News & Views: Tina Fey and The Satire Backlash

The tragic death of anti-racist protestor Heather Heyer at the hands of a white nationalist in Charlottesville has naturally sparked anger, fear, and despair towards the reemergence of old school apple pie pernicious American racism.

Tina Fey, a graduate of UVA, the school that was the epicenter of the carnage, did a widely viewed segment where she denounced the KKK and other white nationalist groups via a sheet cake which she savagely devoured over the course of six-minutes.

It was a big hit with many viewers. But it royally pissed off others. Several commentators found her stance to reek of a 21st century Marie Antoinette-esque white privilege.

Quite frankly, I find the backlash is overwrought, like much of the commentary about satire these days. There has been a trove of bizarre think pieces, such as an article in The Atlantic that argue that satire is responsible for Donald Trump and anti-intellectualism. This is a patently ridiculous assertion because satire doesn’t cause events, it responds to things already taking place. This means that the argument that Tina Fey’s parody of Sarah Palin made her unelectable is just as false as the declaration that Fey’s current segment is an anti-activist screed.

Another thing I admired about the segment is that it tackled satire from a different angle. Usually satire is a complete and total mockery of a public figure, often somebody in a position of power (although with reality TV and 24-hr entertainment cable news “power” is a bit more relative). In Fey’s segment, Trump’s dickishness in refusing to disavow white supremacists is a large butt of the joke, but she also deftly interweaves the helplessness that the average disgruntled feels in these turbulent times. She brilliantly used the cake as both a prop for fantastic physical humor but also as a symbolism of catharsis of sorts.

Many of her critics fault her segment for being too shallow and light. These articles instead praise responses by Late Night hosts Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon, whose monologues take on a somber tone and denounce #45 as a totally immoral, hate mongering man unfit to be President. Their points are valid, but they also state the obvious. It doesn’t do anybody any favors to recast comedians as morality gatekeepers when comedy by nature is about subverting rules and expectations. I think Fey invoked the wrath she did because she was willing to go for the jugular when a situation was still raw. I have been frustrated with many comedians who are almost waiting for Godot when it comes to delivering their take on tragic current events. We look to them for a thoughtful, humorous slant.

There is a wrongheaded, but increasingly popular idea that anything that counters your views is not only wrong, but must be stopped in its tracks. On a British panel show Jack Dee’s Help Desk, which pokes fun at the televised Q&A town halls between public figures and normal people (yes the UK and Australia have those shows for real), there was a special episode aired after the US Presidential Election. Naturally, the audience and the panel of comedians were a little more rattled than usual and many of the questions and answers had a lot of anxiety wrapped up in tongue and cheek humor.

One young woman casually asked (at about 17:45) “how can I ensure that people only tell me things I agree with?” Her rationale was if politicians could cherry pick truths, she should be able too. Sara Pascoe quickly pointed out that cleansing the world was a “slippery slope.” Romesh Ranganathan remarked that Brexit was a shock to many because they surrounded themselves with people who shared their views. He suggested that she “cut off people who agree with her” and only follow people who disagree with her so that “when you leave the house, you think, oh everybody’s not an asshole.” Taken aback by the passionate responses, she remarked “it’s turning a bit more serious than I intended.”

Absolutely, the facts matter. That is why we need more satire, not less, to cleverly and humorously shine a spotlight on and compete with the insanity and evil in the world. If we don’t, Trump and the other loonies will have a total monopoly on the absurd.

Review: Night Job (2017)

Courtesy of @NightJobMovie

Editors and sound technicians typically don’t get the praises that directors, writers, and actors do because their contributions are to highlight the action on the screen. While actors and directors tend to have ups and downs before eventually falling out of favor, many of the top editors and sound people tend to amass hundreds of credits over several decades. This has to do with the consistency they bring to their craft. Perhaps more than anybody, they are responsible for giving the movies the major seamless factor that audiences crave.

You really appreciate how much a great editor and sound department add when one or both of these elements aren’t good. Unfortunately in the new indie film, Night Job, both the editing and sound are severely lackluster throughout. Several stretches where the last syllables of words are snipped off or where whole sentences are MIA make the amateurishness painfully obvious.

One of the principals of editing is to trim the banality of everyday life and focus on the extraordinary. The filmmakers of Night Job took that rule too literally. They employ a consistent, but arbitrary pseudo jump cut (but it’s too sloppy and undisciplined to be accurately called jump cuts) motif of snipping out characters walking from one part of the lobby to another. Not only is this the most jarring element, it brings the most attention to Night Job’s biggest failure; it’s a sluggish bore. Night Job only runs for 82 minutes, but the low energy directing and bland, talky script make it feel like a grueling 8 hour school day.

