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Podcast: 1950s Horror

Hi everybody,

I’ve started a new position at my local library and I’ve met a colleague and friend Eddie Whitlock who listened to previous episodes of the Alternative Oscars and immediately proposed that we do a podcast on classic horror. Everybody at the Tawfik Zone, me, Candace and Tia, was all for it from the get go. The four of us discuss the state of horror in the 50s and mention many titles including House of Wax, Night of the Demon, The Wasp Woman, Curse of the Warewolf, and The Bad Seed. We give our definitions of horror. We ask you, what makes a movie horror?…..

If you want to catch up on our other podcast episodes, click here.

Review: The Incredible Jessica James (2017)

The Mediocre Jessica Williams

Courtesy of Essence

A year or two before Jon Stewart stepped down from The Daily Show in 2015 he was visibly not as sharp as he was in for the previous decade he fronted the program that he transformed into one of the best US contemporary political TV satires. Several of his greatest correspondents including Stephen Colbert, Jason Jones, Wyatt Cenac, John Oliver, and Samantha Bee were long gone and doing their own things.

In a group of mostly ho hum supporting talent, Jessica Williams, an acerbic millennial 6-foot black woman, was clearly the audience favorite. She had so much goodwill that several Daily Show launched campaigns for her to replace Stewart. Many went berserk when Trevor Noah got the job. I was never on the Jessica Williams bandwagon; I found her segments lacking in originality and the faux-bemused straight-talking shtick always fell a bit flat on delivery.

In spite of my bias against Williams, I wanted to like her newest movie, The Incredible Jessica James. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that this wasn’t going to be the movie for me. Writer-director Jim Strouse, who cast Williams in a supporting role in his 2015 indie film People Places Things, was captivated by her and felt that she needed her own vehicle.

Courtesy of Okayplayer.com

In Jessica James, Williams plays a 25-year-old aspiring playwright in a creative and personal funk after a break-up with her ex (Lakeith Stanfield). Watching Williams headline a 90-minute feature, I had a clearer picture of why I am not a fanboy. Towards the end of the film, James’ sort of love interest (Chris O’Dowd), who binged read her plays, remarked that her body of work reveals her complexity as a person.

The problem is, we don’t see James’ multifaceted personality because Williams doesn’t show it to us. For the most part Williams is replicating her Daily Show persona. Her character is intended to be intelligent and prickly, in part due to her frustration of being an unproduced playwright. We get that. The problem is Williams is incredibly guarded and unapproachable which makes it very difficult to be invested in her character. She’s poker-faced, but she’s not droll and there’s no mystery lurking beneath.

On The Daily Show, Williams preached to the choir. In Jessica James, she talks down to the audience. The only scenes Williams seemed to halfway enjoy performing are when she berates characters who don’t share her supposedly contradictory profound insights, such as her tinder date who isn’t romantically sexually aggressive enough or a suburban mom at her sister’s baby shower who is befuddled by James’ revisionist feminist children’s book.

Courtesy of The Guardian

Williams is unconvincing at showing the warmer side of her character, the one that encompasses a sister-like friendship with a struggling actress (Noel Wells) and a job as a drama instructor for underprivileged youth. These subplots are particularly ponderous to watch with their lack of charm and a sense that they’re more obligatory than organic.

The obsessive emphasis on Williams creates a large vacuum for the rest of the film. Chris O’Dowd, who shares the most scenes with Williams is particularly constrained. O’Dowd, who excels at goofy, broad comedy (his work in the brilliant sitcom The IT Crowd is excellent), visibly struggles with his dour character, an App developer who isn’t over his ex-wife but has feelings for James. It doesn’t help that he and Williams have no chemistry (it should be noted that Williams doesn’t convincingly interact with anybody).

The only source of amusement comes from nightmare sequences where James’ ex confronts her at unexpected places and aggressively corners her about their break up before being killed by a large, random object.

Courtesy of Heavy

Stanfield’s was the only mildly interesting performance, a big feat considering that his is a hodge podge abstract role with little screen time. With the charismatic twinkle in his eyes, he is personable and vivacious, unlike the rest of the film which is frigid and stiff. You can see why he is in demand.

A friend who watched Jessica James thought it would work better as a TV show. Considering how popular Williams is and how gung ho Netflix is in making TV series and how TV is as much of a cesspool for remakes as movies and Broadway these days, it’s entirely plausible that a TV version could materialize. If it does, I’ll skip it.

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.

Wuuuuuut?

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.

Misc: The Greatest Presidential Show On Earth

Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Many people think that politics should be kept out of entertainment. When the presidential candidates are more outrageous and intellectually dishonest than reality stars, they are totally in the entertainment domain. Since the traditional entertainment world is a snoozerama right now, I will turn my attention towards amateur punditry.

