Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Wednesday

11

November 2020

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COMMENTS

Seduced breaks down the complexities of NXIVM’s vast web

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The saga of NXIVM is endlessly fascinating, a web of mostly detestable figures running a pyramid scheme in Albany, New York. Occasionally lost in the jokes about Keith Raniere’s bullshit is the trail of victims he left in his wake. There are the Mark Vicente’s and the Sarah Edmonson’s of the story, whose own culpability remains a puzzling question. The India Oxenberg’s of the story are perhaps even more complex, women who were indoctrinated at young ages to become sex slaves and cogs in the scheme’s vast machine.

Much of HBO’s The Vow was filmed in real time as former NXIVM members worked to take Raniere down, culminating in his 2018 arrest alongside several other key figures. A major storyline of The Vow centered around actress Catherine Oxenberg’s efforts to save her daughter India from the cult’s clutches. STARZ’s Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult picks up where season one of The Vow left off, presenting India’s story in her own words for the first time.

Seduced offers a superb primer into the world of cults, expertly breaking down the mechanics behind Raniere’s long grift. Several expert psychologists provide simple explanations for the ways that Raniere was able to build such a vast empire while mostly recycling nonsense from self-help gurus and Scientology. Like its bizarre name, NXIVM can be pretty confusing at first, but Seduced peels back the layers of the bullshit.

Raniere ruined countless people, both psychologically and financially. Part of NXIVM’s effectiveness was the way in which the organization was able to entrap its members by making many culpable themselves. The lines between victim and perpetrator can be blurred. India was a sex slave to Smallville actress Allison Mack, but India herself had slaves of her own. By including interviews with some of the prosecutors, Seduced works to clean up what will always be a messy picture. There are no easy answers here.

Seduced is a succinct series, presented over four episodes. The show is ostensibly India’s narrative, while including accounts from other DOS victims that help provide a clearer picture of the destruction Raniere caused. There is some slight overlap with content explored in The Vow, but Raniere’s insistence on recording practically every interaction ensures that there’s plenty of new material here.

India’s interviews are often challenging to watch. Persistent is the sense that she’s still clearly working through all of this. Maybe Seduced would be better off waiting for a bit longer to present her story, but maybe India simply wants to get on with her life. The brief amount of time between Raniere’s arrest and the arrival of NXIVM-related content is perhaps too short a period for much introspection, a dynamic exacerbated by the fact that many of the subjects only narrowly avoided prosecution. This is messy stuff.

India’s time in Albany gave her a much better front row seat to the actions of key players such as Nancy Salzman, Mack, and Raniere than The Vow was able to present. The web is complex, hardly the subject than any series would be able to tackle in only a handful of episodes. Seduced clearly has the better claim to casual viewers, supplying the broad details of what makes NXIVM so captivating while limiting the time spent down the various rabbit holes.

NXIVM is among the weirder true crime stories in recent memory, involving numerous Hollywood figures, ginger ale heiresses, and the Dalai Lama among countless others. It’s not hard to see why this saga is so fascinating to many. India is a young woman who went through the trauma of a lifetime in her early twenties. Seduced presents her story in a way that horrifies while also providing some hope that this unfortunate mess won’t define the rest of her life. NXIVM’s victims deserve a chance to turn the page.

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Wednesday

11

November 2020

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COMMENTS

Sidney Flanigan

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We are delighted to welcome actor & musician Sidney Flanigan to the show. Sidney made her acting debut in the spectacular film Never Rarely Sometimes Always at Sundance, one of Ian’s favorites from the festival. Sidney’s band Starjuice just released a new EP “Reminders,” which can be heard of Spotify. Sidney talks about her experiences making Never Rarely as well as the challenges of recording music in the covid era.

 

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You can check out Starjuice on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/3b4yx9xGEgYJW3Kp9kwZLO

 

Ian’s Sundance review of Never Rarely Sometimes Always: https://fansided.com/2020/01/25/never-rarely-sometimes-always-sundance-review/

Cover art courtesy of Starjuice. Headshot by Victoria Stevens. 

