’s story a worthy adaptation of its own.

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Monday

5

November 2018

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The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Is an Utterly Forgettable Visual Splendor

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As a ballet, The Nutcracker has a fairly straightforward premise. You don’t need to know much more than the basic toy soldiers battling rats plot to sit and enjoy the timeless Christmas story. When it came to expanding that narrative into a feature-length film, The Nutcracker and The Four Realms falters whenever it tries to explain its beautiful fantasy.

Clara, played by Mackenzie Foy, is a young girl grieving the loss of her mother. A posthumous Christmas Eve gift reveals a locked egg without a key. A quest to find the key takes her to the Christmas Tree Forest, where she discovers the Four Realms, a land created by her mother. Strife between the Fourth Realm, lead by Helen Mirren’s Mother Ginger, and the rest of the kingdom, ruled by Keira Knightley’s Sugar Plum Fairy in a sort of regent dynamic, sets off the main conflict of the narrative.

There are a lot of questions regarding the world that The Nutcracker and the Four Realms inhabits, but every scene that tries to offer some sense of exposition falls flat, creating additional confusion. The film has loose explanations for the passage of time and how the toy soldiers came to life, but it consistently bites off more than it can chew, especially with the geopolitics of the realm. It hints that there’s more to the Mother Ginger/Sugar Plum feud than lets on, but doesn’t dedicate enough time to providing a cohesive explanation for what happened between in the time between Clara’s arrival and her mother’s creation of the world.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms would have been much better off explaining as little as possible about its world, instead focusing on the stunning visuals and competent performances from its star-studded cast. Foy’s Clara is charming and likable, even if her character’s personality is rather out of sync with the film’s broader message about self-confidence. Jayden Fowara-Knight similarly makes the most of a thinly written character as Clara’s companion Captain Phillip Hoffman. As usual, Knightley & Mirren give spectacular performances, even though they’re rarely given anything interesting to work with.

Nothing particularly memorable happens in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. The film’s few dancing scenes leave you wondering why the film didn’t work harder to incorporate them into the broader narrative. The action sequences are well-crafted but consistently feel like the characters are simply going through the motions. Such sentiment defines the entire experience.

There are far worse ways to spend an hour and a half than The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, but that’s just about the highest bar the film tries to meet. Beautiful scenery can captivate the mind for a few moments, but art succeeds when it leaves its audience with a sense of emotion that lingers beyond the initial delivery. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ biggest crime is that it is utterly forgettable in nearly every sense of the word.

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Friday

2

November 2018

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Venom is an Entertaining Mess

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Venom is an anomaly for modern superhero films, existing outside a broader connected universe. The irreverent alien symbiote made its film debut in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, the year before Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, forever changing the way studios approach comic book adaptations. Though a few dozen superhero movies have come and gone between the Topher Grace and Tom Hardy versions of the character, Venom as a film seems to want to pay homage to the idea that a movie can exist as a movie without any broader ramifications for future team-ups down the road.

Freed from shared universe obligations, Venom never seems sure what it wants to do with its time. The plot never really exists as more than an excuse to pair up Hardy’s Eddie Brock with the titular symbiote. Riz Ahmed plays a competent menacing villain in Carlton Drake, but the character lacks any compelling traits to set him apart from the “mad scientist” trope that defines his place in the narrative. Michelle Williams has a few standout scenes as Brock’s ex-fiancée Anne Weying, but largely feels wasted in a wooden supporting role created more out of obligation to give Brock more human characters to interact with than anything else.

Venom shines when it lets Hardy run wild with his alter-ego. Venom is a hilarious character who develops an oddly charming buddy-cop romance with Brock as the film settles into its second act. The relationship produces a number of laugh out loud moments that serve in stark contrast to the film’s otherwise grim tone. Such mood-swings seem to define the entire experience.

Like Brock’s relationship with Venom, the movie exists in constant turmoil between dueling desires to be simultaneously formulaic and spontaneous. The action scenes feel wooden, but there’s enough humor to make you wish you were enjoying yourself just a teensy bit more. Hardy makes the most of what he’s given as an actor, but the narrative is too all over the place to create a cohesive experience. Venom is a very fun mess to watch, but it would be a stretch to call it a good film.

Which isn’t to say that Venom doesn’t have a place in the crowded superhero genre. The narrative is far more chaotic than any MCU offering and never as grim as a DCEU installment. Venom gets its titular character right, but fails to supply a worthy vehicle for him to play in. The film is perhaps best enjoyed in snippets on premium cable, where one can focus on the humorous elements while forgetting that movie doesn’t really know how to tell a story.

