Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Wednesday

11

September 2019

19

COMMENTS

Bill Burr: Paper Tiger Struggles To Get Past Its Flimsy #MeToo Commentary

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Analysis of the #MeToo movement and subsequent “outrage culture” has become popular fodder for comedy specials. Bill Burr: Paper Tiger dedicates its first act to commentary on the nuances of feminism, intersectionality, and the nature of sexual harassment accusations. Burr clearly feels obliged to comment on this point in American culture, but he’s not very good at mining the humor out of this complicated minefield.

The presence of Dave Becky as an executive producer, who was caught up in Louis C.K.’s masturbation scandal, feels a bit out of place considering Becky’s conciliatory tone after the backlash. Burr suggests the importance of “due process” in a segment with little humor, his candor conveniently leaving out the situations where such efforts to combat sexual harassment were met with institutional pushback.

The theme of Paper Tiger is quite simple. Burr doesn’t want to hear about how life might be hard for anyone else. This dynamic is best illustrated through a bit where he talks about how a #MeToo accuser described a man “vigorously” masturbating. Burr describes this approach as the only way to achieve self-pleasure as far as he knows, comparing the alternative to something that Sting might practice. If he spent more time listening to women, he’d know that masturbation as an activity enjoyed by people of all genders can, in fact, have a rhythm described as something other than vigorous.

Sure that might sound like nitpicking, but the whole segment highlights a broader issue for the special. For all the talk of Burr wanting to “trigger” people, his most outrageous bits never feel edgy enough to pack the desired punch. He talks about wanting to drive by a woman’s rally yelling outrageous things in an effort to see people flail around in agony, struggling to contain his laughter at the imagery. Sure, “owning the libs” has become an internet meme, but the whole segment plays out like Burr actually believes he can inspire such terror with his words.

A telling moment in the special came when a heckler shouted about consent as Burr lamented the plight of women who enjoyed rough sex in the #MeToo era. Understandably, Burr was annoyed at having his rhythm disrupted, but he also reacted with indignation at the idea that people were questioning his very understanding of consent. His reaction exists in stark contrast to his opening segments, a man who doesn’t want you to think he’s a sexist pig while telling jokes that depict him as such.

He’s provocative for sure, taking aim at Stephen Hawking and Michelle Obama, occasionally earning a chuckle in the process. The jokes themselves don’t really dive deeper than surface-level humor about living with a debilitating disease like ALS or being a First Lady with ambitions beyond mere photo ops. The shock value is there for those who laugh at things they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in public.

A good barometer for whether or not you find Paper Tiger funny is whether or not you laugh at the mere thought of a person taking offense to something you said. Such amusement can be had without a person actually running around screaming in terror at said words. An abstract “snowflake” can certainly substitute for the real thing.

Is Burr actually offensive? At times, sure, but more of in the eye-rolling “offensive uncle at Thanksgiving” vein than something people might actually be outraged by. Comedians often claim they’re on the verge of “cancellation,” as Burr himself suggests, a point instantly disproven by the very existence of the special. He says, “This is going to be my last show ever,” something that only feels edgy or amusing to people who preface every offensive thing they say with that ominous foreshadowing.

As someone who belongs to a group that Burr took aim at, there isn’t much to be offended by in the notion of being told transgender women “discard” their penises. It’s a joke that’s been told a million times that lacks any basis in the fundamental process of bottom surgery. Are we supposed to laugh at the idea of a gender-neutral bathroom on a plane when literally every bathroom aboard every plane is fitted that way?

Burr is much stronger when he turns his humor inward. He talks about his temper and his desire to deal with that anger for the sake of his child. Similarly, his bits about his wife are fairly funny, even though much of it is similarly laced in the denial of any semblance of advantage afforded to him as a straight white man.

At one point early on, Burr suggests that the #MeToo movement “had to happen.” He does seem like a fairly likable man throughout the special, an Archie Bunker-like figure trying to be a good father while struggling to process the ever-changing world around him. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of people out there in similar boats, resistant to change that might come at a cost to their own standing in the world.

