Thursday, February 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Flight

A good movie theater prank would be to sucker moviegoers into paying to see Nadine Velazquez's boobs and then revealing that the feature presentation is actually not Flight but Flight of the Navigator. Oh, the looks on dudes' faces when they realize they have to re-experience the most annoying '80s catchphrase-loving alien robot who's not a Transformer.
Every Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the ticket and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS.

Robert Zemeckis' Flight, the story of an airline pilot whose heroism in the cockpit is called into question after investigators discover he was intoxicated, is a rare example of the mismarketing of a film actually paying off. Paramount sold Flight primarily as a "prestige" disaster flick, even though Flight's riveting plane crash sequence lasts only eight minutes in the movie's first half-hour. How the hell do you sell the rest of the movie, a dark addiction drama about both Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly's struggles to get clean? You just simply don't.

The Flight soundtrack is so fucking on-the-nose I wouldn't be surprised if 'Upside Down' by Diana Ross was an early choice as a source cue for the plane crash sequence.

Nobody really enjoys addiction dramas. The only people who enjoy them are the actors who make them and get their kicks--and occasionally, an impressive paycheck--from going Method to portray junkies or alcoholics. Addiction dramas are often such a repetitive slog, due to the addict characters' repetitive habits and relapses, while the ones that are less tedious or simply better-crafted aren't really made for repeat viewing. I admire the filmmaking on display in Requiem for a Dream, but the film's third act was so harrowing and nightmarish I'm not itching to watch it again.

Leaving out Flight's addiction footage and only hinting at it in the legal drama clips was as risky a marketing move for Paramount as emphasizing the addiction angle would have been: what if the most hardcore Denzel stans--particularly black moviegoers with conservative tastes in film (read: Tyler Perry movies) who love it when Denzel plays either a positive role model or an action hero, which, by the way, are the kinds of roles where I tend to find Denzel to be at his least compelling as an actor--come to Flight to see their hero valiantly pilot an endangered plane as advertised, but they wind up being turned off by seeing him portray such a flawed and often unsympathetic boozer for the rest of the film? And then what if they leave the theater feeling had, took, hoodwinked and bamboozled, and as a result, the word-of-mouth for Flight turns sour? Yet Paramount's odd strategy somehow worked because all of Denzel's dramatic material after the badass plane crash sequence turned out to be equally captivating anyway--his subtle, gutsy and convincing performance as alcoholic airline pilot Whip Whitaker is more worthy of a Best Actor Oscar trophy than his Oscar-winning turn in Training Day--and Flight ended up becoming a critical and financial success in 2012.

After a string of often creepy-looking motion-capture fantasy movies that divided both critics and moviegoers, Flight marked the welcome return of the craftsman behind Used Cars, Back to the Future and Cast Away to grown-up filmmaking (yes, he made the Best Picture Oscar winner Forrest Gump, but the sappy and underwhelming Gump is hardly grown-up filmmaking). I haven't watched Used Cars, Zemeckis' only R-rated film until he made Flight, but I'm aware that the 1980 cult favorite is Zemeckis at his most biting and raunchy, raunchier than what the animators attempted to get away with during much of the material involving either Jessica Rabbit, Baby Herman or Betty Boop in Zemeckis' 1988 classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This mischievous side of Zemeckis from Used Cars and Roger Rabbit resurfaces in the unlikeliest of movies: Flight.

Part of what makes Flight better than the average addiction drama is the levity Zemeckis sneaks into this mostly somber piece of Denzel Oscar-bait, whether it's in the comic relief scenes where John Goodman temporarily steals the show as Harling Mays, Whip's oddly maternal drug dealer, or the opening hotel room scene where former My Name Is Earl viewers got to finally see Nadine Velazquez in all her full-frontal glory. The opening scene, which establishes Whip's alcoholism and coke habit, as well as the similar substance abuse problems of Velazquez's flight attendant character Katerina, is almost comedic in how it upends moviegoers' expectations about a typical introduction of a Denzel character and basically says, "Whip's not exactly the noble character Denzel frequently plays" (although he's played tormented alcoholics before, like in Courage Under Fire). It's even got Whip making a Bond-style pun while staring at Katerina's naked ass:

Or the dawn of crack.

Zemeckis even sneaks in a pair of in-jokes about one of Denzel's most frequent collaborators and a past Denzel movie. I'm going to invert the following screen shot like Whip does with his plane.

This house is so old there has to be Beta tapes lying around the crib too.
Oh, Lord Jesus, we're inverted!
Peep the stack of VHS tapes in the Whitaker family's old countryside house. One of the tapes is a copy of Top Gun, which was made by Tony Scott, who directed Denzel in Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Déjà Vu, the Taking of Pelham One Two Three remake and Unstoppable. I wouldn't be surprised if that was both Zemeckis and Denzel's way of paying tribute to Scott, even before the Crimson Tide director committed suicide while Flight was in post-production. Another video in that stack is a copy of Denzel's 1987 Steve Biko movie Cry Freedom. That means that Flight takes place in a bizarre reality where Denzel is a movie star and an alcoholic pilot who looks a lot like Denzel becomes a media darling for unconventionally and skillfully piloting a malfunctioning plane to safety, but nobody ever comes up to Whip and says, "Hey, has anybody ever told you you've got the marquee good looks of Denzel? Here's my number at CAA. Let's do lunch some time."

Hmm, I wonder why Virtuosity isn't in that stack of videos. Anyway, another element that elevates Flight above the standard addiction drama is the movie's engaging and non-didactic legal drama side, particularly in the scenes between Denzel and Don Cheadle as Whip's efficient--and quietly frustrated, especially over Whip's behavior--lawyer, which are at times as electric as the scenes between Denzel and Cheadle in Devil in a Blue Dress. In Flight, Denzel and Cheadle reverse their Devil in a Blue Dress roles as, respectively, the straight arrow and the troublemaker who has to be kept in line by the former. Flight is as close to the Denzel-as-Easy/Cheadle-as-Mouse reunion movie we'll sadly never get to see due to Devil in a Blue Dress' box-office failure during the weekend of the O.J. Simpson verdict in 1995.

Equalizer IV will have Denzel beating the shit out of bad guys with his cane and a bottlecap from one of his many bottles of pills.
Yo, old countryside house, you sure could use an upgrade from whatever the fuck they call Home Depot in The Equalizer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)

Speaking of which, why would anybody resist chicken and waffles? Because, again, people are idiots.

The last remaining show on NBC that was from the great underwatched Thursday night sitcom lineup that lasted on that network from 2009 to 2013 (the other shows on that lineup: The Office, 30 Rock and, of course, Community, now a Yahoo Screen show), Parks and Recreation takes a bittersweet bow tonight. It's a bow made even more bittersweet by the death of Harris Wittels, one of Parks and Rec's key writers, a week before the airing of the series finale. He was one of many staffers who appeared on the show as examples of the countless crazies who make up Pawnee, Indiana, the show's setting: in Wittels' case, he played Harris the frequently stoned animal control employee. Some feminists hated Wittels for outspoken things he said about free speech that they found to be offensive, while both men and women in the comedy community--particularly anyone from the Parks and Rec fam--adored him and his joke writing, whether on Twitter (a great example of a Wittels tweet: "I don't know if there's a god or not, but I will say this: Cap'n Crunch Oops All Berries is bomb as fuck") or for Parks and Rec.

A special tribute to Wittels from his Parks and Rec colleagues has been tacked on to tonight's hour-long Parks and Rec series finale. The skewed sensibility of writers like Wittels, Megan Amram, Alan Yang, Aisha Muharrar, Joe Mande, Chelsea Peretti and, of course, Parks and Rec co-creator/showrunner Michael Schur helped make Schur's show about small-town government stand out as a small-town comedy. There are small-town comedies like The Andy Griffith Show that older generations of TV viewers tend to love for their likability and warmth, and then there are small-town comedies like the later seasons of Newhart and Parks and Rec--well, actually seasons 2 to 7 of Parks and Rec, to be exact--that are on another level of humor and aren't just merely likable and warm. Post-season 2 Newhart and Parks and Rec are also crazy as fuck. And underneath Parks and Rec's warmth lurks an often biting view of politics outside the world of Pawnee, reflected in its portrayal of the crazy politics within Pawnee.

I always liked how Parks and Rec is basically The West Wing for comedy nerds whose political ideologies echo The West Wing's but who have grown sort of jaded about politics since that older show's demise and have found several of The West Wing's frequently parodied speeches to be too hokey and Hollywood-slick to take seriously anymore (West Wing alum Rob Lowe was even part of the Parks and Rec cast for most of its run, and when Bradley Whitford showed up as a Parks and Rec guest star, that was another enjoyable little collision between the West Wing and Parks and Rec casts). Parks and Rec's idealism was tinged with a satirist's sharp-eyed view of the absurdities of things like government infighting, corporate doublespeak (like whenever Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope had to deal with the local candy manufacturer Sweetums) and this season, Silicon Valley office culture. Speaking of which, both the presence of the fictional Bay Area startup Gryzzl in Pawnee and a three-year time jump--which should have sunk the show but didn't--have resulted in an extremely enjoyable final season full of futuristic sight gags and pause button-worthy Easter eggs, an additional treat on top of Poehler finally getting her longtime wish for Bill Murray to play Pawnee's long-unseen mayor, all the show's longtime threads getting paid off with well-earned emotional moments (Donna tricks everyone into finally calling Jerry by his original name: Garry!) and all the hilarious side characters, from Jean-Ralphio to those accountant dudes who are always seen fangirling over the presence of their former colleague Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), taking a final bow. My favorite pause button-worthy season 7 Easter egg would have to be this, an exhibit at the William Henry Harrison Museum that displays all the cool things about the alternate reality where President Harrison didn't die 30 days into his presidency:

But does Idris Elba get to take over as James Bond in this reality? That's the shit I want to know.

These other season 7 Easter eggs were pretty funny too:

And by viral, they mean that the sight of rhythmless white people attempting to dance made you want to fucking throw up.

If some fool brings his transparent Gryzzl tablet with him to a movie theater and keeps turning it on in the middle of the feature presentation, does that mean I get to beat the shit out of him with my transparent Gryzzl tablet that can transform into a baseball bat?

I'd love to see what the Old Glory Robot Insurance TV ads were like when Robotgate went down.

From the guys who brought you the riveting legal disclaimer for Happy Fun Ball comes...
(Photo source: Warming Glow)

By the way, why have I left out season 1 of Parks and Rec? Like so many other sitcoms, the show hadn't quite found its voice yet in that abbreviated first season. Parks and Rec's second season led to one of the greatest course corrections of any sitcom since the transformation of The Odd Couple from a strangely airless retread of the 1968 Walter Matthau/Jack Lemmon movie version in the single-camera format to a livelier, funnier and sharper buddy comedy energized by its switch to the multi-cam format.

That course correction mostly had to do with tweaking the heroine at the heart of Parks and Rec, Leslie, via the writers' wise move of changing her from a drab Michael Scott clone to a hyper-competent Tracy Flick type, but without a class-conscious chip on her shoulder and with a ton of friends who will take a bullet for her, whether it's that "beautiful tropical fish" Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), Ben, Leslie's soulmate and now husband, or breakfast food-loving libertarian Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), Leslie's mentor (and occasional adversary, ideology-wise). Rewriting Leslie into the straight-woman figure we know and love today shouldn't have worked, but it totally did. And that--along with the fully realized, Springfield-esque universe that surrounds Leslie--is why we have six great seasons of Parks and Rec (although some will argue that seasons 5 and 6 were when the show stumbled creatively a bit), all coming to an end tonight.

I bet DJ Roomba leads the robot revolt that takes down the humans of Pawnee in 2023.

Bruce Willis did the whole superheroes and supervillains in hoodies thing long before Arrow and The Flash started trying to make it hot.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fuck the #WhiteOscars: A mash-up of Jill St. John's 1966 Oscar striptease and AlunaGeorge is far more satisfying in its two little minutes than the Oscars will ever be

And now it's time to play Doug Benson's Build a Band: AlunaGeorgeMichaelMcDonaldFagen.

Somebody who goes by "LOSANGELENA" has combined two of my favorite things: the atrocious, unintentionally funny and long-out-of-print 1966 showbiz melodrama The Oscar and the British R&B duo AlunaGeorge's 2014 joint "Supernatural." Actually, The Oscar isn't exactly one of my favorite things. I wouldn't say I like The Oscar. What I do like is chuckling over almost every inept element of this Harlan Ellison-scripted, MST3K-worthy movie, from Stephen Boyd's overacting and his weird Hayden Christensen-esque voice (while he shrilly plays the part of Frankie Fane, an ambitious Hollywood asshole who ends up becoming an Oscar contender) to the equally shrill Tony Bennett's visible nervousness in his first acting role.

It's no wonder that the singer of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and "Rags to Riches" never acted again, aside from his cameos during The Simpsons, Muppets Most Wanted and Alec Baldwin's endlessly quotable "Tony Bennett Show" sketch on SNL. The only stars in The Oscar who give what could be considered non-cringeworthy and not-so-clichéd performances are a non-comedic Milton Berle as an oddly principled talent agent and an equally non-comedic Jack Soo as an Asian houseboy who--and this is kind of remarkable because this is a movie from the not-exactly-racially-enlightened '60s--doesn't have an accent. It's funny how the two stand-up comics in the Oscar cast--two guys who weren't known for possessing dramatic chops when they were alive--give the least cringeworthy and most naturalistic performances in the whole movie.

Cool. It's a magazine named after one of the ghosts from Pac-Man.
(Photo source: Catfan's Feline Fatale Follies)

The best way to approach this kind of soapy "I don't give a shit who I bang or who I ruin to climb my way to the top" material is to do it as a comedy. That's why I love Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which is so razor-sharp in its humor that it's made it difficult to take any musician biopic seriously anymore. Walk Hard takes musician biopic clichés like any scene where a white musician as a kid appropriates black musicians' sounds, basically says to the audience, "Hasn't this always looked ridiculous and stupid to you?," and then proceeds to make those clichés look even more ridiculous and stupid.