 

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Wednesday

29

August 2018

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Ser Jorah’s Empty Redemption

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

One of the great triumphs of the #MeToo movement has been the way it’s helping to change the way we look at what constitutes acceptable male behavior. Society has offered a lot of excuses for the persistent man who won’t take no for an answer, forgetting that there is a woman forced into the position of not being able to have her wishes accepted for the answer. “No means no,” somehow gets clouded when a man’s hurt feelings garner enough sympathy to seek shelter somewhere in the “boys will be boys” trope.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont is a bad man.

He sold slaves on Bear Island in a feeble attempt to make his wife happy living in a place he would have known would make her miserable if he had ever stopped to consider her feelings before taking her away from Oldtown. He ran away to Essos to escape justice for his crimes. He tried to sell out Daenerys in a similarly pathetic attempt to be allowed back home.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont is a pervert.

Daenerys is a teenager at the start of the series, in both the books and the show. The show aged her up a bit from thirteen to make sexualizing her a bit less creepy, but the idea that an older man/sworn protector would court her should still make one uncomfortable. Despite this, Jorah presses on, only to be politely rebuffed by Dany time and time again. The power dynamic is a mess, but Ser Jorah doesn’t care. Ser Jorah only cares about himself.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont is a disgrace.

When Daenerys learned of Ser Jorah’s treachery, she banished him. Many would have executed him for treason, but Dany took mercy on her disloyal advisor. You might think he’d take her kindness and leave her alone. Dany gave Jorah countless verbal cues to leave her presence and never return.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont only cares about himself.

Moving on is a key aspect of the human experience. We all face rejection at some point in our lives. Ser Jorah experienced plenty of his own, but he never learned to accept that another person might not want him in their life. He portrayed himself as a man who would do anything to earn Dany’s forgiveness, but this mentality is a disguise for his true intentions. It’s never about what Dany wants, only about how Jorah wants Dany to make him feel.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont cannot take a hint.

Upon delivering Tyrion to Dany, Jorah found himself banished again. No amount of rejections would matter to Ser Jorah, because Ser Jorah cannot process rejection. It’s only ever about him, what he wants, on his own terms. “No means no, unless I don’t want it to,” is the motto of Ser Jorah, even after he contracts an infectious disease. Not even greyscale can keep Ser Jorah away from the pursuit of a woman who had rejected him many times. No amount of rejection could ever be enough for him.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont does not care about service.

What drives Ser Jorah’s many comebacks? He frames the narrative as a chance for redemption, but such a situation would require Jorah to let go of something he cannot give up: control. Jorah only accepts others on his own terms. Dany is not a Queen to him, no Khaleesi to his greyscaled soul. To him, she is the woman who politely refused his offer of a drink at the bar. He cannot accept any outcome that doesn’t console his bruised ego.

Those of you who have followed my Game of Thrones recaps over the years know that I have not been a fan of Ser Jorah for a long time. I think he’s beyond creepy and should have been killed off a long time ago. As I think more and more about what I want out of season eight, I realize that my biggest wish is one that should have been granted already. I want Jorah off the show.

Jorah’s story is not an important story. You might be inclined to disagree, perhaps because you like him, or just because you don’t view this as an objective truth. One of Game of Thrones’ greatest strengths is that its ensemble cast has many different narratives. Supporting characters live fully fleshed out lives, with goals that can exist independent from their leads.

The depth of GOT’s narrative complexities means that protagonists like Jon and Dany can have goals that conflict with each other. Jorah can certainly desire Dany even if she doesn’t want him back. A viewer doesn’t have to view him as an antagonist just because he won’t take no for an answer.

Trouble is, Dany’s story isn’t allowed to exist without him. Even when she turns him away, he always comes back. This woman cannot live her life independently of a man she politely rejected many times. Too many women in the real world know this feeling all too well.

Jorah’s narrative is full of empty redemption. He seeks forgiveness only under his own terms. The greatest gift he could have given Dany was to not return to Meereen. The books may be able to alter course from Game of Thrones by killing him off in the Battle of Fire, but the show has let his stain linger for far too long already.

No means no. That means you too, Ser Jorah. We all heard Dany loud and clear the first a hundred times. All of us, except you and every other man who felt he was owed something from a woman who rejected him. Do Westeros a favor and go away.

