FILM & TV

Saturday Film School | 'Sorry to Bother You' Isn't Really That Sorry

Boots Riley's Directorial Debut is Wild, Uncomfortable, and Unforgettable.

Annapurna Pictures 'Sorry to Bother You'

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the uncanny metaphor both films explore, that is, the way black and brown bodies are seen as disposable and, as Riley's ending scene shows, mutable.

Sorry to Bother You is probably the wildest movie you'll see all year. Boots Riley, the lead vocalist for The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, makes his directorial debut in what will probably be this year's cult sensation. The film is at once a social satire, whimsical romance, and Get Out hybrid up until it's outrageously unsettling finale. Riley has created the type of film that eschews all the pretentiousness and formalities of a summer release; this is, without a doubt, one of the most unique and energetic movies of 2018 about race/sociopolitical relations in the States.

Part of its charm is LaKeith Stanfield who nails the drowsy, defeated protagonist Cassius Green (as in "Cash is green"), a man with horrible posture who becomes a telemarketer to make ends meet. He is paid only commission and his lively artist girlfriend, Detroit, played by a stunning Tessa Thompson, isn't financially better off. They live in the garage of Cassius' uncle, Sergio (Terry Crews), whose home is facing foreclosure. You can probably sense the set up here: the fam needs money and Cassius just got a job that promises upward mobility…that is, as long as Cassius uses his white voice (voiced by David Cross).

There are plenty of stand-up bits about the infamous white voice and its variations as a cultural phenomenon, but Riley revitalizes the joke. As described to Cassius by an older telemarketer (Danny Glover), the white voice isn't so much a cultural dialect as it is a mentality: it's the carefree voice, the I-don't-have-anything-to-lose voice. It is, quite literally, a verbal performance of superiority and power and, when performed by Cassius, it's his golden ticket to becoming a power caller upstairs: think Wolf of Wall Street. Armie Hammer plays Steve, the cocaine-fueled CEO of the company who's a textbook megalomaniac, and nothing short of a white supremacist. There, Cassius learns what the company is actually selling—hint: slave labor—and is given an ultimatum by Detroit, who rightfully calls his work "morally emaciating."

In between Cassius' rise as a power caller, Sorry to Bother You becomes a satire on our current state of fake news and, more importantly, meme culture. There's a running bit about a meme where Cassius is hit in the head with a can of Coke, and even a satirical show where people get beat up on national TV. All of this sounds like it's added for shock value, and it is, but there are nuggets of social commentary that land. But there are also scenes that are absolutely cringeworthy for the sake of being provocative. A film like this naturally covers incendiary topics, but at times, Riley forgoes subtlety and completely lights the film on fire as a raging critique of global capitalism and outsourced labor. The finale—which has everyone frazzled, divided, and undeniably uncomfortable—feels like a deleted scene from Jordan Peele's Get Out. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the uncanny metaphor both films explore, that is, the way black and brown bodies are seen as disposable and, as Riley's ending scene shows, mutable.

The chaos of Sorry to Bother You feels warranted. This is a poetic, layered film that responds to bigotry by highlighting the absurdity of its very nature. It's enraged. It delivers punchlines at the speed of light and doesn't slow its momentum till the ending credits. It wants to bother you, disturb you, confuse you. It's about race and love, but at its core, Riley has made a film that depicts America's class divide. One of the most visually captivating films of the year, Sorry to Bother You marinates its allegories in lighter fluid and waits until the very end to spark the match.


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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FILM & TV

'Pose' Is a Stunning TV Moment

FX's Pose is an Amazing TV Moment and I'm Here For It.

FX 'Pose'

These communities are absorbed into mainstream culture but are rarely depicted in film and TV with the same verve and reverence.

When I was young, I would not leave the house unless I was wearing my favorite dress—a white ballerina midi with a tulle skirt sewn around the waistline. I would throw fits and tantrums when my mother would try to make me wear something else. In retrospect, the dress made me feel like a princess, like the ultimate kid version of a woman I wanted to be, but it also was my first attempt at performing my femininity and what I perceived to be the cornerstone of womanhood—dresses, makeup, and heels included.

