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SNL Recap – Helen Mirren and Foo Fighters

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

If you’ve ever seen an interview with Helen Mirren, then you’d know that in addition to being a world-class actress, she also has a wicked sense of humor.  She has the twin traits of being both regal enough to play Queen Elizabeth II (The Queen) and versatile enough to play the proprietor of a Nevada brothel (Love Ranch) or a retired assassin (Red).  It’s hard to pinpoint her, she’s a bit of a chameleon and that will hopefully serve her well as she hosts SNL for the first time.

Foo Fighters are one of the last remaining rock and roll bands that really rock, with shredding guitar solos and heavy drums.  I always enjoy their music when I hear it, but I’ve probably only listened to two or three of their albums all the way through.  Dave Grohl is a musical genius, though.  The dude was the drummer in Nirvana, lead singer for Foo Fighters, and did so much work with so many other bands, including Queens of the Stone Age.  Also, he’s hilarious and I’m sure we’ll see him in a sketch or two this week.

Let’s go to the DVR!

Cold Open – Every single time I see Fred Armisen as Barack Obama, I’m underwhelmed before the skit even starts.  The problem is not that Armisen does a bad impersonation, it’s that Obama is really boring.  SNL – and other comedy shows – still haven’t figured out an angle on Obama.  Will Ferrell didn’t impersonate Bush so much as create a caricature of him that was good enough.  Same with Dana Carvey and his Bush senior or Darrell Hammond and his Clinton.  Look at Aykroyd’s Jimmy Carter or Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford.  They weren’t so much about getting the voices right, but about finding one trait that can be exposed and exaggerated.  And with Obama, they still haven’t figured out how to make him funny.  Instead, Armisen plays him as just a regular guy who talks somewhat slowly.  There isn’t a single thing that we come back to, week after week, hoping that Armisen as Obama will say or do a specific thing.  Anyway, this skit was a presidential address from Obama about the recent government almost shut-down.  It was a snooze, as usual when it comes to Obama skits.  2/10

Monologue – Wow, how great does Helen Mirren look for 65?  And right off the bat, she nails an Elton John-queen joke.  And then shows off pictures of her hot body.  Then the male cast members come out in sailor outfits to assist her in a song about her being a “dame.”  It was a pretty cute number, nothing special, but Mirren seemed really comfortable and committed, which bodes well.  Overall, not a very memorable monologue, though.  5.5/10

Mort Mort Feingold – Andy Samberg does play a stereotypically Jewish accountant to the stars.  Basically, it’s an excuse to have the entire cast come out and do their impressions of celebrities while Samberg over-emotes in a way that is somewhat funny.  The celebs rotate in and out, so each cast member gets a line or two.  So we have Paul Brittain playing James Franco, Abby Elliott, Vanessa Bayer, and Nasim Pedrad as the Kardashians, Taran Killam as Ricky Martin, Jay Pharoah killing it as Will Smith, Bill Hader and Helen Mirren as Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Brittain returning as Johnny Depp, and Armisen doing his Gaddafi.  Outside of Pharoah and Brittain, there weren’t really any memorably great impressions, although I’m always a huge fan of Elliot, Pedrad and Bayer’s Kardashian sisters.  I liked the idea of sending up Burton and Carter, but I don’t think they quite got it outside of the costumes.  It was an enjoyable skit, for the most part, though.  Easy to sit through.  6/10

Digital Short – This week it’s devoted entirely to the magical powers of Helen Mirren’s breasts.  Nasim Pedrad requests to “touch ’em” and Mirren allows her, which then leads to Nasim in ecstasy as she has the strangest dream sequence/montage I’ve ever seen.  Then she goes to a place better than heaven…”Helen Mirren’s titties.”  And sure enough, Dave Grohl’s there too.  It was a very short short this week.  The montage sequence is hilarious and if you’ve ever wanted to see Kristen Wiig motorboat Helen Mirren…well, your sure has finally come in.  7.5/10

Fox and Friends – Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer, and Bobby Moynihan playing the airhead hosts of the familiar Fox News morning show.  I think Bayer’s take on Gretchen Carlson is pretty spot-on.  Killam is a little over-the-top in this one, but Moynihan is great in this one.  I love his misunderstanding of the word ‘eclectic.’  Helen Mirren comes on as a crazy person who is “proud to be an American” and is terrified of “reverse anchor babies.”  And that’s it from your Academy-Award winning host, really?  This skit is going on too long.  Although I liked the scroll at the end, which was all the “facts” they got wrong and if you look closely, one of them is “Cell phones do not cause chlamydia.”  It was a stupid skit that dragged on a bit, but it was tolerable and got enough things right for me to give it a pass.  5.5/10

Mary Shelley/Frank Stein – Helen Mirren plays the famous author. celebrating the publication of her novel with some friends at her house.  Then her landlord, “Frank Stein,” shows up and bears an uncanny resemblance to the Frankenstein monster, bolts in his neck at all.  Armisen plays Frank Stein and takes offense at the book, saying that he doesn’t appreciate being made fun of.  It’s a pretty funny idea, but it doesn’t really go anywhere.  It’s a little repetitive and has just one real joke.  Paul Brittain comes out as hunchback named Igor, Frank’s son.  The ending kinda makes it work.  Gotta give it points for a clever idea.  6/10

Foo Fighters – They’re singing a song off their new album called “Rope.”  It’s got a pretty good riff, a little bit slower in tempo.  Hey, it looks like Pat Smear’s back in the band.  I didn’t realize that.  The Foos have a lot of energy and always put on a good show, jumping around and going nuts, but I’m not sold on this song as a great lead single the way something like “The Pretender” or “All My Life” in terms of the later output, but it’s a solid enough jam.  7/10

Weekend Update – Update’s on only forty minutes into the show tonight, which is about five or ten minutes earlier than usual.  We better get a Stefon sighting since there’s a three week break after tonight and that would mean like three months with no Stefon.  Do they not realize that that character is gold?  “It is reported that Kate Middleton will have six hairstylists helping her on her wedding day.  And if I understand the role of ‘princess’ correctly, then all of those stylists will be cartoon bluebirds.”  Bill Hader comes on as James Carville to talk about the government almost-shutdown.  I appreciate Hader’s Carville impression, which is the perfect sort of SNL impression, but I never find his appearances that funny.  Right off the bat, he’s got a Mambo No. 5 reference and talks about how he was raised by a family of eels.  The unfortunate thing is that if Hader is coming on as Carville, then he almost surely isn’t coming on as Stefon…DAMN YOU, LORNE MICHAELS!  GIVE ME STEFON!  Also, we’re spending way too much time with James Carville.  I’ve noticed the trend on Update these days seems to be to let Meyers do only like three or four jokes before bringing in another guest.  I think Meyers should look at Norm MacDonald’s Update and see how he just crushed like twenty or twenty-five jokes every week.  I love Meyers, I just want to see more of him.  Kristen Wiig comes out as a flight attendant from that Southwest Airlines flight where the roof blew off the thing.  Her hair is straight up like Marge Simpson and she still has her oxygen mask around her neck.  When Meyers asks her when she knew something was wrong and she goes, “I noticed the roof of the plane wasn’t there the way it had been.”  “I’m one of those ‘funny’ flight attendants, so I said, ‘well at least this flight isn’t BOEING.'”  I don’t know why, but I’m actually enjoying this.  I thought that was pretty clever.  Meyers kills a couple jokes about prostitutes accepting credit cards in Pittsburgh and then we’re off to another guest, Jean K. Jean.  This is actually my favorite character that Kenan Thompson does, the French Def Jam comedian who dances at the end of every joke.  “You know what they say about French parties, right?  They start with crudites and they end with nuditays!”  I think my favorite part of these appearances is watching Seth Meyers dance in his seat while Kenan stands and grooves.  “A couple in Michigan is planning to walk more than 2500 miles to their wedding in Las Vegas this fall.  No word on whose idea it was.  But it wasn’t his.”  Not a bad Weekend Update, not a great one, and it really could have used some Stefon.  6/10

The Best of Both Worlds with Hugh Jackman – Andy Samberg is playing Hugh Jackman, “Both the most masculine and the most feminine man in the world.”  This is already hilarious.  He’s the guy who plays Wolverine and the guy hosts the Tony’s.  He brings out Taran Killam as Gerard Butler, another man who has TWO SIDES! playing The Phantom of the Opera and the lead in 300.  TWO SIDES!  And wow, Samberg is breaking!  He never breaks!  Kenan Thompson comes out as Ice Cube, gangster rapper and star of family flicks like Are We There Yet?  TWO SIDES!  Helen Mirren comes out as Julie Andrews, kind and cute musical superstar.  Two sides?  Doesn’t appear so until her tea comes out wrong and she murders her assistant with the help of Ice Cube, blood spraying everywhere.  TWO SIDES!  Samberg breaks again towards the end, a sign of how funny the skit was.  This was one of the best skits that SNL has done in a while.  It had a clever idea, a clear focus, and shadings of a plot.  Great job.  9/10

Under Underground Records – This is one of my favorite repeated skits.  Basically, it’s just a collage of randomly assorted nonsense thrown together in a jumble.  It’s a commercial promoting the Crunk-Ass Easter Festival that will “Give Jesus Nightmares!”  It’s got “DJ Vlade Divac” and “Eagle Eye Cherry” and the eggs are scrambled!  Jay Pharoah is DJ George Costanza in bunny ears.  I can’t even keep up with the weirdness in this, but it’s worth watching.  I mean, they’re gonna put the Chilean miners back in the mine!  8.5/10

The Roosevelts – A parody of the History Channel’s scuttled Kennedys mini-series.  We learn all about FDR’s dirty secrets, like how FDR (Hader) was talked into using a wheelchair to get him elected by Eleanor (Mirren).  And how Eleanor convinced Hitler to start the war when all he wanted to do was paint.  Armisen plays producer Joel Surnow who claims they had a historian on set.  Then Brittain comes on as the historian to say that he was “on the set, but mostly as an object of ridicule and derision.”  Abby Elliott comes on as Marilyn Monroe and makes out with Helen Mirren!  Basically, that seemed to have been the point of the whole skit.  But for me, the skit is best when Paul Brittain just shakes his head at all of the inaccuracies.  Good idea, could’ve had better execution.  6/10

Perspectives Photo Studios – Another short that opens with Kristen Wiig and Nasim Pedrad at a bar.  Wiig talks about how disappointed she is because the guy she’s seeing sent her a picture of his penis and it looked so small.  Cut to Jason Sudeikis, who talks about how that won’t be a problem for men anymore with Perspectives Photo Studios.  They use cutting-edge photographic techniques to enhance the size of your penis.  Or use another dude’s wang.  This is a pretty clever commercial.  Seth Meyers comes on as himself, talking about how he sends pictures of his “peen to every lady in his phonebook” when he’s not doing Update.  Stupid, but funny enough.  7.5/10

Foo Fighters Again – This time they did a song that is apparently called “Walk” that I’m already more impressed with than I was with “Rope.”  It’s a slow-build song that is more closely aligned with a song of theirs like “Everlong” or “My Hero.”  I really dig this one, might even download it.  8.5/10

Bongo’s Clown Room -Sudeikis is playing the DJ/hype man at a strip club.  He’s spouting strange comments about how he’s been sober for a week and then the female castmembers come out and dance awkwardly, with Pedrad disinfecting the pole as she dances.  “We want to apologize to y’all for the stray dogs in the parking lot.  Looked like one was giving birth.”  Some of the jokes are funny, some fall flat.  But Elliott, Pedrad, Wiig, and Mirren pole-dancing is pretty funny.  It went a bit too long, though.  5.5/10

Final Grades:

Helen Mirren – My only complaint with Mirren’s hosting is that she didn’t seem to be used nearly enough.  She appeared to be absent for long stretches or her roles in skits would be reduced to doing two or three lines.  Other than the Frankenstein skit and, to a lesser extent, The Roosevelts one, she wasn’t the lead character in any skit.  It seemed that, rather than building a show around Helen Mirren, they fit Mirren into skits they already had, save a few.  Mirren was great when she was used, though, so I can’t blame her, but I feel like the sample size was pretty small.  8/10

Foo Fighters – Great band.  Liked the first song, really liked the second song.  They’re still rocking sixteen years after their inception, a remarkably long run for a 90s rock band.  8/10

The rest of the cast – Brittain and Killam got a lot of burn tonight, which is a good thing.  Wish there was more Pharoah, Pedrad, and Elliott.  Wiig was used sparingly.  Hader was used frequently.  Hard to pick an MVP tonight of the castmembers, but I think I’ll go with Samberg for the Hugh Jackman skit.  7/10

The writing – Overall pretty solid.  The only stinker was the open.  The rest was mostly middling, but the Hugh Jackman skit killed it and there were a few other good moments.  Good episode overall.  7.5/10

And as for myself, I give a solid 7.

See you guys in three weeks for Tina Fey’s return to SNL!

Come Back, Warren Beatty!

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

So I just finished reading Peter Biskind’s biography about Warren Beatty, “Star,” and I found it as enjoyable as all of Biskind’s other books about Hollywood.  He has a knack for finding people that are willing to speak their minds about subjects that are usually taboo and off-limits according to the modern-day PR machine.  Even if half the stuff in his books is not quite true, there is a verisimilitude that makes one shrug and go along with it.

In his Warren Beatty book, Biskind made me appreciate the career of Beatty more than I once had.  Growing up, I was not a particularly big fan of Beatty.  I saw Dick Tracy, Bulworth, Bonnie and Clyde and wasn’t particularly impressed with any of them.  Bonnie and Clyde, in particular, is a film that is to be appreciated more than loved today.  What was once such a novel idea, using techniques that were unheard of at the time, doesn’t really translate today.  It’s a fine story told well, but it’s hard to feel the groundbreaking effect today that it had in 1967.