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Monday

9

November 2020

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COMMENTS

No Ordinary Man

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Today we are delighted to host Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt & Amos Mac, co-directors and co-writers of the fascinating new documentary No Ordinary Man to the show. The film chronicles the life and legacy of jazz musician Billy Tipton, whose death sparked a media firestorm after it was revealed that he was a transgender man. Aisling, Chase, and Amos share plenty of insights from their experience making the doc, an important piece of LGBTQ cinema.

 

No Ordinary Man is part of DOC NYC’s exciting slate. Tickets can be purchased here: https://www.docnyc.net/

 

Ian’s review of the film: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2020/10/no-ordinary-man/

 

Film poster courtesy of Parabola Films

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Saturday

7

November 2020

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COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season Two Review: Chapter Ten

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

Big reveals like last episode’s Boba Fett cameo naturally create a sense of anticipation that The Mandalorian is obviously not in any rush to address. For the most part the show does a pretty good job with episodic storytelling, delivering quality television in a way that makes you okay with the fact that the big questions aren’t going to be answered any time soon. Elaborate action sequences and short episode runtimes don’t leave a ton of time for narrative.

Episode Two, “The Passenger,” does not care about story. The pieces of this episode feel like puzzle pieces that were jammed together out of place, reverse engineered to justify a giant spider sequence. This is by far the clunkiest narrative of The Mandalorian thus far. Frog Lady (literally the name listed on the show’s IMDB) is nothing more than a plot device.

The episode starts off with a fairly impressive action sequence on the outskirts of Tatooine, involving a failed attempt to ransom Baby Yoda for Mando’s jet pack. Baby Yoda’s cutest moment in the episode came early, delivering a sly glance of approval toward his adopted dad’s antics. Obviously the bandits were not going to get away with stealing Mando’s toys.

We run into Peli Motto at the famed Mos Eisley cantina, playing sabacc with a giant ant, a not-so-subtle nod to episode director Peyton Reed, who helmed both Ant-Man movies. Peli’s scenes last episode were fairly rushed and perfunctory. Here, Amy Sedaris works her charm with a bit more screen time, albeit in an exposition-heavy sequence that almost immediately got right to the chase.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mando’s early conversations with Greef Karga. Carl Weathers was given plenty of time to make his character shine, providing a valuable ally for Mando to interact with. This show doesn’t have a ton of recurring characters.

Peli is given a fraction of the time that Greef received, while essentially aiming to serve in a similar function. Peli got a few lines of rushed banter in before neatly advancing the plot, the kind of fast pacing you’d see on an episode of Law & Order. Can’t she have a moment to breathe?

The bigger issue with this whole dynamic is that the show has yet to make a case for why the audience should care about Mando’s quest to find other Mandalorians. The mission feels like an obligatory plot device, a notion in line with the amount of time it’s received these past few episodes. The show doesn’t need to solve this narrative right away, but it would be nice if The Mandalorian at least made an attempt to explain the importance of this season’s broader arc.

Detours can be fun. Seeing New Republic x-wings is fun. This episode had excellent action sequences, but time and time again it failed miserably on the narrative front. The sub-light travel mandate was only sort of convincingly explained, a slight step up from Frog Lady using pieces of the mercenary droid Q9-0 from last year’s sixth episode to communicate.

The weakest scene by far involved Frog Lady trying to guilt Mando into saving her eggs while the Razor Crest sat on an unstable pile of ice chunks with a giant hole in its hull. Are we really supposed to care about these eggs when Baby Yoda has been repeatedly chomping on them? Did Frog Lady notice what the little guy was doing, even after she’d saved his life?

Baby Yoda is cute and all, but the show too often tried to play it both ways with the eggs, using them for humor but also as an emotional anchor propelling Mando to care about Frog Lady. The spider sequence was fun to watch if you don’t think too hard about why it took Mando so long to use his flamethrower. Assuming these spiders fear fire like most arachnids, Mando could’ve easily kept them away from the ship.

The follow up scene with the New Republic pilots similarly fell flat. Maybe they had time to learn Mando’s noble history while flying around looking for the Razor Crest enough to not want to arrest him, though it’s unclear why they wouldn’t help him fix his ship. That hole looked pretty bad, though maybe not as big an issue as when the Jawas stripped his whole ship in the second episode of last season.

