Staff Picks: ‘American Crime Story,’ ‘808s & Heartbreak’ and ‘Saga’


Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Scroll through for our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson, is my new destination television drama. Its mixture of schlockiness, real dramatic power, and ability to recall events that I actually lived through, quite accurately and from multiple perspectives, is the winning combination of highbrow and lowbrow. And the casting is pitch-perfect. I like John Travolta’s sleazy Robert Shapiro best, tied with David Schimmer’s sad-sack Robert Kardashian — but the entire ensemble is brilliant. Every week, I can’t believe how quickly the hour is up, and how much I want to go back to the same Wikipedia pages about the trial over and over again. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-in-Chief

I can’t get enough of The People v. O.J. Simpson. I was in Los Angeles for almost the entire affair, and I thought I knew all the facts and circumstances and storylines and conspiracies — and, of course, the ending. But executive producer Ryan Murphy has somehow managed to spin a compelling story of two dueling lawyers: John Travolta’s as the dogged but out-of-his-depth Robert Shapiro, and Sarah Paulson’s alternatingly outraged and baffled Marcia Clark. Seeing every twist and turn through their eyes, as well as a LA public that was years away from the scandals of Bill Clinton or Michael Jackson, makes the series an insightful look at fame, crime, and race, all of which are still relevant today. It’s the perfect example of truth being stranger than fiction. I was there; I read the papers; I watched the local news; I braced for the post-verdict riots that never came. There’s no reason I should be watching American Crime Story. And yet I can’t stop watching it. — Jason Ginsburg, Social Media Editor

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

As something of a belated New Year’s resolution, I’ve been making a concerted effort to get more into comics lately. At the top of my to-read list was Vaughan and Staples’ epic fantasy/sci-fi, er, saga, now in its fourth year and fifth bound volume. I tore through the first installment last night, and plan to pick up the rest as soon as the clock strikes 5pm today. Saga‘s world is an intricately haphazard mix of almost every genre convention known to man: aliens, robots, ghosts, space travel, and magic are all present and accounted for, plus the occasional banal detail thrown in for shock value/comic relief. (Interstellar bounty hunters, for example, have the same sleazy agents as actors here on Earth — except said agents also happen to be anthropomorphic seahorses.) It’s just as insane and addictive as it sounds; I can’t wait to reread it at least three more times in the weeks to come. — Alison Herman, TV Editor

W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (dir. Dušan Makavejev)

The most sexually adventurous movie you can stream online certainly isn’t Gaspar Noé’s boringly conventional fuck-and-sob-fest Love, new to Netflix this month — but it may well be this 1971 counterculture classic, currently viewable on Hulu Plus thanks to the heroes at Criterion Collection. The title is an abbreviation of Wilhelm Reich, and Makavejev, a Serbian avant-garde legend, pays perfect tribute to the radical psychoanalyst by taking a kaleidoscopic look at the intersection between sex and politics. W.R. splits its time between a fictional narrative set in Eastern Europe that (graphically, exuberantly, and then horrifyingly) parses the role of sexual freedom in revolutionary socialism and documentary footage of Americans living at the cutting edge of gender, sexuality, and leftist politics — Warhol Superstar Jackie Curtis, The Fugs’ Tuli Kupferberg, and sex educator Betty Dodson among them. Believe me, you’ve never seen another movie quite like this one. And if you survive it, see if you can stomach Makavejev’s more notorious 1974 effort, also streaming on Hulu Plus, Sweet Movie. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

The Wrong Man (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) on Blu Ray

There’s no denying the power and influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s style – it’s his most enduring legacy, and what continues to attract film lovers and film students to his work – but what’s even more interesting is how eager he was to abandon that style in the name of experimentation. His underrated 1956 film The Wrong Man (newly released on Blu-ray by Warner Archive) eschews much of what we think of as the Hitchcock style: flashy color cinematography, studio tricks, baroque compositions, theatrical performances. Instead, he strips his favorite narrative – that of the innocent man, wrongly accused – down to its absolute bare bones with this story, shot on real New York City locations in black and white, of a jazz musician accused of robbery. Henry Fonda is aces in the leading role, his low-key approach a good fit for this naturalistic variation on the Hitchcock style, and in its true-story trappings and on-location weight, it feels less like an influence on Hitch’s many imitators than on television procedurals like Law and Order. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak

Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo and all of the hoopla around it has severely stunted my longtime Kanye fandom. I have defended Kanye for years, claiming that haters simply failed to look past the headlines and into the deep cuts of his discography and public presence to find the goofy, brilliant mind of one of rap’s most important players. The fashion lines? Sure, it was a little bland, but his aspirations were the real star. He wanted to do things beyond selling records. And I liked that. But now, after two months of tiresome Tweeting and a scattershot album, I’ve had no choice but to retreat to 808s & Heartbreak, what’s collectively known as Kanye’s worst album but will, most likely, always be my favorite.

808s was the first album on which Kanye’s post-rap potential was revealed and realized, his aesthetic shifting from Polo pony to hard neutrals and nerdcore. He graduated from shutter shades and went straight to High Fashion, auto-tuned the hell out of everything, and employed some of the hardest-hitting 808 drumbeats of all time. Listen to “Love Lockdown” without getting amped up, and, well… I’ll quickly call you a closed-minded hater. — Shane Barnes, Associate Editor

Betty Wright

Via the Guardian , we were reminded this morning of soul queen Betty Wright, who so memorably ‘Sanctified‘ Rick Ross’ Mastermind tape with none other than Yeezus himself. But Ms. Wright has been slaying since before Kanye West was ever conceived, and at 60+ years of age, continues to do so. For evidence, look no farther than this clip from a lily-white Jools Holland New Year’s Eve special; at one point she channels the spirit of Tina Turner, before adlibbing her way to the finish line. She’s the rare soul singer who can make a vocal from this century sound like a sample from the past. — Matthew Ismael Ruiz, Music Editor

Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller)

With well-timed references, visual gags, unabashedly crass one-liners hardwired into its DNA, Deadpool is too quick-witted not to elicit a chuckle from even the most comic-fatigued movie-goer. Ryan Reynolds impeccably straddles the line the most likable asshole and the least likable hero in recent memory. At the same time, while pundits aren’t wrong in taking the success of Deadpool as a sign that we’re thirsty for R-rated comic book movies, they’re kind of missing the point. Deadpool is the role model for the internet comments section: He knows the difference between good and evil, but can’t always be bothered to do the right thing and he definitely won’t let anyone hold him accountable for anything he’s done. — Michael Epstein, Editorial Apprentice

Empress Of — “Standard”

When my Flavorwire colleague Shane Barnes “staff picked” Empress Of’s “Need Myself” a while back, I went to see what all the fuss was about — and to my surprise, I found that all of the fuss was about someone I used to sit next to in high school biology! But once I got past the initial, “woah I used to sit next to this person in high school biology!” excitement, I was able to unadulteratedly start enjoying the greatness of Empress Of’s (Lorely Rodriguez’s) LP, Me. I was especially struck by the track “Standard,” which is the most measured on the album, allowing Rodriguez’s glassy vocals to coast atop a staccato wave of ebbing and flowing panting towards completely stunning chorus. In an interview, Rodriguez spoke of the the song having emerged from her stay in Mexico, during which she saw “families on the side of the road selling firewood for pennies,” and decided to write from their perspective. The song never falls into sentimental or didactic traps, though — rather, its lyrics are opaque and intriguing enough to establish a sense of distance — which the listener then has to work, and wants to work, to cross. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor