Still unsure about watching Bryan Fuller’s American Gods? These three giant spoilers from episode one will help you decide.

 

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click embedded links to see (NSFW) gifs of that scene on the gif creator’s sites

I’ve heard a few people say they’re on the fence about watching Bryan Fuller’s new tv adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, brought to us lucky mortals by Starz. The aim of my words here are to push you one way or the other. Warning: there will be blood (not actual blood, only really, really bloody SPOILERS, but still).

Many fans of the book are afraid to watch, worried that the adaptation can’t possibly live up to the source. ‘They’ll cut the wrong stuff and they won’t get the characters right, not the way they are in my head.’ Episode one down, and I’m here to tell you; it’s going to satisfy you. Obviously not every word and deed can be included but it seems a pretty solid match so far. Toward the end there’s an epic bar brawl between our hero Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Mad Sweeny (Pablo Schreiber) where they decimate each other and destroy part of a gator-mouth-dominated bar. Look no further than Mr. Wednesday (expertly played by Ian McShane) casually enjoying their violence to perfectly exemplify the role in which he was cast. The performances throughout were nuanced, deep, and thoughtful. Whittle’s physical performance gives the audience incredible glimpses of Shadow’s inner struggle often without words, or even concrete action.

Another cause for hesitation is the fear that this show, like many other MA rated, high-end cable productions, will use rape to convey horror, character motivation, or heighten the suspense of the male protagonist’s storyline. Fuller don’t play that. He is against using rape scenes just to add drama, saying, “My role, as a showrunner, is to want to watch the show we’re creating. And if something feels exploitative or unnecessary, I’ll try to avoid it.” That being said, smack dab in episode one, a man just re-entering the dating scene (Joel Murray) agrees to have sex with Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) and does gets sucked into her vag, happily consumed whole. I think most of us would qualify that as a violent sex act, so perhaps Fuller intends to stick with the story as written on this subject.

Then there’s the old, ‘it looks too violent. Isn’t it going to be gory?’ dilemma. It is. One of the Gods’ coming to America origin tale is told here in the first episode. Vikings land on a shoreline and must plead with the Allfather to make wind for them to sail home. They end up fighting each other to please him (war God, don’t you know) and the resulting battle is absolutely horrific. A man’s arm is severed while holding a sword and flies through the air to land stabbed directly through his pal’s exposed throat. Truly fantastic pacing, cinematography, and effects during this scene, but if action/horror is not your thing, you might need a blanket to shield your eyes as needed.

More obstacles: ‘But I don’t have/can’t afford Starz.’ The app is just $9 a month. Wait a few weeks and it’ll only be a bit over $1 per episode. Well worth it. ‘I haven’t read the book yet!’ Go to the library. The novel by Neil Gaiman is wonderful and I highly recommend it.

With no other issues to address, I think it’s clear that American Gods should be your new favorite show. Now let the wait for next week’s episode begin.

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Film Review | How to Love Straight Outta Compton and Women

set pic straight outta compton actors for MC Ren, DJ Yella, Easy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre

Straight Outta Compton promo pic

The representation of women in F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton can be viewed two ways. The first, most obvious assessment is that in a film that barely passes the Bechdel test (One woman tells another in the film’s opening scene, “Nah, I’m good,” in response to a non-verbal question of whether she would like to drink Easy-E’s unwanted forty.) the multitudes of silent, mostly naked, women strewn liberally throughout the nearly three hour run time are sexualized objects, and nothing more. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this biopic features more boobs than Boogie Nights and a lot more booty. A deeper message can be observed however, when examining the protagonist’s arcs for change and its impetuous. The lives of NWA’s members are profoundly shaped by the women in them, and though at times their influence wasn’t emphasized, they are the backbone of the story; providing the support the men need to excel and even triumph.

Treated as a side character, DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) is depicted as the biggest womanizer, hitting on every woman he interacts with and watching explicit porn in the tour bus’ main room as if it were completely innocuous programming. Just before an early showcase performance he jokes, “Can this motherfuckin Jerry Heller bring in more pussy? Cause that’s worth twenty percent.” The manager does just that for the guys of NWA, from which the conclusion could be drawn that DJ Yella, at least, felt his contractual arrangement with Heller (Paul Giamatti) was satisfactory.

Ice Cube, played convincingly with depth and finesse by his own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., is driven by his need to provide for himself and his growing family. Though in the early tour scenes he is seen entertaining groupies, even dropping the line “Bye, Felicia” on a topless, hotel-room-ejected, exotic dancer years before penning Friday, he is the first NWA member to settle down into presumed blissful monogamy. His wife Kim (Alexandra Shipp) doesn’t have a big role, but is shown time and again nodding her full support and backing up her man’s plays with her unyieldingly protective body language. The filmmakers did a wonderful job here of showing without telling in just a few scenes what a motivating force this important woman was in his life.