These days, I'm still mostly found wearing dresses and heels in the most impractical of times. But that's the thing. I know the commercial and economic realities of my femininity; I know my deodorant is more expensive than men's deodorant and I know none of my dresses or pants have pockets. I know that makeup, bras, and heels for many feminists symbolize oppression and the infantilization of our bodies. I know why those dresses were special to me as a kid and why they are special to me as an adult. And despite these realities, I know why they still bring me pleasure as a queer woman.

FX's Pose, a sequin-embroidered paean to New York City's drag ball culture and gay/transgender communities, is a show that TV needs right now. It's also the type of show that fervently screams at the camera, "We are who we are!" Based in the 1980s, its dialogue mirrors a Twitter feed and remains culturally immersive, each character showing a walk of life not often depicted on TV. Co-created by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, Feud), Pose is FX's inclusive glitter baby, a show heavily promoted and celebrated by the network, and rightfully so. And though a show like this succumbs to camp by its mere existence, it's triumphant in its depiction of black and Latinx men and women and NYC's trans subculture. These communities are absorbed into mainstream culture but are rarely depicted in film and TV with the same verve and reverence. But if there's anything Pose celebrates, it's the unequivocal power of youth culture, and the beautiful ways people come together to celebrate the freedom of sex, fashion, and personal liberation.

Each character, however, is struggling to define what femininity looks like when assigned to the wrong body, the wrong sexual orientation, or the wrong family. There's the House of Abundance, led by the stunning, scene-stealing Elektra (Dominique Jackson), with cheekbones as sharp as knives. There's the House of Evangelista led by Elektra's former student and "child," Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), who dreams of starting her own house following a rather terrifying diagnosis. Angel (Indya Moore) is a sex worker who abandons the House of Abundance to live with Blanca. She's a lost romantic who keeps pairing with straight men who are ashamed of their attraction to her, specifically Stan (Evan Peters), a married man and father who works for Trump Organization. Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) is a dancer estranged from his parents for being gay. Swain's doe eyes show the vulnerability of his character, the passion he has for dancing and the fear he has to accept his own sexual orientation.

Part family drama, part vogue fest, Pose breathes life into drag culture, reclaiming the colloquialisms that are commercialized in mainstream media, white neighborhoods, and liberal art colleges. The show features the largest cast of LGBTQ actors on scripted series and is one of the first TV offerings to include transgender activists and performers in the writers' room. (Janet Mock and Our Lady J co-wrote some of the episodes.) Pose is a beautiful moment in TV history. It's a reminder to everyone that our freedoms and pleasures in this life shouldn't be measured by our bodies, but by our communities and the families we create for ourselves. And it's a reminder that something as simple as a dress can feel like liberation when worn for oneself.


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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FILM & TV

Saturday Film School | 'Ocean's 8' Plays it Safe and Sticks to Source Material

Familiar and a Bit Derivative, Ocean's 8 Still has Enough Style to Stay Afloat.

Warner Bros. Pictures 'Ocean's 8'

The real fun is watching the style and craft of the heist, the chemistry between the ensemble and how their convenient ingenuity awards them the privilege of indulging elegant, albeit organized criminality.

When it comes to heist movies, the Ocean's franchise—elevated by the ever-watchable George Clooney—is the most entertaining of offerings in a genre that naturally follows a strict formula: beautiful people, beautiful locations, and tons of delicious, slow-building tension followed by exposition regarding the heist's logistics and plot twists. Clooney as the well-dressed, stoic Danny Ocean never failed to hit all the right cinematic sweet spots; he somehow made an inconceivable character believable and, better yet, enviable. His pack of equally handsome and charismatic tricksters—Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle—had the type of chemistry and swagger reminiscent of NYC's Rat Pack.

