Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Wednesday

12

February 2020

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The L Word: Generation Q Is a Slight Improvement on Its Shallow Predecessor

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The L Word will always be regarded as groundbreaking television series by nature of its premise. Public opinion toward LGBTQ people has undergone a massive transformation since 2004. Despite its status as a pioneer of queer representation in popular culture, The L Word has aged quite poorly as a narrative. Obsessed with melodrama and the superficial lives of its upper-class lesbians, it’s pretty embarrassing to think that this show served as many people’s point of entry to engaging with LGBTQ issues.

Popular culture has changed quite a bit since then. The L Word: Generation Q finds itself in a climate that’s far more unforgiving toward poorly crafted gay narratives. It’s not enough to feature lesbians on television, now you have to find something interesting for them to do. In this regard, Generation Q demonstrates that The L Word really hasn’t learned all that much.

The show was smart to keep the returning characters to a minimum. Bette (Jennifer Beals), Shane (Katherine Moennig), and Alice (Leisha Hailey) are the sole members of The L Word’s large ensemble cast to come back as regulars. The absence of Jenny Schecter, a strong contender for worst LGBTQ character ever depicted on screen, is refreshing, but Generation Q falls to put forth a strong case for why the audience should want to spend more time with Bette, Shane, and Alice.

Shane is still pretty cool. Alice is still annoying and obsessed with serving as a standard bearer for the community. Bette has more first world problems, this time running for mayor without any clear sense of conviction. The show is more than willing to forgive its characters’ shortcomings, shallow people living shallow lives, but it’s not very interested in demonstrating how any of these people have grown.

The new characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Sarah, better known by her last name Finley (Jacqueline Toboni), is the standout of the bunch, an executive assistant on Alice’s TV show who squats in Shane’s house. Micah Lee (Leo Sheng) helps correct the sins of the past in the trans masculine department, an adjunct professor with lots of depth in the romantic realm. Dani (Arienne Mandi) and Sophie (Rosanny Zayas) are less successful, an engaged couple with family melodrama that feels better suited for the climate of the original show.

The L Word was pretty horrifically terrible in the realm of transgender representation, repeatedly demonizing its trans male character Max in cringey depressing manners. In addition to Micah, recurring characters Pierce (Brian Michael Smith) and Tess (Jamie Clayton) are given substantive plots that don’t hinge on their transness.  The show is spread pretty thin with its ensemble cast, but manages to blend the new characters in with the holdouts pretty well.

The biggest problem for Generation Q is the writing. The superficial storytelling isn’t very interesting in a world with far better LGBTQ representation. Eight episodes isn’t a lot of time to craft compelling plotlines for such a large cast, but the show doesn’t really try. For the most part, it’s far too content to revisit tired tropes explored by its predecessor.

It’s not really quite clear who Generation Q is trying to please. It’s not really a “greatest-hits” style revival like many other reboots of the past few years. The legacy characters aren’t simply there to pass the baton either. Trouble is, they’re not really there to do anything interesting. Alice has already been on television and Bette spent the entire previous series jumping around from various high-status professions. Are we supposed to care about seeing this again?

For some, that answer might be yes. Generation Q is hardly unwatchable, unlike the later seasons of its predecessor. It’s hardly a satisfying experience. The LGBTQ community deserved better than the shallow storytelling of The L Word. The past few years have given the community just that. There isn’t much need for The L Word anymore. Generation Q doesn’t do much to change that sentiment.

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Tuesday

11

February 2020

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Rise of the Resistance

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Grab your Mickey Ears and your lightsaber, we’re heading back to Batuu! Disneyland’s new ride Rise of the Resistance is finally open and Ian & Tarabelle are here to talk about it. Rise of the Resistance is truly incredible, one of the park’s crowning achievements. Ian & Tarabelle also break down the new Star Tours scene based on The Rise of Skywalker, as well as a general update on Galaxy’s Edge as a whole.