Burr best illustrates the problem with Paper Tiger when he remarks that the #MeToo movement appears to be winding down, having seemingly handled the most egregious cases. If that’s the case, maybe so too should standup comedians find something else to talk about. Maybe soon, we’ll see a special dedicated to outrage for the people who are outraged about outrage culture. Hopefully it’ll be funnier than this lopsided routine.

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Wednesday

10

July 2019

0

COMMENTS

Right Now Presents a Conflicting Message

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Countless think pieces were written in the wake of the babe.net piece alleging misconduct against Aziz Ansari suggesting that the #MeToo movement as a whole had gone too far. Such sentiments cast aside the ability to see nuance in these types of situations. One does not need to compare the behavior that Ansari was accused of to that of Harvey Weinstein to wonder if there was something inconsistent in this account of a man who had for years prior built a career off not being that kind of guy, even authoring a book titled Modern Romance. The article certainly did not depict the sort of feminist that Aziz has always claimed to be.

Ansari begins his new Netflix special addressing the allegations head-on. He talks about the embarrassment he felt in the wake of the article as well as the ways it made him rethink all the dates he’d been on. Above all else, he states that he feels terrible that the woman in question felt that way. The opening tone is somber, an unusual way to start a comedy special, but one fitting for an unavoidable topic bound to be on everyone’s mind.

What follows is a strange collection of sentiments about this current era of “wokeness” in general, examining the rush that many feel to embrace the so-called “cancel culture.” Ansari is correct to note the inconsistent relationship that America, particularly white America, has had with caring about culturally insensitive depictions of minorities. It took thirty years for a serious conversation to be had about The Simpsons’ Apu. It wasn’t all that long ago that highly offensive homophobic slurs could be used in marketing for major films like The Hangover.

Ansari struggles to present a cohesive argument for why it’s a bad thing that people now care about that kind of stuff. The closest he gets to specificity on the dangers of “cancel culture” is a manufactured straw man of his own creation, making a benign observation that we do live in a world where people could be outraged about fake news. It’s unclear what the takeaway is supposed to be. Ansari points out that society probably does spend a bit too much time on social media counting up woke points, but such a sentiment is too general to carry much weight.

The year 2019 has brought yet another cultural reevaluation of Michael Jackson. It’s not particularly original to point out the conflict that many feel toward enjoying the music of an iconic performer while grappling with the numerous allegations of misconduct with children. Ansari isn’t the first to point out the hypocrisy that exists in the recent efforts among some to erase the legacies of musicians like Jackson or R. Kelly when people have known about their behavior for years. He doesn’t really have anything interesting to say about it either.

Worst of all, Right Now isn’t very funny. You get the sense that Ansari isn’t aiming to provide dozens of laughs of minute, but most of the humor is strained and tired, the kind of jokes people tell to alleviate a tense situation. His funniest take is an extended riff on Osama bin Laden, even while occasionally falling into his straw man trap of bending over backwards to hint at conclusions he never tries to utter outright.

Despite his efforts to put the allegations against him aside in the first few minutes, it’s clear throughout Right Now that the whole ordeal served as the inspiration for this act. With that in mind, it’s hard to separate Ansari’s commentary on the reactionary nature of social media from a wish that people had reacted differently to the accusations against him. Ansari states that he was terrified that his career might be over, even going as far as to compare that to death, but it’s unclear what we’re supposed to make of this when he was not in fact, canceled. His career isn’t over. The venue is packed and Spike Jonze is on hand to direct a special for Netflix.

The old Aziz might be gone, but Ansari doesn’t really show that he’s grappled with the idea that the allegations against him proved that this man may not have truly existed in the first place. Right Now presents a conflicting message, a man who says he’s grown after the incident while railing against the cultural environment that suggested society should care. No one was forced to take a side against him, and one look at the crowd gives an idea of how many didn’t. Ansari isn’t very happy with the state of wokeness, perhaps forgetting that it doesn’t necessarily need to affect him at all. People don’t have to care.

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Wednesday

3

July 2019

0

COMMENTS

Katherine Ryan’s Glitter Room Offers a Hilarious Perspective on Single Parenting

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Part of the joy of watching Katherine Ryan perform is the way she tackles the current cultural climate surrounding men and comedy without sounding like she tailored her act to this particular era. Many of her observations about men in Glitter Room, her new Netflix special, could have been made twenty years ago. Ryan speaks not with vengeance about in the injustices brought to light in the #MeToo movement, but rather as a comedian staking her claim in the territory that men have felt comfortable in for decades.

