Podcast: Alternative Oscars Episode 5 – 1953

The Tawfik Zone Alternative Oscars Podcast Logo

Hi everybody.

It’s been a long gap between episodes. My fault entirely. I’m thrilled to unleash our 5th episode of The Alternative Oscars Podcast. This episode, we discuss movies of 1953. We dish our thoughts on the five films nominated that year and then offer our nominees of films eligible in 1953 that we think are better.

What did you think about the Best Picture nominees? Or our nominees and winners? What would be your picks for 1953?

Review Short Film: Here Lies Joe (2016)

One of the most common complaints about Hollywood films is how predictable and formulaic they are. In the 90s, film festivals like Sundance were in their zenith when they provided a platform for writer/directors such as Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, and Jim Jarmusch, who delivered films that brazenly asserted an edgy, idiosyncratic style, often mixing the irreverent with the absurd.

Over the years, Sundance and indie films in general have lost their cachet as many of the films that come out of the festivals have arguably become as formulaic as blockbuster flicks, yet often without the slick efficiency. One of the stalest forms of American indie movies is the emo rom-com between suicidal depressives.

The new short film Here Lies Joe checks most of the boxes of the aforementioned genre: washed out color palette, slow mumbly alternative soundtrack, gratuitous long takes that are supposed to signify how bare the protagonist’s life is, and forced snarky-cutesy banter between a man and woman.

Writer-director-cinematographer-editor, etc. Mark Battle has some flair for morose comedic awkwardness as evidenced in the suicide anonymous group meeting scene (buoyed by an amusing performance by Mary Hronicek as an emotional wreck).

Joe loses momentum when it hinges on a meandering series of awkward scenes between the titular character (Dean Temple), a former professor? living in his car, and Z (Andi Morrow), an intellectual and brash, but self-destructive woman.

There are hints that Temple and Morrow, are sensitive performers, but they are constrained by the overly self-conscious archetypal nature of their characters.

Morrow is better at asserting the abrasive elements of her character than the more vulnerable side, which as written feels more obligatory than organic. If the character of Z is overly snarky, Joe is on the wrong side of understated; underdeveloped. While protagonists in many films overexplain themselves, we never conclusively know anything about Joe (the scraps of evidence of his past are never tied in to the story, alas), and therefore have very little connection with him.

What Joe lacks in originality, it makes up for in overall competency, which puts it way ahead of most low-budget small crew short films in the festival circuit.

Good Nightly to The Nightly Show

I was mindlessly checking Facebook one afternoon and was completely stunned and saddened to learn that one of the few new shows that I regularly watched, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore was cancelled by Comedy Central after two seasons.


Courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Actually, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as there have been continuous signs that the show hasn’t clicked with many people. Ratings were always low and very rarely got media attention, until the announcement of the untimely cancellation, where the consensus is that this is a huge injustice and will leave a vacuum for sharp political commentary.

I am certainly disappointed by this news, even though it wasn’t a perfect show. In fact Nightly had lots of rough patches. Quite a number of the sketches from the earlier run such as the amateur theater reenactments of headline news were embarrassingly lame. There were far too many editions of “Nightly, Nightly” a misfire parody of the celebrity driven Entertainment Tonight-style of news stories, made totally unbearable by Grace Parra’s annoying overacting.

The most problematic element of the show, the panel discussions, were usually mediocre at best, hampered in part by the brevity of each episode and partly by the guests, entertainers who didn’t always have the best grasp of politics. Wilmore wasn’t always a forceful moderator, often kowtowing to guests, even when they’re obviously babbling idiocy, like ignorant loudmouth Anthony Anderson ranting about a New Zealand basketball player’s use of the word “monkey,” oblivious to the cultural differences of the word.

But out of that messiness came its greatest strength, originality. As network late-night is more about a set-in-stone brand, Wilmore’s flexible formula gave him a chance to create his own vibe of a no-nonsense truth teller who was also highly personable and compassionate.

Wilmore was better than anyone (yes, including John Oliver whose jokey asides often feel intrusive and pale to his sharp journalistic analysis) at seamlessly blending sardonic quips in the midst of commenting on tragic stories.