 

For more of Estradiol Illusions’ Disneyland coverage, check out our episodes ranking every ride in the park as well as one on Galaxy’s Edge pre-Rise and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

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Saturday

8

February 2020

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Birds of Prey is a Meandering, Self-Congratulatory Slog

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2016’s Suicide Squad is quite possibility the most disappointing superhero movie of all time. The film’s constant efforts to make it look like its characters were having fun fell especially flat considering the talent involved. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was so obviously destined for better things than that disaster, putting her in a great position for her own film. Unfortunately, Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn falls into too many of its predecessor’s tropes.

Birds of Prey tries to be a lot of things at once. The bulk of the narrative is spent on Harley’s efforts to capture, and then protect Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who stole a diamond from Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a crime lord with a grudge against Harley. Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Black Canary (Jurnee Smolllett-Bell) are also in the fix to anchor the Birds of Prey team that’s kind of based off the comic books, but their presence muddles a narrative that’s already pretty shoe-stringed as it is.

Robbie is a natural to play Harley Quinn, but Birds of Prey exposes some of the flaws in the way she approaches the character. Harley is a great gag character, but a bit one-dimensional for a leading hero. Director Cathy Yan is reluctant to give Quinn enough time to grow, constantly distracted by other shiny objects in the narrative. Harley feels restricted in her own film, an incoherent narrative without any real focus other than a feeble effort to laugh at its own jokes.  A strangely self-congratulatory effort.

Though he doesn’t make an appearance, the Joker’s presence looms heavily over the film. To some extent, this might be expected. Harley Quinn is practically synonymous with Batman’s signature villain, even though her comics do a pretty good job mitigating this dynamic. For a film series whose best Joker adaptation isn’t in the DC Extended Universe, you would think that Birds of Prey would want to do everything in its power to make you forget there’s another version of that laughing maniac.

Birds of Prey could have easily sidelined any thoughts of the Joker early on, but Yan is hell-bent on bringing him up repeatedly throughout the film. This kind of approach is fundamentally unsatisfactory regardless of how you feel about Jared Leto’s take on the character. He’s not in the movie. For those who are pleased with his absence, the constant reminders only serve to harken back to a not-so distant era where this Harley ran off with that odious creature. It doesn’t make any sense.

The film also repeats Suicide Squad’s bad habit of long-winded expository scenes that stifle the narrative. It’s hard to invest in the film when it’s constantly bending over backwards to take the audience out of the moment. It’s also spread too thin to do justice by any of the characters it awards these backstories to. Huntress is perhaps the biggest victim of this dynamic. Winstead is fun, but she’s a footnote in a movie that probably would have been better off omitting her entirely.

McGregor pours a lot of heart into the villainous Roman, but the film pigeonholes him into a largely perfunctory role. Yan could have cut him out entirely and not all that much would change. He is painfully obligatory, there because a film needs to have a bad guy. Birds of Prey would rather wink at the audience than try and give its narrative any real sense of purpose.

The fight scenes are very good. Though the titular Birds of Prey really aren’t that necessary to the film, there are snippets of good chemistry between the actresses. The film is just too unfocused to dive deeper into their relationships, too busy with the shiny object of the moment.

At times, Birds of Prey is capable of making the audience smile. It’s a film that clearly looks like it’s having a lot of fun, going out of its way to convey this sentiment time and time again, just as Suicide Squad included countless expressions of “we’re the bad guys.” We get it. Harley Quinn is a very fun character. She just keeps appearing in subpar movies that don’t do her any justice. Maybe someday she’ll be liberated with a film that doesn’t roll around in its own mediocrity.

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Friday

7

February 2020

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Sundance Wrap Up

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Our Sundance coverage concludes! Returning guest Michelle Jaworski joins Ian for a look back at their favorite moments from the festival. From the films to the jam-packed nature of Park City to all the sleep deprivation and malnutrition, Sundance is both a sprint and an endurance test.