But when I saw Reds about five or six years ago, I was absolutely floored.  That was when I saw Beatty in a different light.  It’s a flat-out masterpiece about politics, love, and America.  It is literally one of the most difficult undertakings that any star has ever attempted and if you read Biskind’s book, you’ll understand why it had to be Beatty and why it had to be at that time of his career.  It’s rare that a movie star at the height of their power will choose a project that is so obviously divisive and controversial and throw their weight behind it.  Not only that, he enlisted fellow superstars Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson to join him.  And rather than shy away from the responsibility of the film for fear of being called a commie, he took the reins as director, producer, star and writer.

I don’t want to get too bogged down in talking about Reds (and I could talk about it all day long), but I have to mention the thing that Beatty gets so right.  As a life-long liberal, only he could have such an insight to craft scenes showing the in-fighting among liberals.  It’s no wonder why liberals are often trounced by their conservative counter-parts – they’re too busy fighting each other.  It’s an incredible insight into a part of politics that isn’t talked about often enough.

But the point that I really want to make is this: it’s been a decade since Beatty made a film (the atrocious Town and Country) and it doesn’t seem as if he has anything on the horizon.  After reading the book and seeing what Beatty’s work habits are like, it’s not hard to understand why someone might not want to work with him.  He’s demanding, exhausting, a ditherer, and a pest.  Almost every film he’s worked on has been bogged down by over-runs and budget problems because the man seems almost pathologically incapable of making a decision (and this is someone that Arianna Huffington was championing for President in 2000).  His last few films have been box office flops and nobody really knows who he is anymore.  He’s only made six films since Reds came out in 1981.  So, it’s not hard to see why his making a comeback might not be feasible.

But remember when Tarantino almost cast him in Kill Bill?  That would have been perfect.  No disrespect to the late David Carradine, but when you’re waiting the whole movie to finally meet “Bill,” it’s a bit disappointing when it turns out to be Carradine and not someone with the aura and star power of Beatty.  But, those are the types of roles that Beatty should be doing now that he’s 74-years-old.  He was always a leading man, not a character actor, so perhaps it’s hard for him to play a role like that, but he’d be great as the heavy in a film or as the type of guy who gives sage advice.

I mean, hell, I’d love to see him back on the big-screen as the leading man in any kind of film, but I just don’t know who else would pay to see that movie.  I’d really love to see him act in a movie about an aging Casanova who is reaching the end of his life and looking back.  What he really needs is a champion like Tarantino, or Fincher, or one of the Andersons to bring him back into the public eye.  (Although one of the interesting tidbits in the book is that P.T. Anderson wanted Beatty for the Burt Reynolds part in Boogie Nights and Beatty insisted on playing the Dirk Diggler character!)

I suppose the thing that I found really upsetting when I finished Biskind’s book was the fact that there really aren’t that many iconoclast actors anymore.  Who out there is similar to Warren Beatty?  I guess one could make the case for George Clooney, but he’s too prolific.  The man only made something like 20 movies in his lifetime and I guess that’s what ticks me off more than anything; he was such a talent and it’s a shame that we only have these 20 films.  As a director, he only gave us four.

My favorite Beatty film, though, might be McCabe and Mrs. Miller.  In Biskind’s book, it sounds like a miserable shoot since Robert Altman and Beatty were like oil and water, but the end result was one of the great Westerns of all-time.  Beatty believed that great art usually resulted from “hostile intelligences” and when you see the finished films he’s made, it’s hard not to say that he might have a point.

Well, excepting Ishtar, of course.

SNL Recap – Elton John

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

I mean, we all know that Elton John is a world-class singer/pianist and he’s crafted some of the greatest songs of all-time, but I’m curious to see if he’ll be able to entertain us when he’s not singing on SNL.  My guess is that there will probably be a lot of skits revolving around John playing the piano or singing.  He’s been funny in some of interviews, but that doesn’t always translate to performing well on SNL.  The trick is to see if, like Justin Timberlake, he has the ability to embody a character that is very different from him.  With a larger than life personality like Elton John, who is so famous for being himself, it might be a difficult task.

But let’s see if Sir Elton John pulls off the feat of host and musical guest on this week’s Saturday Night Live:

Cold Open – We’re starting with the Lawrence Welk show, which seems like a good way to get Elton John to sing.  And sure enough, he’s behind the piano as we do the usual “three pretty sisters and one ugly one” gag.  Even though I know Kristen Wiig’s baby-armed gross sister is coming, it still makes me chuckle every time.  Abby Elliott, Nasim Pedrad, and Vanessa Bayer play the normal sisters.  This time they have Wiig hiding out inside the piano.  I wonder if this will be Elton John’s role for the night: playing the straight man (no pun intended).  He’s doing a pretty decent job of it in this skit.  This isn’t exactly a landmark skit in the annals of SNL, but it does a decent job of causing some smiles and it’s better than the alternative for cold opens; usually, we’re force-fed some political-themed sketch and I don’t think that’s really SNL’s strong suit unless we’re in an election year.  They don’t have nuanced insights, so it’s hard to make that work in skit-form unless there’s a clear target.  Either way, not a bad way to open the show.  6.5/10

Monologue – First of all, Elton wears a wig, right?  Because otherwise I don’t really understand how he has more hair now than he had thirty-five years ago.  “The bitch is back!  I say that all the time, whether it’s appropriate or not.”  So far, pretty charming.  He talks about just having a baby:  “As you can see, I haven’t lost the baby weight.”  “He’s rejecting the breast.  And in that way, he takes after both of his fathers.”  This is actually one of the better monologues of the year, it seems like the writers really stepped up their game because they knew they had a host who wasn’t a comedian, but Elton John seems very comfortable up there and comfortable making lots of fun of himself (although at the end, he makes a passing reference to all the charity work he does…humble brag?).  So far, the show’s moving along nicely.  8/10

ESPN Classic – Will Forte is back!!!  This is not my favorite recurring sketch, but Forte is always reliably hilarious as commentator Greg Stink and Sudeikis is great as the straight man.  Seems like the audience doesn’t recognize that Will Forte isn’t on the show anymore, no ovation for him.  This time we’re watching the Lady’s Shot Put competition from 1986.  Kristen Wiig is one competitor, going up against an in-drag Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks…(Tangent: I’m an enormous Knicks fan.  I was not a fan of the Carmelo Anthony trade at the time we did and I’m even less of a fan now.  It’s not that Anthony’s not a good player, but that the one thing he does well – scoring – was something the Knicks already had in abundance.  We were a young team and we were getting better.  Now we’ve got a lot of pieces that don’t really fit together and we don’t play any defense.  And Carmelo Anthony’s isolation game isn’t appealing to me.  I was never a big fan of his game because he always holds the ball for at least a few seconds, stopping the flow of the offense.  And then he gives minimal effort on the defensive end.  It’s no coincidence that Amar’e Stoudemire’s MVP campaign was derailed the second Anthony came aboard.  If we’re going to play at a slower pace to fit to Carmelo’s game, then we need to play through Amar’e more and have more of an inside-out game instead of being a perimeter-based team.  Actually, we should be running the pick and roll with Carmelo and Amar’e every single time down the floor, with Billups and Fields and Shawne Williams as your three-point threats.  It would be unstoppable.  Of course, it would also require Carmelo to pass the goddamned ball once in a while.  Okay, enough basketball for now.)  I think we all know how this sketch is going to end.  The best part of this skit is Will Forte, who doesn’t even know what shot putting is and winds up talking about sex.  “How far should they aim for with the shot put?”  “49…70.”  “70 what?”  “I don’t know.”  And here’s an appearance from Tom Hanks!  He’s playing Forte’s brother.  Wow, I guess they really didn’t trust Elton John to carry the show by himself.  Speaking of which, he’s not in this skit at all.  Carmelo throws the shot-put and it hits Hanks.  This skit is going on for way too long.  5/10

Next Week – Helen Mirren and Foo Fighters.  I’m excited about both of them.  Foo Fighters have been on a bunch and not only are they a good band, but they have a good sense of humor and usually show up in a skit or two.  Mirren is just brilliant and I’ll forgive her for Red and Arthur as long as she keeps giving great performances in other movies.

Fancy a Jar, Do You? – A send-up of British sitcoms that was actually killing it (I always enjoy the no-joke jokes) before being cut to a BBC News breaking news report about a dragon attacking Britain (ironically enough, Paul Brittain played the news anchor) and how the Knights of the Realm (celebrities that have been knighted) were going to figure out how to stop it.  Cut-to the Knights of the Realm.  It took me way too long to explain what the sketch was about, but it’s a pretty funny idea.  Elton John is playing himself, Bill Hader is Richard Branson, Andy Samberg is Bono, Tom Hanks is Michael Caine (circa 1968 apparently), Taran Killam as Ian McKellen (as Gandalf), and Kenan Thompson as Sir Mix-A-Lot.  And then Fred Armisen is Ringo Starr.  Most of the sketch seems to revolve around the idea that Michael Caine speaks very slowly, which is not a quality I really attribute to him.  Elton John makes a couple of strong jokes about Bono’s Spider-man musical and reminds everyone that Elton’s Lion King musical is still in theaters.  The dragon was stopped by Sting, who “jizzed all over it until it died.”  That’s pretty funny.  The rest of the skit, not so much.  5.5/10

Digital Short – Holy shit, is Tom Hanks hosting tonight?  He’s been in more skits than Elton already.  Either way, Hanks goes to Lorne to pitch an idea and it’ll probably be yet another installment of Laser Cats, which stopped being funny about the third or fourth time they did.  And yep, more Laser Cats.  This time, the musical version.  I like that Hanks is only pitching the idea because Samberg and Hader stole Wilson (the volleyball from Cast Away, not his wife Rita Wilson).  I’m not going to bother explaining this skit, it’s just like the other versions except in musical form because of Elton John as the villain.  It’s absurd and silly and sometimes funny.  Hey, another Carmelo Anthony appearance.  Lorne Michael’s reaction shots are pretty much how I feel, despite some oddly enjoyable moments.  5/10

Elton John and Leon Russell – Tom Hanks introduced Elton John.  Jeez, why didn’t they just say tonight was hosted by Elton John and Tom Hanks?  The song is called “Hey Ahab” from John and Russell’s album.  It’s a pretty good song.  One thing that people always forget is how versatile Elton John is and this song is a good reminder that he can do honkey-tonk blues as good as anybody.  Probably wouldn’t be the first thing I’d put on a playlist, but really nice performance.  7/10

Weekend Update – Will we get a Stefon appearance tonight?  Probably not, but a boy can dream.  “Let this be a lesson to you Moammar Gaddafi.  If you don’t relinquish power, we will bomb you.  For two weeks.  Every 27 years.  Like clockwork.”  “Look, if Donald Trump wants to talk about Obama’s birth certificate, what do I care.  But if he loves America so much, why does he keep outsourcing the job of…his wife.”  Seth Meyers then goes on a run of amazing jokes about Donald Trump’s ridiculous run for the presidency and uses that as a lead-in to systematically destroy all of the GOP candidates and compares them to castmembers of Celebrity Apprentice.  That was pretty brilliant and only Meyers can deliver it the way he did, with that charming yet devilish grin.  Armisen comes on as Gaddafi, which was funny the first few times, but it’s gotten a little bit stale.  Wow, he was on for a while, making references to everything from In Living Color to CSI: Miami.  And now Kenan Thompson comes out as Barry Lewis, the man who caught the missing cobra from the Bronx Zoo.  I don’t really understand how this is going to be a joke worthy of having Kenan on for three or four minutes, there’s gotta be more to this, right?  He tries to bring out the snake and of course, it’s gone missing.  And of course, it’s not funny.  Feel free to fast forward right past it.  “According to a new study, the Bronx is the unhealthiest place in New York State, partly due to the Bronx restaurant ‘Fat Mike’s Fried Chicken and Punching.'”  Andy Samberg comes out as “Nicolas Cage” and Jake Gyllenhaal comes out as…himself.  Hey, another guest!  They might as well hang up a banner that says, “We don’t have faith in your hosting abilities, Elton John!”  ‘Nicolas Cage’ wonders how he isn’t in Source Code since it involves “time travel and screaming” and “the actors got paid.”  “I’m never too busy to turn down another blockduster!”  “Am I a genius or a madman?  The answer is, I’m a madman.”  Samberg looks like he’s on the verge of losing it.  Jake Gyllenhaal calls him “the white Samuel L. Jackson.”  That probably should have been funnier than it was.  The update ends on a pretty good joke that the audience didn’t laugh at and Meyers looked a little confused by the reaction and waited a few seconds before signing off.  The Donald Trump part was the best, the rest was a little weak.  6/10

Royal Wedding – This is always a pretty good skit, where Queen Elizabeth (played by Armisen) and Prince Philip (played by Bill Hader) are kind and regal in the presence of Prince William (Samberg), but the moment William leaves the room, they Queen and Prince Philip become cockney gangsters out of a Guy Ritchie movie.  This time, Elton John comes in and sure enough, as soon as William leaves, Elton John is accosted by the Queen and her husband, who don’t want him to play his “crap” songs.  Elton John says that she “must be the only Queen that wears Ann Taylor.”  The Queen talks about lighting her farts.  Elton finally asks what he should play, then the Queen and Prince Philip get on the drums and guitar and start playing some punk music and going crazy.  The music was the best part of the skit.  The rest was not so hot.  5/10

The Silver Screen – Taran Killam and Elton John play stereotypical gay men who are the hosts of a movie show.  I’m surprised that Elton John would agree to be in a sketch like this, which is so much about cliches of gay men as swishy and feminine.  Nasim Pedrad comes out as Vanessa Hudgens and shows a clip from Sucker Punch, which outrages the hosts of the show.  The hosts kiss each other a lot and get in fights and then make-up.  The one thing that’s nice about the skit is that it proves Elton John can actually act and embody a character, albeit one that isn’t very funny.  Yeah, I didn’t really enjoy this skit at all.  It seemed fairly directionless.  I don’t really understand why the “Vanessa Hudgens” character is even necessary.  It was kind of a mess.  3/10

Bruce – A sketch with Elton John as a gay cowboy in the Old West.  He rides in on an unicorn and wears flashy duds.  Bill Hader is the bartender, Jason Sudeikis is the “bad guy” who doesn’t pick up on the gay cowboy’s innuendo and Kristen Wiig is the town whore who is trying to get Elton John into bed, but he keeps turning her down.  Everyone was confused at first, but then the entire bar loves him.  It winds up being a skit about getting to know people and enjoying their company despite their differences.  It’s actually a skit with a nice message.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t very funny.  Good idea, but it didn’t go anywhere.  Although, it gets extra points for the “twist” ending, which made me chuckle.  5/10

Elton John and Leon Russell Again – Carmelo Anthony does the honor of doing the introductions, which means he was up until at least 1am last night when there’s a 6PM game today.  If he comes out sluggish against the Cavs, I think we’ll know he stayed out too late at the after-party.  Another solid song and performance by Elton John and Leon Russell.  7/10

Final Grades:

Elton John – It’s hard to give him a grade at all as a host, since it was hard to tell who the host was tonight, with Tom Hanks appearing in half the skits.  He was a little awkward in the sketches, sometimes spending so much time looking at the cue cards that he didn’t react to his fellow performers.  He did his best work during the monologue and in his musical performances, where he seemed most at ease.  But between Tom Hanks, Jake Gyllenhaal, Carmelo Anthony, and Will Forte, I feel like Elton John didn’t really get enough time to shine (or falter).  As a result, his turn as host was merely mediocre, while his musical turns were enjoyable (although he didn’t play any of his classic songs, which was disappointing).  Overall, I give him a 5.5/10.

