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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Interview: Gina Prince-Bythewood Talks SHOTS FIRED and Telling the Story of the America You Don't Normally See on TV

Gina Prince-Bythewood and a scene from Shots Fired featuring DeWanda Wise

If you haven't been watching SHOTS FIRED on Fox, then you've been missing out on one of the smartest, timely, and fascinating shows on television right now (outside of ABC's American Crime, which was just brutally canceled for no reason at all). Set in Charlotte, North Carolina, the narrative kicks off with the murders of a young black man and a young white man at the hands of police. Through that impetus, it tells the story of criminal justice, police misconduct, civil unrest, and race.

In just nine episodes, the series, co-created by writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights), has explored what social justice looks like in the modern era, the role of the black church, local government corruption, and more, seamlessly. And on top of all that, it has one of the best casts on TV: Sanaa Lathan and Stephen James as the officers called to Charlotte in response to the murders, DeWanda Wise and Jill Hennessy as the mothers of the two men killed, the amazing Aisha Hinds as the respected pastor of the local church, Helen Hunt as the governor (yes, a woman governor!), Stephen Moyer as a police lieutenant, and Tristan Wilds as the sheriff deputy accused of killing an unarmed young white man. And that's not even everyone. Did I mention Richard Dreyfuss is also on the show too?

With the series finale of this limited television event coming up Wednesday, May 23, we caught up with Prince-Bythewood to talk about the inspiration behind the show, its phenomenal soundtrack, political statement, and working with some of the best talent Hollywood has yet to truly recognize on Sunday's Cinema in Noir podcast. Tune in below. The interview begins at the :30 minute mark.

Don't miss the highly anticipated finale of SHOTS FIRED Wednesday, May 23 at 8pm on FOX.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Interview: Director Salima Koroma on 'Authentic' Hip-Hop, Drake, and BAD RAP

Koroma with producer Jaeki Cho

I maintain that director Salima Koroma's feature documentary, BAD RAP, was one of the most unexpected, personal, and bold non-fiction narratives at last year's Tribeca Film Festival. Highlighting the experiences of Asian-Americans in hip-hop, the film explores the significance of race and gender integration in the rap industry, authenticity, and who gets to be the arbiter of the narrative—reigniting a decades-long conversation among hip-hop fans.

I had a chance to catch up with Koroma, who talked about her inspiration behind the film, ownership in hip-hop, and the perception of Asian-American as a monolith:

First of all, congrats on this impressive feature! What inspired you to delve into the "niche" world of Asian-American rap?

Hey girl, hey! And thanks so much. This is a film about Asian-Americans, but it’s also about hip-hop. It’s about America and who can belong. Who can be part of hip-hop? Who is a real American? So, we made it a point to chronicle the Asian-American experience, emphasis on “American” because if you’re a group of people who’ve been fighting to be simply perceived as American, then you can just imagine what it’s like to be perceived as “hip-hop.”

Where does the title come from? Does it refer to the perception alluded to in the film that Asian rap is somehow inferior or inauthentic?

Well, the concept of “Asian rap” doesn’t really exist, so let’s just put that out there. There are Asian rappers, but there’s no such genre as “Asian rap,” because all Asian American rappers are different. Some Asian rappers are really, really good and some aren’t. But at the end of the day, they have a “bad rap,” which is just slang for having a bad reputation.


In your opinion, what makes great rap?
Anything that sounds good and feels authentic. Hip-hop is one of those things where if you’re not being authentic, people don’t like you. Let’s take Drake for example, a former child actor from the Toronto suburbs. Most people love Drake because a) The guy makes catchy tunes and b) He’s embraced what’s authentic about him, which is being the guy who raps about being in love and being heartbroken. He’s corny! And people love it because that’s just who he is! Now, imagine if Drake was rapping about being a gangster and how he sold dope on the Toronto streets. No one would believe him or take him seriously. So the best rap is the rap that’s true to who you are.

I admire that you did not sugarcoat the experiences of rappers whose lives and careers you explore. On the one hand, you highlight a humble upbringing, painting a more sympathetic picture, then you also introduce the pervasiveness of Asian rappers who incorporate misogyny in their music videos and receive criticism from black rappers for doing so. Where do you to draw the balance in optics and messaging? 

If an Asian rapper makes a video with girls shaking their a$$es in front of the camera, that has nothing to do with an Asian backpack rapper rhyming about social consciousness. The only similarity is that they’re both Asian. And so when we highlight both of those things, we’re making it okay to criticize or accept it. And that’s all Asian rappers want, really: to be judged on the merits of the music and visuals, even if some people don’t like it.