Courtesy of @NightJobMovie

In an early scene the protagonist James, a temp doorman/receptionist in a NYC apartment complex on his first night who is already bored and disillusioned with the job, and a man who works as a night shift doorman in another building discuss the skeeviness that is more rampant in the evening. “Why do you think things get crazier at night?” James asks. “People just use the night to become someone different.”

Although several characters whine about craziness, not enough craziness transpires on screen. When I lived in the North East, I enjoyed people watching because I found many Yankees wonderfully expressive and idiosyncratic even when they were curt and testy. There were several instances where Night Job seemed like it would delve into the interesting dynamic between customers and a service industry worker where either party might hesitate for a millisecond or come on too strongly, setting off the other who starts shouting, causing the other person to sass back for a heated (yet bizarrely humorous) back and forth.

Instead, James’ encounters with a revolving cast of slightly neurotic characters follow a staid track, and he never truly gets sucked in the drama. Nobody hurls any abuse at him, which is perhaps the most improbable element in this film, because people in the service industry are punching bags. Actually, the characters are too restrained and polite; it’s hard to achieve comedy from (relatively) good manners.

Courtesy of @NightJobMovie

Every now and again, there are references about the previous doorman, who a character early on warns James was into some sketchy dealings with homeless people. Presumably this is important to the plot and could have been a source for black humor, but this storyline is so haphazardly applied and is only memorable for the fact that it results in one of the most amateurishly choreographed fight scenes I have ever seen. (It fares badly even by home movie standards).

When I interviewed several film professionals about their pet peeves in modern movies, a program director emphatically stated that shooting movies in black and white for no apparent reason put her off most. Movies like Night Job make me see her point. The black and white cinematography (which I assume is supposed to signify James’ humdrum and mildly depressing life) is not only arbitrary, but also is aesthetically wrong for this film. The mise en scene of the lobby is shiny, industrial, clean, and modern; in short, antithetical to the shadowy, claustrophobic film noir imagery that the cinematography is trying to invoke.

One tiny thing working in the filmmakers’ favor is their restraint in using the musical score (which is not good, but not awful) in an era where many films (even some good films) overburden the audience with a soundtrack, hoping it will act as life support for a lifeless story.

If you want more info on Night Job, click here.

Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast: A modern adaptation of a Tale as Old as Time

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of Disney Movies UK

If your peer group is anything like mine, odds are you’ve heard some very mixed reviews about the latest Disney live action adaptation of Beauty and The Beast. I’ll preface by saying if you’re curious please go watch the film because I’m going to break the entire thing down which involves potentially spoiling it.

I have to say there are some things that the film did right and there were some choices made that derailed it. That’s why I’m going to break it all down and as you’ll see I’m really on the fence about this one. A good attempt, but maybe they would be better off if it wasn’t a musical? Anyway here we go…

We’ll start with the opening scene. The live action version has the same backstory as the 1991 animated version, but expands it further. We open with the Prince, who the studio still won’t tell us his name is Adam (seriously they never say it out loud). Anyway the Prince is being made up as fabulous as glam-era David Bowie for a big soiree.

Courtesy of

We start with an original opening number which really didn’t do it for me, I’d much rather it just be a grandiose Viennese waltz as the lyrics were distracting and overall just not very good. So we sit through a minute of that before the enchantress shows up and you already know how that goes down. Then the film does something I really liked. They explain the outlines of this curse because the one thing that always bothered me in the original no one knew who the Prince was even though the castle is clearly within walking distance. So there, mystery solved they’re all cursed.

We cut to the village and meet Belle. (I can forgive for the lightly auto tuned singing because I actually really enjoyed how she is portrayed). But the musical sequence for the song “Belle”, oh dear god how could they ruin that? The original cartoon version gives us so much of Belle’s character in this sequence- the fact that her house is just far enough away from the village and that she’s the only person wearing blue really establish her as an outsider – here, her home is stuck right up in there and practically 60% of the cast is wearing blue.

However a few things that worked well, Belle wearing boots to work in as opposed to flats give her a more practical look as she is working on a farm and the flats would get shredded. Also nice, they have added in a couple of scenes to show Belle’s inventiveness as well as a scene where she’s teaching a young girl to read. I think these scenes just solidify her as a good role model which is what made the women of the Disney Renaissance stand out from the early era princesses.