Instead, The Oscar plays it completely dead serious when it should be, oh, I don't know, more like Soapdish or the forgotten WB single-camera sitcom Grosse Pointe, which was basically Soapdish for the 90210/Dawson's Creek crowd--or better yet, more like John Waters. In fact, in an alternate universe far more entertaining than our own, The Oscar was probably directed by John Waters instead of being under the hacky, mid-'60s network TV-ish direction of D.O.A. co-writer Russell Rouse, with Divine in the role of a feminized Frankie Fane. And then in another alternate universe even more entertaining than that one, The Oscar was directed by Russ Meyer. Either of those guys would have transformed The Oscar into a comedic masterpiece.

This 1966 atrocity--which would have swept the Razzies had the Razzies existed in the '60s--is not on DVD. The only place where viewers can catch The Oscar is TCM, which shows a terrible-looking print. That's where I saw The Oscar and realized that as a dramatic actor, Tony Bennett is a decent watercolor painter. The movie features a striptease by future Bond girl Jill St. John that I assume was racy for its pre-Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?/Blow-Up time, and that's the scene from The Oscar that "LOSANGELENA" perfectly mashed up with singer Aluna Francis and producer George Reid's pulsating "Supernatural," along with footage from some late '60s Italian sexploitation flick I'm not familiar with.

I get more enjoyment out of the mash-up of The Oscar and AlunaGeorge than I ever would out of the tedious Oscar telecast--which I haven't watched in eons--and its annual array of frustrating snubs and overall out-of-touchness. Instead of dozing off during the 20,528th Chuck Workman montage of the night or fuming over "Selma is a well-crafted movie, but there’s no art to it" (I'd like to know what drugs that Academy member was on) and the absences of Selma star David Oyelowo and his director Ava DuVernay in the Oscar categories (plus the absences of a few other actors of color who delivered exceptional performances that went unrecognized), I'll be spending time with The Walking Dead, where an Asian American guy gets to be a hero who gets the girl for a change and actors of color like Steven Yeun and Danai Gurira receive far juicier material than the hackneyed kind the Academy would rather pay attention to when one or two actors of color actually do enter their often fucked-up radar.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Hanna

I like any movie where the title sounds like it came from the filmmakers drunkenly listening to 'The Name Game' one night. 'Hanna, Hanna, bo-banna, banana-fanna-fo-fanna.'
Every Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the ticket and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS.

Cate Blanchett is a terrific actress--I've enjoyed much of the Australian star's screen work ever since Elizabeth, the story of Fred Sanford's dead wife--but her attempt at a Southern accent in the 2011 teen assassin thriller Hanna is horrendous. British or Australian actors who mangle American accents have been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. The onslaught of these actors starring as American icons (Martin Luther King) or superheroes (the current Superman is a Brit, and so were the last cinematic Batman and the last pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe-era Spider-Man) is kind of worrisome because most of them really cannot do an American accent. The sight of many American roles in film and TV getting outsourced to white actors from other countries particularly bugs me because there are tons of Asian American or African American actors who are far better qualified at sounding American than those British or Aussie performers, and they're not getting those parts.

There's always one single word during a British or Aussie actor's performance as an American character that trips them up or brings their whole façade crashing down. Most often, that word is "anything." They tend to pronounce it as "en-nuh-thin"--Scottish star Karen Gillan's otherwise flawless American accent would slip during Selfie whenever she said "ennathin'"--instead of the American way: "en-nee-thing." During John Boyega's performance as a falsely accused American drone pilot on last summer's 24: Live Another Day, that word was "missile." Boyega pronounced it the U.K. way: "mis-eyel," as in making it rhyme with "aisle." The believability of Aussie actor Guy Pearce's performance as an ambitious '50s LAPD detective in L.A. Confidential was ruined at the very end of the film by Pearce's pronunciation of "Angeles" as "an-juh-lees"--a non-American way of saying it--instead of "an-juh-lehs." In Hanna, the word that trips up Blanchett is the movie's goddamn title! Her evil, 1998 Gillian Anderson-haired CIA agent character refers to the titular heroine she's chasing as "Hahn-uh." Yeah, that's not exactly the Southern way to pronounce it.

Cate, Cate, bo-bate, banana-fana-fo-fate, fee-fi-mo-mate: Cate!

It's not like Blanchett can't do a Southern accent at all. She actually mastered it once before as a Georgia fortune teller with genuine psychic powers in the 2000 Sam Raimi thriller The Gift (dig the musicality Blanchett brings to the line where her psychic character, who's being threatened by a customer's scummy redneck husband, explains to her son why she's grabbed a baseball bat: "Don't worry, honey, I'm just working on my swing"). Blanchett shouldn't really be blamed for an accent that's so all over the map Google Maps would throw up its hands in frustration and mutter, "I fucking give up. You're on your own." The blame should fall on the dialect coach Hanna director Joe Wright hired for Blanchett. It's clearly not the same dialect coach who helped Blanchett speak during the filming of The Gift. The Hanna dialect coach should be kidnapped, locked in that punishment cabin from the summer camp in Addams Family Values and forced to watch Hillbilly Handfishin' on a loop. (And then the casting director who told Wright that it would be a good idea to hire the whitest actress to star as Tiger Lily in this summer's Pan should be dropped off in an Indian reservation and forced to live there without money and a smartphone for a month.)

Did they really need to make Agent Marissa Wiegler an American, along with all the other CIA agents in Hanna who are unconvincingly portrayed by British actors? It's not like everyone in that agency's personnel is American. There are foreigners who work there. Take, for example, the funniest CIA agent of them all: Avery Bullock, the deranged agency boss Patrick Stewart voices on American Dad. He's a Brit. I would have rather had seen Wright and screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr shoehorn into Hanna some little backstory that Wiegler isn't American--like how Schwarzenegger flicks used to always squeeze in some dialogue about the hero's Austrian roots to explain what an American supercop is doing walking around with a thick Austrian accent--instead of the unintentionally funny attempt to pass Wiegler off as a Southerner. And that's not the only over-the-top and theatrical-sounding accent in Hanna. In fact, everyone in the film--who's not a member of the family of ordinary British tourists Hanna befriends while she's on the lam, that is--has a bizarre accent. There's the campy fake German accent Tom Hollander uses while he steals parts of the film as Wiegler's sadistic German associate Isaacs. But that accent somehow works. Meanwhile, Blanchett's campy fake Southern accent does not.

Her lousy accent fails to bring down a solid first action movie from a director who was previously known for period costume dramas like Atonement and Anna Karenina, just like how Wiegler fails to bring down this tough little German girl she wants to eliminate. Hanna is Saoirse Ronan's movie all the way, a remarkable coming-out party for the Atonement star's action side. Since Hanna, Ronan's starred in another art-house teen assassin flick, Violet & Daisy, and the Stephenie Meyer YA sci-fi adaptation The Host. Like in The Host, Ronan did all her own stunts as Hanna. She received martial arts training from legendary Bruce Lee protégé Dan Inosanto, and her verisimilitude as an action heroine--not once can you detect shitty CGI that pastes Ronan's eyebrowless face over some 42-year-old double's body--lends the film a certain edge and raggedy energy, whether she's leaping over shipping containers in an epic chase scene or simply snapping the pretty neck of Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery, who briefly appears as one of Hanna's first human kills.