The obvious person to start with is Donald Trump, for whom 2015 is his Helen Mirren year, although his art of the douche is less honorable than her art of The Queen. As celebrities and public figures become increasingly scripted and appease-y to the bland (but increasingly absolutist) mainstream, Trump’s eagerness to go for the extreme jugular is a spectacle welcomed by many as the Gospel Truth. Even people who are repelled by his egomaniacal xenophobic conspiracy-theory rhetoric and hotheaded frat boy delivery can’t take their eyes off him.

Unlike 2008 when Trump had no tolerance for the derision hurled at him after his overly prolonged birther campaign aimed at Obama, he has developed a much thicker skin, taking his public troll number one reputation in great stride. He combats his adversaries with meaningless, but emphatic hyperbole of a New World movie villain emerging like an orangutan-haired hydra, stooping to a shocking new low every day.

Unlike earnest worry wart liberals, I do not think Trump’s monopoly of the airwaves or winning the Republican nomination would bring about Doomsday and not only because Doomsday is more plausible than his nomination. (I find the prospect of the President coming down to two dynasties- the Clintons and the Bushs- more disconcerting.)

Although Trump’s campaign has been resoundingly negative, he is really the only one (other than Bernie) who has inspired euphoria in people who were formerly apathetic or jaded towards politics, however misplaced and twisted it manifests itself. In spite of himself, Trump is the 2016 Obama for society’s outliers.

As somebody with a weakness for colorful eccentrics, I thank The Donald from the bottom of my heart for inspiring weirdos for coming out of the woodwork. I love co-founder of “Women for Trump,” Paula Johnson, an unassuming-looking Yankee woman with the voice and neurosis of Gladys Kravitz.

My absolute faves are the North Carolina Born-Again Republicans “Diamond” and “Silk” who “Stump for Trump” with Televangelistic zeal on their YouTube vlog The Viewers View. These ladies have the best comic timing and repartee since Craig Ferguson and Geoff. Like DT, they’re brash, unfiltered, hilarious, and shameless self-promoters. I haven’t seen this many women flock around one man since Charles Manson.

The only person close to Trump’s level of loony, off-the-wall rhetoric is Ben Carson, who proves that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a brain surgeon. Unlike a manic Trump, Carson registers on camera like he had an unfortunate dose of anesthesia that has resulted in an irrevocable side effect of narcolepsy (perhaps this is his relatability to the millions of overmedicated Americans). He does have his peculiar charms, namely comparing everything he doesn’t like to Nazism or slavery in the laconic, but sincere tone of a John Wayne character. Possibly the only person who lied about being Dexter when he was more like Dexter’s Laboratory, Carson, who has transformed into Howard Beale without probable cause, acts as if he might stab a “liberal bias” journalist.

Carly Fiorina’s American success story of an everywoman who rises from secretary to CEO is your typical pat biopic that leaves out the interesting details (namely her patrician diplomat family, her Stanford alumnus, and that she was a Stepford wife in Italy for a year).

Courtesy of news.yahoo.com

Courtesy of news.yahoo.com

Her Eliza Doolittle-like transformation on the campaign circuit is an astonishing feat. When she ran for governor in 2010, she looked like a frumpy, aloof NYU economics professor who couldn’t defend her appalling fire-happy HP record and subsequently lost to Barbara Boxer big time. In just a few years, she gussied up with a corporate Barbie MILF makeover, and spoke fluent Conservative Politicalese with the speed of a savant. With O. Henry irony, her presidential polish has resulted in apathy from many Republicans banking on a “maverick.”

Jeb Bush isn’t so much low energy as much as he’s a tightly controlled shill. In spite of his best efforts to be the vanilla inoffensive candidate for the Establishment, every time he responds to a tough question, stuff happens. He’s exactly like his bro, except he doesn’t do the trust fund baby dork dance as well and won’t tell a joke all the way through. If we’re destined to have an unbridled Republican asshole, gimme Trump.

Ted Cruz isn’t only a dead ringer for character actor Pat Buttram with his squinty doughy face and hammy Southern twang, he is the Mr. Haney of this race, which has been Hootervillized with an elitist makeover. Like Haney, Cruz comes off like a dumb country hick, but under his shtick he is a devious political operator and a real threat for the nomination. Just as scary as his ideology is his “dummy doll” laugh.

When the roster of candidates are like rejects from The Gong Show it makes sense that the GOP would stand by the next, next, next, next best thing, Marco Rubio. Because he doesn’t advocate for the slaughter of all the relatives of terrorists or claim that the Pyramids were grain storage sites for Joseph, many assume he’s the voice of reason. Perhaps the most mealy-mouthed of them all, Rubio has hinted at declaring war with China and has a Tetris style immigration plan that keeps undocumented people in limbo for years. No matter how much his camp tries to push the boy wonder image, most people are hip to the fact that he’s old goods in a new package.

For the past 20-odd years, Hillary Clinton has been a magnet for a collection of hysterical, often sinister conspiracy theories. She brings a lot of this on herself with her guarded WASPy secretiveness and her political incestuousness. Like a stubborn old dog, Mrs. Clinton pathologically does everything behind bolted doors. Her most profound moment was when she told Black Lives Matter activists that you have to change laws before you change hearts, but alas it was, you guessed it, behind closed doors.