The challenges of parenting as a single mother lie at the heart of Glitter Room. Ryan offers plenty of optimism for women in their thirties that their best days are still ahead. She takes on tropes like obnoxious school bake-sale organizers while staying above the fray of petty school politics herself. Her commentary feels more like an outside observer than an active participant.

The best jokes of the special tended to center around Ryan’s relationship with her daughter, particularly her position as a Canadian mother raising a child in London who is inevitably far more British than she could ever be herself. She’s an engaging storyteller who isn’t afraid to tell plenty of jokes that her daughter will potentially find cringe-worthy down the road. Glitter Room consistently presents as a portrait of her life at this moment, an intimate look at Ryan’s efforts to raise a child while still figuring things out for herself.

Ryan is quite an energetic performer with a keen ability to read a room. Glitter Room is one of the few stand-up specials to make audience interactions a highlight of the program instead of its weakest moments. Her engagements feel natural, enhancing her points while conveying the sense that she hasn’t just planned out each moment.

Some of the jokes do fall a bit flat, particularly when Ryan ventures into popular culture. She doesn’t have particularly anything original to say about the Kardashians, including a swipe at Caitlyn Jenner that felt a bit out of place in the year 2019. She also goes on an extended bit on Hamilton, which superfans of the musical might appreciate but started to feel more like inside baseball as the joke stretched on.

Glitter Room is a very entertaining special that delivers plenty of delectable one-liners. Ryan is a delight to watch with a delivery that feels organic and refreshing. She offers plenty to think about without concerning herself too much with the notion of any broader answer behind the meaning of life. The special had a nice way of making the future feel less about losing one’s youth and more about appreciating the days yet to come.

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Monday

17

June 2019

0

COMMENTS

Jessica Jones’ Third Season Is a Boring End to the Netflix Marvel Experiment

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The television landscape has changed quite a bit since Daredevil and Jessica Jones premiered in 2015, promising an ambitious crossover between four separate Netflix series interconnected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With seemingly every major company looking for a bigger slice of the streaming pie, the relationship between Disney and Netflix was bound to sour, though the idea of rival networks producing content for each other is far from uncommon. The Netflix MCU experiment is ending not by any narrative mandate, but because two companies didn’t have the will to coexist.

Season three doesn’t feel like a final season. With news of its cancellation announced back in February, there’s a bit of disconnect between expectations and reality. Episodes that weren’t necessarily filmed as the concluding arc are delivered to fans as such, unsurprisingly landing with a bit of a thud. This wasn’t supposed to be the end, but we all knew it was ahead of time.

With that in mind, it’s hard to accept the glacier-slow pacing of Jessica Jones’ character development. She’s still a moody detective who seems to care more about bourbon than being a superhero. Much of this is a product of Jones’ personality as a character, but so much has happened to her over the past two seasons with shockingly little growth to show for it on screen.

Krysten Ritter often looks quite bored delivering her lines this season, even after putting aside the deadpan nature of her character. Gone are the powerful zingers that endeared Jones to the audience in past seasons. She looks tired, disinterested, and ready for the end. Her lines are spoken frequently without a hint of enunciation, like she’s reading them off the page for the first time.

Exacerbating this dilemma is the strong character development from the supporting cast. Trish, Malcolm, and Hogarth are all in drastically different positions than season one. Their characters have clearly drawn out arcs that are easy to follow and even easier to get behind. Meanwhile, Jessica is still the same old Jessica. The contrast rarely works to her advantage.

It rarely helps matters that Jessica is often paired with the anemic Erik Gelden, played by newcomer Benjamin Walker. For all the intriguing characters Jessica has shared screentime with, Gelden is very bland and boring. Like the burger Gelden can’t stop ranting about, he’s never as interesting as the show wants him to be.