Courtesy of Cinema Thread

Little things about the village bothered me. The Bimbettes who fawn over Gaston look awful. I get it, it’s a kid’s movie but they just look like porcelain dolls and they have the worst costuming in the whole film. To me it just didn’t look good, but maybe it works for other people. As for Gaston, Luke Evans is clearly a tenor and Gaston was originally a baritone so he just didn’t… wait for it… hit the right note for me. Seriously I did not like his singing or Josh Gad’s as Lefou, and I like Josh Gad, but every time he sang it was like listening to the snowman from Frozen all over again.

I’m also on the fence with Maurice, Belle’s father. Nothing bad about Kevin Kline’s acting, it’s just Maurice was this slightly eccentric inventor and this characterization is not that. He’s a man still grieving over his wife so overall he has a somber tone. Nothing about him would make him less trustworthy to the villagers which is why the town siding with Gaston to lock him away doesn’t make sense to me in this version. But first, I have some things I actually really enjoyed about the film.

Courtesy of

Visually stunning, the animation was great especially on Cogsworth and I personally think Ewan McGregor steals the show as Lumiere. They also made a nod to the original fairy tale where Maurice gets into trouble for trying to acquire a rose for Belle- something that didn’t make it into the animated version but is present in the silent French film. One thing I was sad to see missing was the song “Human Again” which was originally missing but made its way back into the animated film after its original release because they had run out of budget for it in 1991. Instead we get a song, “Days in the Sun,” which made me want to barf, it was that bad.

Another strength the film has is it really builds on the relationship between Belle and the Beast. It feels more like the two are connecting because of that added backstory and the added interaction. It also helps that the two actually end up having shared interests. The costuming was great; I like how the Beast’s wardrobe becomes less animalistic and torn as he begins to embrace his humanity. Belle’s gown is just amazing.

The ballroom scene though has a couple things I found less than agreeable. For one I love Emma Thompson’s acting, but I did not enjoy her singing at all. If James Earl Jones is coming back for the Lion King I don’t understand why Angela Lansbury couldn’t just dub the singing. The other thing was the camera work… oh yes I hadn’t mentioned it until now but there were times where someone needed to slap those cameramen. Issues with focusing, too much blur, too much motion- it was nauseating. Especially in the library, likely there are no actual books to focus on but making a giant blur of stuff with no object in focus just made it so much worse.

Courtesy of

Now the big beef most people had was the Beast’s big solo number, “Evermore,” an original, but really clunky song that is in the scene where Belle rides off to save her father from the villagers who are all standing in line to give Gaston a hand- shake. Gaston’s evilness is more subtle in the animated feature. Here he is as subtle as your car alarm going off at 4am on a Saturday and your neighbor pounding your door to get your butt out of bed.

We’re near the climax. Gaston pulls out a flintlock pistol which is proper for the time period. The thing is he fires 3 rounds and it was too quick to be realistic because he’s in the dark and there’s just no way he could have done it that fast, unless he’s got extra guns in his belt but that wouldn’t make sense since he rushed to collect this one after it was dropped.

Then the Beast turns back into the Prince. I can’t help but feel he was more attractive as the beast which is weird because Dan Stevens isn’t an unattractive actor but the make up just makes him look so, eww. Kinda like he’s trying to cosplay Lestat from Interview with the Vampire and used too much baby powder. Fun trivia for you, the Beast is reading King Arthur in one scene and Dan Stevens plays Sir Lancelot in Night at the Museum 3, I thought that was pretty meta. (On a side note, Night is not a fantastic movie but it’s a lot of fun if you haven’t seen it yet and it was Robin William’s final role.)

This review wouldn’t be complete without discussing some of the alleged controversy. So odds are if you’ve seen the news or turned on a computer in the last 30 days you’ve heard that Disney was proud to have its first gay character coming to terms with their sexuality and even have a love scene featured in the major film… except the problem is they totally don’t and there totally isn’t.

Courtesy of Are You Screening?

The character in question is Lefou; I wasn’t totally on board with making him gay but I wasn’t opposed to it. I figure if you’re going to have representation it should be a more positive character or at least one who is more prevalent in the film. In the cartoon Lefou is just Gaston’s little lackey who does some of the dirty work. The way it was pitched was Lefou is supposed to realize that his admiration for Gaston is actually attraction and that he truly wants to be with him… yeah maybe in a different movie but certainly not in this one. I don’t sense any sexual or romantic desire.

During the raid on the castle there’s a scene where the wardrobe attacks and three men end up fully made up wearing dresses and one of them seems to like it as he offers the camera a wink. At the end of the film this man is seen dancing with Lefou at a ball. There’s no alleged love scene- no kissing, not even a gentle caressing, nothing! If that’s what we’re calling a ground breaking moment for LBGTQ community then I’m calling bologna. I’m honestly not sure which upsets me more- the fact the advertisements were pandering, the fact that these occurrences got the film banned in certain theaters, or the fact that this was a poor excuse for diversity in film.