As portrayed cleanly by Corey Hawkins, Dr. Dre’s experiences with women in the film are a contrast to Cube’s committed one, but tell the same story. At first, both his own mother (Lisa Renee Pitts) and his daughter’s mother, Lavetta (Aeriel Miranda) are critical of his choice to pursue a career in music without any significant financial gain or control over his own path. When he discovers that the mature relationship he desires with future wife Nicole (Elena Goode) is out of reach due to his violent associates and partying lifestyle, he changes his outlook and abandons that life in favor of fiscal independence and total creative control.

Lastly, the film’s presentation of the late Easy-E, played with heart-rending tenderness by Jason Mitchell, downplays the man’s misogynistic attitudes as a product of his surroundings and the folly of youth. His disgusted demeanor while spitting “You think I give a damn about a bitch? I ain’t a sucker,” while laying down Straight Outta Compton’s title track is one of utter sincerity even though he is usually shown with a woman close by his side. Though in real life he fathered children with several women, they are barely mentioned and the audience only meets one, the woman who became his wife, Tomika (Carra Patterson). Most tellingly, this woman radically alters the course of Easy-E’s life by presenting him with an accounting of his manager’s career long betrayal. When E confronts Heller, the man dismisses Tomika’s importance to E, calling her a groupie executive assistant, but Easy-E doesn’t take the woman-blaming-bait. Instead, he trusts the woman he loves and fires the man responsible for duping him for so long.

Watching the fictionalized account unfold, I couldn’t shake the idea that if Kim, Tomika and Nicole had just hashed out the group’s Jerry Heller problem over lunch NWA never would have split up. Only this movie isn’t about NWA’s wives, but the men themselves. So even though most of the film’s women weren’t rounded characters, at least Gray didn’t let them all become mere titillating backdrop. Some served as important personal confidants and support systems for the movie’s central characters, which highlights their importance to the group’s ever shifting dynamic. If, as their song Gangsta says, “life ain’t nothin but bitches and money,” then the men of NWA did well for themselves, finding both satisfaction with their bottom lines and love from the bottom of their hearts.

Book Review | In Vicki Vantoch’s The Threesome Handbook, more’s the merrier when you play by the rules

 

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Author and sexual historian Vicki Vantoch weaves interviews, research, and personal experience together in her guide to threesome sex and triad relationships. As well as highlighting the positives of such unions: less codependency, hotter sex (truly, there are diagrams), she also anticipates the negatives and counsels how to avoid making huge, sexy mistakes.

She explains that though she is a bit of a square, citing that she’s even married to her high school sweetheart (actor, Misha Collins), “everyone’s got a kinky side” and then proceeds to share a lot about hers. This personal section shows her to be a thoughtful and extremely curious woman that anyone reading would want to befriend. It ends with a warning that the advice she has given might turn your life upside down, which only heightens the anticipation for the fun ahead. She sprinkles other personal anecdotes (without naming names) throughout, continually reminding us that she doesn’t just talk the talk. The fact that she is coming from a place of experience lends her loads of credibility.

Everyone worries about jealousy in threesomes, and she addresses it frankly saying, “Jealousy is a bitch.” Then, rather than serving up empty platitudes to write the problem away, she maintains that learning to process through hard emotions with good communication can lead to personal growth and enhanced intimacy. “Learning to manage jealousy can lead you to a sweet spot inside yourself, where you feel so confident you no longer seek validation from anyone else. And that’s a beautiful thing.”

Vantoch has interviewed medical professionals, sex workers, friends, and more to provide a well balanced take on the many emotional, spiritual and physical issues that introducing additional sexual partners into your love life can bring. These anecdotes make it clear that she is not alone in her advocacy for ethical polyamory. Also, they round out the topic by sharing specific details about what goes on behind their own closed doors, unshrouding the mystery so often forced onto these human experiences.

Much of the advice found in this handbook can be boiled down to the essential element present in all good relationships: communication. In every chapter, it is repeated and rephrased that honest and open communication is the only way in which these events can resolve into happy endings. Many examples of poor versus good communications skills are played out to hammer the point home and emphasize its importance. Still, she acknowledges that people unused to expressing their emotions fully will have trouble with this aspect of her advice, and that perhaps threeways are just not for them.

Solid quotes and statistics help back up the idea that being open, sharing your love occasionally, and/or committing to more than one sexual partner can aide people’s personal growth and journey through life. The research compiled and utilized to support the choice of this path is wide in scope and helps reflect a nuanced approach to broadening erotic horizons. She quotes Jalal ad-Din Rumi, a Persian poet and mystic as saying, “If you could untie your wings/ And free your soul of jealousy/ You and everyone around you/ Would fly up like doves.” A ringing endorsement for mass coupling if ever one existed.

The book gets repetitive at times, especially concerning safe sex practices. But the latex lectures don’t detract too much from this insider’s tour of the wilder side of romance.

The Threesome Handbook is a fascinating read for all adults, whether they have “secret dreams of reinventing their love lives” or not. Vantoch covers a lot of sexual and emotional ground, and though there are more than a few titillating passages (Did I mention the diagrams and that at least one of her threesome partners is a huge television and social media star?) the practical relationship advice makes this guide helpful for all types of respectful, honest, and loving partnerships, no matter what the head count.