The stellar action sequences weren’t enough to make up for the cringeworthy nature of practically every scene involving dialogue. A strong contender for worst episode of the whole show. Bad Mandalorian is still fun Mandalorian, but this show is capable of better than this clunky plotting and bad writing. It’s hard to give filler a pass when it is this poorly assembled.

Be sure to check out Estradiol Illusions’ Mandalorian podcast recaps!

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Saturday

7

November 2020

0

COMMENTS

Mandalorian Season 2 Recap (Episode 2)

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Chapter 10, “The Passengers” was a bit of a mixed bag. The stellar action sequences were hindered by some pretty abysmal plotting and narrative choices. 

Are we supposed to care that Baby Yoda is casually eating the last of Frog Lady’s eggs? Join host ITM as she breaks down this peculiar episode. 

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Thursday

5

November 2020

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COMMENTS

18 to Party never quite finds its voice

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There are countless think-pieces written each day about the effects of social media on our broader mental health, particularly our country’s children. Boredom as we once understood the concept is essentially a thing of the past, with seemingly limitless entertainment options at any given time. Set in the early 80s, 18 to Party centers its narrative around the mundane interactions between eighth graders as they wait for something to happen.

The film is almost entirely shot behind a fairly mundane looking small-town nightclub, with the kids understanding that their youth places them relatively low on the social totem pole. Most of the kids are just happy to be somewhere, even if the whole setting looks pretty bleak and depressing. Director/screenwriter Jeff Roda presents a minimalist narrative, an obvious homage to the youth-centered films of the 80s, through the filter of a Waiting for Godot-style plot.

Roda’s screenplay is the film’s biggest liability. It’s neither funny nor endearing. The kids have fairly mundane conversations that might be relatable to some extent on a surface level. One of the more developed plotlines centers around one of the kids struggling to decide whether he wants to do theatre, the activity potentially existing in conflict with his soccer schedule.

18 to Party features a very young cast, unlike many films in the 80s which relied on actors in their 20s to play teenagers. For the most part, the kids are pretty good, trying their best to inject emotion into Roda’s fairly lifeless screenplay.

As a director, Roda really doesn’t do his actors any favors. The film makes frequent use of long takes, leading to many scenarios where the actors look pretty confused with what they’re supposed to be doing. Roda doesn’t actually give them anything to do. Often, they look bored, a sentiment the audience could certainly share.

The inconsistent approach to pacing produces inconsistent results. The meandering narrative might have worked with a better script, but the whole dynamic falls apart in the third act when Roda decides to throw in some heavy stuff. Recent suicides in the town are mentioned throughout the film, but Roda ramps things up for one particular scene that falls pretty flat without any consistent attempt at a build-up.

Roda has a particular affection for the word “faggot,” inserted liberally into one of the film’s more dramatic scenes, wielding it as a crutch. To an extent, one can understand a writer’s desire to achieve “authenticity” by using a slur that kids used then and still use now. At the same time, you have to wonder if anyone would have noticed if he’d simply omitted it altogether.

Whatever case could be made for throwing around a word like that is practically beside the point. Roda doesn’t use it well, instead just hurling it at the audience over and over again in a scene that completely misses its mark. Much like the rest of 18 to Party, it’s lazy.

18 to Party is a thoroughly lackluster endeavor. Roda’s awful screenplay deflates any value from this derivative half-baked homage. Even at eighty minutes, the whole ordeal feels too long. Roda clearly loves 80s culture, but he brings nothing new to the table here.

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Saturday

31

October 2020

2

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season Two Review: Chapter Nine

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As The Mandalorian progressed through its first season, the question of narrative constantly presented itself. The show has existed in the fairly uncommon middle-ground between serialization and episodic, most often preferring the advantages of self-contained storytelling over a broader long-game. The season one finale suggested a turning of the page of sorts for the series, with the titular character embarking on a specific quest to reunite the beloved Baby Yoda with his own kind.