Like every single season of Netflix’s Marvel series, the pacing problems are a persistent issue. Jones feels a bit sidelined in the early episodes, an issue again exacerbated by the fast-paced plotlines from her supporting players. While serialized TV has become the norm, Jessica Jones is a series that would have benefited immensely from giving its title character a couple of self-contained detective stories each season.

Season three does win plenty of points on the inclusivity front. While the MCU movies have been painfully behind the times on LGBTQ representation, Jessica Jones brings a nuanced approach to queer themes. Hogarth’s sexuality is explored extensively throughout the season. Transgender actresss Aneesh Sheth plays Jessica’s assistant Gillian without any scenes that explore the nature of her gender identity, a radical sense of normalcy that’s often sorely missing from on screen representations of the trans community.

TV shows in the streaming era rarely run more than five or six seasons, with shorter runs increasingly becoming the norm. Three seasons in, the show never has any sense of urgency to make the most of its time. Even if this wasn’t the end, season three meanders far too often to leave any kind of lasting impression. Netflix’s Marvel experiment has had its fair share of misfires, but these characters deserved better than an unceremonious ending.

 

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Thursday

2

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Knock Down the House Is a Powerful Showcase of Democracy in Action

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A documentary like Knock Down the House faces two narrative challenges that can be difficult to overcome in a ninety-minute runtime. Showcasing four separate women putting up primary campaigns against incumbent Democrats, the film has to not only tell multiple stories, but ones with widely known outcomes. It should hardly be a surprise to anyone that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went on to beat incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley.

One of the appeals of political documentaries is the behind the scenes perspective they provide, a chance to know the candidates beyond their cable news appearances. The grassroots nature of the four campaigns highlighted in Knock Down the House gave the documentary a much more intimate feel than films focused on larger efforts by established candidates. Without massive staffs or even office buildings, the film spotlights each of the candidates’ best assets, namely being themselves.

Amy Viela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin came up short in their efforts to unseat their Democrat incumbents. Bush and Swearengin both managed to pull in over 30% of the primary vote, very impressive totals for unknown grassroots campaigns running against established politicians with all the benefits that entail. The documentary showcases their individual motivations for getting in the race, women with deep emotional stakes at play to change a system that isn’t working for too many Americans.

Knock Down the House does a great job explaining the many roadblocks put into place to impede primary challengers, a system that makes it about as a difficult as possible to even get on the ballot. There are a few scenes highlighting the work of groups like Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, grassroots organizations seeking to recruit and support candidates for office. All the stereotypical notions of polished politicians are thrown out the window in favor of real people seeking to create real change.

Unsurprisingly, the documentary spends much of its time on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose successful campaign has captivated the nation for much of the past year. The footage from her campaign presents a stunning contrast between grassroots efforts and the establishment, frequently painting Crowley as out of touch, representing a district he no longer even called home. AOC fans might have enjoyed a documentary completely dedicated to her meteoric rise, but the film makes great use of all its subjects to present Washington as out of touch with the nation at large.

Refreshingly absent from the bulk of the narrative is the man in the White House. For all the media attention that Trump gets, much of America simply doesn’t care about his Twitter feed. Even in deep red West Virginia, Swearengin’s campaign focuses on the bread and butter issues affecting her state and not as a referendum on his every move. AOC also goes out of her way to criticize Crowley’s Trump-heavy campaign literature, reframing the “us vs. them” debate in a context better suited to her community.

Knock Down the House is an uplifting documentary that highlights the power of democracy in action. Only one of the film’s four subjects managed to win her race, but their efforts offer more than just inspiration to future candidates. Democracy isn’t always fair, but it’s always worth fighting for.

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Wednesday

20

March 2019

0

COMMENTS

Arrested Development’s Fifth Season Is an Embarrassment to Its Legacy

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Flawed as it was, season four of Arrested Development set the baseline for TV revivals in two important ways. The most prominent criticisms of the follow-up installment to the Bluth saga tended to revolve around the season’s drastically different tone from the original run as well as the lack of main characters on screen at the same time. Season five sought to rectify these issues, with results that make you wonder if the saga of the Bluths is simply too tired to continue.