She is more detestable than the average bear politician because of her extreme disingenuousness. She is as adept at personability as Hyacinth Bucket (“Bou-kay”) is at poshness, though unfortunately Hillary lacks Patricia Routledge’s genius comic timing. She does herself no favors with her belligerent attitude that it’s her manifest destiny to be the first woman president. The excruciating irony is how the DNC and older affluent Dems are berating the progressives’ “irresponsible” support of Bernie claiming that Hillary is the only realistic candidate. They seem to forget that she lost big time back in 2008 and everybody had to plead with the kicking and screaming woman with a “Mr. Gorbochav, tear down the wall” inevitability. Oh yeah, the first two words that spring to most people’s minds are “liar” and “unlikable.”

Common wisdom attributes Bernie Sanders’ surge in the polls to championing substantial structural changes from the 1% to help the 99%. But he also benefits from the Betty White effect, which makes elderly white people more lovable to the millennials on social media (even Martin Shkreli felt the Bern). With his mad scientist hairdo and gruff New York accent plus his record as a Senator consistently on the right side of history, Bernie has normal people and capable politician street cred.

Martin O’Malley is the political equivalent of actor Jay Harrington. Both men are handsome, intelligent, and personable. But both have been overshadowed by shiftier, less rational, more idiosyncratic co-stars, and their significant contributions to their “shows” are underrated. In my world, O’Malley would have a real shot for the nomination and Better Off Ted would still be on the air.

There are still a stupid amount of people running who haven’t got a shot in hell, because they didn’t take the wise strippers’ advice from Gypsy. Let this be a lesson to all prospective candidates, you gotta get a gimmick.

Holiday Shopping: A Few of My Favorite Things Pt. 2

Courtesy of www.estatevacationrentals.com

Courtesy of www.estatevacationrentals.com

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

[Editors Note: This is the second part of a 2-part article. You can find Part 1 here]

So let’s talk apparel. If you’re shopping for someone that you know well enough and feel comfortable purchasing some clothing for them here are some of my favorite sites to choose from. Just one thing to note here many of these sites use junior sizing for their women’s clothing, which means the shirts are fitted and tend to run small. It might be best to order men’s/unisex if your lady friend has a heavier build. When in doubt, each site will have a size chart to serve as your guide.

Popuptee (http://popuptee.com/) –First up on our list is a tee shirt rotation site. How this works is you’ll notice a timer at the top of the site, when this timer runs out a new list of shirts will be featured. The average is about 4 days per group of shirts. They have more shirts available in the vault section of their site; these are ones that sold very well and are offered again at a higher price ($19.99 versus $12.99). Often times there will be a theme or two featured so if you don’t find what you’re looking for try again later. One thing to note, this one can take a while to ship since they don’t print the shirts until after the sale is over.

RiptApparel- (https://www.riptapparel.com/) –This site started as a 24-hour tee shirt rotation site, but has evolved into so much more. On the home page you will see a few shirts featured. These change every single day so if you see something, grab it because it could be gone tomorrow. Similar to the previous site, this one offers some of its best sellers in the store section but in addition to shirts you can also get hoodies, onesies, coasters, sketch books, prints and toys. Also this site features both toddler and youth sizes which is good if you’re looking for the little ones.

TeeFury- (https://www.teefury.com/) –The one that started it all for me, this store also started as a 24 hour shirt site but has also expanded its catalogue within the past year. You can order hoodies, ugly sweaters, leggings, shoes, and prints.

TeePublic- (https://www.teepublic.com/) –This site is awesome. All the designs are made for fans by fans. It also pays the artists one of the highest percentages of all these sites which is why I support them. Now all the designs are available as shirts but selected designs can also be printed to tank tops, long sleeve tees, baseball tees, kid sizes, crewnecks, hoodies, wall art, and phone cases. Unfortunately the  site has one glitch I found recently. The only way to find out if the design you like is available is to click on the shop, filter by what item you want and see if it lists your design. Basically the drop down menu has a bug which I’m hoping they can fix soon. Otherwise I’ve got to say I’ve order over $200 worth of gifts from them in the past and their customer service is excellent, I think my order arrived within a week as well so that’s always a good thing.

TeeTurtle- (http://www.teeturtle.com/) – I might be biased in saying this is my favorite of all the tee shirt shops because they are just so cute. This site uses a particular style and features chibi-fied versions of your favorite characters and anthropomorphized animals. They also have a sister site, http://lookcuter.com/ which features all original designs.

 

A couple things to keep in mind, since you are online shopping just pay attention to your shipping dates. Remember if you’re not seeing the person until after the holidays you don’t have to expedite and pay an additional charge to rush it in. Above all remember it’s the thought that counts. Here’s to you and your loved ones, we’ll see you all in 2016.