The guests – Tom Hanks was pretty good in all of his skits.  He’s one of the best SNL hosts out there and there’s a reason why he’s hosted so many times.  He gives it his all and isn’t afraid to look like a fool (like when he’s holding Wilson).  Carmelo Anthony performed well enough for an athlete, but I worry about his game being affected.  Gyllenhaal had no real reason to be there, aside from promoting his new movie.  And Forte is always a welcome presence and I wish he would re-join the cast again.

The rest of the cast – Hard to say because there were so many guests.  I suppose Armisen, Hader, and Sudeikis were the most frequently used.  There was no Jay Pharoah whatsoever tonight, which is pretty ridiculous.  At least there was a Paul Brittain sighting.

The writing – Hit or miss.  But mostly, it was a pretty good show.  I thought the concepts of a lot of skits worked really well, but sometimes the execution wasn’t there.  I thought Elton John’s monologue was good, but there was an over-reliance on bringing back past skits (Lawrence Welk, ESPN Classics, Laser Cats, the King and Queen, Moammar Gaddafi) without really doing anything to tweak them in an interesting way.  Also, there was no Stefon, which is just inexcusable.  It’s been months!  6/10

I give myself a 8/10.  I’ll see you all next week for Helen Mirren and Foo Fighters.

Movie Malaise

Monday, March 28th, 2011

I’m sorry for my absence over the last week and a half.  I know you guys all missed me.  Things will return back to their regularly scheduled programming soon enough, it’s just been a chaotic couple of weeks in terms of work for me.  My MFA thesis is due in about a month, so I’ve been using the majority of my writing time to focus on that, and I haven’t gotten a chance to see a lot of new movies due to the workload.

But, more important than all of those real world factors is this: I’m utterly bored by the movies right now.  I don’t mean to sound like an elitist or a party pooper, but I’ve been having a real problem this year mustering up the energy to go out and see a film like, say, Sucker Punch.

Maybe it’s because my 28th birthday is a few days away and it’s just the result of getting older, but something has fundamentally shifted in me.  When I first started at MCN four years ago, I wrote often about how I felt it was important for someone who writes about movies to see absolutely everything that comes out in a given year, if possible.  The idea was that we can only appreciate the truly good movies when we subject ourselves to the really bad and mediocre ones.  There was also the notion that I could love a film that wasn’t necessarily well-reviewed or didn’t appeal to me on first glance.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

It’s strange how things have slowly shifted for me in terms of pop culture priority.  My time is more precious to me and time spent seeing a film like Sucker Punch, a movie that is not intended for me by a filmmaker I generally don’t enjoy, seems like it would be a waste.  Why would I go and see a film that I will almost certainly dislike when I could spend that time reading Melville or Joyce or watching a great television show or going to a concert or anything else that is culturally relevant.

I spent a big part of my life living in a bubble where movies were everything.  Maybe I haven’t seen a truly transcendent picture in a while, but that has faded.  I suppose a big part of it is that I’ve seen a lot of the great movies that I wanted to see.  I spent years and years doing nothing but catching up on the great films of the best directors so that I could be knowledgeable enough to hold my own in any discussion about what I considered to be the greatest art-form.  I remember obsessing over every frame of every single Kubrick film and hanging posters of the man’s work in my room.

I’ll always remember this: walking home from school when I was 12 and stopping at the video store every day to talk about movies with the clerk.  He was a big horror movie fan and he told me I should rent the films of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi.  So I got Dead Alive, Meet the Feebles, Heavenly Creatures (then just out on video), the Evil Dead series.  I watched them all and found them to be enjoyable and innovative.  I felt like I had discovered something.

But look back at that story and you’ll see that every element of it has changed in a profound way.  First off, video stores don’t fucking exist anymore.  That culture is dead, just like record stores.  There is no place for movie nerds or music nerds to discuss the latest thing they’ve seen or heard.  There is no sense of discovery.  Yeah, we have the internet, isn’t that wonderful?  Now every idiot with an opinion screams in all-caps about how Michael Bay is a genius because his movies make money.  But more importantly, there are no 12-year-old movie fans out there who can’t research every facet of an “underground” director with the click of a button.  We live in the age of the echo chamber, where the second somebody has an opinion that is brazenly different enough to perhaps have some merit, then everybody jumps on that bandwagon…until it becomes cool not to be on that bandwagon and call that guy a hack…until that’s not cool anymore and so on and so forth.  The other part of it is that there is no way for a young cinephile to discern what is important or what isn’t because everything is so available.  Isn’t it great that we can watch every movie on demand ever?  Well, not really.  Because without someone to guide you or to recommend you – and not Netflix’s computers, a real person – then how can you decide that it’s more important to watch Scenes From a Marriage or Confessions of a Shopaholic?  When everyone has a voice, then the voices of those who actually know something become lessened and that’s not a good thing.

The other thing about my story is this: I became big Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi fans.  I thought they had visual panache and anticipated what they could do next.  I mean, I didn’t think they were Kubrick or Bergman or Truffaut or anything, but talented fellows who I thought deserved a break.  I thought Heavenly Creatures, in particular, showed that Jackson was capable of making truly innovative films and couldn’t wait to see what they would do with a bigger budget.  And when Raimi made A Simple Plan, I thought he was capable of being one of the great thriller directors of our time. Of course, Raimi got the Spider-man franchise and Jackson Lord of the Rings.  It seemed like the coolest thing, that these kooky horror directors were going to be given the reins of a big-studio blockbuster!  I mean, of course they were going to be subversive, right?  “Well, okay, that’s cool, they made straight up studio movies, now they’re going to make the films they really want to make though…oh boy.”  See, it’s a disheartening thing.  These directors who I thought were capable of being themselves always wound up becoming the establishment and that sucks for the 12 year old in me.  I mean, they’ve made some fine films, but they’ve lost the voice that I responded to when I was younger.

Or maybe it’s that I’m not that kid anymore.  That big blockbusters don’t do it for me any longer.  I feel like a drug addict who is not trying to get high anymore because my “drug” abuse in the past was so out of control, but just trying to get “normal” with each fix.  Maybe Charlie Sheen was banging 7 gram rocks or whatever the hell he did, but I used to bust out 10 Fassbinder movies in a day.  Once you do that, it’s going to take a lot more than the latest Zach Snyder movie to blow your hair back.

Lately, with the free time I have, I’ve been re-watching episodes of The Larry Sanders Show.  It’s just terrific because I didn’t appreciate it when I was a kid and now I get to see it in a whole new light.  But it also reminds me of something I’ve long discussed on this site: television is becoming a more intriguing medium that film.  A movie can never hope to have the hours that television has to develop a character in the same way.  I know Larry Sanders better than I know almost any movie character I’ve ever seen.  It’s probably why my favorite film of all-time is actually 5 different ones: Francoius Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series, where we watch a boy grow up and change.

Nonetheless, there are movies I’m anxious to see this year.  We’ve got a new Malick, a new Van Sant, a new Fincher, and a whole host of others.  Hopefully something will get me back into the swing of things.  Antoine Doinel kept searching for love, no matter how old he got.  I want to keep searching for great movies, no matter what, but during the dog days of winter/spring when the studios are releasing nothing but crap, it’s hard to find the energy.

RUBBER – The Best Psychokinetic Tire Movie Ever!

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

If you only see one movie this year about a sentient tire that kills people with the power of his mind, make it Rubber.

I had heard a lot about the so-called “killer tire” movie that played at Cannes and then went on the festival circuit.  The folks who had seen it seemed cagey about what exactly they had seen, only releasing tantalizing hints that it wasn’t what you might expect it to be.  I didn’t really expect a movie about a killer tire to be anything really, so my interest was piqued in what seemed like a concept fit for a B-movie.

The interesting thing about Rubber is that it has just as much in common with Jean-Luc Godard as it does with Roger Corman.  Right from the get-go, it is clear that this absurd tale is about more than it’s letting on, with the film opening with a long monologue told straight to the camera by a man in a police uniform (Stephen Spinella).  He tells us that a lot of the choices made in some of our favorite films are made by their directors for basically no reason, that this element of “no reason” is an important one in some of the best movies ever made.  He cites specific examples from movies like E.T. and The Pianist then goes on to talk about more than just movies, asking why we can’t “see the air all around us.”  It’s all very philosophical and despite the fact that he tells us that things happen for no reason, it’s clear that this movie does have a reason and a purpose and is not just a bunch of nonsense.

The director, Quentin Dupieux, is someone to watch.  If he wanted to make something more conventional, he’d be great at it because he clearly knows the rules of cinema, which makes it easy for him to break those rules repeatedly and constantly.  He takes a lot of bold risks with this film, the biggest being that this isn’t really a movie about a killer tire at all, but a movie about watching a movie about a killer tire.  Dupieux employs a Greek chorus of folks who are in the desert with binoculars watching the movie about the tire play out before them and they comment on it, which is already a pretty strange strategy, but then beyond that he has certain performers in the “movie” who know that it’s all fake and a certain member of the Greek chorus who doesn’t want to comment, he just wants to see the movie.  If this all sounds confusing, I promise that it isn’t.  Well, maybe a little bit.

While the point of all this might not be readily apparent, I think it does cut to the heart of what it means to watch a movie and how that intersects with what it means to be a person.  And a big part of that is that sometimes we have to accept that things happen for “no reason” and that sometimes we have to jump into action rather than simply watch things unfold before us.  I think it’s interesting that most of the film takes place outdoors, with very few scenes happening inside houses or motels; even the car that is drive by Roxane Mesquida (who the tire falls in love with) is a convertible.  I think it’s a comment on the fact that we usually sit indoors when we’re watching a movie and here’s an audience of people watching a movie outside.

When I made a reference to Godard earlier, I wasn’t do so blithely.  Dupieux’s tactics and techniques are what Godard strove to do, but so often failed at, which is communicating ideas with the cinema.  And sometimes, Godard’s ideas were about anarchy and socialism and in a film like Week-end about the tenuous fabric of boring nothingness that holds modern society together.  I think Godard failed in Week-end and in Pierrot Le Fou, films which comment on themselves as they unfold, because he didn’t particularly care about the audience’s entertainment in the way that, say, Truffaut would have.  Godard is a very obvious filmmaker, one who would rather use a sledgehammer to get his point across than use anything resembling subtlety.  (There endeth my Godard rant)  Dupieux succeeds with Rubber because he makes what he purports to be the “point” of the film, which is that it’s not really about anything, but then crams in enough symbolism and philosophy to make us believe that it truly is about something.  But what Dupieux really excels at is making us care about what happens despite the fact that the most developed character is the tire.  What’s interesting is that we don’t care about what happens in the literal sense, but rather from a ideological perspective, in terms of what will be the final point that he’s trying to get across.

And then it ends with what I can only describe as both an homage and a middle finger to what modern-day cinema consists of.

Rubber is definitely not a film for everyone.  In fact, I imagine most people will be turned off to it in the way that a lot of people are turned off by a film like Contempt (incidentally, my favorite Godard film), because it doesn’t do what we expect movies to do.  My tastes are a little warped by years of watching unrelentingly bland, stale popcorn movies, so when I see a film like Rubber, that is aspiring to more than the usual, I get excited about it.

Rubber isn’t just the best movie about an animate tire who kills people with his mind that I’ve seen this year, it’s the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.  It takes risks and goes to unexpected places.  There is no way you will be able to guess what happens next.  And when I put it that way, I’m making it seem almost conventional; and if there’s one thing this movie isn’t, it’s conventional.

SNL Recap – Zach Galifianakis and Jessie J

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Zach Galifianakis is hosting SNL for the second time in two years and last year, he was excellent.  He gave one of the best monologues I can remember, which was basically part of his great stand-up act, and he’s adept embodying oddball characters.  He’s promoting The Hangover 2, which I’m strangely excited about, and I wonder if we’ll see a reference to that movie or if any of his co-stars will show up.  Either way, I’m excited about the return of Galifianakis.  I wonder if he’ll shave his beard again.