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Wednesday

22

August 2018

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Cosmic Star Heroine Offers a Nostalgic Gaming Experience with Contemporary Comforts

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One of the great joys of modern indie gaming is the ability to make the past feel like the present once again. For many, RPGs represented the pinnacle of long-form storytelling in the 16-bit era, when simple features such as a save function were absent from large portions of a console’s catalog. Cosmic Star Heroine takes players back to a simpler era, albeit with the contemporary comforts that gamers have grown accustomed to in the subsequent generations.

Cosmic Star Heroine has a very straightforward story. Alyssa L’Salle is a government agent who finds herself wrapped up in a massive conspiracy. The story hits the ground running straight from the get-go and never really lets up. It is without a doubt one of the fastest paced RPGs I’ve ever played. For those who groan at the time investments required by many modern takes on the genre, the game is a breath of fresh air. You can actually accomplish quite a lot in a half hour of play!

The combat system manages to be unique while at the same time capturing the feel of games from an earlier era. Many of the character’s moves are limited to one use before recharging, forcing the player to be creative with each battle. Combat also offers Style and Hyper points, which reward strategy with added boosts and extra experience at the end of the battle. The game includes double-digit playable characters, which often rotate during the narrative, preventing any one party from growing stale.

I also appreciated the amount of care the game took to explain its features at the beginning. Style is a confusing concept at first, but the tutorial gives you a thorough explanation that gives you a good feel for the combat system after a few battles. With many RPGs, I find myself constantly lost and looking at my phone for internet help, especially when you take a few days off from playing, but Cosmic Star Heroine gives its players everything they need to figure the game out for themselves.

My one complaint is that the script occasionally earns an eye roll with its tawdry dialogue, which felt forced in some areas. The characters are quite well crafted, and Alyssa is a memorable protagonist. Zeboyd Games deserves a lot of credit for crafting powerful female characters that don’t play into the tropes that often defined the 16-bit era. The inter-character relationships worked surprisingly well for such a fast-paced RPG.

Cosmic Star Heroine is a game that exudes the passion of its creators. The Easter eggs throughout the game are crafted with love and personal touches like the “remember to save” reminder before quitting create a sense of intimacy that indie gaming provides. The team at Zeboyd Games did a superb job providing players with a nostalgic experience that brings plenty of originality to the table. It’s perfect for Switch, whether you’re playing on the big screen or on the go. If you’re a fan of the 16-bit era, this is definitely one you’ll want to pick up.

Note: I received a complimentary copy from Zeboyd Games for the purposes of this review.

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Sunday

12

August 2018

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Schrodinger’s Tower: Jon Snow and the Assumption of Certainty

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A baby was born in the Tower of Joy at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. The Jon Snow parentage question is a central mystery surrounding George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin himself has referenced the mystery on many occasions, citing Game of Thrones creators David Benihoff and D.B. Weiss’ ability to correctly identify Jon’s mother as the point that gave him enough confidence to give his blessing for the series.

The question of Jon’s true parents, widely believed to be Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, often expressed through the equation R + L = J, has been a source of intrigue since the release of A Game of Thrones in 1996. In the finale of season seven, Bran confirmed this detail to Sam, though book fans have no such certainty after decades of hints spread out throughout the first five books. The puzzle lingers, even if its solution feels blatantly obvious.

The paradox of Schrodinger’s Cat is a thought experiment theorized by Erwin Schrodinger that examines interpretations of quantum mechanics. A feline is trapped in a box with a radioactive substance and a Geiger counter to detect whether or not the substance decays, which would kill the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation supposes that until one opens the box, the cat inside is simultaneously alive and dead, since we cannot know which is the actual case. Such is the conundrum with linear states of being. At some point, reality has to stop being theoretical and start being actual, which begs the question of whether both states simultaneously existed at all.

The Tower of Joy is currently a closed box with a baby. There is plenty of evidence that Jon Snow was born in there. The event already happened in the books, but the outcome hasn’t happened because we still don’t know who the baby was. We can’t know for sure until GRRM opens the box.

And yet, we sort of can know. The show opened its own box, and given the magnitude of the events at stake, it does seem safe to assume that the outcome will be the same. The show differs from the books in dozens of ways, but that secret lies at the centerpiece of both of their mythologies. It wouldn’t be much different than a situation where the movie version of Pride & Prejudice saw Elizabeth end up with Charlies Bingley instead of Mr. Darcy.