Arrested Development has always been a plot-centric show, which was quite unusual for comedies when it first aired in the early 2000s. After a decade of so-called “peak–TV,” the format is far more common, which perhaps evaporates any brownie points the show could earn simply through its sheer complexity. Season four, with its fractured narrative, was hard to follow even if you were trying quite hard to piece together the events initially presented out of chronological order.

Season five, split into two eight-episode installments, the latter of which dropped last week, runs into a different problem. It’s still very confusing, a point the show seems well aware of, extensively using narrator Ron Howard to explain the plot mid-episode. The plot is also difficult to follow for the simple reason that it’s not very interesting or funny. Complexity is especially challenging when the viewer lacks an incentive to engage with the material. You can piece together the puzzle, but there’s no real payoff at the end of it.

The jokes are few and far between. There are an awful lot of gay jokes present, which might have been amusing to a general audience back in 2002, but seem weirdly out of place on a show once praised for its writing. Tobias’ Mrs. Featherbottom routine is similarly overused, lacking moments where humor is even suggested to be conveyed. Even the sharp-witted matriarch Lucille Bluth’s signature one-liners fall surprisingly flat, despite Jessica Walter’s immense talent as an actress.

The acting is serviceable, as expected with an A-list cast. Tony Hale, appearing in far more of the second half of season five than the first, is perhaps the standout Bluth, making the most of Buster’s time at the center of the narrative. Jeffrey Tambor, marred in scandal after being fired from Transparent for sexual harassment accusations as well as admitted verbal abuse of costar Jessica Walter, looks uncomfortable in the dual roles of George/Oscar. The show would have been better off simply cutting him from the show, as his presence sours an experience that’s already pretty lackluster. Portia de Rossi, who retired from acting before season five, is limited to a cameo appearance in the second half.

While the first half of season five was marred by overuse of green screens used to create the illusion that the Bluths were in the same room, the final eight episodes are far more convincing. There is a lingering distraction caused by the idea that practically every scene needs to be examined for editing, but the show does a good job of at least presenting the idea that its cast members are physically in the same space. As weird as it feels to compliment a show for that simple feature, this issue has been a persistent problem for Arrested Development since its revival.

Television has evolved considerably since Arrested Development first premiered. Single camera comedies have become more of the rule than the exception. Somewhere along the way, a show once praised for its quality writing became complacent, content to rest of the laurels of gags that debuted more than a decade ago.

Absent is any sense of urgency driving the wit. Some of the show’s best moments came from season three, when Arrested Development increasingly embraced gallows humor in the face of imminent cancellation. The threat of no additional seasons has been replaced by the sad feeling of watching a once great show tarnish its legacy with lazy follow-ups. Season five proved that Arrested Development could imitate its glory years, but the Bluths don’t seem to have anything funny left to say.

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Wednesday

23

January 2019

0

COMMENTS

Netflix’s Fyre Documentary Provides an Extensive Look at the Disastrous Festival

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Part of the intrigue surrounding the Fyre Festival debacle lies in the sheer absurdity that the event wasn’t canceled well before guests began to arrive in the Bahamas. The simple answer of fraud barely begins to satisfy the larger question of what anyone behind the festival was thinking throughout its sloppy preparation period. Netflix’s new documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened seeks to illuminate the many twists and turns of this disastrous saga.

Billy McFarland is a professional conman with a long history of grifts before Fyre Festival, and even a couple afterward with the FBI right on his tail. The documentary explains his methods quite effectively, reconstructing his pyramid schemes to accumulate capital by making promises he couldn’t possibly deliver on. Fyre’s narrow application of these findings is mostly kept to how his behavior directly impeded the festival, making no broader assessments as to how McFarland might represent the current generation. The film doesn’t particularly care about the why of his motives, but instead about the people he harmed in the process.

The idea that Fyre Festival was doomed from the start is certainly present throughout the narrative, but the documentary doesn’t settle for the obvious findings. The infrastructure needed to hold a successful festival cannot be designed and constructed in a few weeks, but there were plenty of people involved with Fyre who did actually try to make it happen. While the weekend was never going to be the VIP luxury event advertised in the initial promo video, hard as it is to believe there was a significant effort made to actually plan a concert. Fyre breaks down everything that went wrong, conducting extensive interviews with employees directly involved with the planning. Extensive contemporaneous video of the planning in progress provides a front row seat to the disaster as it unfolded.