I apologize to the legion of Jessie J fans out there – if they exist – but I have no idea who she is or what kind of music she makes.  But I’ll give it a shot and see if it’s any good.  It’ll be fun to come to a music artist without any prejudices or preconceptions.

Okay, let’s get to it.

Cold Open – Kenan Thompson and Jason Sudeikis as Greg Gumbel and Jim Nantz in a “selection Sunday” parody, where instead of showing the brackets for March Madness, they’re doing brackets for the craziest people.  On Moammar Gadhafi: “He looks like Tony Shalhoub had a baby with ET.”  Pretty clever idea and the writing already seems sharper this week.  Armisen is on, doing his great Gadhafi.  Another Gadhafi joke: “A fat sleepy baby in a ton of blankets.”  Samberg is doing Dick Vitale, the most annoying sportscaster who has ever lived. which is actually pretty spot-on.   “He’s like Stanley Tucci snorted an aderrall.”  Kristen Wiig as Melissa Leo…wow, I guess Leo did a good job making herself known outside the indie world by being crazy at the Oscars.  “Nicolas Cage, who always looks like he just witnessed a murder.”  And of course we have Bill Hader as Charlie Sheen on his live webcast, saying that the pyramids were built by the Wayans brothers.  This was easiest the most enjoyable and consistently funny cold open in months.  Great concept, delivered well.  8.5/10

Monologue – “All week I was thinking to myself: don’t screw this up, fatty.  Actually that was a text from my mother.”  Zach actually looks pretty good, like he’s shed a couple pounds.  “I wear a lot of Axe bodyspray.  But I live in a black neighborhood and it’s called ‘Ask’ bodyspray.  And if you don’t get that joke, you’re not racist.”  “The only time it’s good to yell out ‘I’ve got diarrhea’ is when you’re playing Scrabble.”  Wow, Zach is just crushing this monologue right now.  I really think SNL should always let comedians do their routines.  If they’re gonna hire a comedian to host, they might as well let them do what they’re best at and Galifianakis does one of the greatest droll and matter-of-fact deliverers ever, almost on a par with Steven Wright.  Zach takes off his clothes and he’s dressed as Annie and singing “Tomorrow” while doing his big board shtick, ripping off the pages that saying things like, “I was bullied as a teenager.”  Then the next one says: “By first graders.”  So much energy, so much commitment, great jokes…folks, this is how you do an SNL monologue.  Best of the year so far, easy.  9.5/10

The Talk – Abby Elliott, Vanessa Bayer, Kristen Wiig, and Nasim Pedrad as Leah Remini, Sara Gilbert, Julia Chen, and Sharon Osbourne respectively on the View rip-off morning talk show.  Pedrad’s Sharon Osbourne and Elliott’s Remini are my favorite impressions, they’re really good.  Everyone is reverential of Osbourne and everything she does, with Remini calling her “a human Albert Einstein.”  Elliott tripped over a couple of lines, whoops.  This skit is pretty funny, but it’s already a bit long and we haven’t even had Galifianakis yet.  There he is, as a man wearing a “View” t-shirt and asking when Barbara Walters is coming out.  Bill Hader comes on the show as Steven Tyler.  I haven’t seen American Idol this year and I don’t plan on it, but Hader’s Steven Tyler is pretty good, not one of his best impressions.  Galifianakis is being massively under-utilized in this skit, which is its biggest weakness.  It started strong, but wound up being pretty mediocre.  5.5/10

The Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy – I never know what to call it when it’s a film, but it’s not called a digital short.  Either way, this is one of those, which is about four comedians that all have their own catchphrases and sign-off lines.  Glad to see Paul Brittain as Goran, the Croatian comedian.  Kenan doing the “eatin’ dookie’ bit is hilarious and I wonder if Kenan has found the best character for him: a bad comedian.  Bobby Moynihan wonders why he can’t get a McDonald’s breakfast and Zach Galifianakis just plays his airhorn over and over again.  Love seeing Seth Meyers in a skit, as “Boston Powers.”  I love it when they have skits where almost every castmember participates and gets a chance to create a character.  This was not the greatest short film ever, but it was pretty good and I enjoyed myself.  7/10

Next Week – Elton John is hosting and is the musical guest. on April 2nd  Wow, that’s a lot of Elton.  Good thing he’s an amazing singer/pianist.  Don’t know how he’ll do with the rest of his duties, but I’m sure it’ll be memorable.

Scared Straight – Ugh, one of my least favorite recurring sketches.  This and the Target lady are the two skits that make me roll my eyes and cringe.  This is the skit where Kenan Thompson yells in peoples’ faces for six minutes.  Hilarious.  This time Galifianakis comes on with him, dressed as Hannibal Lecter, as a guy who used to be an accountant for Nabisco before he started eating people.  Galifianakis is trying his best, but he can only do so much with a skit that’s just not a strong one.  If I wasn’t doing this recap, I would just fast forward right past this.  Couldn’t we have more Paul Brittain and Jay Pharoah instead of this?  The audience seems to be enjoying this, at least.  To be fair, this is one of the better installments of this skit.  3/10

Digital Short – Zach Looks For a New Assistant.  Galifianakis is interviewing children for the position of his assistant.  It looks like the kids have no idea that this is a joke.  One kid says he like’s Usher and Galifianakis goes, “Usher is Justin Bieber’s dad, right?”  Galifianakis picks up a stapler and uses it as a telephone until the girl informs him that it’s not a telephone.  Then he uses a fart machine, trying to get one kid to laugh, but the kid just keeps shaking his head and going, “not funny.”  This was a quick, clever, and very Galiafanakis-ish short.  7.5/10

Jessie J – Well, she’s attractive even though she’s dressed like an idiot and wearing so much make-up that she looks like she’s trying to emulate Jocelyn Wildenstein’s style.  She has a nice voice, but this song is not good.  It’s so disposable.  It seems like she was cynically designed by record execs.  “We want Amy Winehouse, but a with a little bit more of a hip hop bent.”  Or like they said, “We want Lily Allen part two.”  This is silly.  3/10

Weekend Update – I could use some Stefon in my life, especially since the show won’t come back until April 2nd, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen.  Seth Meyers starts off with a couple of weak jokes about Obama’s bullying and the NFL lockout, then a pretty solid joke combining the Pope, Jesus, and Watson the computer.  Kristen Wiig comes out as Julie Taymor to talk about getting fired from the Spider-man musical and she’s singing the opening of The Lion King.  I feel bad for Julie Taymor, sort of.  I’d probably feel worse if she didn’t come across as being incredibly pretentious.  Or if I liked a single one of her movies.  Wiig isn’t doing anything outrageous here, which is fitting because Taymor isn’t an easy person to impersonate.  Meyers says there are claims that she doesn’t know anything about the source material, which she refutes.  “I know everything there is to know about the Spider-man.”  “I know Spider-man’s secret identity is Peter Jessica Parker.”  Then she sings a song called “Rise Above,” which is pretty funny.  Wiig is always on point when she’s singing.  Moving on.  “According to a new study, men with deeper voices are more likely to be suspected of a cheating in a relationship.  Also suspected?  Men with suddenly high voices.”  This is a good one: “Police in Alaska are warning visitors to not approach any wild moose after a woman who tried to pet one was kicked in the chest.  ‘No, yeah, we know,’ said absolutely everybody else.”  Andy Samberg comes on as “Liam, the teenager who just woke up.”  The weird thing is that Samberg looks just like me when I would wake up in the middle of the night ten years ago.  He’s supposed to talk about Obama’s energy policy, but instead he talks about the dreams he just had.  This is not the best Update guest or the best Samberg character.  While singing about Peter Falk and wet dreams to the tune of “Oops I Did it Again,” Samberg almost loses it, which is enjoyable because Samberg almost never breaks character.  He’s got one of the strongest constitutions on the show, but he almost broke for a second.  Seth Meyers ends Weekend Update on a serious note, with a plea to donate money to the Earthquake-relief efforts in Japan.  Classy move.  Not the strongest update of the season, but certainly pretty good and fairly short.  6.5/10

Noodles – Galifianakis and Wiig play parents who have to inform their kids that Noodles, the dog, has died.  They tell their three kids – played by Pedrad, Moynihan and Elliott – that he’s on a farm somewhere upstate eating avocados fresh from the tree.  Pedrad picks up on the lie and says that unless there’s been a drastic climate tree, there’s no way there are avocado trees upstate.  The parents keep changing their story, trying to get the kids to believe that Noodles died.  “Noodles was killed by the Latin Kings.”  “The Latin Kings haven’t been active in this area for years.”  “Okay, Noodles hung himself.”  Galifianakis and Wiig then tell the truth: Noodles died from auto-erotic asphyxiation and then explain the practice to their children, complete with a copy of his dog porn magazine.  Then Hader brings the dog back, informing everyone that the dog isn’t dead, but was merely in a coma.  Then it gets even weirder, with Kenan as the voice of Noodles, singing “Luck Be a Lady.”  This skit definitely gets bonus points for being so bizarre, but it was slow going for a while and there weren’t that many laughs.  6/10

Celebrity Scoop – Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen play the hosts of a Winnipeg-based Entertainment Tonight type show.  Zach Galifianakis is one of their reporters.  They don’t show pictures of people canoodling because that’s the “Canadian way.”  Galifianakis elongates every “o” and all of them, as the skit goes on, are starting to sound more and more Irish rather than Canadian.  Bill Hader comes on as the fashion correspondent.  Basically the skit is based on the stereotype that Canadians are really nice.  This skit is going on really long considering there is only one joke and it was beaten into my head within the first thirty seconds.  This might have been an interesting concept, but there’s not a whole lot to do with it.  This is getting painful.  2/10

Jessie J Again – Wow, that’s some outfit.  What is with modern female singers dressing in underwear?  What hath Lady Gaga wrought?  Not that I’m complaining.  Anyway, once again Jessie J has a really nice voice, even if she’s intent on proving that point a little too much with lots of flashy singing flourishes.  This song is really terrible, though.  As a pop song, it has no hook and it’s difficult to get into a rhythm with it.  Sorry, Jessie J, you’re just not for me.  2/10

Corn Syrup Producers of America – It’s another short film.  This one is at a birthday party, where Kristen Wiig tries to explain to Pedrad that corn syrup is bad, but then gets rocked by Pedrad.  “Should I trust scientists or stay-at-home mom Sheila who drinks wine at 10am?”  This was actually pretty funny and succinct.  I liked it.  7.5/10

The Titanic’s Women and Children – Zach Galifianakis dressed as a woman so he can get into the lifeboat that is reserved solely for women and children and isn’t fooling anybody.  Galifianakis then beats away a man who tries to get into the boat.  It turns out that Galifianakis is the captain.  They read from his journal: “Iceberg straight ahead, I think I’ll blast through that sucker.”  This is just not a good sketch.  But it ends with a pretty bizarre epilogue that I enjoyed.  3/10

Goodbyes – Whoa!  Galifianakis shaved the sides of his head, apologizing for the fact that they didn’t have time for the “Mr. T” sketch.  It’s becoming a recurring thing for Galifinakis to shave parts of his body on SNL…what’s next?  10/10 for shaving his head to look like Mr. T.

Final Grades:

Zach Galifianakis – He was excellent, but he was let down by some of the material.  The Digital Short could have been stronger and I think that was probably mostly his idea, but the monologue was the best I’ve seen all year.  Next time they need to find some sketches where he can embody some more specific characters rather than shoe-horning him into skits that could have been written weeks, months or years ago.  Either way, I’d be happy to see him come back once again.  9/10

Jessie J – Sorry, not a fan.  She was too derivative of other, better artists despite her nice voice.  2.5/10

The rest of the cast – Got to see Paul Brittain, which was a plus, but there was an absence of Jay Pharoah.  The MVP would probably be Nasim Pedrad, who was in a lot of the sketches and made the most of her time.  Wiig is a close second.  Kenan and Hader are tied for third.  Let’s get Stefon back next time, guys!

As for myself, I whipped through this pretty well, so I give myself a 7/10.

What’d you guys think?

Damon & Affleck: Two Roads to Stardom

Monday, March 7th, 2011

While I was watching the middling, but not altogether unenjoyable The Adjustment Bureau, I was struck but how many other films it reminded me of.  Dark City, for sure.  A little bit of The Matrix, no doubt.  A big dose of The Lost Room, absolutely.  But the film I was most reminded of while watching it was John Woo’s 2003 film Paycheck, starring Ben Affleck.  I remember it was around that time when I realized that Matt Damon had the better career of the two best friends, that Damon cared more for the craft and Affleck for the stardom.  It’s impossible not to compare their careers, because they make a fascinating case-study of two young, intelligent, and attractive young actors who both make it big at the same time for the same film.  To see where the went from there makes for a great reference for future young actors everywhere of what to do (or not to do).  I mean, take a look at the choices they made following Good Will Hunting:

1998 – Damon works with Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) and John Dahl (Rounders) while Affleck works with Michael Bay (Armageddon)

1999 – The both star in Kevin Smith’s Dogma.  Damon also works with Anthony Minghella on the brilliant The Talented Mr. Ripley while Ben Affleck works with Bronwen Hughes on the Sandra Bullock-starring Forces of Nature.  Affleck also has a small part in 200 Cigarettes.

2000 – Damon makes a couple of missteps, but at least works with Robert Redford (The Legend of Bagger Vance) and Billy Bob Thornton (All the Pretty Horses).  Affleck, meanwhile, makes the worst film of John Frankenheimer’s career (Reindeer Games, and yes it’s worse than The Island of Dr. Moreau), but also works with up-and-comer Ben Younger (Boiler Room) and Don Roos (the mediocre Bounce).