Alternative theories to R + L = J have been around since the release of the first book back in the 90s. Perhaps the most popular is the theory of B + A = J, suggesting that Jon is the son of Brandon Stark, Ned Stark’s brother, and Ashara Dayne, a character absent from the show but an important figure to Ned as well as Barristan Selmy. Generally, under this theory, R + L = D, with Daenerys serving as the child born in the Tower of Joy to Rhaegar and Lyanna.

There are a few big problems with B + A = J, namely the timeline and the idea that Ned wouldn’t need to claim Jon as his own if he didn’t have any Targaryen blood. Ashara was most likely pregnant before her death, but we know very little about the circumstances. That doesn’t automatically follow that Ashara is Jon’s mother, but there’s enough mystery about her life to keep theories alive for those who want to believe in them.

Many in the ASOIAF fandom do not wish to believe in B + A = J, a theory that earns plenty of eyerolls when mentioned by someone who wants to make a serious case. It’s not a great argument, and the show has practically put the matter to rest, except in the sense that it can’t. The idea that B + A almost certainly doesn’t = J does not change the fact that B + A could equal J, if GRRM decided he wanted it to.

George R.R. Martin could sit at home and deviate from R + L = J if he thought that the books should exist independently from the show. I don’t think that’s very likely, but that is an outcome that could happen if a single human being decided that it should. As every Terminator movie reminds us, the future is not set in stone. We haven’t looked inside the box yet. The Geiger counter has not made its move.

While that’s not terribly compelling evidence against R + L = J, it does remind us of the unique situation we find ourselves in with a television show that has progressed further along than source material that is still actively being written. Imagine the fan outrage if Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 showed how Harry defeated Voldemort before J.K. Rowling released the final volume. That’s pretty much the territory that Game of Thrones finds itself in, albeit with a much larger universe and a lot more lingering questions.

Schrodinger’s Cat reminds us that things cannot happen until they have happened. R + L = J is simultaneously true and not true until the pages are finally released. Only then can the tinfoil fan theories be fully debunked with a definitive sense of clarity. The fact that the show already revealed what was inside its box can give us a pretty good, almost certain, sense of what to expect, but the assumption of reality is not the same as reality itself.

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Monday

23

July 2018

0

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UnReal Goes Out with a Whimper

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UnReal entered the TV landscape as a singular entity. The idea of a Lifetime scripted series winning any award, let alone the prestigious Peabody, still seems pretty ridiculous years after the Bachelor-style scripted drama claimed the prize. UnReal’s first season was a refreshing breath of fresh air for summer programming, which made its downfall all the more unfortunate as each of its three subsequent seasons failed to approach the high bar set by its freshman effort.

The news that season four had dropped on Hulu in its entirety, mere months after April’s season three finale, seemed quite odd, as if Lifetime was looking to dump the remainder of the show on someone else’s doorstep. This confusion fit in perfectly with the chaos that defined the show after its first season, a hot commodity with zero direction. Where season one served as an indoctrination on The Bachelor’s manipulative nature and false premise, season two tried to turn the spotlight on seemingly every other political issue facing the nation, including a much-maligned effort to offer something compelling on the state of racism in the country. Season two was a mess.

Season three corrected some of the issues by avoiding broader American politics, but mostly came up short in its effort to recapture the magic of the first with a season that felt increasingly unnecessary as time went on. UnReal has always had something interesting to say about feminism, with two leads who reveled in the contrast between female empowerment and ruthless ambition, but the show has consistently faltered in its execution of these ideas as fictional stories that a viewer is supposed to actually consume.

It’s far easier to root for the idea of Shiri Appleby’s Rachel Goldberg than the character herself. The character Rachel is a terrible person who does terrible things for reasons that are never really clear or particularly compelling. She acts in service to Everlasting, but something is always missing from the carnage left behind in her wake. Multiple characters die and a penis is severed over the course of our time with Everlasting, but the viewer is never really given much of a reason to support the fictitious show or its mean-spirited showrunners.

While this wasn’t really a problem in season one, when Rachel’s motives were still left relatively undefined and the critiques against reality TV were still fresh, the passage of time was not particularly beneficial to either Rachel or Constance Zimmer’s Quinn, whose conscience looked worse and worse in the face of continued complicity. Rachel and Quinn are fun to watch together. Appleby and Zimmer have great chemistry are frequently able to string together compelling scenes that hint at the idea that there’s something greater at play behind their antics at Everlasting. If only UnReal was better at explaining its motives to the viewer.