The film takes a measured approach to the comedic factor of the disaster. All the memes of stranded rich kids and the pictures of cheese sandwiches are quite funny, but there were a lot of people hurt by McFarland’s actions. Fyre manages to present its findings in an entertaining fashion while shedding light on the real victims of the nefarious con.

While McFarland lies at the heart of every scandalous decision, the documentary does a good job assigning responsibility to other key players. Fyre Media co-founder Ja Rule deserves much of the blame, as do the influencers and marketers who promoted a fairly obvious scam. In an uncomfortable conflict of interest, Fyre is produced by Jerry Media, the firm that marketed the festival. The ethical dilemma is worthy of scrutiny, but hardly detracts from the overarching narrative. Fortunately, other documentaries about Fyre Festival point this out, ensuring that the conflict will not go unnoticed as the history of the event is recorded.

Fyre presents an extensive look at the many cons and blunders that went into crafting the disaster. It manages to be funny, horrifying, and deeply sad all at the same time. Fyre Festival will live on as one of the most infamous grifts in concert history. The documentary ensures that its viewers will know all the various twists and turns of this epic tragedy.

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Wednesday

12

December 2018

0

COMMENTS

Girl Is an Irresponsible Exploitation of the Transgender Body

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Since its success at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Belgium’s Girl has been causing quite a stir. Director Lukas Dhont has been criticized for his casting of a cisgender male as the teenage transgender ballerina Lara, a longstanding point of contention for films depicting trans narratives. The cisgender casting may have attracted the most controversy thus far, but Girl’s biggest red flag is Dhont’s flagrant obsession with the deterioration of Lara’s genitals.

Lara, played by Viktor Polster in his film debut, is a passionate young teenager eager to pursue her dancing at a top academy while trying to live a life unhindered by the prejudices toward her gender identity. She has a loving father, supportive instructor, and caring medical professionals but encounters discrimination from her peers and, in one bizarre instance, a professor who outright polls the female members of their class regarding their comfort toward Lara in the middle of a lesson. As cringe-worthy as that moment sounds, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for Lara’s downward spiral.

In many ways, Lara isn’t really the main character in Girl. Lara’s crotch is a much more potent force that Dhont seems hellbent on featuring at every possible moment. The film features multiple scenes of Polster’s teenage penis in plain view and several close-ups of his pubic region that’s been bloodied by Lara’s excessive taping. Any narrative value of these scenes dries up by the third go-around, leaving the sense that Dhont is farming the transgender body for all its voyeuristic worth.

Suffering has been a common theme of many, if not most, transgender narratives. Dhont takes Lara’s sadness to extreme degrees, with practically every scene dedicated either to her humiliation or the steady decline of her mental health. This hyper-focus on misery comes at the expense of Polster’s performance, whose range is essentially confined to either very sad or completely despondent. There are a few scattered moments where Polster delivers subtle expressions that showcase his talent as an actor, but the torment is so heavy-handed that it robs him of any chance to leave an impression other than the boilerplate sympathy one should naturally feel toward a teenager that’s in as much visible pain as Lara.

Girl’s timeline deserves considerable scrutiny with regard to Lara’s transition. While hormone replacement therapy is a process that’s highly individualistic in nature, it is never something that happens overnight or even in a few weeks. Based on the start of the semester and a New Year’s Eve celebration toward the end, the bulk of the film appears to take place over a six-month span, the very early stages of HRT. Dissatisfaction with progress is hardly out of the ordinary, but Dhont makes several decisions that demonstrate his fundamental lack of understanding of how transitioning works.

There’s a scene early on that features a consultation for gender confirmation surgery before Lara’s even started hormones, something that makes little sense even before you consider how delicately doctors approach treatment for transgender youth. Lara later learns that her surgery must be delayed due to her tucking, in what would be an absurdly early point for that to even be on the table, especially since her father and therapist were aware of her depression. Realistically, surgery wouldn’t be on the table for years for a teenager like Lara. Fictional narratives aren’t exactly expected to showcase complex issues in a completely authentic fashion, but Dhont plays fast and loose with the details in a way that demonstrates how little he’s interested in portraying even a semi-realistic transition. For Girl, Lara’s bloodied crotch takes precedent over anything else interesting about her identity.