'Container Park,' the title of the Chemical Brothers score cue for the shipping container chase, always sounds like something where Jeff Goldblum and Sir Richard Attenborough get chased around while they chew all kinds of scenery.

It's not just a strong physical performance. It's a really good dramatic one too. Ronan skillfully balances Hanna's fierce killing machine side with her vulnerable, innocent and curious child side. Wright frequently said he envisioned Hanna as a modern-day Grimm fairy tale--this one has an espionage backdrop and a dental hygiene-obsessed CIA scumbag as the evil witch--but I always interpreted Hanna as less of a fairy tale and more like an alien-on-Earth story a la The Iron Giant. Just replace the sentient robot soldier who discovers the wonders of Earth and decides that he doesn't want to be a gun with a home-schooled, feral and genetically engineered German teen who gets a taste of the world outside her wilderness classroom and realizes she wants no part of the kind of life her ex-CIA associate dad (Eric Bana, also working with a campy German accent) trained her for.

And how about that futuristic original score by the Chemical Brothers? It's like a fifth character in the movie, but it's definitely my favorite character, even more so than Hanna herself. The Hanna score, which can be heard during both "AFOS Prime" and the new AFOS espionage score music block "AFOS Incognito," is a remarkable aural achievement from a duo that never scored a film before. The tongue-in-cheek and creepy melody they wrote for Isaacs to whistle repeatedly--it's known on the score album as "The Devil Is in the Details"--is an all-time great villain theme.

Here we see Jim Norton confronting a heckler.

Part of why the Chemical Brothers' propulsive score will stand the test of time is because the Chemical Brothers were simply allowed to be the Chemical Brothers, and they didn't acquiesce to the ubiquitous Inception foghorn from old Love Boat episodes--which was popular then and is still all over action film score music--or any other Hans Zimmer-esque flourish like the ones that are evidence of John Powell's roots as a member of Zimmer's Media Ventures collective during Powell's scores for the Bourne movies. Sure, the equally beloved Daft Punk/Joseph Trapanese score from 2010's Tron: Legacy contains some "BRAHM!," but it works for that video game-inspired gladiator movie. It wouldn't have worked for either Hanna or what the Chemical Brothers were aiming for, and that was to sound as alien as Hanna herself. "BRAHM!" would have stuck out like a really bad Southern accent.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Shows I Miss: Sounding Out the City

The def pool
The Sounding Out the City podcast's city skyline key art is too boring as both an opening image and a visual representation of how killer and tasty many of the grooves were during the Sounding Out the City playlists, so this photo of a skyscraper rooftop pool party will have to do. (Photo source:; photographer: Alexander Tikhomirov)

Since 2009, the AFOS blog's "Shows I Miss" series has focused on preserving the memory of entertaining TV shows that were gone too soon and were too clever to last on network TV, from 2003's Keen Eddie, starring Mark Valley as a New York cop in London and a then-unknown, pre-Layer Cake Sienna Miller, to the more recent Selfie, an Instagram-age reimagining of Pygmalion starring Karen Gillan and John Cho. Keen Eddie and Selfie happen to have three things in common: 1) an ability to juggle slapstick with pathos without causing viewers to suffer from tonal whiplash; 2) a final episode that hints that the love/hate relationship between the two leads, who never got to share a kiss, will blossom into something else after the end credits roll; and 3) a distinctive and pitch-perfect soundtrack.

Keen Eddie music supervisor Liz Gallacher, who went on to music-supervise Layer Cake (thanks to her, you'll never hear Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" again without thinking of the mayhem of Layer Cake) and Masters of Sex, picked the most un-Miami Vice-y tune for a drug raid sequence on Keen Eddie: the Archies' "Sugar Sugar." She came up with several other odd but somehow fitting existing song choices for Keen Eddie, while original score composer Daniel Ash, the former frontman for Love and Rockets, lent J.H. Wyman's irreverent fish-out-of-water show an appealing Brit-rock sheen. As for Selfie, which opened each episode with the amusingly titled original theme "I'm Looking at Me: Ballad of a Narcissus" by Jenny O. Kapnek and Selfie score composer Jared Faber, the sublime use of musical acts to define each Selfie character as much as their flamboyant fashion choices do was all the work of music supervisor Kasey Truman, who previously worked with Selfie showrunner Emily Kapnek on securing existing songs like Full Force's "Ain't My Type of Hype" for Kapnek's three-season wonder Suburgatory. Uptight Henry's idea of wilin' out is a Blues Traveler concert, while his cordial and outgoing boss Mr. Saperstein would, of course, be a fan of someone as smooth as Terence Trent D'Arby, the one part of Mr. Saperstein where David Harewood's Britishness shines through. The choice of TLC's "No Scrubs" as a way for Eliza and her previously unfriendly co-worker Charmonique to bond was also the work of Truman, as were Eliza's attempt to catch Henry's eye with the help of Wiz Khalifa's "We Dem Boyz" (it looks like John Cho is trying his damnedest not to laugh during Eliza's dorky sexy dancing scene in that office) and a much more serious karaoke party moment where Eliza belts out Sia's "Chandelier" in despair over Henry's refusal to take his friendship with her to another level (and Karen Gillan's otherwise well-hidden Scottish accent surfaces, especially when she sings the word "anything").

For someone who's a Shaolin monk on the ones and twos, your Impact font's really lousy!

Music curating was also central to the first-ever entry in the continuing "Shows I Miss" series that's not a TV show: the half-hour Canadian podcast Sounding Out the City, which was at its most active from 2006 to 2009, a.k.a. the years before comedians not named Gervais forever changed podcasts and made them the more polished-sounding medium we know today. Sounding Out the City selector Driftwood, whose real name was Rob Fragoso, never got on the mic during his show, which appeared to have been named in tribute after the 2005 debut album by El Michels Affair, the Brooklyn retro-soul band that's best known for doing instrumental covers of Wu-Tang joints. Driftwood's podcast was closer to the DJ mixes that Okayplayer links to every Monday (and that I clog up too much of my MacBook hard drive with) than to a popular podcast that emerged during the '00s like the Gervais show or Coverville or a typical present-day podcast like WTF with Marc Maron, Comedy Bang Bang or StarTalk Radio. So without any interruption, save for the presence of sweepers like "Light on the attitude, heavy on the beat: Sounding Out the City" and "Beats, breaks, jazz, funk: Sounding Out the City," Driftwood would smoothly segue from classic breakbeat to lesser-known breakbeat to newly released retro-soul tune.

"I started out making mixes for myself to listen to during drives and subway rides. Somewhere along the way, I thought other people might enjoy the music in the mixes as much as I do, so I began posting them," wrote Driftwood in a podcast synopsis that's no longer online. There was nothing really extraordinary about Sounding Out the City. It was just a solid DJ mix podcast that any crate digger or beathead would enjoy. It also happened to be the first place where I encountered the likes of TOKiMONSTA and Mayer Hawthorne, as well as the first place where I heard--and fell in love with--the late Amy Winehouse's "Valerie," a cover of a Zutons tune she sang for producer Mark Ronson.