Season four meanders quite a bit. Everlasting shifts gears to mirror Bachelor in Paradise with a game show competition for a million dollar prize that the show never fully invests itself in. What could’ve been a great opportunity to use prior contestants to diagnose the symptoms of reality TV became mostly a sideshow dominated by Natalie Hall’s Candy, a plant marketed as a “superfan” competing on Everlasting in an effort to establish her for a later spinoff. Candy distracts from the entire All-Star premise and takes up much of the screen time at the expense of contestants from UnReal’s earlier seasons.

UnReal probably wants to tell you that reality TV exploits sexism for ratings and that those who produce it are awful people who would do anything to top their previous stunts. That message gets lost along the way by the lack any sort of follow-through by the show to endear a single element of its existence to the audience. The closest it comes to succeeding in this task comes in the form of Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman’s Jay, a gay producer who possesses one of the few moral consciences on the set of Everlasting. Problem is, Jay never truly evolves past being the person there to tell everyone else they’d gone too far. Certain events in season four make this notion a little empty as time goes on, a nice sentiment if nothing more.

Season four of UnReal is terrible television. It is not simply bad because it’s entirely made up of bad people doing bad things for bad reasons. It wants us to believe that it acts in service to broader ideas, but never cares to actually engage with the implications of reality TV’s existence. The entire genre exploits its cast, but tens of millions of people still tune in. UnReal wants to say something interesting about that dichotomy, but ends up mirroring the material it parodies by coming up empty on substance. The Bachelor isn’t love, and UnReal isn’t really satire. Both are eerily similar in their core being, as products of consumption without any real depth.

I loved UnReal when it first debuted. It was different, it was raw, and it was exciting. Almost immediately after, it sunk into self-parody and misguided attempts to shine a light on issues it shouldn’t have gone near. None of its final three seasons came anywhere close to the highs experienced in that first year inside the house, which I guess probably says something about the audience that stuck with it, myself included.

I often ridicule the idea of “peak TV” and the people who assign importance to a medium long-regarded as mindless entertainment. Neither ends of this spectrum are representative of television as a whole, but neither could be. We don’t live in a world with absolutes, even if politics and the media constantly try to make us think otherwise.

UnReal existed as a deeply flawed indictment on American culture. It usually failed to shed light on topics it tried to engage with. Despite this, I kept watching anyway. I don’t want there to be a fifth season, but I’d probably watch it, if only to see Quinn rag on Graham one more time. Entertainment can tell us a lot about the world, but sometimes it shouldn’t. Sometimes we watch TV because it feels good, or it used to feel good, and rather than sit and write thousand word think pieces as to why we do the things we do, often it’s better to kick back and enjoy the show.

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Saturday

2

June 2018

0

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Best F(r)iends: Volume Two Is an Esoteric Odyssey Through Perceptive Reality

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The only reasonable expectation one could have heading into Best F(r)iends Vol. Two was that it would be a very strange movie. A Twitter reply from the official movie account stating that this cut was an early preview version only added to the mystique of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero’s latest team up, one where the significance of the parenthesized R in the title really comes to life. Volume One was about a friendship, but Volume Two sets its sights on the ways in which human connection often transform us into, well, fiends.

I found myself constantly thinking of the work of Terrence Malick as the movie rolled along. Like Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and The Tree of Life, the cinematography of Volume Two often takes a detour to focus on the macro questions that humanity has grappled with throughout time. One of the many benefits of repeat viewings of The Room is that one finds themselves pondering similar thoughts upon the seventh go-around through that narratives. Sometimes the here and now is less important than the why of it all. I don’t think there’s anyone in Hollywood who understands the importance of that question quite like Tommy Wiseau.

Volume Two has a lot less Tommy Wiseau than the first movie, but his presence never looms far from the narrative. Sestero’s Jon mostly interacts with girlfriend/accomplice Traci, played by Kristen StephensonPino, and her uncle Rick, played by BF newcomer Rick Stanton (though he’s credited on IMDB for the first volume). Rick delivers many of the movie’s most memorable lines not uttered by Wiseau, but the new dynamic somewhat under-delivers on the foundation built between Wiseau and Sestero by the first movie.