Social media went wild for Jon Stewart’s somber, no joke take on the Charleston church shooting, but while Stewart and others threw their hands up in the air, Wilmore immediately contextualized the tragedy and making mincemeat out of the ever-tacky Fox News who wasted no time spinning the shooting as a war against Christians rather than the race issue that it clearly was.

When everybody else dodged with sending their “thoughts” to the Paris terror victims for days after the massacre, Wilmore again was a first comedy responder. He humorously reminded his audience about France’s role in forming America, as well as some of America’s stupid foreign policies under Bush, all in the spirit of a genuine sense of grief.

I’m just as sad for the core team of correspondents as I am for Wilmore, most of whom I suspect will struggle to find another gig for a while. I greatly respect Wilmore for sharing the spotlight with strong scene-stealing comedians, especially MVP Mike Yard. Out of all the staff, Yard is consistently the sharpest and most subversive voice on the program and has a special knack at starting with an unexpected angle and taking it to an even more surprising direction; his report on the plantation weddings highlights his ability at uncomfortable hilarity. Even in the panel discussions where most people mince their words to act as a mutual agreement society, Yard is one of the only ones willing to say the hard truths, even when they weren’t met with wild applause.

My second fave is Holly Walker who brought an invigorating audacity to her slightly unhinged characters, best of which was the “incognegro” truther. I even kind of warmed to people who really put me off at first like Franchesca Ramsey and Robin Thede.

What galls me most about this cancellation was how little time they gave the fans. I’m not asking for a year’s notice a la Oprah, but certainly Comedy Central could have given us more than a week to process the news, most businesses at least give two weeks’ notice. Even Wilmore was blindsided, causing him to rightly quip, “…keeping it 100, I guess I hadn’t counted on ‘The Unblackening’ happening to my time slot as well.”

While Nightly may not have had the viewership that Comedy Central wanted, they have made a huge mistake of ending the only show on its network to substantially skewer our thoroughly demented and fraught socio-political climate and call out the entertainment media for its lopsided coverage and extreme intellectual dishonesty. Meanwhile, the craziness continues and late-night remains the same old, same old.

Alternative Oscars In-Depth: Neville Brand, Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef

The Tawfik Zone Alternative Oscars Podcast Logo

Hi everybody,

Right before the Tawfik Zone was out of commission for quite a while, due to a series of minor technical difficulties and my own hectic schedule, my dymanic duo Tia Nikolopulas and Tawfik Zone contributor Candace Wiggins recorded a couple of Alternative Oscars podcasts. (You can check out 1950, 1951, and 1952).

The opening jingle was composed by Incompitech genius Kevin McLeod.

This one is the first of what we hope will be a regular part of the podcast, an in-depth look at people or things related to the Alternative Oscars. In this episode we discuss character actors, all of whom got their start in the 1950s; the iconic Lee Van Cleef, the beloved Jack Elam, and the now-underrated Neville Brand.

If you find our other podcasts too long, you’ll be happy to know that this and future in-depth episodes is about 45 minutes. If you like our longer, stream-of-conscious Alternative Oscars episodes, don’t worry, we’re still going to do them. Alternating between these two types of episodes, we hope to provide content on a regular, monthly basis.

We hope you enjoy our In-Depth episode. If you have any questions or constructive feedback gives us a shout out. We’d like to hear from you.

Obit: Gloria DeHaven (1925-2016)

About 15 years after the launching the highly innovative and spellbinding moving picture, the scrappy moguls realized that the future of their industry depended on more than the novel technology itself. After reading several fan letters inquiring about the people in the movies (who were then uncredited), they came up with the ingenious idea of grooming movie stars for public consumption (we all know how well that worked out).

Gloria DeHaven, far left on the 2nd row from bottom. Courtesy of handkerchiefheroes.com

Gloria DeHaven, far left on the 2nd row from bottom. Courtesy of handkerchiefheroes.com

The star machine had its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s during the Golden Age of Hollywood. One of the best practitioners of this method was MGM, whose endearingly corny but apt studio mantra was a place where there were “more stars than in heaven.” MGM, specializing in gorgeously gauche fare, was a perfect fit for the crude and synthetic star system.