In 2018, it's the women's turn to do some money stealing, but you'll find that Ocean's 8, although pleasant and warm, is derivative and unchallenging. In fact, Ocean fans will recognize the score-settling pot twist toward the end as Ocean's Eleven's romantic plot twist between Danny and Beatrice (Julia Roberts); the similarity of the two films is so blatant it feels like deja vu: Are we just supposed to accept a completely stolen subplot? Yep. Because Ocean's 8 isn't concerned with creating something new, which is a shame because a woman-led heist film shouldn't have to follow the same beats as George Clooney's gang of pickpockets and genius hackers, but it does, playing things safe up until the predictable finale, when, surprise (!), eight women get away with the country's biggest jewelry heist since…Doris Payne?

Again, if you've stuck with the franchise for long enough, you know the formula: The real fun is watching the style and craft of the heist, the chemistry between the ensemble and how their convenient ingenuity awards them the privilege of indulging elegant, albeit organized criminality. Apparently, stealing is good fun when it's made to look easy and even better with women in 8-inch stilettos.

The leader this time is Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), Danny's sister—looks like their shared con artistry is genetic—who cons her way out of jail after serving five years in confinement for a heist-gone-wrong her then-boyfriend put her up to. Her excuse: She fell for the wrong guy. She's released, 45 dollars in her pocket, looking to even the score. She rallies up an old partner, Lou (Cate Blanchett), and the two assemble a team of women to help steal a 150 million dollar necklace from the Met Gala set to be worn on the neck of diva actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). Their team of thieves is just as adept and clever as Ocean's men: Nine Ball (Rihanna), a stoner/hacker; Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), a desperate designer in massive debt; Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a bored mother who fences stolen goods; Constance (Awkwafina), a fast-talking pickpocket; Amita (Mindy Kaling), a diamond expert (who's hilariously berated by her traditional mother for being unwed). The women compliment one another and their onscreen presence seems organic, sexy, and fun in the same fashion Danny's crew captivated the screen.

In the third act, James Corden plays a jolly fraud inspector eager to recover the precious necklace. He's a weird fit for the role and his presence feels like the punchline of celebrity cameos—and there are plenty in this film (the Kardashians, Heidi Klum, and Vogue's very own Anna Wintour make an appearance). Ocean's 8 is familiar, yes, but it's well constructed, with every actress pulling her own weight and making her own share of the uber expensive necklace. The pleasure is in watching Bullock strut into Bloomingdale's and steal designer perfume and cosmetics with a straight face. It never fails to find delight in a franchise that makes something as bad as jewelry theft look so good you consider making your own team of criminal thieves. Ocean's 8, no matter its uninventive tone, excels in refurbishing what was once Hollywood's A-list male-dominated playground. If there are more to come, let's hope the women will get some more room to play.

POP⚡DUST Score: ⚡⚡⚡⚡


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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MUSIC

'ye' Is Kanye's Low and It's Still Pretty High

'ye' is a Low Point for Kanye, But His Lows Still Tend to be Pretty Damn Entertaining.

Kanye West 'ye'

Of course, these sentiments are also laced with sexual innuendos alluding to his sex-tape-queen-turned-reality-mogul-wife Kim Kardashian, and all of the ways their family commercializes self-obsession, Trump included.

Imagine a close friend whom you admire deciding to become a performance artist in the dead of their successful, promising career. Imagine that same friend making really bad art pieces as they go into massive debt, publicly parading their induced narcissism as impassioned genius.

You may have already guessed who the friend in question is; cue the only rapper who can make an album more embarrassing than Snoop Dogg as Snoop Lion. ye, Kanye West's latest 24-minute album and ostentatious art excursion in Wyoming, features some of the laziest rhymes of his entire career. It's like watching an icon strip himself of everything that made him special and wonderful under the guise of self-transformation and worse, mental health.

ye is Kanye's confessional album, the piece of art where he talks about just how tortured and hard his life is and why you, as a fan and consumer of music, should value his artistry even during his wildest antics. And it's another album that sounds like West rewrote most of the songs an hour before mastering it. (Thankfully, Pusha T got the good Kanye.)