2001 – Damon works with Steven Soderbergh and a whole host of great actors and movie stars in Ocean’s Eleven, a perfect example of how to do a studio blockbuster right.  Affleck re-teamed with Michael Bay to star in Pearl Harbor, a perfect example of how to do a studio blockbuster wrong.

2002 – Here’s where their careers truly diverged.  Damon makes an intelligent thriller called The Bourne Identity with emerging filmmaker Doug Liman.  Affleck stars in a boring reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise, The Sum of All Fears.  BUT – Affleck also starred in the very underrated and engaging Changing Lanes, giving one of his best performances to date.  At this point in their history, Damon seemed like the “serious one” already while Affleck could have gone either way.

In the years that followed, Damon worked with directors like  Soderbergh, Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, Robert De Niro (in The Good Shepherd, one of Damon’s finest portrayals), Clint Eastwood, The Coens, Paul Greengrass, and Stephen Gaghan.  Meanwhile Affleck starred in one colossal misfire after the other, like Gigli, Jersey Girl, the aforementioned Paycheck, Surviving Christmas, and He’s Just Not That Into You.

But things changed for me recently.  With The Adjustment Bureau being so Paycheck-like and the disappointments of Hereafter, Green Zone, and Invictus, Damon is reminding me an awful lot of post-Pearl Harbor Ben Affleck.  Meanwhile, Affleck has written and directed two very good – almost great – films in Gone Baby Gone and The Town, as well as given a deeply nuanced performance in The Company Men.  Now Affleck has just wrapped a starring role in Terrence Malick’s untitled next feature.  It seems the tide has turned, no?

Well, no, not exactly.  The truth of the matter is that Affleck is just catching up to Damon, who has movies in the can or in pre-production by Soderbergh and Cameron Crowe – no slouches, they.  And the bottom line is that while Damon has been in some stinkers (hello, Stuck on You), he’s never given a truly bad performance.  Meanwhile, Affleck has given quite a few (hello, Gigli and Jersey Girl).  But the bottom line is that there was a point in Affleck’s career where he wanted desperately to be a movie star at any cost, including starring in a terribly scripted Daredevil film that Damon has recently said he passed on because of “script issues” and the fact that he didn’t believe in Mark Steven Johnson as a filmmaker.  If you look at the filmographies of both stars, Damon rarely works with first-time filmmakers, opting instead to go with proven commodities and artists while Affleck had previously not seemed to care much about the man behind the camera.

Look, I can’t get too down on Affleck for starring in films directed by Martin Brest or his buddy Kevin Smith, but at a certain point no matter how great the director is, it’s a matter of writing – something that Affleck and Damon should know a lot about, considering their Oscar for screenwriting.  Damon, despite not always choosing the most commercial scripts, wound up having a more direct path to movie stardom.  The fateful choice, in my eyes, is his choosing The Bourne Identity (a production that was plagued with problems), which became a lucrative franchise.  Meanwhile, Affleck turned down a part in Ocean’s Eleven and saw more commercial potential in the more conventionally commercial Jack Ryan franchise.  Damon followed his heart while Affleck followed the dollar signs.  But I never would have guessed that Affleck would save his career by becoming one of the more exciting directors out there.  Maybe that’s why he didn’t necessarily care too much about who his directors were – he was already the best one on most sets.

Side-note: The Adjustment Bureau, for what it’s worth, is a completely fine film.  It’s seriously flawed and the whole sci-fi aspect is pretty dumb and overly-expository.  However, the love story at the center of it is refreshing and engaging, due to the fact that Matt Damon and Emily Blunt imbue their characters with such commitment and heart that we can’t help but root for them to wind up together against all odds.  I liked the story of these two people and how their romance blossoms and I would have much preferred a film that focused on that rather than spending the bulk of its running time explaining why John Slattery and Anthony Mackie are always around.  I’d rather not have to spend my time questioning how these all-powerful agents can move things with their mind yet can’t somehow give a bus a flat tire.  I’d rather spend that time getting to know these two characters even better.  It’s the rare sci-fi, big-budget blockbuster where the characters and the romance is much more enjoyable than the effects and the action.

Stanley Kubrick Passed Away 12 Years Ago Today

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

One of the greatest scenes in movie history in one of the greatest films in movie history.

I remember waking up on March 7th, 1999 and seeing the news that Kubrick had died on AICN.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, thought it was some kind of joke.  The man was my hero, the man who made me interested in movies as an art form.  When I realized that it was true, I nearly burst into tears.  Eyes Wide Shut was still four months from being released and word had gotten out that he had screened it a few days before his death.  I was excited to see my first new Kubrick film in theaters – even if it wasn’t finished – but depressed because it would be the last.  The man was a visionary and I will always believe that he was the greatest filmmaker that ever lived.

To quote the ending of the film: “It was in the reign of King George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.”

SNL Recap – Miley Cyrus and The Strokes

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Miley Cyrus blah blah blah.  For the first time in forever, I’m much more excited about the musical guest than the actual host of the show.  You see, The Strokes are probably my favorite band and they haven’t released an album in five years and on March 22nd, their new record “Angles” will be released.  Seeing them on SNL gives me an opportunity to study they way they interact with one another (word is that they don’t get along so well these days) and to hear another song off the album (their first one will surely be the single “Under Cover of Darkness”).  On April 1st, the day after my birthday, I’ll be seeing them at MSG, but today it’s all about seeing them on my favorite television show.

Okay, sure Miley Cyrus is a popular kids’ star and media figure, but I have no idea if she’s talented or not because I’ve never once heard her sing or seen a minute of her acting, having avoided all things Miley pretty successfully.  So, I don’t know if she’ll be a good host or a terrible one, but I’m pretty confident we’ll be seeing “The Miley Cyrus Show” with Vanessa Bayer at some point.

Despite a three week hiatus, the same drill applies;  I’ll recap the individual sketches and then grade them on a scale of 1-10.  Let’s do this.

Cold Open – “Duh Winning” with Charlie Sheen.  Bill Hader plays the titular host of this talk show.  I gotta say, I was hoping SNL would steer clear of the Charlie Sheen jokes, for the simple reason that there is no possible way that a sketch or a joke about Charlie Sheen could possibly be funnier than the man himself.  It’s like making a parody of a funny comedy movie, it just doesn’t work.  This sketch just seems like an excuse to have Hader as Sheen say things we’ve already heard him say, like “warlock” and “goddess” and “winning.”  Abby Elliott is playing Christina Aguilera and as usual, she’s spot-on.  Taran Killam comes out as John Galliano (a man who I wrote about the other day and caused tons of racists to come out of the woodwork in the comments).  There’s no real joke in this sketch, it’s just a recap of the stupid things these people have done.  I think all of these jokes would have been better used on Weekend Update.  Fred Armisen comes out as Moammar Gadhafi, of course.  “If by ‘it’ you mean ‘my people’ then yes, I am killing ‘it.'”  “I dress like Humpty Hump from Digital Underground.”  Those are pretty good.  Miley Cyrus comes out as Lindsay Lohan and if I were ten years younger, I’m sure I’d see this as being “controversial” or something.  Overall, this sketch lacked energy and, you know, jokes.  An inauspicious start.  4/10

Monologue – Miley starts off making a reference to “The Miley Cyrus Show” by saying, “So that’s pretty cool.”  Ah, Miley’s crooning about her past tabloid scandals, including almost getting nude in Vanity Fair.  And yes, there’s another reference to Charlie Sheen and “winning” which is gonna get old very fast.  Moynihan and Wiig come out to sing with her.  The good news is that Miley’s got a pretty good voice and the monologue was kept at a good, short length.  6/10

Commercial – Baby Spanx.  “In no time, your baby will go from flab to fab.”  “That child looks hot!”  “I would never spank a baby, but I sure as hell would spanx one.”  This was pretty good, does exactly what you’d want an SNL commercial to do: goes in, finds its target, doesn’t waste any time, delivers on its goal.  7/10

Our Time with Taboo and – I love the premise of this from the get-go: a talk show hosted by the two background guys from the Black Eyed Peas.  When they were on the Super Bowl, I’m pretty sure they never sang.  Kenan is playing and Andy Samberg is playing Taboo.  “Finally our own show.”  “Just like the people wanted!”  “Despite the rumors, I’m not a Japanese ghost.”  I’m enjoying this so far, but I’m fairly sure this is going to get old fast.  Miley Cyrus comes out as Fergie – I’m guessing she’s going to sing in every sketch – and Jay Pharoah comes out as and then they both exit pretty quickly.  Abby Elliott comes out as Khloe Kardashian, one of my favorite Abby Elliott characters – she nails the voice so well.  “Well, I’m a black Filipino.”  “And I am from the Matrix.”  Pharoah and Cyrus come out again.  Really, it’s a shame that Jay Pharoah is being wasted in this sketch, just dancing next to Cyrus.  “Taboo was on the cover of this month’s Vaguely Asian magazine!”  And the skit ends very abruptly.  I think it should have ended way earlier.  6 minutes is too long to spend on these characters.  The jokes about Taboo were pretty solid, though.  6.5/10

TCM: The Essentials – I love when they do these, usually.  This time we’re checking out “behind the scenes” of The Sound of Music, which I’m guessing will give Cyrus yet another excuse to sing.  The Von Trapp children all line up and introduce themselves until we get to Fred Armisen as “Richie,” the adopted son from the Bronx, played by a 34-year-old stand-up comedian.  Just like I thought, Cyrus is singing “16 Going on 17.”  Armisen interrupts to do a stand-up routine.  “All the lines were lifted from the comedy album ‘Richie Valens: Dead or Hispanic.'”  This skit went off the rails pretty quickly.  The only funny part was the original line-up when Armisen introduces himself as Richie.  After that, it’s just Armisen interrupting famous scenes to tell bad jokes and it just doesn’t work all that well.  3/10

Disney Channel Acting School – Miley Cyrus as herself and Kenan Thompson as Raven Symone, teaching kids how to act like them.  “At the Disney Channel, every person needs to be the loudest person in the room.”  “In the Disney Channel World, any child is smarter than any adult.”  I wonder if Paul Brittain is behind this one, since 1) he’s actually in this short film and 2) it’s similar to his “Sex Ed” skit from a couple months back.  This is easily the best thing we’ve seen so far tonight.  “That’s so Raven!”  I think it probably could’ve gone even further than it did, but I think it did a nice job of sending up its target.  Not nearly as good as “Sex Ed” though.  7.5/10

Next Week – Zach Galifianakis is hosting again!  He was one of my five favorite hosts last year and his monologue was one of the best in recent years, so I’m looking forward to seeing him come back.  The musical guest is Jessie J. and I’m not even going to pretend that I know who that is.

The Miley Cyrus Show – I’m surprised they waited this long to do this skit.  I’m assuming Vanessa Bayer will play Miley Cyrus as usual and Miley Cyrus will come out and play somebody else as a guest.  But we’ll see.  I gotta say, I never thought this sketch was that funny to begin with, and I’m reminded of that instantly.  Yeah, Miley Cyrus comes out as Justin Bieber.  Once again, I’m sure if I was 15, this would be a really incredible moment in my life.  But, as a nearly-28 year old, I don’t really care about Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber’s lives.  I am so tuned out of this skit and bored to tears.  This seems like a skit from Nickelodeon’s “Roundhouse” rather than an SNL skit (that was a strange reference, admittedly, but it’s also the last time I watched Nickelodeon).  Okay, this is mercifully ending.  Please, can we retire this sketch now?  2/10

The Strokes!!!!!! – One of the biggest reasons I moved back to New York was because I saw The Strokes on MTV late one night, my first year of college.  I just adore them.  They’re playing “Under Cover of Darkness,” the first single from their new album.  The music video for the song is pretty disappointing, but I’m glad to see that they still have the same stage presence, with Julian still being the coolest dude in the room, even while sober.  They’re doing their same left-to-right line-up that they always do.  Everybody looks pretty good, except Albert is looking a little older.  I can’t believe it’s been a decade that they’ve been around.  The acoustics sound a little funky, though, like the sound guy screwed up.  It still sounds pretty awesome and it’s great to see the Strokes performing live for the first time in five years.  The song is a really good one, not quite a great one.  It sounds like it could fit comfortably in The Strokes early canon.  I’m a fan of it.  Also, Nick Valensi might be the coolest looking guy, always dressed super sharp.  9.5/10

Weekend Update – As usual, I hope Stefon makes an appearance, but he probably won’t.  Seth Meyers starts off saying “No!  Not yet, I will get to you,” when a picture of Charlie Sheen pops up.  So, that’ll be something to look forward to…we’re forty five minutes into this show and I’m already sick of Charlie Sheen jokes.  A joke about Newt Gingrinch’s potentially running for President: “Are voters still going by charisma or have they switched over to head size?”  And now we’re going into the Sheen jokes.  A whole segment devoted to “Winners and Losers” based on Charlie Sheen.  Denise Richards and the kid from Two and a Half Men are winners.  Also, 80s slang: “I would have thought the only way I would hear ‘gnarly’ and ‘bitchin’ so much would be via a time machine.  It just proves the theory that when you do cocaine, your slang freezes in time like a prehistoric mosquito in amber.”  Loser: the news media, “Piers Morgan talked to Sheen the way a guy who just ran out of coke talks to a guy who still has some.”  That’s a great one.  Loser: Tigers, “Tigers must be wonder ‘why’d he drag us into it?'”  “The biggest loser?  Winning.  It doesn’t seem to mean the same thing anymore.”  Galliano joke: “You know if you’ve ever been threatened with a chair, the occasional ‘I love Hitler” just slips out.”  Jason Sudeikis comes out as the devil to talk about the Westboro Baptist Church (the “God Hates Fags” church that I’m sure a lot of the commenters of my Galliano post belong to).  The devil: “I produced the Oscars this year, which went perfectly.”  About the Westboro Baptist Church: “I am the physical incarnation of pure evil, but what they’re doing is heinous.”  This is a pretty great rant that perfectly illustrates the ridiculousness of homophobia, spoken by the devil.  I don’t often like it when SNL takes an obvious political stance, but I’m way behind this one and I think the joke is pretty clever.  “Then I’m off to the West Coast to help with the next season of Entourage.”   Zing!  About Legionanaire’s in the Playboy mansion: I can’t even keep up with all of the hilarious things Seth Meyers said, but it was pretty brilliant.  So far this has been an excellent Weekend Update, but it’s about to get worse with the arrival of Bobby Moynihan’s Anthony Crispino character who hears news second hand and then screws it up when he repeats it.  I love Moynihan, but I really dislike this character.  He confuses Charlie Sheen and Charlie Rose, wonderful.  Back to the good stuff.  “Just a side-note, when I said the words ‘mom prom,’ my penis went up inside me.”  Even with that last character, this Update was one of the better ones.  Would have been better with Stefon, though.    8/10