In the days before my phone took the place of my much larger-spaced but constantly malfunctioning iPod as my portable music player, I used to fill my iPod with mixes like the ones Driftwood assembled for Sounding Out the City. I managed to back up five Sounding Out the City episodes on a data CD before the demise of my PC wiped them out, and the reason why I'm bringing up the now-defunct podcast is because I rediscovered those episodes over the weekend while leafing through stacks of data CDs and cabinets full of mix CDs, hip-hop and R&B albums and pop soundtrack albums that were reserved for the now-defunct AFOS block "Rock Box," just to track down an audio file of Henry Mancini's "Something for Sophia" from the Arabesque soundtrack album, which I was thinking of adding to rotation for "AFOS Incognito."

Those five episodes are all I have of Driftwood's podcast, plus one information-less episode somebody preserved on YouTube. Out of all the unidentified bangers during that info-less Sounding Out the City episode on YouTube, I was only able to recognize a remix of Darondo's "Didn't I" at 29:45 and a remix of Mos Def, Q-Tip and Tash's "Body Rock" at 47:26. Unlike either Keen Eddie, which lives on in clips of raunchy Eddie/Moneypenny scenes and in its original and unedited form as full-episode bootlegs on YouTube, or Selfie, which is still streamable on Hulu and will probably remain there for a while unless Keen Eddie DVD-style music clearance issues force the show off Hulu, not a single trace of Sounding Out the City content remains online aside from that YouTube posting. That's due to both Driftwood completely disappearing from the Internet and the long-ago demise of the site that hosted his mp3s.

All that remains of Driftwood's digital footprint are an abandoned MySpace page where his profile pic is simply a pair of navy Adidas Gazelles and some episode playlist info depressingly surrounded by dead links. Shit, I really hate that I didn't save Driftwood's playlist info for my copy of the episode featuring Mos Def's "Twilite Speedball" because my search for the unknown artist who sang the really funky "Love for Sale" during that episode is leading me nowhere (the Wayback Machine failed to archive Driftwood's blog post about that episode, and not even Discogs has been helpful). And shit, shit, shit, I really want to hear the film score music-heavy Sounding Out the City episode where Ocean's Thirteen score cues like "Shit! Shit! Shit!," which can be heard during the AFOS morning block "Beat Box" and "AFOS Prime," were joined on the playlist by both "The Riot" from Fritz the Cat, which can be heard during "Beat Box" and the AFOS animation score music block "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," and Mighty Ryeders' "Evil Vibrations." I don't know what Driftwood is up to these days, but if it weren't for him, my train rides to and from work in 2007 wouldn't have sounded as amazing.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Snowpiercer

Those protein block snacks during Snowpiercer are fouler than the Tilda Swinton character's teeth.

Every Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the ticket. The following was previously posted on September 5, 2014, under the title "Jezebel says summer 2014 was too depressing to deserve a song of the summer, but it's definitely earned a movie of the summer."

Every time the summer wraps up, music or entertainment news orgs come out with their annual think pieces or listicles about the song of the summer, and the end of the summer last week was no exception. But Jezebel makes the bold argument that we shouldn't be talking about a song of the summer, especially after a summer of Ferguson, various other kinds of civil rights abuses, Elliot Rodger, the missile attack on the Malaysian Airlines jet, the Israel-Gaza conflict, ebola and Robin Williams' suicide. "There wasn't a 'song of summer' that defined these months, like 'Call Me Maybe' did in 2012 and 'Hot In Herre' does every summer. But this summer doesn't fucking deserve its own song. It hasn't earned it," wrote Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel.

In addition to a dismal three months of world news, the candidates that showbiz reporters have brought up as the possible song of summer 2014 are pretty dire. "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea, cultural appropriation's newest star? Fuck that song. (I don't like picking songs of the summer, and I agree that summer 2014 doesn't deserve one, but "Bom Bom Fiya" by Slimkid3 & DJ Nu-Mark, "Always Winnin" by Shad, "Remedy" by All About She, "Klapp Klapp" by Little Dragon and "Sup Bruce," a tribute to Bruce Lee by The Bar, were all pretty damn good, especially "Bom Bom Fiya.")

Ah-sung Ko and Chris Evans attempt to avoid slipping on fish.

However, summer 2014 has definitely earned a movie of the summer. I can't think of any other recent movie right now that speaks to summer 2014's feelings of unrest quite like director Bong Joon-ho's dystopian sci-fi blockbuster Snowpiercer does. That and many other reasons are why Snowpiercer is my favorite movie of summer 2014, as well as why selections from Marco Beltrami's score to the movie, in which Beltrami used instruments like the cimbalom to establish "a sound of antiquity" during Bong's futuristic tale of class conflict, are now playing on "AFOS Prime" and "New Cue Revue" on AFOS.

As much as I like Guardians of the Galaxy, the year's highest-grossing movie so far and one of the summer's most favorably received blockbusters in critics' circles (as well as a movie with a score that's also now being streamed on AFOS), Guardians suffers from a dull lead villain (what was his name again?). Snowpiercer doesn't have that problem. It features one of the year's most entertaining and well-drawn antagonists, in the snaggle-toothed form of Minister Mason, Tilda Swinton's Thatcher-ish politician/spokesperson character ("I am a hat. You are a shoe. I belong on the head. You belong on the foot... Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe."). Like Guardians, Snowpiercer is based on an obscure comic--the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette--but unlike Guardians, it's set in a rather depressing milieu. The Bong movie, which actually came out last year in Korea, Japan and Europe before hitting American theaters in June, centers on a violent revolt aboard the Snowpiercer, a state-of-the-art train that's circling the world and carrying the last remaining survivors of a failed and disastrous attempt to prevent global warming. The cramped train is, of course, a metaphor for our current world, and as Bong said when he told The Mary Sue about why Le Transperceneige intrigued him, the train exemplifies his observation that "No matter what situation we find ourselves in, there's no peace."

The Wilford song that this classroom of kids is about to sing would make for a great ringtone that, like all other ringtones, costs way more than it's actually worth.

Do the Right Thing, Attack the Block and now Snowpiercer are the best kind of summer movie: darkly funny, bleak (even though Moses defeats the aliens at the end of Attack the Block, he still winds up as another black man in prison), sequel-proof, racially diverse and a Fox News viewer's nightmare, due to both their political views and their diverse casts (sorry, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but you're lacking in the well-drawn female character department, and your version of San Francisco is implausibly devoid of Asians for some weird goddamn reason). I like escapist popcorn fare during the summer months like everybody else, but I prefer much of that kind of fare to carry some sort of weight or meaning and be reflective of some of the real-world madness outside the theater. Many tentpole blockbusters that use tiresome 9/11 imagery to attempt to raise the dramatic stakes are especially terrible at this, whereas the smaller-scale action movies Attack the Block and Snowpiercer don't play the 9/11 card and find other ways to make their material relevant and pungent. For Bong, one of those ways is the economic inequality in Korea, which appears to form much of the basis for Snowpiercer's class conflict.

Snowpiercer and The Lego Movie, which enraged Fox News' comrade in right-wing bullshit, Fox Business, would make for a terrific double bill of humorous films about the evils of big business. At the same time though, Snowpiercer, despite its disdain for big business in the form of the Wilford Corporation, doesn't opt for a simplistic "the left will ultimately prevail" narrative. It doesn't provide easy and comforting answers for the left, much like how Do the Right Thing doesn't provide answers on how to effectively deal with racism. Snowpiercer's (spoiler!) late twist that Chris Evans' lead revolutionary character Curtis was, without him realizing it, being groomed to inherit the corporation he was fighting against conveys Bong's bleak point that even when revolutionaries try their hardest, the corrupt system they're fighting will never be broken. That point is also conveyed by the harrowing confession Curtis makes to Namgoong Minsu, frequent Bong film star Song Kang-ho's perpetually stoned security expert character, about--without giving too much away--how even a revolutionary like himself, when he was younger, wasn't immune to the worst kind of behavior encouraged by the system.

If you're enraged by the police lately because of the situation in Ferguson, check out Snowpiercer, as well as Bong's other movies from South Korea, if you haven't done so; Bong feels your disdain for the police. The fact-based 2003 procedural Memories of Murder and the great 2006 monster movie The Host--where, just like in Snowpiercer, Song and Ah-sung Ko star as a father-and-daughter duo--also carry a huge disdain for authority and institutions at their most incompetent (in "Reverse Trip: Charting the History of Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer,"'s Scout Tafoya writes that Korean New Wave films like Snowpiercer reflect their directors' frustrations with corruption and bureaucratic incompetence in their own homeland). Even the 2009 thriller Mother, the Bong feature film with the least amount of social commentary, is tinged with that same distrust of authority.

Wow, Octavia Spencer's new Halfway Home cast reunion movie looks depressing as fuck.

From Memories of Murder to Snowpiercer, Bong has emerged as one of the sharpest satirical minds working in film today. I can't think of another current director who juggles various tones as unusually and effectively as Bong does. Like the grieving scene in the gym during The Host, Mason's speech to the lower-class Snowpiercer passengers early on in the movie is classic Bong: satire, slapstick and drama are going on all at once. The minister hilariously bumbles through her "Be a shoe" speech (she gets disrupted by clumsy translators and a tray that falls loudly on the ground, which wasn't in the script and was a blooper that Bong liked so much that he kept it in the film) while a torture scene ensues behind her, and we don't know whether to laugh or be disturbed over the bizarre punishment the goofy-looking Ewen Bremner character receives on his arm (it gets frozen and then amputated).

The "Be a shoe" speech/torture scene is one of many Bong moments where you, the viewer, are experiencing several things at once: anger over the cruelty of authority figures, laughter over their incompetence and silly behavior, sympathy for the mistreated protagonists and disappointment with those same protagonists because of mistakes they could have easily avoided (Bong's protags are never perfect and flawless saints). Bong explained his approach to these moments to The Mary Sue by saying, "These types of moments are generally kind of awkward for the audience, and I like that, because I think life is like that. It's not like something happens and everyone knows 'Oh, this is a funny moment,' or 'Oh, this is a sad moment.' It's not really divided like that."

Alison Pill's only scene in Snowpiercer greatly makes up for all the horseshit she had to act out in that one season of The Newsroom I sat through.

That sort of tonal weirdness--other examples include Curtis slipping on a fish on the floor in the middle of a serious fight scene and Alison Pill's one great scene as a cheery and psychotic schoolteacher--is an endearing part of Snowpiercer and Bong's other films, but I see why it can be challenging and off-putting for some moviegoers ("People didn't know if [The Host] was supposed to be funny--if they were supposed to laugh--or if they were supposed to be sad," said Bong about the confused reactions many Japanese moviegoers had to The Host). However, tinkering with Bong's idiosyncratic brand of filmmaking--which is exactly what Harvey Weinstein, the bullying studio chief with a history of getting his sausage-fingered hands on perfectly fine Asian movies and then butchering them, attempted to do when he wanted to shorten the running time of the American release of Snowpiercer--is just the worst way to make Bong's work attract moviegoers who aren't fans of his filmmaking. Bong opposed Weinstein's attempt to trim Snowpiercer and got into a war of words with The Weinstein Company that mirrored Curtis and the lower-class passengers' attempt to overthrow the upper class.

Fortunately, Bong won the battle, and although Weinstein cut down the amount of theaters he originally planned for Snowpiercer's American release in what comes across to me as a petty form of payback for Bong getting his way, Snowpiercer ultimately found its audience, not in theaters as a midnight-movie sensation but on VOD. We have Radius-TWC, The Weinstein Company's own boutique division, to thank for rescuing Snowpiercer in America and helping to turn it into a hit on iTunes two weeks after debuting in theaters.

"A lot of people come back to this movie a second, third, fourth, fifth time [on VOD]. I think the immediacy of that and how it shows up in social media speak directly to what the themes of this movie are," said Radius-TWC co-president Tom Quinn when he discussed the experimental distribution strategy that led to Snowpiercer's VOD success on KCRW's The Business.

That VOD success is also why Snowpiercer is the movie of the summer: it represents an interesting future for a certain kind of blockbuster that's neither a superhero movie nor a movie for kids, where an above-average action movie that, for some reason, would have had a difficult time finding an audience in theaters can succeed via this new platform--or where a movie that's receiving good word-of-mouth but isn't being released in smaller markets is now easily accessible to moviegoers from those markets who want to see it. Thanks to VOD, they can watch it now with just one click. As Josh Levin said in his Slate post about his enthusiasm over being able to catch Snowpiercer on demand, "We should embrace and celebrate the fact that we can now watch great movies on TV the same day they're in theaters."

As someone who's becoming increasingly less enamored with going to the theater to watch movies--I keep wanting to punch the lights out of younger moviegoers whenever they get unruly or start playing with their smartphones (this is why theaters need to start hiring bouncers)--I've been all for the rise of VOD ever since Radius-TWC made its first splash with the multi-platform release of the indie comedy Bachelorette in 2012. Though I saw Snowpiercer in the theater instead of on demand, that old saying of "Support this little film by buying a ticket to see it"--a line I frequently heard when Asian American college students and supporters of Asian American indie movies tried to get members of various Asian American subcommunities to see Better Luck Tomorrow in theaters in 2003--is just going to sound silly and outdated when three or four more Snowpiercers or They Came Togethers take off on VOD or when that inevitable day comes when Asian American content creators who have been successful on YouTube start releasing feature films on iTunes.

I shudder to think about what would have happened if Bong lost the power of final cut to Weinstein and a truncated version of Snowpiercer wound up on VOD instead. Snowpiercer already has several bleak endings. Why does it need another? Plus the sight of Bong's vision being compromised would have added to making the past three months--which, headline-wise, were as dismal as the living conditions and black protein block food the lower-class Snowpiercer passengers are forced to put up with--a tad more dismal. The fact that Snowpiercer was able to arrive in America with all of its scenes intact--plus the fact that the film turned out to be so damn good and is yet another work in Bong's filmography that's both enjoyable and so dead-on about the fucked-up real world outside the theater--are, to borrow the words of Raymond Carver, a small, good thing in a time like this.