That held true for about ten minutes into the episode, until Mando found reason to return, yet again, to Tatooine. For all the endless possibilities out there in the galaxy, this same pile of rocks seems to be the only place that matters. Tatooine certainly does matter, for throwback references such as the return of A New Hope’s R5-D4 and his bad motivator. Between Tatooine, Nevarro, and Jakku, Star Wars certainly loves its shades of the same desert aesthetic.

Episode one is essentially a retread of season one’s fourth episode, both centering on villages coming together to defeat a giant big-bad. The Krayt dragon is another figure of franchise lore, the figure who Obi-Wan impersonated with a loud shriek to scare off the Tusken Raiders back in the first movie. The Mandalorian brought to life an abstract idea that has existed in fan theories for decades.

The CGI-crafted menace was pretty impressive, putting aside the obvious Dune comparisons. Tatooine has always been compared to Dune, but Tatooine didn’t have its own sandworm before (Sarlacc doesn’t really count since they stay in their pits). Dune comparisons surfaced again with talk of water feuds between the village of Mos Pelgo and the Sand People. At least there wasn’t any talk of the spice!

As the Marshal, Timothy Olyphant was pretty perfect, channeling his roles in Deadwood and Justified. Show creator Jon Favreau, pulling writing and directing duties on the episode, also threw in a nice touch with fellow Deadwood alum W. Earl Brown turning up as the Weequay barkeep, giving Mos Pelgo the feel of a frontier mining town. Olyphant was a bit more Raylan Givens than Seth Bullock, his obvious joy radiating in every scene.

Olyphant’s exuberant performance as book creation Cobb Vanth was enough to carry the episode, otherwise relatively light on its cutest asset. Seeing Vanth in the Boba Fett armor practically overshadowed the episode’s biggest reveal at the end, with Temuera Morrison returning to the franchise, portraying the adult Boba without his helmet for the first time. In theory, Morrison could be playing one of thousands of Jango Fett clones, but it’d be pretty shocking if it wasn’t the most famous wearer of Mandalorian armor.

Neither Boba nor Jango are actually Mandalorians themselves, a point of great fan interest over the years which should make for a pretty interesting showdown later on in the series. As far as Mando’s primary quest this episode goes, it’s a little weak to have him roaming around looking for others of his kind. Especially if that quest continues to take Mando and Baby Yoda back to familiar territory.

One aspect of the episode that didn’t really work was the return of Amy Sedaris as Peli Motto. Sedaris brought a lot of comedic charm last season, but her interactions in this episode felt rushed and perfunctory. For a nostalgia-heavy episode, I’m not sure we needed much nostalgia for last year. The writing simply didn’t give Sedaris anywhere to go.

The action scenes were extremely solid, if not a bit obligatory. There’s plenty to love watching Mando slay a dragon alongside Timothy Olyphant and celebrating with a big cut of Krayt steak for Baby Yoda to eat when he’s not chowing down on nuggies. I’m sure we all could’ve used a few more adorable moments from the little fella who took a backseat role this episode, the perfect antidote to 2020.

Olyphant’s exuberant performance carried an episode that was otherwise a bit too comfortable in familiar territory. Maybe the nostalgia will run out at some point, though the return of Boba Fett suggests that probably won’t be for a while. Endless callbacks didn’t exactly turn out so well for The Rise of Skywalker, but The Mandalorian has faired much better in this regard.

To some extent, one might want to expect a bit more out of a show that was nominated for the Emmy’s top prize. The Mandalorian is often better described as great entertainment rather than prestige drama, not the kind of fare that traditionally competes for Best Drama. As long as the show keeps putting out enjoyable episodes like this premiere, the long-game and serialization questions won’t matter all that much. We’ve seen this story before, but it’s a pretty good story.

Programming note: Estradiol Illusions will be featuring weekly podcast reviews for the show. Episodes will release either Saturday or Sunday after each new show. Thank you for reading!

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Saturday

31

October 2020

0

COMMENTS

Mandalorian Season 2 Recap (Episode 1)

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Baby Yoda show is back! Join host ITM for an exciting recap of The Mandalorian’s second season premiere, full of Tusken Raiders, Deadwood, and the return of fan favorite R5-D4.