Les Jeunes de Paris – You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.  This skit was the worst I’ve seen this year (from the Emma Stone episode) and they’re bringing it back a second time?  Basically, it’s all in French.  A bunch of young French stereotypes dance with each other.  It’s like the dancing scene from Band of Outsiders, except terrible.  I don’t understand the thinking behind bringing this skit back when nobody liked it the first time.  Can you hear how quiet the crowd is?  The only part anybody enjoyed was Andy Samberg as the mime.  At least Miley Cyrus isn’t singing in this skit and everyone is really committed and full of energy.  I just didn’t get the joke the first time and I really don’t get it this time.  1.5/10

Beastly Parody – I love this nerdy Andy Samberg character that was previously seen in The Roommate parody, which was also hilarious.  This is an insanely short short and it packs more laughs into it than most SNL sketches, including when the title card pops up under Samberg, “Gene Hackman.”  Last time it was “Sir Ben Kingsley.”  The ending is great.  “Burn!  Rango!”  8/10

New Products – Oh man, this is awful.  Kristin Wiig and Miley Cyrus with 80s wigs, against a white backdrop, promoting a facial cream and rockabilly CD combination.  I swear, it’s like they forgot to include the jokes in this skit.  Just absolutely intolerable.  PLEASE END ALREADY.  One of the worst skits of the year, along with Les Jeunes de Paris and the Spot of Tea skit from the Russell Brand episode.  1/10

The Strokes Again!!! – Thank goodness, The Strokes are back, playing a new song called “Life is Simple in the Moonlight.”  It’s a really pretty, soulful, near-ballad.  It’s most reminiscent of “Under Control” or “Evening Sun” and I’m really digging it.  It’s very summery and arranged very nicely.  They released a song called “You’re So Right” on their website that I wasn’t crazy about because there were too many instruments, too many disparate sounds, but this new song is excellent in its cohesion.  Really loved this one. 10/10

Cruise Ship – Miley Cyrus plays a singer on a cruise for elderly people and makes fun of them.  Yawn.  Oh and hey, what do you know?  Miley Cyrus is singing again!  She keeps singing, “You people are so gross to me!”  Taran Killam makes another appearance.  He’s getting a lot more spots in sketches than he did earlier in the year, but I fear it’s at the expense of the amazing Paul Brittain who is relegated to the keyboard player in this skit, with one line, “I’m not taking any requests from these animals.”  We want more Paul Brittain and Jay Pharoah!  This skit is really more sad than funny.  2.5/10

Gurney Month – Yes, CBS has a lot of shows that start with dead bodies.  This is like an outtake from The Soup and it’s completely unnecessary padding for the show.  3/10

Final Grades:

Miley Cyrus – I really don’t know if it’s her fault or the fault of the writing, but she did seem a little too earnest and used way too much “Disney” acting.  She was singing in almost every skit, which isn’t her fault.  She brought a lot of energy, though, which is a good thing.  Overall, she was mediocre.  Nothing more, nothing less.  5/10

The Strokes – Come on, best performances of the year, just ahead of Kanye.  Of course, I am ridiculous biased.  10/10

The rest of the cast – Nobody really stood out for me.  As I said earlier, Taran Killam was the most used.  I think the MVP for tonight has to be Seth Meyers, who delivered one of the best Weekend Updates of the year.  He’s often overlooked because he plays such a great straight man, but he’s almost always excellent and subtly hilarious.  And again, more Paul Brittain and Jay Pharoah please!

As for myself, I think I could do better, but it’s been a three-week layoff, so my rust is to be expected.  6/10 for me.

Next week, we’ve got Zach Galifiniakis to look forward to and I’ll see you all then.

John Galliano and Other Anti-Semites

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

As someone who was raised Jewish, I was appalled and offended by the vile and idiotic anti-Semitic remarks spewed by John Galliano.  If you’re not familiar with the story, just Google it, but basically he said “I love Hitler” and various other comments that re-affirmed my opinion of him as a Mensa candidate.  After these remarks came to light, Galliano was fired from his position as the head designer of Dior.  To put it in film terms, this is the equivalent of Peter Jackson being fired from the latest Hobbit movie.  It’s a big deal in the fashion community and my friends who work in that industry are still in shock.

The weird thing is that I don’t think he should be banished forever for his hateful rhetoric, just as I don’t think Charlie Sheen should be fired for being awesome or that Mel Gibson should be denied work because of his own racist and anti-Semitic remarks.  The bottom line is that there are always going to bigoted people out there, but that doesn’t make those people any less brilliant at their particular vocation.  John Galliano being an anti-Semite doesn’t make him any less talented as a designer.  I think the choice should be up to the consumer as to whether or not they can compartmentalize and choose to wear his clothes whilst knowing he is prejudiced.  Natalie Portman has bravely made her feelings known loud and clear (and seriously, kudos to her for having the balls to speak out about it), but not everyone may feel that way.  The hire-ups at Dior clearly felt that sales would go down because of Galliano’s actions and it’s perfectly understandable that they would seek out this change.

Look, I think Mel Gibson is a hell of an actor.  I think he’s charismatic, charming and I really love watching him in movies.  His being an anti-Semite doesn’t change the way I feel about him as an actor, but it sure doesn’t make me want to hang out with him.  Just as John Galliano being an anti-Semite has nothing to do with the clothes he designs (unless he’s trying to bring back the swastika).  These people are scumbags and assholes and morons, but they are also savants.  I want them to continue creating their art and I want to never have to interact with them, for fear that I might punch them in the face.

As a person who opposes intolerance in any form, I can’t deny that Galliano’s firing felt good, that justice had been served.  But so many great artists have been racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and it would be a shame if we denied them an opportunity to create their art simply because they have idiotic opinions.  Richard Wagner was anti-Semitic, so am I supposed to not listen to his music?  I can’t even count how many brilliant Southern writers were racist, am I supposed to not read the works of O’Connor or read Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner?

The point, ultimately, is that intolerance should not be tolerated.  I refuse to accept a work of art that is inherently racist prejudiced, but I can differentiate between the art and the artist.  And while the artist might be a racist, as long as there isn’t a sign of it in the work, then what?

I don’t want to be seen as defending Galliano for his behavior, which is absolutely unacceptable, but I don’t see what it has to do with him as a clothing designer.  Good riddance, I’m glad he’s suffering and all that, and considering the fact that sales might dwindle, I understand (and even rooted for) his dismissal from Dior.  I hope he is punished to the fullest extent of the law.  I also hope he has a chance to design clothes again in the future, just as I hope to see Mel Gibson on a movie screen.

Live-Blogging the Oscars

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Hello and welcome to my first ever live-blog of the Oscars.  Some people don’t like the idea of a live-blog, but I always found it to be an interesting way to engage readers who would like to hear an expert’s opinion on the Oscar results as they are happening (note: I am not an expert).  Also I just want to have, for posterity’s sake, an account of my emotional turmoil as I watch the Academy – in its short-sighted wisdom – hand the award for Best Picture to the worst of the ten nominees (that would be The King’s Speech) over the one true masterpiece (that would be The Social Network).  Luckily, for me, I don’t really put much weight in the Academy’s decisions anymore.

I’ve watched the Oscars every year since before I had memories and almost always with my mom.  Besides a couple of years here and there, we always watch the show together – including the inane E! channel red-carpet coverage (some guy actually just said, “She looks like a statuesque!”).  Tonight, I’ll be watching the pre-show and the actual show with her, my dad and my brother while flipping back and forth to the Knicks-Heat game and eating fish tacos.  It’ll be hilarious to hear my family’s reaction to these awards since I don’t think they’ve seen a single one of the nominees.  I’ll be sure to share.

6PM – Ryan Seacrest is almost as tan as George Hamilton.  And we’re getting a montage of all the wild red carpet moments from this year.  Except, all of these moments are exactly the same and all of the interviews are the equivalent of what an athlete says as soon as they get off the court/field.  “I’m just so excited to be here!”

6:02PM – Jennifer Lawrence got there pretty early, huh?  “Tell us about your red dress!”  Really?  Isn’t Seacrest a radio host?  Can’t he come up with a more interesting question than that?

6:04PM – “The fact that she’s not wearing jewelery to the Oscars and still looks great says so much about her.” – Kelly Osbourne.  Really glad she’s here.

6:06PM – A two minute discussion about Natalie Portman’s baby bump and various possible baby names.  Your 2011 Oscars, ladies and gentlemen!

6:07PM – Kelly Osbourne: “It’s amazing how she’s getting bigger every show.”  My mom: “Yeah, that’s what happens when you’re pregnant, you keep getting bigger!”

6:09PM – Josh Hutcherson was pretty charming in his interview.  I like that kid.  Bridge to Terabithia is one of the great under-rated movies of the last few years.

6:13PM – Ryan Seacrest is asking about Melissa Leo’s dress before getting to the “more serious stuff.”  What is the more serious stuff?  I guarantee you that there is nothing important that he can ask her.

6:21PM – I’ve decided to slow down a bit.  If I tried to keep up with all of the dumb things everyone says, I’d be burned out by the time the show started.  Plus, it’ll get really boring to hear me say different variations on, “Wow, this is idiotic.”

6:23PM – I have to say, I’m not really excited for the James Franco/Anne Hathaway duo as hosts.  I think they’re okay as actors, but I don’t find anything about them – when they’re not in character – that is particularly entertaining.

6:24PM – Hailee Steinfeld…without a doubt the most mature and articulate person that has been interviewed.  She should be in the Best Actress race.  Seacrest just asked her, “Were you always this grown up?”  Wow.  Just wow.

6:29PM – Love Mila Kunis and think she was robbed of a nomination for Black Swan, but I’ve heard the story of Aronofsky giving her the part on iChat about eight million times.  I’m so happy this award season is coming to an end so that I can not be annoyed by people I like anymore.

6:37PM – Michelle Williams looks great as always.  If someone were going to beat Portman, I wouldn’t mind it being Williams, who was fantastic in Blue Valentine.  Also, is it just me or does Limitless actually look like a fun movie?  I kinda want to see it.

6:54PM – Geoffrey Rush is such a fantastic actor, but he could have played his King’s Speech character in his sleep.  Oh yeah, he’s also got no hair tonight.

7PM – Jeremy Renner just got interviewed and reminded me that he should have won Best Actor for The Hurt Locker.  Man, he was just electric in that movie.

7:09PM – I still think Justin Timberlake should have gotten a nomination for The Social Network.  Seacrest actually asked him a good question about Napster and how he feels about it.  Good job, Seacrest.

7:11PM – “I gotta say, he looks pretty hot.”  This is why Giuliana Rancic gets paid the big bucks.

7:15PM – Jennifer Lawrence got there at 6PM and she’s still on the red carpet.  How long is this carpet?  And what is she doing out there for over an hour?  Is there stuff to do?  Anything to drink?  I’m confused.

7:18PM – Helena Bonham Carter will always be Marla Singer in my eyes.  And I will always love her because of it.

7:23PM – I gotta say, I don’t understand what credentials are required to judge who is well-dressed or not well-dressed.  I mean, I don’t think Kelly Osbourne is a particularly good dresser and she gets to comment on other people’s clothes on national television?  Can’t they get fashion designers or fashion critics or, you know, people that actually have some idea of what modern day fashion is supposed to be?

7:24PM – Kelly Osbourne just said that Helen Mirren’s body is “bangin’.”  Agreed.

7:31PM – “Everything’s stressful.  Everyone is really stressed out.” – Adam Shankman on what’s happening backstage at the Oscars right now.  Good thing we got the inside info.

7:37PM – Seacrest just told Bale that he became “Dicky.”  Hehe.

7:38PM – “I’m just vamping, I’m just filling airtime.”  Hey, Seacrest, it’s not vamping if you tell people you’re vamping.

7:42PM – I don’t know quite how to say this, but…what the fuck is Donald Trump doing at the Oscars?

7:52PM – Kelly Osbourne thinks Javier Bardem is gonna win.  This is why they pay her the big bucks.

7:56PM – Natalie Portman and her baby bump!  OMG, she’s preggers!!!

7:57PM – Yeah, I don’t think I can pull off the gossip angle.\

7:59PM – Thank goodness, the E! show is over, so now we can get to the actual awards…wait, what?  There’s another half hour?  Ugh, time to switch over to the other pre-show.  I’m sure this one will be hard-hitting journalism.

8:01PM – Tim Gunn just said Jennifer Hudson is “superbly svelte.”  And a million girls just vomited up their dinners.

8:04PM – Good thing they’re interviewing James Franco right now.  I don’t think we’re going to see enough of him tonight.

8:05PM – Tim Gunn asked Justin Timberlake “What was the craziest question you were asked?”  I was really hoping he would say, “It was ‘What was the craziest question you were asked?'”

8:14PM – Gwyneth Paltrow wants to sing a duet with Jay-Z.  I might actually want to hear her sing if that happened.