Of course, these sentiments are also laced with sexual innuendos alluding to his sex-tape-queen-turned-reality-mogul-wife Kim Kardashian, and all of the ways their family commercializes self-obsession, Trump included. His vision has always been grand, his drive and spirit equally inspiring. He almost single-handedly revived Jay-Z's career, producing a good portion of The Blueprint.

Recently, his Twitter rants, public support of America's most embarrassing president, and affiliation with America's most annoying, albeit bankable family have manifested a hot-headed megalomaniac who's convinced he's rewarding the world with his talents. But his brand of celebrity is counterfeit, his ideas becoming less and less imaginative and more claustrophobic, revealing a man who's drowning in his own conceit.

Kanye West is a talented man. Kanye West is a smart man. That's why his descent into complete stupor accentuates his flaws, insecurities, and imperfections as glaringly primal side-effects to a man who was always a little full of himself. These days, the sensationalism surrounding West is bigger than his music, and that's an unfortunate summation of his rap career: The egotist who lost it.

Examining his career, however, is futile; in retrospect, West was always working up to something, and as a perfectionist and chronic revisionist/procrastinator, it's hard to decipher with whom he was competing. Himself? Media? His reflection? Why is he always defensive, equipped with a rebuttal for every concern we never voiced? For a man with a head as big as West's, his delusions were never unforeseeable. Black America and even your mom knew we'd lose him. Luckily, even West's lows make for listenable music, and ye ends before you start listening. "Poopedy woopedy poop de scoop"…I hope Kanye West starts saving some of his money or at least keeps his wife. The real world isn't kind to us common folk, but old Kanye would remember that.


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.

MUSIC

Review | 'Testing' Looks for New Sounds in Hip-hop and Beyond

'Testing' is Eager to Find a New Sound in Hip-Hop, but Not New Ideas.

A$AP Rocky's 'Testing'

The Skepta-assisted "Praise the Lord" is pure hip-hop gold, an eargasm that embodies what Rocky does best: boast about himself.

Like Kanye West, A$AP Rocky is another narcissist, but a pretty one. And he's jiggy—don't forget. Testing is Rocky's I'm-a-90's-boy-with-Harlem-swag-and-model-exes psych-rap album that infuses the same sticky, distorted, feverish psychedelia he explored on At.Long.Last.A$AP.

On Testing, the title confirms the same static friction bellowing under the surface of nearly every song, with Rocky mumbling his most emotional and honest bars; meaning Rocky talks about how hot he is and the occasional adversity he faced on his way to the top, or as he proclaims, "I put New York on the map." Before who specifically, Rocky? His bravado is commendable since no other rapper sounds like him—that much can be said.

But his range is starting to show. Rocky can talk about two things well: his model girlfriends and his clothes. He's not an intellectual; his music isn't the type to win a Pulitzer Prize, though it's emblematic of his style and charisma as a young MC. What he lacks in substance, he makes up for in pure swag. He has the voice of a rapper, a cool and collected braggadocio that excuses moments where he seems incapable of going deeper. He remains on the surface, quite literally summarizing his childhood and rise to fame. The connective tissue between Rocky as a young drug dealer to a Dior-wearing fashion icon is disconnected, leaving the limbs of the album frail and malnourished. The look is there. The vibe is there. Now think of a Rocky who actually tells a story, says something more profound than what hair color and sexual orientation he prefers his ever-growing collection of women.

The Skepta-assisted "Praise the Lord" is pure hip-hop gold, an eargasm that embodies what Rocky does best: boast about himself. The production is clean, sexy, jiggy, and sounds like a 90's banger—everything you'd want in a rap song. Skepta's voice is a delight, his accent adding a rush of energy to the chorus. Rocky samples Moby, an unlikely choice for a Harlem rapper, but it speaks to his eclectic tastes; his vision—he's shown in everything from his music, fashion, and acting—isn't black or white.