In sum I guess the best way to describe 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is this… imagine a beautiful tiered cake, it’s got gorgeous frosting work and the cake is super delicious and moist but on top you have all this decorative crap that you can’t eat and inside they’ve filled the damn thing with potpourri which smells lovely but isn’t edible. They took a good source material and buggered it up with all this extra unnecessary stuff. I only hope that the fact that’ve made the executive decision to not make the live action Mulan a musical will only help them focus on telling a better and more cinematic story.

Review: The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Everything is [still] awesome: The LEGO Batman Movie review

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Editor’s Note: The delayed release of this review was entirely my fault, not Heather’s. This film is still in theatres in some locations. From the sound of it, you might want to check it out.

Courtesy of Bricks To Life

Right from the get-go you know you’re in for a treat when you sit down to The Lego Batman Movie. “Black. All important movies start with a black screen. And music. Edgy, scary music that would make a parent or studio executive nervous. And logos. Really long and dramatic logos.” Literally, this is how the film opens with Will Arnett’s bass Bat-voice speaking over the opening sequence, which even he acknowledges seems to go on for a really long time.

Similar to last February’s Deadpool, the film establishes a tongue in cheek approach to the superhero genre, finding itself in a happy medium between campy 1960’s Batman and Nolan’s neo-noir approach to the brooding Dark Knight. And no matter what your level of interest in Batman- whether you’re a fan of the comics, the games, the animated cannon, the various film franchises or Adam West’s version- Lego Batman gives a shout to all of them and essentially deems all of it as canon. I’m surprised I’m saying this, but they’ve managed to pull off a film that has something for everyone- so long as you’re interested in Batman of course.

Now most of you know I’m a fan of the superhero genre so my surprise may come off as a little odd. Let me explain, or rather just bluntly put this out there, the whole superhero thing has grown into a massive cash cow. When The Lego Movie came out, Batman was the scene stealer so they immediately green lit this movie after opening weekend (by the way, you don’t have to watch The Lego Movie before this one to understand it, only know that they are set within the same universe).

Courtesy of Moviepilot

My concern was this would easily be another cash grab sequel, which is still my biggest concern for Spiderman Homecoming after his appearance in Captain America Civil War. Thankfully I can say as far as Batman goes that fear is put to rest, but I’m still worried for Spidey. Especially after the rush job they did on the Andrew Garfield films but I’ll try to remain optimistic for this new one… So getting back to Batman, let’s break it down and talk about what makes Lego Batman so super special awesome.

First of all the movie doesn’t weigh itself down by trying to pass itself off a reboot or slow down the plot by constantly referring to the backstory. In fact this may be the only theatrical Batman film that doesn’t show Thomas and Martha Wayne getting gunned down in the alleyway outside the theater. Rather it makes the most subtle reference via a family photo where they are outside of said theater with a street sign for “crime alley” in the background.

As the trailer shows, the film is centered on Batman’s greatest fear, to have a family again after the loss of his parents. This has never directly been tackled in any other Batman story yet it has always been his driving force, even shown recently in the DC animated canon’s The Killing Joke when Barbara’s greatest frustration is that he never lets anyone get close.

Courtesy of Game Informer

It’s a great setting for a kid’s movie because it has a positive message.  At the same time it gives the older audience the benefit of knowing the source material so it doesn’t constantly stop to explain things, a problem that is rampant in many children’s movies is they often stop the plot to explain something which just messes with the pacing, a giant pet peeve of mine. (Other animation studios need to step it up and stop treating kids like they’re stupid.) Like seriously, kudos to the screen writers; they clearly were fans and knew what they were doing and executed it darn near perfect.

Speaking of the screenwriters (there are 5), they have thrown in so many delightful Easter eggs for the fans. One of my personal favorites happens early in the film. Killer Croc, one of the lesser Batman villains makes the statement, “Hey look I’m actually doing something.” The movie is full of these little lines that are just shouting out to the fandom, including thoughts that many have had such as how Gotham city is the most dangerous place in the entire world, and yet a plane full of explosives flies over, with no resistance or panic.

Of course the big question a lot of people have been asking, how does Zach Galifianakis do as far as playing the Joker. This is the first time this iconic character has really been the focus since the late Heath Ledger’s performance and while I do know that Jared Leto played him in Suicide Squad, that was more of a cameo, an appetizer rather than an entrée so I hold off on judging him for now and at the same point in time that’s a really hard comparison to make because both studios have a different interpretation of the character.