Selections from the score to Snowpiercer can currently be heard during "AFOS Prime" on AFOS.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of Last Week: Archer, "Vision Quest"

If this were the Bourne movies, Cyril would have been able to kill Krieger with just that bagel.
On some Fridays, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. The "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week is no longer a weekly feature, but sometimes, I'll catch a really good piece of animated TV one week or a few weeks after its original airdate, and I'll feel like devoting some paragraphs to it despite my lateness to the party. Hence the occasional "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of Last Week. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

You know that "Vision Quest," a bottle episode of Archer that finds the characters trapped in a broken elevator for the entire story, is a special Archer episode when it takes two of its most deranged and oblivious-to-reality characters, Cheryl/Carol (Judy Greer) and Krieger (Lucky Yates), the spy gadget builder and possible Hitler clone a la The Boys from Brazil, and gives them each a rare moment of lucidity before restoring them to their usual insanity and obliviousness. Carol (her name this week) has that moment when she perfectly breaks down each of the other characters she's trapped in the elevator with (Carol to Archer: "You want a drink;" Carol to Lana: "You wanna lecture us;" Carol to Cyril: "You wanna masturbate;" Carol to Krieger: "And you're scared that we'll figure out you're actually just a Krieger clone"). Krieger has that moment when he explains that he jammed everyone's cell phones because he's tired of everybody staring at their phones and not having conversations with each other. Krieger hates smartphone zombies just like I do? Go, Krieger!

Den of Geek put it best when they said, "The beauty of Archer's 'Vision Quest' is that it uses the elevator trope to teach its characters absolutely nothing." Usually, bottle episodes of other shows--from Parks and Recreation's recent "Leslie and Ron" to Community's many tributes to The Breakfast Club, the John Hughes flick that's basically one big bottle episode in the form of a feature film--deprive the characters of their comfort zones and inhibitions, strip them bare figuratively (and sometimes literally, for fan service reasons) and put them through a situation where they experience character growth or reach some sort of dramatic understanding after a prior conflict tore them apart. Oh yeah, and bottle episodes are cheap to make.

Confined to just one location or two or three, a bottle episode often acts as sort of a smaller-scale breather from expensive shoots. In Archer's case, the animators needed a bottle episode--I'm glad they went with that instead of a godawful clip show--after laboring over some really expensive and ambitious animation in the past few episodes, particularly the beautifully animated avalanche sequence for "The Archer Sanction," a good example of the raised budget FX gave to Archer this season. "Vision Quest" was what Archer creator Adam Reed--who's remarkably written or co-written every single prior Archer episode--came up with to ease the animators' pain. The episode, which Reed wrote in less than two days, takes its title from the 1985 Matthew Modine high-school wrestling flick that's best remembered for introducing Madonna's "Crazy for You" (outside America, Vision Quest was actually retitled Crazy for You), and it uses that movie for a great episode-concluding punchline.

This least expensive and action-y of Archer episodes has turned out to be the funniest episode of Archer's sixth season so far--remarkably, there's so little spycraft in this episode that at times, "Vision Quest" could be mistaken for an episode of Soap from the '70s or some non-espionage sitcom where characters argue profanely--and it's a unique bottle episode because unlike other bottle episodes where characters experience some growth, Archer, Lana, Cyril, Ray, Pam, Carol and Krieger experience no growth at all. "Vision Quest" concludes with them being far worse assholes to each other than they were at the beginning. Archer's latest bottle episode takes the tendency for many other bottle episodes to either go overboard on the navel-gazing--or lose too many of the funny or sharp qualities we like about the "normal" episodes--and gleefully proceeds to jerk off all over it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Selma

If it were 1971, Selma would have received a G rating. MPAA ratings were so bizarre in the '70s. Beneath the Planet of the Apes killed off all the characters. It got a G. Star Trek: The Motion Picture ends with a human, a robot and a space probe fucking each other in front of the Enterprise. That got a G.
Every Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the ticket and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS.

The Selma Oscar snubs have disappointed all of us moviegoers who were mesmerized by director Ava DuVernay's third feature film, a historical drama about the civil rights movement's push to get the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, via civil disobedience and legal strategizing. But Larry Wilmore, currently the only African American host on late-night TV and hardly a stranger to the struggles of bringing more diversity to Hollywood (he was the creator and original showrunner of The Bernie Mac Show and he helped showrun the first few episodes of Black-ish this season), said something enlightening about the Selma snubs, and it's helped me feel a little less disappointed about those oversights. The host of Comedy Central's solidly funny Nightly Show said to the Hollywood Reporter that awards at the end of the day don't really mean as much as making sure a black female director like DuVernay gets a shot at making a movie ("That, to me, is more important; the other stuff is gravy," said Wilmore).

Wilmore added that awards aren't even as important as the fact that a black female producer, Shonda Rhimes, the Scandal creator/showrunner and How to Get Away with Murder producer (but not HTGAWM's creator, an important distinction that an actual writer from the supposedly observant New York Times failed to even notice), basically now has a night of network TV programming all to herself, something unprecedented in network TV history. He hasn't let the snubs bother him because he's not surprised by them ("It's hard to get me outraged over stuff that happens all the time").

It's Chuck Workman who ought to be snubbed, not Ava DuVernay. His montages are alright, but only when they're not part of the Oscar telecast. The montage part of the Oscars is also known as 'time to head to the bathroom.'
Ava DuVernay

To recap those snubs, DuVernay didn't receive a Best Director nomination even though her film landed a Best Picture nod. She could have been the first black woman nominated for Best Director. The Academy also overlooked Selma star David Oyelowo's breakout performance--in America, that is, because elsewhere, particularly in the U.K., the British Nigerian actor is a familiar face to TV viewers over there--as Martin Luther King, a rare great turn by a British actor where he's not mangling an American accent for once. I'll always love Amy Poehler for making fun of British actors' often forced-sounding attempts at American accents in her 2015 Golden Globes monologue with Tina Fey. Oyelowo (pronounced "oh-YELL-oh-woe") does it well in Selma. Daniel Craig does not. Idris Elba can do it. Lennie James cannot, unless it's a Southern accent like his current one on The Walking Dead. David Harewood can do it. Philip Glenister cannot, and it's why parts of ITV's Demons were an unintentional laugh riot. Marianne Jean-Baptiste can do it. Saffron Burrows was so terrible at it that Boston Legal had to retcon her lawyer character and change her to a British ex-brothel madam pretending to be American. Damian Lewis can do it. Oyelowo's Selma co-star Tom Wilkinson, who portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson in Selma, often cannot, but he's such a great actor that his dodgy and cartoonish Mafioso accent in Batman Begins fails to ruin his imposingness during the 2005 blockbuster's best scene, his "this is a world you'll never understand" monologue.

Another frustrating but not as frequently discussed Selma Oscar snub is the lack of a nomination for another black member of Selma's crew, cinematographer Bradford Young. He did excellent work lighting King's church speeches, the harrowing "Bloody Sunday" sequence and a key jail cell scene where a perturbed King asks fellow activist Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo) whether being able to sit at the same lunch counter with white people is worth it when the system continually keeps the marginalized from being able to afford to eat there.