"Hun43rd" is a dizzying kaleidoscopic vision of what rap could become if artists were willing to deviate from sounds traditionally heard in mainstream music. It's oddly beautiful as a composition: It grates at the ear, right before it drops into a woozy, luminous bubble where Rocky details the rhythm and spirit of his Harlem neighborhood. Those moments feel and sound so good, you forgive Rocky for his botched attempts at enlightened political discourse ("My newest President a asshole / I guess that's why I'm leaving turd stains.") Our political climate is certainly disappointing, but it shouldn't cause incontinence. Go see someone for that, Rocky.

The feature roster on this project is impressive: Frank Ocean, T.I., Diddy, Tyler the Creator, Kid Cudi, FKA Twigs, and several others lend their voices, creating a performative fabric around the album, a weird collaborative project that lacks heart in the songs that need it most. "Purity," is a strong close and maybe a look into a new Pretty Boy Flacko, one who has something more to say.


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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MUSIC

Review | .Paak's 'Bubblin' Is a Satisfying Appetizer for What's to Come

"Bubblin," His Latest Single, is a Satisfying Appetizer

.Paak's 'Bubblin'

Now that's he made it, it'll be interesting to see how .Paak musically indulges his newfound currency as an artist, fur coats and all.

It all started with Breezy LoveJoy. Anderson .Paak looks unrecognizable from his earlier days, when the singer/multi-instrumentalist/proud Aquarius dropped music under a name he infamously created for being particularly larger and gassy…. Not the most romantic of name concepts, then, but .Paak would later graduate from his mixtape efforts, which often felt like miscellaneous parts of a larger project more methodical in its curation and production.

Then came Venice, SoCal soul, paired with funky jazz instrumentals he'd amplify in his critically acclaimed album, Malibu. On the album cover of Malibu, .Paak sits in his underwear, underdressed and overwhelmed, flooded with musical inspirations. Listening to .Paak is a similar experience, a wild immersion into his world that is at once sublime, disruptive, soulful, sardonic, and above all, cinematic. It's like being on a raft in the ocean, except the raft is a piano and .Paak is shifting his weight for kicks. He's spontaneous, but he thrives when he's at the fore, his voice registering a type of anguished wisdom only gained through life experience—and he has plenty.

A late bloomer to his own success, .Paak returns in 2018, set to release two new albums, one of which is another solo album, the other with his band The Free Nationals, consisting of Jose Rios, Ron Tnava Avant, Kelsey Gonzales, Callum Connor. "Bubblin," the latest release from the iconoclastic artist, shows .Paak's strengths as a rapper, something he's always excelled in, gaining the attention of Dr. Dre who eventually signed him.

His bars are quick, playful, and are pumped with his frenetic charm. The accompanying music video is directed by Calmatic, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles and also stars .Paak's adorable son, Soul. They both sport fur jackets as Soul gives us a taste of his burgeoning talents as a dancer and performer. Not to mention the hilarious imagery of the video, where .Paak courts an ATM that dispenses money when it's complemented, with .Paak furiously protecting it from everyone he encounters. The symbolism infers the challenges of new success, of course, but it's also fitting that .Paak describes his own relationship with money and fame at this moment in his career.

He's since established himself as a household name. In 2017, it seemed as though he was over-featured, working with artists like Kaytranada, GoldLink, The Game, Rapsody, Domo Genesis, Mac Miller, and was featured on Dr. Dre's long-awaited Compton album.

.Paak collaborates with Dre once more on his follow-up to Malibu and his fans are eagerly anticipating what soul-crunching verses he's prepared on his hiatus. What will the funnyman/loverboy spit for us this time? If "Bubblin" is any indicator, Anderson is done struggling, comfortable in his skin, confident, and hella funky. Now that he has made it, it'll be interesting to see how .Paak musically indulges his newfound currency as an artist, fur coats and all.


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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