8:37PM – So far this is delightfully unfunny.  Glad to see a Back to the Future reference.  Very timely.  I’ve got a bad feeling about this show.  At least Hathaway seems committed.  Franco is doing his usual bored shtick.

8:40PM – James Franco’s grandma gets a huge ovation.  Your 2011 Oscars, ladies and gentlemen!

8:41PM – Please, lord, let them hire a comedian next year.  This is so uncomfortable.

8:44PM – Tom Hanks presenting the Oscars for cinematography and art direction?  Interesting, thought he would be given more “important” awards.  Why the hell are we talking about Gone with the Wind and Titanic?  Can we please just get to it.  Art direction should go to Inception.  If it goes to The King’s Speech, then prepare for a sweep and prepare for me to start hitting myself in the head…Alice in Wonderland wins it.  Okay, that tells us nothing about the rest of the awards.  To me, Alice in Wonderland looks like every other Tim Burton movie, but whatever.

8:47PM – Cinematography.  Holy shit, this needs to be Libatique for Black Swan or Cronenweth for The Social Network…Wally Pfister for Inception.  Can’t complain too much about that.  These first two awards show us that The King’s Speech might not necessarily have the support that a lot of folks thought.

8:57PM – Great to see Kirk Douglas, but wow, that was uncomfortable.  I’m hoping for Jacki Weaver to win this, but she has less of a shot than anybody else.  Wow, Melissa Leo is so over the top, I can’t believe she’s the front-runner.  Wouldn’t mind seeing Steinfeld win.  Oh man, Kirk, please just give the award.  PLEASE KIRK, GIVE THE AWARD ALREADY!  Please, somebody get him off the stage.  At this point, I’m just happy that SOMEONE is getting the award.  She’s a very talented actress, but she’s winning for the wrong movie.

9:03PM – It should be obvious to everyone that Timberlake and Kunis would have been much better Oscar hosts than Franco and Hathaway.  Franco and Hathaway are like two kids that are playing dress-up in their parents’ closet.

9:06PM – I’d be shocked if Toy Story 3 doesn’t get the animated feature Oscar.  By the way, I totally called The Lost Thing for animated short.  And it’s Toy Story 3.  Good movie.

9:13PM – My mom and brother just spent a few seconds discussing how big Javier Bardem’s head looks.  Adapted screenplay has to go to Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network, unless the backlash is crazy.  Yesssss, The Social Network – 1, The King’s Speech – 0!  Probably won’t be able to say that for long.

9:18PM – Adapted screenplay is probably gonna be The King’s Speech‘s first award.  I’d probably give it to Inception, which is pretty brilliant.  I would say The Kids are All Right, except for the ending which didn’t work for me…and it’s The King’s Speech. Okay, well, there are no indications so far about what the big awards are gonna be.

9:25PM – I guess I shouldn’t get so down on Hathaway and Franco since they’re not generating their only material on this show.  This singing number that Hathaway is doing is just not funny and it’s the fault of the writers and producers for allowing this on the air.  Hathaway and Franco are actors and are only as good as the material given to them.  Oh, look, it’s James Franco in drag, that’s hilarious.  Because, you know, men in women’s clothing is the height of comedy.  Jeez, I just want this to be over.

9:27PM – Brand and Mirren presenting the award for Best Foreign Film…it goes to Susanne Bier’s In a Better World.  I haven’t seen it yet, but Bier is a genius, and I can’t wait to check this one out.

9:30PM – Reese Witherspoon is presenting Best Supporting Actor.  I’m sure this going to Bale, for his scenery chewing work in The Fighter.  But I really wish it would go to John Hawkes, who was so incredible in Winter’s Bone.  That would be the greatest upset ever.  Renner was pretty awesome in The Town too.  Wasn’t that impressed with Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right, though.  If Rush gets it, then it might finally be a sign of this enormous The King’s Speech support we’ve been hearing so much about.  And it goes to…Bale, obviously.  He’s a great actor, but this was not his greatest performance.

9:33PM – Bale’s speech is definitely my favorite so far.  Hilarious, gracious, poignant.  Good stuff.

9:35PM – By the way, Knicks are beating the Heat 52-51 at halftime!

9:39PM – Seems like Hathaway’s been doing a lot of these segments on her own.  Where’s Franco?

9:40PM – Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman presenting the music award.  Why do they always feel the need to do a whole big clip package that helps us understand that music is important in movies?  I think it’s gotta be The Social Network, which had such an amazing score that I think it’s one of the best albums of the year.  And it would give the little goth kid inside of me such a kick to see Trent Reznor accepting an Academy Award.  Hans Zimmer’s score for Inception was pretty indelible too, but please let Reznor get this…YES!  The dude behind Nine Inch Nails just got an Oscar!

9:45PM – In case you were counting, that’s The Social Network – 2, The King’s Speech – 1.  Take that, England!

9:47PM – McConaughey and Johansson presenting the sound awards.  I’m thankful they didn’t do a whole package to explain that sound mixing is about the levels of volume and that sound editing is about sound effects.  Sound mixing award goes to Inception, its second award of the night.  Can’t complain about that.  It’s one of the few movies I saw this year where the sound mixing really impressed me in a noticeable way.

9:49PM – I imagine that Inception will probably get a well-deserved third Oscar for sound editing.  But let’s see, maybe True Grit or Tron will take it.  And it’s Inception.

9:54PM – Marisa Tomei handed out the Science and Technical awards.  I really wish they would just incorporate these into the big show.  Don’t these people deserve to speak just as much as the actors and directors?  And then James Franco makes a “nerd” joke about the winners…hilarious, James Franco.  Glad to see you’re putting those eight PhDs to good use.

9:57PM – Achievement in makeup, given out by Cate Blanchett.  I’m hoping that it’ll be anybody except for The Wolfman.  I’m sick of seeing Rick Baker win awards for wolves…and, so of course, it goes to Rick Baker for The Wolfman.  My brother, upon seeing Rick Baker, says, “And there is the wolfman.”  I feel like he’s won ten awards for doing make-up on werewolf movies.

9:58PM – By the way, Academy Award Winning movie…The Wolfman.

9:59PM – Costume Design.  I like the costumes in I Am Love, but I assume this will go to The King’s Speech since there is so much support for this movie in the Academy.  Oh, hey, what do you know?  It goes to Alice in Wonderland.

10PM – By the way, two-time Academy Award winning film Alice in Wonderland.

10:01PM – Next year’s Oscars, how about we get Kirk Douglas to host?

10:03PM – I guess we’re doing the Best Song Oscar.  Just another excuse to remind me that “My Heart Will Go On” exists.

10:04PM – Oh hey, it’s Randy Newman.  I haven’t seen him on the Oscars in like, a year.  Dude has been on so many Oscar telecasts, it’s insane.

10:05PM – Mandy Moore and the dude from Chuck are singing a song that will never be on my iPod.  Apparently it was in Tangled.

10:07PM – I guess we’re not actually giving the award yet.

10:12PM – James Franco, man, I really am not feeling him as a host.  Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal are out to present the award for short films.  It goes to Strangers No More.  I know nothing about it except that it has kids in it.  My brother predicted this would win because, “It’s got kids.”

10:15PM – Live-action short.  My brother and I predicted Nawewe.  My mom predicts Wish 143 because it’s got cancer.  And it goes to God of Love.  I need to see these movies.  All of us are admiring this guy’s fro.

10:17PM – And we’re auto-tuning some movies now.  Yeah, we needed this.

10:20PM – Oprah Winfrey is out to present the award for Best Documentary.  It’s gotta be Exit Through the Gift Shop.  I gotta see Banksy come up there in his mask.  Is he there?  And the Academy takes a political stance and goes for Inside Job.  Safe choice.  Lame.

10:27PM – Billy Crystal’s here!  Please take over for the rest of the night.  Save us!

10:30PM – Sorry Bob Hope, but the Knicks are up by 1 with a minute left.  Taking a break from the Oscars for a bit, hope nothing good happens (I’m sure it won’t).

10:35PM – Knicks still up one.  Apparently Inception won Best Visual Effects and The Social Network won Best Editing.  Hey, what happened to all that support for The King’s Speech?

10:44PM – The Knicks won!  Hell yeah!  And Gwyneth Paltrow is singing, I love everyone right now!

10:45PM – Best Song goes to Randy Newman for Toy Story 3.  Can’t complain about this.  Not gonna remember this song tomorrow.

10:56PM – Celine Dion is singing and I don’t know why.  Oh, I see, it’s for the dead people.  Tony Curtis, damn he was good.  Sally Menke, oh she was so good.  Leslie Nielsen, surely he can’t be gone!  Claude Chabrol was amazing.  Pete Postlethwaite will be missed.  George Hickenlooper was always very kind to me, he’ll be missed.  Lynn Redgrave, totally forgot she passed…so great in Gods and Monsters.  Dede Allen, I’ve been reading about her lately, she did the editing for Bonnie and Clyde.  The director, Arthur Penn, is also gone.  Must be sad for Warren Beatty to see.  Jill Clayburgh was always so wonderful.  Irvin Kershner, director of Empire Strikes Back.  Dennis Hopper, I was lucky enough to interview him for a SAG screening once and he was the kindest man.  Lena Horne, how beautiful was she?  She gets the last image.  Halle Berry talks a bit about the wonderful Lena Horne.

10:57PM – The Lena Horne quote, “It’s not the load that breaks you, it’s the way you carry it.”  My whole family was silent for a few seconds before my brother says, “I think it’s about taking a number 2.”  Thanks bro, glad you’re here.

11:01PM – Hilary Swank comes out to present the award for Best Director.  Nevermind, she came out to present the presenter, Kathryn Bigelow.  Thanks, really glad Hilary Swank is here.

11:02PM – Please David Fincher HAS to win this or I will light myself on fire.  Okay, not really, but it would be a travesty if he didn’t….HOLY SHIT, what a bunch of fucking bullshit.  Absolutely disgusting.  Congrats to Tom Hooper and all that, but this is a robbery.  This will be looked at as a joke in years to come and it’s not Tom Hooper’s fault.

11:06PM – Okay, I’ve calmed down some, but it’s ridiculous that David Fincher is still without an Oscar for a film that was clearly more difficult to pull off.

11:07PM – Really, this is the time to talk about the Lifetime Achievement awards?  And seriously, how is this  not a part of the actual awards?  Haven’t they earned that right?

11:10PM – The real shame of the Best Director award going to Tom Hooper is that now this opens the possibility for David Fincher winning a future Best Director award that he doesn’t deserve.  The Academy has a bad history of giving people awards for the wrong movies and years later than they should have.

11:16PM – The Dude is here to present the award for Best Actress.  Please be Natalie Portman because I really can’t take another stupid decision by the Academy.  You gave Best Director to Tom Hooper, please give Best Actress to the most deserving winner and not Annette Bening.  Wow, Nicole Kidman was really good in Rabbit Hole, I was very impressed by that.  Really, anybody except Annette Bening would be an okay choice.  But Portman’s was far and away the most incredible performance I saw this year.  Okay, here we go, and the winner is…Natalie Portman!  Yes!  Good choice!

11:18PM – Wow, I think Portman had the longest acceptance speech of the night.  They weren’t playing her off.

11:24PM – Sandra Bullock is out to present the award for Best Actor.  They’re gonna give it to Firth, obviously and The King’s Speech is clearly gonna win the big prize.  But, as I’ve said many times, this should be going to Jesse Eisenberg, without a doubt.  I like Bullock calling Bridges “Dude.”  Man, I love that speech from the Eisenberg clip, so brilliant in the way it’s written, performed and DIRECTED, but okay I gotta let that one slide.  The Franco clip is probably my favorite part of 127 Hours and I wish more of the movie had that gravity.  Okay, here we go, here comes Colin Firth…yep, yep, YAWN.

11:29PM – Really, Academy?  Tom Hooper over David Fincher?  It’s been less than half an hour and it already feels like a terrible decision.  Man, this is gonna sting for a while.  But hey, Kubrick never won Best Director either, so the Academy is just continuing its grand tradition of not understanding movies.

11:32PM – Did anyone count how many outfits Anne Hathaway has worn tonight?  Must be upwards of 10.

11:33PM – Senor Spielberg is here to say that the losers are better than the winners, like Raging Bull and The Graduate.  Colin Firth has his long speech from The King’s Speech uncut as the rest of the nominees are shown.  “This is not fair, how come he gets to talk this whole time?” – My mom.  I agree, this seems like the Academy is showing its hand a little too much.  How nuts would it be if anything other than The King’s Speech wins?  I guarantee you that nobody had Hooper winning Best Director and something else winning Best Picture.  But we all know that’s not gonna happen.  And the winner is…yeah, you already know the answer.

This was a terrible show in every possible way.  The hosts were bland, the writing was awful, the winners – aside from a few – were safe and short-sighted.  More than anything, I was bored the whole way through.  Next year, let’s get a real comedian to host this thing and give the awards to worthy winners.  Goodnight everyone.


So I Saw No String Attached…

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Ivan Reitman was once one of the three biggest directors on the planet.  Natalie Portman is on her way to her first Academy Award.  Ashton Kutcher…well, he entered the word “Punked” into the lexicon.  You team up the three of them for an R-rated romantic comedy about two people who enter into a “fuck buddy” agreement and it sounds like a recipe for success, right?

Okay, maybe it doesn’t at all, considering that Ivan Reitman hasn’t been “Ivan Reitman” since the 80s, Natalie Portman has often slummed in movies that aren’t worthy of her talents, and Ashton Kutcher is…well, Ashton Kutcher.  Still, for some reason, I decided that I would walk into the movie theater a month after its release and check out No Strings Attached.