Is Boba Fett going to be pissed that Raylan Givens borrowed his duds? Did Baby Yoda get enough blue milk? Do Krayt dragons dream of electric sandworms? Make yourself a nice bowl of spice melange and tune in to find out! 

Ian’s episode one review: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2020/10/the-mandalorian-season-two-review-chapter-9/

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Tuesday

27

October 2020

1

COMMENTS

No Ordinary Man captures the complexities of transgender history

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There are a lot of public misconceptions about transgender history, even its very existence. The mainstream media often portrays the transgender identity as some kind of new concept, neglecting centuries of record evidence of gender variance among countless countries. This willful ignorance has come at a great cost to the trans community as a whole, breeding unnecessary isolation and unawareness of our broader surroundings.

The documentary No Ordinary Man centers its narrative on one of the most fascinating figures in trans history. Billy Tipton was a jazz musician and talent agent who had a successful career for decades in the South throughout the fifties and sixties. Billy was a transgender man, a fact unbeknownst to his world until his death, when a heart attack revealed his secret to paramedics and his adoptive son. A national media firestorm ensued, with tabloid coverage shining an ugly spotlight on Billy’s body and details of his life that most of us, cisgender or otherwise, would prefer to keep private.

Co-directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt do a fabulous job presenting the complexities of Tipton’s life on screen. Billy Tipton essentially exists as two separate entities, the real-life father, husband, and musician, but also as a figure of inspiration for the broader LGBTQ community. We know very little about the specifics of Billy’s gender identity, but Chin-Yee and Joynt understand the importance of showcasing the impact that his life has had on our community.

Interviews with Billy Tipton Jr. serve as a grounding force for the film, crafting a portrait of an icon’s quieter life before he was posthumously outed without his consent. For too long, LGBTQ people have often been forced to live two separate lives, one for their blood families and one for their found families. Advances in LGBTQ equality have helped create a world where that kind of double life isn’t necessary for many, but the film eloquently explains the world that Billy lived in.

Chin-Yee, Joynt, and co-writer Amos Mac spend a great deal of focus on the media landscape that sensationalized Billy’s life after his death, identifying the broader systemic issues that plague our community to this day. The media often, if not usually, treats transgender issues as tantalizing, fantastical scenarios, ignoring the real-life trans people affecting by these methods of framing.

The biggest challenge for a film like No Ordinary Man is the elusive life of its subject. There’s no footage of Billy and only a few photographs, the kind of visual obscurity that hardly lends itself well to feature-length documentaries. To make up for Tipton’s visual absence, Chin-Yee and Joynt deploy an unusual strategy, holding auditions for a film about Tipton’s life. Using trans actors as stand-ins for Tipton works quite well, an effective indicator of the progress society has made since Billy’s time. The world is still a very imperfect place for trans people, but there still remains great power in the sheer nature of visibility.

No Ordinary Man is a beautiful tribute to an icon of trans lore and a damning indictment on the shameful media coverage after his death. Billy Tipton deserved better from this world, both in life and in memory. As transgender people reach new levels of visibility, it’s important not to forget the ways in which we’ve lacked agency over our own stories. History must be told for true change to take hold.

No Ordinary Man was recently featured at AFI Fest and will be part of DOC NYC’s lineup. DOC NYC will take place from November 11th-19th. Tickets can be purchased here.

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Monday

19

October 2020

0

COMMENTS

Vote Joe Biden & 2020 Senate Analysis

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Looking at you, unenthusiastic voters. Joe Biden is not a great candidate. This “decent” man has decades worth of indecent votes to his name, a shameful legacy that we shouldn’t have to revisit in 2020. Alas, here we are.

Trump is infinitely worse. It’s not even close. LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, healthcare, and the very future of our nation is at stake. Voting doesn’t need to be fun, but you need to vote. Trump may never end if we don’t put a stop to this American Carnage. 

Ian also dives into the state of the 2020 Senate race and why it’s way closer than the mainstream media thinks. Please, please, please vote. We can’t pack the courts without senators who will do the packing. 

Fuck Trump. Vote Biden. 

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