There are critics out there, overwhelmingly cisgender men, who feel that this whole casting controversy is a total non-issue, repeating the adage, “acting is acting.” The trouble with this argument is that it relies extensively on a false utopian sense of society, where everyone exists on equal footing. Much of the overwhelmingly positive coverage of films such as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians focused on the authenticity of their inclusive casting. A Fantastic Woman, the incumbent Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film, earned worldwide praise for its transgender narrative, starring an actual transgender woman. Daniela Vega’s performance in that film captured the hardships of being transgender without focusing on her transition or her genitals.

Girl exists in stunning contrast, a film guided by cisgender voices that never seeks to explore the nuances of the transgender identity, not when it can constantly return to its point of utmost fascination. Dhont claims to have been interested in this project for close to ten years, inspired by a transgender dancer he’s since become close friends with. The trouble is that he never demonstrates any concern for transgender people beyond what you might find from a stranger on Grindr, desperate for a peek of one’s private parts. For years, prominent transgender voices have called for an end to the exploitative trauma porn that defines most depictions of trans people on screen. Instead of elevating transgender characters as people worthy of dignity or respect, Dhont exploits their bodies to his heart’s content. Girl is a deeply dehumanizing film, reducing the transgender identity from a soul to an appendage.

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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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Tuesday

5

April 2016

0

COMMENTS

Halt and Catch Fire Redefines the Second Season Shake-up

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Sophomore slumps are fairly common in television both with good shows and not so good ones. It makes sense if you think about how much more time is fundamentally spent creating a first season than every subsequent one. After all, the first season is the one that determines if a show exists at all. No network would order a show that didn’t at least sound good until season four.

When Halt and Catch Fires second season started off with the main cast splintered off in four different directions, I couldn’t help but feel like this was familiar territory. It’s hardly uncommon for TV shows to separate their casts during finales, only to reunite them a few episodes into the following season. As season two progressed, I realized that bringing back the status quo wasn’t something HaCF particularly cared about. The cast stayed apart and the results were shocking. The show upped the ante and quietly became one of the best on television.

Much like the tech industry itself, HaCF is a show that’s constantly changing as it figures out what it’s supposed to be. Season one was completely powered by the trio of Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, and Mackenzie Davis, with the cast mostly serving as interesting supplementary parts. Three episodes into season two, I found myself wondering why Toby Huss, who portrays former Cardiff executive John Bosworth, was still on the show. It’s not uncommon for characters to linger after they’ve served their purpose, which is how Bosworth usually looked hanging around the Mutiny headquarters. While he wasn’t given much screen time, Huss took every minute he was given and turned his character’s arc into perhaps the most heartfelt story of season two.

HaCF took a big risk in sidelining its lead actor for the majority of the season. Season one was about building the Giant. Season two was about Mutiny and for the most part, Joe McMillan had little to do with it. He didn’t have much to do at all besides clash with his stepfather, played by James Cromwell in a subtle yet powerful performance. As someone who first checked out the show because of Pace’s involvement, I was surprised at how okay I was with his backseat role in the season.

Season two belongs to MacKenzie Davis and Kerry Bishé. Start-ups are chaotic and long hours often lead to short fuses. In Mutiny’s case, the fuses were short with both the characters and their office space, a cramped frat house filled with twenty-something programmers.

While season one had a fairly linear arc, season two was more of a blend. The characters took the front seat and rolled with it, allowing the chaos to heighten the viewer’s experience. HaCF is the perfect binge show because the lines between episodes become blurred to the point where you really don’t want to stop watching when the credits roll. Ten episode seasons make it easier to have almost no filler, a formula that AMC has also used for Better Call Saul.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, HaCF has a significantly smaller following than Saul. Strong critical support gave the show a third season, which could very well be the last if ratings don’t improve. That would be quite a shame as HaCF is one of the most original and entertaining shows on TV. Season two was a masterpiece and even if future seasons take a step back, they’ll still be better than the vast majority of what’s currently on the air.

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