In my review of Volume One, I noted how the friendship between Wiseau and Sestero served as the driving force behind all their collaborations, as well as The Disaster Artist. Volume Two furthers this concept by separating the two real-life best friends for much of the movie, reminding us that we can never truly venture too far from that which forms the very ethos of its existence. Wiseau has compared Volume Two to Breaking Bad in interviews over the past few weeks, a comparison that makes sense not just from a narrative standpoint. If Walter White was Bryan Cranston’s career evolution from his time on Malcolm in the Middle, Best F(r)iends is an acknowledgment that Wiseau’s career is destined for another chapter beyond his iconic debut in The Room.

Like Malick, I’ll always be down for whatever’s next for Wiseau. In an era defined by big-budget franchise movies that ooze an aura of complacency and sameness, Tommy has consistently brought something new to the table. The Room is often unfairly pigeonholed into the “so bad it’s good trope,” which has never done justice to the real reason the movie lives on in the present tense in a way that no movie besides The Rocky Horror Picture show can claim. The Room gives its audience something all too foreign to cinema: something fresh.

There were only three people in the theatre for Volume Two, including my partner, far less than the crowd who showed up for the first go around of this two day event. We laughed the entire time. I felt euphoric upon leaving the theatre, experiencing a world where anything was possible. Movies used to make a lot of people feel that way.

Tommy Wiseau’s career has consistently embodied the American dream. He worked hard, refined his talent, and transformed a common abstract ambition into a global phenomenon. Best F(r)iends: Volume Two is both a worthy tribute to the sheer force of nature that willed this career into existence, and a satisfying addition to his legacy. Preview cut or not, I’m very happy to be along for the ride.

 

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Wednesday

30

May 2018

0

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Transgender Storytime: Being Someone’s First

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Note: This is post is not about sex. 

It can be easy to forget that for all the blame that transgender people receive for various problems in the world, there really aren’t very many of us relative to the rest of the population. This concept is compounded by the idea that there are plenty of places in the country where it isn’t exactly safe to be out of the closet, either as trans or as part of the broader LGBTQ community. There are in fact plenty of people who have never interacted with a transgender person.

As a panelist at the 2018 Con of Thrones in Dallas this past weekend, I learned that I was the first transgender person that a few of the audience had ever talked with. I know this because they told me, which is kind of a strange burden to place on an individual, as if their conduct or behavior speaks on behalf of their entire community. Other friends at the Con expressed shock that anyone would even say that to me at all, which reflects the unusual nature of the position that transgender people can find themselves in with regard to representation.

There is a certain question posed to women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, etc. to explain the concept of privilege by people who don’t have the perspective of knowing what it’s like to live without it. Variations of the phrase, “it’s not my job to explain sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.” exist to reflect the burden often placed on the oppressed to be expected to talk about this kind of stuff. Not every person who falls under any of those categories either wants to, or has the time to oblige every one of those requests. For the vast majority of us, it’s not our job.

It’s not really my job either, but I did publish a book called The Transgender Manifesto that sought in part to dissect the state of the national conversation surrounding LGBTQ people. In that sense, I am familiar with most of the boilerplate questions that are asked about transgender people and how to answer them. I don’t really mind being the first transgender person that others interact with. Often times, I actually enjoy the conversation.

The national conversation regarding LGBTQ topics in general has drastically improved over the course of my lifetime. You almost never hear people talk about whether being gay is a choice anymore, in part because society at large has finally accepted that it’s not. Straight people don’t really get points anymore for stating that fact, but the notion that it’s not talked about is kind of a big deal because it signals something we don’t see all that often: progress.

I talk a lot about how transgender equality is inevitable, as society finally comes to grips with the fact that we are human beings who exist. The question is really a matter of when, which is where the importance of visibility comes in. It’s far easier to rail against an abstract concept on Twitter than a living person. That’s why trolls rarely tend to be as hateful in person as they are online.

So for me, being someone’s first is an opportunity. The discussion rarely focuses on transgender issues too much, since that’s hardly the most interesting aspect of your average trans person’s life. It’s an unfair burden to place on a community as a whole, and I worry about the people who really don’t want to be asked these questions.

From a personal standpoint, as someone who spent their formative years never believing that a world that accepted transgender people would exist in my lifetime, I feel an obligation both to my younger self and the future generations to fight as hard as I can for transgender equality. If that means some cringe-worthy conversations, so be it. Those who came before us paved the way for the LGBTQ victories we enjoy today. It’s up to us to get the job done.

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