Awkwafina is a particularly compelling addition to the narrative. She talks about being a woman in a very male-dominated industry and being able to carve out her own niche. Why was it important to you to include her voice?

Because Awkwafina is dope. She talks a bit about the obstacles of being a woman in the music industry but that’s not really her full story. Each character had their own broad struggle and Awkwafina’s was about being a newcomer on the scene, doubting yourself, and wondering if the newfound fame you’ve gained is going to last for a long time, or for just an instant.

Of course, there will still be people who will come to this film with their own opinion of "who owns rap music." But what do you ultimately want people to take away from the story?
Yes, you’re right, there’s always going to be a discussion about “who owns rap.” And what I want people to take away from this film is that when someone tells you you shouldn’t follow a dream because they think you don’t belong there, tell them to f**k off.

BAD RAP opens nationwide on VOD May 23. Revisit my review here

Sunday, May 21, 2017

CAN'T STOP WON'T STOP Trailer: Puff Daddy and the True Story of Bad Boy Records

You've gotta hand it to Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs (yes, I still call him Puff Daddy); he is always on message. Twenty -four years ago he founded Bad Boy Records, which became the preeminent hip-hop record label, catapulting the genre into the mainstream airwaves, taking hits from the '80s and making sounds so crazy. He himself proclaimed his own legend, literally before anyone else had a chance to do so.

He's been diligent about keeping the legacy of the label alive, and that of his comrade Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace, who was killed at the height of fame in 1997. So it comes as no surprise, at least to me, that there is now a documentary chronicling the label's journey (which is likely synonymous with Combs's story), and that Combs's face is the only image on the film's poster.


Directed by Daniel Kaufman, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story is an exclusive look behind the scenes at the history of Bad Boy through a complex portrait of the label’s mastermind, Sean “Diddy" Combs, as he tries to reunite his Bad Boy Family in the course of a frantic three week rehearsal period. As they prepare to celebrate the label’s 20th anniversary, the film traces Bad Boy’s emergence in Harlem and Brooklyn, follows it’s meteoric rise, explores the tragic killing of Biggie Smalls, and celebrates Bad Boy’s influence in reshaping music, fashion, marketing and culture.

"I knew this was a story that should be shared with the world," Combs states in the press announcement. I missed this at Tribeca Film Festival last month, so my curiosity is now heightened.

CAN'T STOP WON'T STOP: A BAD BOY STORY will be available on Apple Music on June 25.

Watch the new trailer:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

OKJA Trailer: Watch a Young South Korean Girl Take Down the Establishment

Can I tell you how excited I am to see a young girl of color play a badass heroine in a major motion picture again? I feel like we haven't seen this since...Beasts of the Southern Wild? In any case, Bong Joon Ho's (Snowpiercer) latest OKJA stars 13-year-old Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija, who will stop at nothing to protect a massive animal from meeting its demise at the hands of corporate opportunists.

And, according to this official trailer, she's not really the negotiating kind. She's more like the kick-ass-ask-questions-later kind of gal. I dig it. Read the synopsis:

For 10 idyllic years, young Mija (An Seo Hyun) has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja - a massive animal and an even bigger friend - at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But that changes when a family-owned multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where image obsessed and self-promoting CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) has big plans for Mija's dearest friend.

With no particular plan but single-minded in intent, Mija sets out on a rescue mission, but her already daunting journey quickly becomes more complicated when she crosses paths with disparate groups of capitalists, demonstrators and consumers, each battling to control the fate of Okja...while all Mija wants to do is bring her friend home.

Deftly blending genres, humor, poignancy and drama, Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) begins with the gentlest of premises-the bond between man and animal-and ultimately creates a distinct and layered vision of the world that addresses the animal inside us all.

Watch the trailer:

OKJA will premiere exclusively on Netflix on June 28.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Still Not Feeling This BATTLE OF THE SEXES Movie...

Please tell me that Steve Carrell and Emma Stone have much better chemistry in BATTLE OF THE SEXES than they do in the trailer. Also, please tell me that Hollywood is not trying to turn Emma Stone into the next Jennifer Lawrence. And by that I mean that they're not trying to blindly cast her in roles that clearly make no sense for her. (After all, we already endured Gangster Squad, Aloha, and Magic in the Moonlight) .

Anyway, this is just first my first impression of BATTLE OF THE SEXES, the upcoming tennis drama in which Stone plays Billie Jean King and Carrell as Bobby Riggs in the infamous 1973 competition. I've been lukewarm about this project for the past few months when I first heard about it, and I maintain that reaction. It just seems very...meh. But, I guess I'll remain cautiously optimistic.

Check out the trailer:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trailer Watch: Mandy Moore is '47 METERS' Deep in Shark-Infested Water

The first thing I thought when I saw this trailer for 47 METERS DOWN, in which Mandy Moore is terrorized by bloodthirsty shark, is "But if you eat Mandy Moore, who will take care of the three little kids on This Is Us?" Needless to say, I am a huge fan of the NBC series (which just announced a new Thursday night time slot), so from here on out Moore will forever be remembered for her surprisingly impressive work on that show.

But, while the show is in between seasons, Moore has swam out the deep end in the ultimate summer thriller cliche, as bait in shark-infested waters. I'm here enough for it, if only as a sucker for shark thrillers but also because I have renewed interest in Moore's career after This Is Us. Here's the synopsis for 47 METERS DOWN:

On the rebound after a devastating break-up, Lisa (Mandy Moore) is ready for adventure while on vacation in Mexico. Even still, she needs a little extra persuasion when her daring sister Kate (Claire Holt) suggests they go shark diving with some locals. Once underwater in a protective cage, Lisa and Kate catch a once in a lifetime, face-to-face look at majestic Great Whites. But when their worst fears are realized and the cage breaks away from their boat, they find themselves plummeting to the bottom of the seabed, too deep to radio for help without making themselves vulnerable to the savage sharks, their oxygen supplies rapidly dwindling. 47 METERS DOWN is a terrifying tale of survival set in the domain of the ocean's fiercest creatures.

Yeah, I don't know why anybody would go shark diving either, not anyone who's ever watched the news anyway. Also, just a heads up, Johannes Roberts, who directed the wretched horror The Other Side of the Door, wrote and directed this project. Just thought I'd let you know that little fun fact,

Watch the trailer:

47 METERS DOWN is in theaters June 16. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Sometimes Funny SNATCHED is What White American Woman Privilege Looks Like in a Foreign Country

SNATCHED starts off innocent enough, for Amy Schumer standards. Emily (Schumer), a young woman with her head up her own a$$, is all hyped for her impending Ecuadorian vacation with her boyfriend (Randall Park) when he abruptly breaks up with her in the middle of a hipster cafe. Left companion-less for her getaway, she hits up Facebook looking for a replacement traveler. In vain, because she isn't really popular among her "friends," compelling her to seek refuge from her now overwhelming life on her mother Linda's (Goldie Hawn) comfy couch.

I figured I'd just get all the white woman privilege tropes out of the way in the first paragraph of this post. There, now that's done. Long story short, Emily eventually convinces her reclusive, cat-obsessed mom "of a certain age," who still coddles her grown a$$ son (Ike Barinholtz), to fly with her across the world. And for a while, Schumer's typical "white girl trash" routine works well with Hawn's conservative, cat lady act, hilariously so. Mostly because you really just want it to, but also because it's Mother's Day this weekend and there isn't anything else coming out in theaters that celebrates moms. Sadly.

So, you really feel compelled to enjoy this film. I mean, it's Hawn, the original blonde comedienne, and Schumer, the ballsy comedienne who just so happens to be blonde. Then something happens once they're removed from their privileged white existence and step foot into a country that is primarily populated by people of color whose biggest tragedy is probably not their boyfriend dumping them in a cafe. They're abducted by locals, from whom even after they manage to escape, inexplicably continue to hunt them down  throughout the rest of the movie in an increasingly silly, cartoon villain kind of way. Ugh, here we go with this again. Hollywood is always curious enough to visit a foreign country, but quick to vilify the locals, and make themselves out to be the white helpless victims. Hollywood, I see you. You're not slick.

So that's happening, and is super annoying. But, the glorious supporting characters played by Christopher Meloni, Wanda Sykes, and Joan Cusack help take your mind off the fact that you're watching an offensive, unimaginative, and cheap film that attempts to celebrate motherhood but can't get around its own reckless whiteness. There's even a scene in the film where Emily feels so obliged to assist local women laborers. To which her mom, beaming with alarmingly genuine pride, says "Look at you, helping." I can't.

(But seriously, more films with Meloni, Sykes, and Cusack, please).

The film almost redeems itself when its villain accuses Emily and Linda of coming to the country and gazing at the locals like they were at a zoo. I swear, I almost stood up and applauded in the theater. But it was such a fleeting moment, just a quick acknowledgement of their overbearing whiteness, that is almost immediately dead on arrival. Like this movie.

Yes, SNATCHED has some genuinely funny moments throughout, especially in the first 30 minutes, when Schumer is in her element as a devil-may-care, back tattooed white girl (as opposed to when she tries to add dramatic nuance). And there are a few touching mother-daughter moments. But the problems in this movie should not be ignored.

Rating: C (*** out of *****)

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