 

Films discussed include Crip Camp, Minari, Spaceship Earth, Zola, Herself, Nine Days, Miss Americana, Jumbo, and Dick Johnson is Dead.

 

For more of Michelle – follow her on Twitter @michejaw & check out her articles at The Daily Dot

Ian’s Sundance coverage can be found on her author website & FanSided page. This Twitter thread was her only attempt to organize them all…

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Tuesday

4

February 2020

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Sundance Spotlight: Nathan Barr, composer of Uncle Frank

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As our Sundance converage rolls along, we’re super excited to welcome Nathan Barr, composer of Uncle Frank to the show. Uncle Frank is one of the standout films of the festival, a heartwarming narrative for the LGBTQ community. Nathan shares some of his experiences crafting the film and collaborating with director Alan Ball again after seven seasons composing music for True Blood.

 

You can follow Nathan on Twitter @composerbarr

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Tuesday

4

February 2020

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Sundance Spotlight: Anthony Willis, composer of Promising Young Woman

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Our Sundance coverage continues with one of my personal favorites from the festival, Promising Young Woman. Delighted to welcome composer Anthony Willis to the show. Anthony explains his approach to scoring Emerald Fennell’s unique masterpiece. Anthony also plays some of the music from the film, an exciting treat you won’t want to miss. 

Promising Young Woman will be released on April 17th.

 

For more of Anthony, follow him on Twitter @AnthonyBWillis

 

Also be sure to check out Ian’s FanSided review of the film

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Saturday

1

February 2020

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Sundance Review: Once Upon a Time in Venezuela

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The human-rights crisis in Venezuela receives only occasional coverage in the United States, largely centering on the fight for control of its government. News reports mention shortages of food and other vital supplies, but the dangerous political climates make it hard to actually see what’s going on there. The documentary Once Upon a Time in Venezuela aims to shed light on the village of Congo Mirador, a once-prosperous community built on stilts above Lake Maracaibo.

Director Anabel Rodríguez Ríos keeps the narrative squarely focused on the people of Congo Mirador. Most of them are struggling fishermen, fighting a war with pollution that’s hurting their industry and destroying their homes. The sediment buildup in the region is out of control, but the government doesn’t seem to care. As a result, more and more people are forced to leave the village, taking their homes with them in the process.

There isn’t much of a narrative, but that’s not really an issue. Ríos lets the people speak for themselves, rarely injecting anything resembling her own opinion. The people there are trying to thrive, having to do more with less.

The school is run down and the fishing boats are in desperate need of repair, but the people are proud, hopeful that a day will come when these hardships are behind them. The realities of the situation paint a bleaker picture, something Ríos is keen to explore as time moves on. For a government dealing with nationwide turmoil, a small fishing village is hardly a concern.

The film doesn’t spend a lot of time on the politics of the situation, but the focus that Ríos does give is particularly telling. It’s hardly a surprise that there’s corruption in Venezuela, but Ríos captures it in real time. People demand bribes for their votes, money or other material goods. Guards at the polling stations prevent any semblance of democracy.

Ríos presents both sides of the political equation. There are people who still worship the ground that Chavez once walked on, and those fed up with the current state of the government. Footage from actual dealings with local politicians demonstrates their lack of concern, complacency delivered with a hug and a smile.

In some ways, Ríos takes too much of a hands off approach. The narrative is a bit difficult to penetrate for outside audiences, particularly considering the complex nature of the country’s politics. It’s a powerful human piece, albeit one that struggles to find its own voice in the midst of all the tragedy.

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela is a haunting look at a dying region and the people who left it behind. Ríos sugarcoats nothing, a raw testimonial of government corruption. It’s a difficult documentary to watch, but an important narrative of a community ravaged by senseless greed. Though there’s little hope for optimism, the value of the truth cannot be understated in a country that does everything it can to silence the opposition.