One of its starlets, Gloria DeHaven who died from a stroke July 31st, has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Born to vaudevillian parents Carter and Flora Parker DeHaven, Gloria began her career early, making her screen debut as an extra in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936).

From the get go, this fresh-faced glamorous brunette (sometimes blonde) exhibited confidence and glamour and made a good impression in small supporting roles, best of which was Best Foot Forward (1943). She more than held her own against the large and vibrant cast, as a feisty co-ed who instigates antagonism towards publicity-hungry actress Lucille Ball, who opportunistically accepts a prom date from a young cadet. This film marked the first pairing between DeHaven and June Allyson who along with Nancy Walker vibrantly delivered the show stopping musical number “The Barrelhouse, The Boogie Woogie, and The Blues.”

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

DeHaven and Allyson had such great chemistry that the next year, they got their first leading roles as plucky singing sisters in the charming morale boosting WWII musical Two Girls and A Sailor. As two singing sisters who gently spar for the affections of a boyish sailor played by Van Johnson, DeHaven’s sexiness and poise as the slightly impulsive sister who attracts the men perfectly complements Allyson’s warm, maternal, though slightly homely sister. Musically, DeHaven’s smooth, clear mezzo and Allyson’s raspy alto are in sync. In the end, audiences gravitated more towards the cuter, All-American Allyson and Johnson who starred in several subsequent films together, thus ending the Allyson DeHaven duo. (Off-screen, the two women remained best of friends).

With that, DeHaven was relegated back to supporting roles, as mostly kid sisters or secondary ingénues. She always brought an effortless, personable, slightly naughty but nice quality that deftly eschewed cloying sappiness. Her charm and vivacity sparkled even if the film didn’t. She easily outshone the negligible song and dance man, George Murphy, mediocre songstress Ginny Simms, and antiquated ex-Vaudevillian fuddy duddy Charles Winninger in the clunky Broadway Rhythm (1944).

DeHaven had a couple of major career setbacks in the mid-40s. First, she was suspended for refusing a role in Good News. Her next assignment, Summer Holiday, a strange but interesting (though not entirely successful) musical adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play Ah Wilderness, was a highly troubled production that sat on the shelf for two years, and flopped miserably when finally released. Collectively, this kept her off screen for three years.

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

While many of her peers utterly resented Dore Schary replacing an acrimoniously ousted Louis B. Mayer as head of production at Metro, DeHaven appreciated the chance to play against type in grittier roles under the new executive’s auspices. She gives a potently poignant performance as the black sheep of a cold, elitist family who has a pregnancy out of wedlock (and naturally a tragic outcome) in the broody melodrama The Doctor and the Girl. In the nifty, cynical little film noir, Scene of the Crime, a bottled blonde DeHaven is effective as a quasi femme fatale who strips in a skeevy nightclub and cavorts with riff raff.

Although both films turned a profit and received decent reviews, DeHaven went back to lighter fare, playing Judy Garland’s slightly self-centered sister in the bizarre farm-set musical Summer Stock and Red Skelton’s love interest in The Yellow Cab Man. Shortly after, she left MGM and freelanced, where the quality of the material declined.

Courtesy of www.cbsnews.com

Courtesy of www.cbsnews.com

While no longer an A-lister, DeHaven worked steadily on television, Broadway, and nightclubs until the 1990s. She continued to display her versatility in a variety of excellent performances ranging from a shady old-flame who embroils private detective Mannix in a murder case to an assertive travel agent friend of Jessica Fletcher in a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote. In one of the best episodes of the series, DeHaven, engages in several delightful catfights with several grande dames of the studio-era Julie Adams, Kathryn Grayson, and Ruth Roman, all of whom had dalliances with a town handyman whose shrewish wife was recently murdered.

Like several of the classic stars, DeHaven was approached a few times to write an autobiography, but the deal always fell through because she refused to write a “tell-all” account of her Hollywood days. Instead, in public appearances, DeHaven emphasized the positive aspects of being part of the “Metro family” (though she found some of the sillier aspects of the censorious Hays Code disagreeable). While she didn’t have the widespread fame as some of her peers (I would say she was sorely underrated), Gloria DeHaven has made a lasting impression on movie-loving folks like me.