Something else has kept me from being enraged about the Selma snubs: the simple fact that I don't give a shit about the Oscars, an inane popularity contest that's frequently been on the wrong side of film history. When Do the Right Thing was the best American film released in 1989, what did the Academy give the Best Picture trophy to? The "safer choice" of the astoundingly tone-deaf and stereotypical Driving Miss Daisy. And of those two 1989 films about race relations, which one continues to be discussed in think pieces or oral history pieces and dissected in film school courses? Definitely not "Yes, Miss Daisy." And don't get me worked up over Dances with Wolves winning Best Picture over GoodFellas the following year. Sure, we should all be grateful for how Dances with Wolves gave a breakthrough role to the great Native Canadian actor Graham Greene and a bunch of substantial roles to Indian actors, but it's also a frustrating white savior movie, something Selma is not.

Civil disobedience sounds like a character from The Incredibles: 'Look, here comes Sybil Disobedience!'

It's not going to matter to me which film will win Best Picture on February 22 because Selma has accomplished something greater than that trophy, and that's simply being a rare feature film about the modern civil rights movement that's told from the point of view of the oppressed for a change. DuVernay has defied the common foolishness of inserting a white savior character into a story about the plight of people of color, whether that story is Cry Freedom or Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning, to make it more "palatable" to white audiences. In fact, the original version of Selma's screenplay by screenwriter Paul Webb, who retained sole credit for the screenplay despite DuVernay's many changes to it, positioned President Johnson as the white savior figure and placed more emphasis on the interactions between King and LBJ. But when DuVernay climbed on board the project (Lee Daniels was originally supposed to direct Selma, but he chose to direct The Butler instead), she wisely refocused the screenplay on King and his colleagues, including black women in the movement like King's wife Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo), Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey, whom Oyelowo brought onto the project) and Diane Nash (Tessa Thompson from Dear White People).

As an Asian American viewer, the four words I immediately think of whenever I encounter "white savior genre" are Come See the Paradise. That's the 1990 Oscar-bait flick that's better remembered these days for spawning ubiquitous '90s trailer music than for its story of World War II Japanese American internment camp inmates told through the eyes of Dennis Quaid as Tamlyn Tomita's white husband (Come See the Paradise also happened to be Parker's follow-up to Mississippi Burning; like Jerry Seinfeld used to say in that ear-piercing whine of his, what is the deal with this Parker guy?). Almost every white savior genre movie goes like this:


I'm white.

My best friend is not white.

Some people are being mean to my best friend for being different.

That makes me very sad.

Here are 95 minutes about why I'm very sad.

Also, see all the things I will do to make the bad people be nice to my best friend.

The genre is stupid, infantile, offensive and always worthy of ridicule. As far back as 1990, In Living Color was skewering anti-apartheid white savior movies with a great fake trailer for a tearjerker about the suffering of a wealthy white South African lady who loses her black housekeeper to apartheid and cries and pleads by letter for her return and then cries again. Even Avatar, the sci-fi action flick where Antony Starr Chris Hemsworth Jai Courtney Sam Worthington becomes enlightened by a race of mistreated aliens, suffers from white savior syndrome. Selma basically says "fuck off" to that type of film, a genre that's rarely questioned or criticized by white Hollywood, and that's probably a reason why neither the 94 percent white, 77 percent male Academy nor the LBJ defenders who aren't former LBJ press secretary Bill Moyers really care for Selma.

The LBJ defenders who were more extreme in their beef with Selma than Moyers (he appreciates the film despite his problems with how it portrays his former boss) proceeded to mastermind a smear campaign that succeeded in ruining the film's Oscar chances. Their accusations that Selma distorts LBJ into a villain are silly. The film humanizes him by showing his flawed ways of thinking and how he ultimately changed his mind about hesitating over voting rights legislation, just like how it takes King, a figure who's either been sanitized, reduced to a catchphrase ("I have a dream") or exploited by both Madison Avenue and right-wing TV hosts whose ideologies he would have opposed, and explores his doubts and insecurities as a leader (like in the jail cell scene) and depicts his generational conflict with younger activists. King's infidelity in his marriage is even addressed, something the last major film about King, director Clark Johnson's equally effective 2001 HBO film Boycott, didn't do (Boycott also happened to feature Ejogo in the same role of Coretta, who was younger and less jaded about both her marriage and activism in general in Johnson's film because it took place in 1955).

Of course, that MLK biopic in The Boondocks failed to show Cuba Gooding Jr. the money.

Selma rarely turns into the kind of stiff and formulaic Oscar-bait The Boondocks made fun of nine years ago when it actually predicted Cuba Gooding Jr.'s appearance in an MLK movie--in Selma, Gooding has a cameo as an attorney--and briefly mocked how often Hollywood mishandles historical figures like King. Part of Selma's verisimilitude is due to the way DuVernay follows various figures in King's cause and not just King himself to show how much the cause became bigger than him.

The DuVernay film's ensemble feel on a low budget is reminiscent of A Night to Remember, the documentary-like, British-made 1958 Titanic movie that's far better than the James Cameron version. Selma glimpses the movement's impact on the likes of young protester Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield) and his family; John Lewis (Stephan James, whose resemblance to Lewis is uncanny), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member who later became both a Congressman and a historical graphic novel author; and even some of the white activists or ministers who joined King's marches.

Bill O'Reilly has said Common is an example of 'the usual rap stuff, touting guns and other anti-social behaviors.' Yeah, you old racist fuck, that's what Common won that Golden Globe in January for: the usual rap stuff, touting guns and other anti-social behaviors.

DuVernay avoided creating composite characters--the usual practice of an Oscar-bait biopic--and wanted to include as many different real-life figures as possible. There is one moment though, when Selma sets itself up for the kind of parody The Boondocks used to often excel at in its first three seasons: the bizarre sight of Oprah punching a cop, although Annie Lee Cooper actually did punch that cop. I imagine this is where Oprah intervened and said, "I'm the producer. I wanna be the one to play Annie and punch a cop." While it's a rousing scene taken from history, it's also the one distracting moment in the film that borders on "John Wayne crashing Christ's crucifixion" campiness.

Otherwise, like Boycott or any other historical drama that doesn't feel like a stiff and formulaic biopic, Selma takes subjects like King's struggles with voting rights legislation and the scourge of police brutality and finds ways to make them resonate in a current climate of ignorance towards voting rights and outrage over police brutality. One of those ways is Common and John Legend's Golden Globe-winning end title theme "Glory." In that track, Common, who portrays James Bevel in the film, links the activism in Selma and Montgomery to the activism in Ferguson and echoes the film's communal focus when he raps, "No one can win the war individually" ("Glory" is also a unique track in hip-hop: like The Physics' "These Moments" in 2011 and Jay Electronica's "Better in Tune with the Infinite" last year, almost all of "Glory" contains no percussion, perhaps to mirror the film's subject of non-violent activism). DuVernay herself best explained Selma's contemporary-minded and non-stodgy approach to historical drama when she said, "Oh gosh, I'm completely allergic to historical dramas. Particularly those around the civil-rights movement. It's not my favorite thing to watch. So often they feel like medicine... I really wanted it to be nuanced and feel urgent, and to have some life to it."

Oscar trophies are nothing when compared to a simple accomplishment like that.

"Glory," the Oscar-nominated Selma end title theme, can be heard during "Color Box" (weekdays at 10am Pacific) and "New Cue Revue" (Wednesdays and Fridays at noon Pacific) on AFOS.