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Friday

31

January 2020

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Sundance Review: Influence

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The late Lord Timothy Bell changed politics in the 1980s with his scorched earth approach to public relations. There was seemingly no client too shady for his public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, which propped up many despotic regimes around the world. Featuring extensive interviews with Lord Bell himself, Influence takes a hard look at the legacy he left behind.

Directors Diane Neille and Richard Poplak cover practically the entirety of Bell’s career, from his early days in PR working with Saatchi & Saatchi to his departure from his namesake firm in 2016. A special emphasis is given to Bell’s work with Margaret Thatcher. The “Labour Isn’t Working” campaign was particularly devastating, helping the Conservative Party gain immense steam heading into the election that lead to Thatcher becoming prime minister.

Bell is a fascinating subject. Neille and Poplak strike at the core of his amorality, willing to do anything for anyone with a checkbook. Lord Bell is keen to play the villain, taking great delight in his life’s work. His only regrets seem to lie with the demise of Bell Pottinger after the scandal in South Africa.

The film struggles to grapple with an overstuffed narrative that loses steam as it tries to pack too much into its bloated runtime, sacrificing depth for breadth. Bell Pottinger’s reach stretched all across the globe, aiding many shady tyrants. Neille and Poplak struggle to explain the political climates of many of the situations in a way that a general audience could understand.

Influence dissects the relationship between Bell Pottinger and the Gupta family in South Africa, who hired the firm to help prop up the Zuma regime. Bell Pottinger stoked a lot of racial animosity in the country, which was exposed after whistleblowers came forward with a treasure trove of documents. The material is hard to follow, especially since it’s not really even the primary focus of the film.

Neille and Poplak can’t really decide if Lord Bell is their focus or Bell Pottinger as a whole, a dynamic that becomes quite unwieldy as the narrative rolls along. Though the runtime of 105 minutes allows for quite a bit of globetrotting, it’s much harder to piece the findings into something resembling a cohesive conclusion.

The film also falls a bit flat when it tries to tie Bell Pottinger to the current state of disinformation running rampant in politics across the globe. The 2016 Trump campaign and Cambridge Analytica are obvious successors to the antics that Lord Bell deployed, but Nellie and Poplak draw lines between them that don’t feel all that necessary or insightful. It’s hardly as if Lord Bell invented political theatre, even if he was a master at it.

Influence is a fascinating documentary in many ways. The film presents a damning portrait of a charming yet detestable man. As a narrative, it starts to fall flat after a while, sinking under the weight of the massive amount of information it tries to convey. The film tries to do too much in a short period of time, becoming way too hard to follow for a general audience. Fans of global politics may find much to enjoy, but the film is in desperate need of additional editing to bring clarity to its findings. 

 

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Friday

31

January 2020

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Sundance Review: Run Sweetheart Run

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To a large extent, it feels a bit reductive to talk about toxic masculinity in the horror genre. Slasher killers are typically men, monsters who brutalize their victims in unseemly matters. That’s not to say that there’s not plenty of sexism displayed in the manner with which women are victimized compared to men, but this territory is messy quite literally by design. Toxic is kind of the point.

Run Sweetheart Run centers its narrative of the agency of women in the horror genre. Shari (Ella Balinska) is a single mother who just wants to enjoy a night out on a blind date set up by her boss. Ethan (Pilou Asbæk) is a wealthy, mildly charming guy looking for a bit of fun. A supernatural figure, Ethan’s idea of a good time involves chasing woman through the night by tracking their scent.

Much of the film plays out like a standard survive-the-night horror thriller. Writer and director Shana Feste plays with power dynamics quite a bit, particularly with Ethan’s ability to control the police, but the narrative is pretty straight-forward. While the dramatic turns feel a bit predictable, the film does a good job staking out its own territory in a well-trodden genre.