Courtesy of MovieWeb

Since this is a kid’s movie the level they were aspiring to would be more of a mix of Cesar Romero and Mark Hamill’s performances and while the character is written this way, Galifianakis brings his own unique flavor to the character. This Joker comes off as a fanboy portrayal, with details like asking Batman about their “ship.” Casual fans will take this as slang for relationship the rest of us who have read Batman fanfiction know there’s a little more to this so it becomes a double entendre. For the record I do not ship Bruce/Jack, nor do I ship Madlove (the name for Harley/Joker) but at the same time Batman and the Joker have this thing going on between them, I just don’t see the lust that other fans seem to infer. But that’s a subject I could devote an entire article to. Bottom line, it’s a good interpretation of the character that is PG friendly while still remaining loyal to the source.

Courtesy of The Verge

As for the other thing I really loved in the film, it delves into spoiler territory so if you’re good at inferring things leave now and go watch the film and then come back. If not, carry on. The beauty of these Lego movies is they remind us of being kids and playing with our figurines in the back yard. (I can’t be the only person who had Goku and She-Rah team up to help the Power Rangers take on the WWE, true story.)

Lego has the rights to certain characters and Warner Brothers has the rights to certain characters and that whole concept comes into play and it’s handled in such a fun way. I had to explain to mom what the “British Robots” were and at the same time a character in the film someone asks the Joker what they are and he responds with “go ask one of your nerdy friends.” All in all this movie was so much fun and I look forward to Lego Ninjago the movie; they’ve proven that they’ve got a pretty good team on board.

My next review is going to be a bit of a doozy so expect it later than the release weekend of the film. I’ll be tackling America’s interpretation of the anime classic Ghost in the Shell. Now here’s the fun thing, it’s one of those films/series I’ve meant to watch for years and haven’t gotten around to, so I’ll be going into the American one with little to no knowledge of the plot and little to no bias. From there I will view the original films and then the Stand Alone Complex series, and then I’ll write my review.

Take 5 Sarah Vaughan

Courtesy of National Jazz Museum in Harlem

Some singers can have all the formal training in the world and hit the right notes. Others, like Sarah Vaughan, can open her mouth and radiate divine and sassy otherworldliness. Though racism in the country and the conservatories barred her from her dream of studying opera, Vaughan, with her three octave range, had the power and the vibrato to match, even surpass any classical prima donna. Her baroque grandiosity and playful joie de vivre was clearly better suited for jazz where she was equally at home doing scat-filled bebop and searing ballads delivered as torchy arias.

She honed her piano and vocal abilities in church. Initially Vaughan entered herself in the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night as a pianist, where she did very well, winning second prize. As good as her piano skills were, her singing was her forte. When she reentered as a singer, she won top honor and scored a recording contract with Mercury Records.

Her warm, personable voice helped her become one of the most in-demand vocalists. Widespread success was a bit of a double edged sword as she wound up recording a fair amount of subpar novelty songs (like “Broken Hearted Melody,” which she later denounced strongly) with maudlin easy listening arrangements. However, she never entirely embraced being a jazz vocalist as she crossed over into other genres. (Some of her pop material like “Brazilian Romance” was quite good).

Later in her career, she boldly displayed her impressive range and cute silly humor in performances. While some critics found some of her later work to be heavy-handed, I found her to be at her best when she was at her biggest (though I will concede that she sometimes took it a bit too far with her rendition of “Send in the Clowns.”)

Although Vaughan chain smoked, boozed and feasted freely, you’d never know by listening to her sing. Her voice and her technique sounded more impeccable and effortless. If her hedonism didn’t tarnish her talent, it eventually got her body. After a year of struggling with emphysema, Sarah Vaughan died in 1990 at the age of 66. Here are five performances that represent her superhuman talent.

Easy Living

She performed several different, but wonderful renditions of this ballad. I like this version best because it’s the most playful (I love the way she delivers “but it’s fun”) and the most virtuosic. The way she slides from baritone to soprano is jaw dropping.

Sassy’s/Scat Blues

This entirely vocalese number demonstrates Vaughan’s brilliant ability to swing, belt, and sound bluesy at the same time whilst switching octaves in split seconds.

I Remember April

Although she more often sang vocalese, she was equally adept at fast paced scat as she does here with gusto. The pianist is also on fire.

Black Coffee

Even at in this minimalist, quiet rendition of this torch song, Vaughan conveys so much. Listen side by side with other versions by Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney and you’ll appreciate how special Vaughan’s voice is.

Bill Bailey

You can tell that Sarah Vaughan loved to perform, and her infectious energy rubs off on this Swedish audience who commanded to take not one, but two encores. Vaughan really works it out here.