Feste flips the script on femininity in horror, unabashedly wielding the female body to her protagonist’s advantage. By Ethan’s design, Shari is bleeding from her wounds but she’s also on her period. Women have been too often guided to feel shame for exposing such realities publicly. Feste sets out to change that conversation.

Balinska does a great job with the material. The genre has a natural trajectory for Shari to follow, but Balinska makes it her own. She doesn’t just want to survive, but to thrive in a world that has tried to force its terms for far too long.

Asbæk has a certain charm that works well as a villain. Ethan is cute, with a weirdly innocent quality about him that’s so obviously fake and yet still alluring. His place in the narrative could be largely perfunctory, but Asbæk makes sure the audience never forgets his smiling face.

 Run Sweetheart Run is a little clunky with its transitions. Some of that lies with the predictable nature of suspense building within the genre. Villain and hero must cross paths a few times to keep the tension alive, but Feste struggles with the obligatory nature of this dynamic. She skirts the line of one-trick pony a bit too much, though the trick doesn’t really hinder the narrative. 

Backed by an excellent cast and a strong sense of pacing, Run Sweetheart Run is a fresh take on a genre that’s seen it all. Feste offers a lot of commentary on the present age without letting weighty issues bring down the narrative. Shari isn’t the first strong woman we’ve seen in horror, but she’s refreshing in her unabashed celebration of her femininity, blood and all.

 

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Friday

31

January 2020

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Sundance Review: Miss Juneteenth

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Part of growing up is to understand the relationship between parental expectations and the reality of needing to live one’s own life. Miss Juneteenth understands the need for nuance in portraying this challenging dynamic. Not everyone was born to be a pageant queen, but those truths don’t necessarily need to be accepted by parents who want their children to follow in their footsteps.

Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) is a hard-working single mom. She picks up extra shifts at Wayman’s BBQ & Lounge to help pay the bills, singularly focused on providing a better life for her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze). A former winner of the Miss Juneteenth pageant, which honors the day that Texas slaves learned of their emancipation, Turquoise hopes that the scholarship money awarded to the winner can give Kai an opportunity that she wasn’t able to have for herself.

For Kai, the etiquette training and fancy dresses associated with Miss Juneteenth represent a world she wants nothing to do with. Kai wants to dance. But dance team doesn’t offer the same chances at a scholarship, putting her in a difficult position of trying to appease her mother at the cost of her own passions.

 In her feature debut, writer and director Channing Godfrey Peoples presents an intimate family narrative. Miss Juneteenth is a heartwarming film about the nuances of mother/daughter relationships. Kai and Turquoise don’t always see eye to eye, but Peoples constantly keeps the audience guessing with the way she lets the story unfold.

Beharie and Chikaeze are a great mother/daughter pair. The two possess an organic relationship that responds to the needs of the plot without existing in a reactionary capacity. There’s no unnecessary conflict packed in. Peoples uses great restraint in her approach to conflict with excellent sense of pacing.

The script is a little underdeveloped, with numerous subplots that barely get any attention after they’re introduced. There’s a lot of backstory to Turquoise that we don’t get answers to, a puzzling dynamic for the film’s lead character. Peoples keeps the romance to a minimum, which is refreshing, but the events of Turquoise’s own Miss Juneteenth remain unresolved. Peoples does include a fair number of satisfying story arcs. Turquoise’s mother, a God-fearing alcoholic, receives an arc that brings depth to her daughter’s own trajectory.

Peoples keeps expectations for the story fairly measured. Miss Juneteenth isn’t full of surprises, but Peoples is well-versed in the nuances of interpersonal conflict. A beauty pageant shouldn’t be the defining moment in anyone’s life. Of course it is for some, but Peoples ensures that her narrative doesn’t hinge on an arbitrary outcome.

Miss Juneteenth finds meaning in the simple interactions of its characters. Their lives are full of hardships and struggles that would exist no matter what happened in a pageant. A yellow dress may not change the world, but Peoples presents a meaningful slice of life. An excellent debut. 

 

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