This is actually a fascinating movie to dissect because it does so many things right while simultaneously doing just as many things wrong.  Every time it takes a step forward or does something interesting, it will take a step backwards into convention.  For example, the film gets off to an inauspicious start by blatantly aping When Harry Met Sally and showing our two main characters as they meet several times over the years before finally settling into a “friendship” that revolves mostly around sex.  However, the way in which they fall in bed together is kind of clever and out of the ordinary.

Another example: Kutcher’s friends in the film are stock characters that are given one note to play and they play that one note loudly.  Ludacris plays the “urban” friend and that’s his role from beginning to end, while Jake Johnson plays the token “loud” friend who is brash and “wacky” and has two gay dads, so that explains…absolutely nothing about his character.  However, on the flip side, we get the interesting perspectives of Portman’s friends who are all doctors like she is.  Her friends, played by Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling, seem more fully developed and interesting than the two leads of the film.  I desperately wanted the film to turn into a Grey’s Anatomy kind of show, but based around Gerwig and Kaling.  Alas.

One more example: Portman is given a typical asshole guy as her “other option.”  He has no depth whatsoever and says a couple of rude comments to Kutcher about how Kutcher is just a boytoy while he will be the one that Portman marries.  On the flip side, Kutcher is given Lake Bell as his “other option” and she is such a delight that I actually wanted him to wind up with her.  She is supportive and engaging and cares about him.  Which is more than can be said for Portman’s character…

Which leads me to my biggest problem with the film: I don’t want the two leads to end up together.  Despite the fact that the film desperately wants me to be engaged in their romance, I was consistently put off by the fact that Portman’s character is cold, moody, and anti-relationship for no good reason.  She’s stressed, she doesn’t have time, blah blah blah.  The conceit of her character is that she is against being in a relationship, forever and for always, but why the hell is this so?  We are never given a concrete reason why she wouldn’t want to be with a guy who she consistently calls wonderful in every aspect of his being.  What is holding her back from entering into this relationship besides the constraints of the premise?  The only reason this movie isn’t 30 minutes long is because the script demands that there should be obstacles in the way.  Except, the movie never comes up with a convincing obstacle outside of Portman’s reluctance to be in this relationship for no goddamned reason whatsoever.  I was sitting there, thinking, “Shit, I really hope Kutcher ends up with Lake Bell since she actually seems to care for him.”

The other massive problem with the film is that it has too many characters and too many subplots.  Jake Johnson is dating Greta Gerwig in the background and it doesn’t mean anything to us because we don’t know their relationship at all.  Also, Kevin Kline plays Kutcher’s lothario father who is sleeping with Kutcher’s ex.  Snooze.  We also have Cary Elwes inexplicably showing up once in a while as a doctor that Portman hits on and it goes…nowhere.  Or Olivia Thirlby as Portman’s little sister who is getting married and shows us that…marriage is possible?  Or how about Portman’s mother who is sleeping with a man named Bones…nowhere.  The wonderful Abby Elliott shows up as a waitress for a few scenes…wasted.

All of these characters, all of these subplots, what are they adding to this world that has been created?  What are we, the audience, gaining from their inclusion?  The answer is, now and for always, nothing.  It’s like the film doesn’t trust its central premise and the charisma of its two leads enough to actually run with them.  I mean, we have a premise that is potentially interesting and ripe for a good romantic comedy: friends who have sex.  But instead of focusing on how that works, what the slow emotional boil of that kind of relationship is really like, we are instead given a short montage of scenes of them having sex and a few big set-pieces and then a lot of bullshit that really doesn’t have anything to do with the premise.  Instead, the film fans out to multiple characters and different subplots (did I mention that Kutcher is an aspiring writer for a Gleeish TV show?) that paper over the initial conceit.  What that does is make me less invested in the relationship I should be invested in and more invested on when the hell the movie is going to be over.

What really kills me are that some of the supporting characters are funny and some of the inter-personal complexities of love in this modern era are spot-on and strike a chord.  But, it always reverts back to these conventional moments and you can really feel the McKeeish way the script was structured.  You can time your watch to it: “Oh, time for the inciting incident!”  “We’re about 65 minutes in, time for the big fight!”

Look, this is mediocre cinema anyway you slice it, so nobody comes out of the film covered in muck and nobody walks out smelling like a daisy either.  Portman gets to have a filthy mouth (and keep her bra on during sex, something that always pulls me out of every goddamned sex scene) and Kutcher gets to be starry-eyed and show his ass, but neither are really getting anything out of this movie except a paycheck.  Reitman, the man who brought us Stripes and Ghostbuster, has now directed his best film since Dave…which isn’t really saying much when you look at the film he’s directed since then (we’re talking Father’s Day, 6 Days 7 Nights, Evolution, My Super Ex-Girlfriend) and has also clearly checked out as a filmmaker worth paying attention to.

This is the kind of picture that will horrify no one and will please very few.  It’s an airplane movie, and a shrug-inducing one at that.  Oddly, I’m really looking forward to Will Gluck’s Friends with Benefits, to see how Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis do with similar subject matter.

Bad Teacher red-band trailer looks pretty good…

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I gotta say, this looks like it could be a pretty funny flick.  Jake Kasdan has been hit or miss in the past, but I’ll always love him for his underrated debut Zero Effect.  I think Timberlake is bound to become a big movie star and after The Social Network, he looks more comfortable in this picture than he has in the past.  The dude’s got charisma.  I love the idea of Cameron Diaz as a terrible teacher and the title of the film is almost a direct allusion to Bad Santa, which this film seems hell-bent on aping…but that’s not a bad thing by any stretch.  Jason Segel is in this too and he’s always a welcome presence.  The big surprise in this trailer?  Phyllis from The Office killing it.  I’d love it if she became the big break-out star…and if I could remember her name.

Redoing the 2001 Oscars

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Okay, here’s the second installment in my daily series leading up to the Oscar telecast in which I look at the nominees from recent Oscar years and re-vote on the big six categories with my committee of one.  The rule that I gave myself is that I would accept the original nominees and try to find a deserving winner among them, rather than just-redoing the whole Oscars from scratch.  2001 – covering the year 2000 at the movies – was a fairly weak Oscar year in my opinion, but let’s check it out.

Best Picture

The nominees were: Gladiator (which won), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

Shoulda Been Nominated: Requiem for a Dream, High Fidelity, Wonder Boys, The Virgin Suicides, Almost Famous, Dancer in the Dark, Amores Perros, Quills

I would gladly trade out all of the films that were nominated if I could because even the best of them isn’t as good as the ones I listed above that should have been nominated.  Alas, I think I’ll have to pick Traffic because it’s just flat-out better in every possible way than Gladiator and the other nominated films.  The acting, the cinematography, the writing, and the editing are top-notch and while the ending is a little pat, it’s an exciting and informative look at the drug problem that has run rampant.  I think the touch of making the daughter of the drug czar an addict is a little too on-the-nose, but the parts with Benicio Del Toro in Mexico are so stunningly good that I’m willing to overlook some of the weaker aspects of the film.  It’s certainly easier to overlook the missteps in Traffic than it is for me to gloss over Russell Crowe’s perpetual yelling and screaming as he fights tigers in Gladiator.  Ultimately, it’s a decision based on emotional investment combined with an original take on interesting subject matter.  I hadn’t seen a film quite like Traffic before and I’d seen versions of Gladiator quite a few times.

Best Director

The nominees were: Steven Soderbergh for Traffic (he won), Ridley Scott for Gladiator, Steven Soderbergh for Erin Brockovich, Stephen Daldry for Billy Elliott, and Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

Shoulda Been Nominated: Darren Aronofsky for Requiem for a Dream.  It’s a crime that the Academy could find room for him on their list, considering his visionary work on a film that lingers in one’s mind not just for days, weeks or months, but forever.

I think the Academy made the right move here in giving Soderbergh the Oscar for Traffic.  A lot of pundits at the time thought it would be possible for Soderbergh to win because he was competing against himself and there were a lot of whispers that it would be Scott or Lee.  But the Academy wisely chose the film that was bold and original.  Soderbergh pulled double-duty too, as he was the cinematographer on the film as well and he did a fantastic job, giving each section of the film a different color scheme.  The Academy idiotically ignored his DP work, but they made up for it by realizing he succeeded and pulled off a much more difficult task in the making of Traffic than his competitors.

Best Actor

The nominees were: Russell Crowe for Gladiator (he won), Javier Bardem for Before Night Falls, Tom Hanks for Cast Away, Ed Harris for Pollock, Geoffrey Rush for Quills

Shoulda Been Nominated: Michael Douglas for Wonder Boys.  It’s really a shame that Wonder Boys got no love from the Academy considering it’s really such a wonderful film and one of my favorite movies about writing.  Douglas makes that film work and from the instant he appears on screen, we believe him as a character.  He’s complicated and Douglas wisely underplays many of his scenes, rendering possibly ugly demons somewhat endearing.  Grady Tripp is one of the best film characters of the decade and Michael Douglas is a big part of the reason why.

Honestly, I would give this Oscar to any of the nominees other than Russell Crowe.  Crowe was excellent the year before in The Insider and is quite good the following year in A Beautiful Mind, but his performance in Gladiator doesn’t seem all that strong to me outside of his muscles.  He grunts, he growls, he fights real well with a sword, but I never really felt like his longing for his dead wife was anything more than a plot device.  It’s a film that isn’t about heart or head, but about testosterone and I can’t reconcile giving an Oscar to someone for starring in a film of that nature.  If I had to pick one of the other nominees, it’s gotta be Bardem for his soul-tugging and eye-opening performance as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel’s brilliant Before Night Falls.  Bardem’s Arenas contains multitudes and we see him as not some martyr, but as a flesh and blood human being who sees the world in such a different and arresting way.  Bardem is subtle yet passionate, quiet yet fiery, able to convey the fact that he has words swirling about his head in a frenzy.  In other words, it’s the opposite of Crowe in Gladiator.

Best Actress

The nominees were: Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich (she won), Juliette Binoche for Chocolat, Joan Allen for The Contender, Ellen Burstyn for Requiem for a Dream, and Laura Linney for You Can Count on Me

Shoulda Been Nominated: Bjork for Dancer in the Dark.  Lars von Trier’s film is haunting and beautiful in its ugliness.  The reason there is any beauty at all in this squalid film is because of the presence and the voice of Bjork, who is such a shining beacon in this dingy and depressing film that it elevates the material.  The film of Lars von Trier need to have female leads who can bring some hope to the hopelessness and Bjork does it better than any of the others.

Honestly, this was a pretty solid year for the Academy in this category.  All five of these performances are worthy of being nominated.  I can’t get too down on the Academy for giving Julia Roberts her first Oscar for a performance that was pretty damn good.  However, it just wasn’t nearly as good as Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, who does such a stunning downward spiral in this film that it’s always disconcerting to watch the beginning of the film again, reminding yourself that at one point in the film she’s almost normal.  The film does a miraculous job of showing how drugs influence and tear us down, but it’s in Ellen Burstyn’s arc that we see just how insidious it can be.  At the beginning of the movie, she’s just a regular blue-collar Jewish Brooklyn mom dealing with the stress of having a drug addict for a son who steals her television.  By the end of the film, she’s that crazy person everyone avoids sitting next to on the subway.  The amazing part of Burstyn’s performance is that she’s able to connect that beginning and end.  We see her journey to hell and we believe it every step of the way.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees were: Benicio Del Toro for Traffic (he won), Willem Dafoe for Shadow of the Vampire, Joaquin Phoenix for Gladiator, Jeff Bridges for The Contender, Albert Finney for Erin Brockovich

Shoulda Been Nominated: Jack Black for High Fidelity.  That’s not a joke.  I know that Black’s routine has gotten a little bit stale, but I think this (and School of Rock) were the best use of his talents because it gives him limits.  He does what a supporting character should do…provide support.  In this particular instance, the support comes in the form of his comedic sensibility.  He plays the ultimate elitist music snob and he’s just a joy to behold every time he’s on screen.

I think all of these performances are pretty damn good and as much as I want to overrule the Academy at every step, the definitely picked the right winner.  Del Toro conveys so much with those expressive eyes of his and it’s especially evident in Traffic.  But the other thing that’s arresting about Del Toro’s peformance in this film is the way he moves about.  We can always tell him apart from the criminals and other bad guys because of the way he walks, almost like John Wayne…a purposeful yet almost sloppy gait.  Del Toro is almost always worthy of our attention, but he has yet to be more magnetic than he was in Traffic.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees were: Marcia Gay Harden for Pollock (she won), Kate Hudson for Almost Famous, Frances McDormand for Almost Famous, Julie Walters for Billy Elliott, Judi Dench for Chocolat

Shoulda Been Nominated: Kate Winslet in Quills.  She was so excellent as the innocent chambermaid to the infamous – and imprisoned – Marquis De Sade, sneaking his manuscripts out to be published and enjoyed by his many readers.  This is a character that very easily could have been forgettable, but Winslet is such a strong actress that she becomes not only interesting but integral.

I honestly don’t remember much of the movie Pollock, but I do remember that I liked it.  However, I really can’t picture Marcia Gay Harden in it.  She’s a fantastic actress, but I have to think my lack of memory can’t bode well for her performance.  As terrible as Kate Hudson has been in almost every movie since Almost Famous, she clearly gave the most indelible and iconic performance of the bunch and deserved the Oscar.  Even if you only saw all of these movies once, you’d remember Kate Hudson as Penny Lane years later, even as you were forgetting all the others.  The scene where she learns that she’s been sold to Humble Pie for fifty bucks and a case of beer is heartbreaking in the way she plays it.  She smiles through the tears that she can’t help and then says, wiping the tears away gracefully, “What kind of beer?”  Future viewings have had me changing my mind, back and forth, about whether I like Penny Lane as a person.  The first few times, I was in love with her.  The next few times, I detested the way she uses William Miller for her own self-interest.  But recently, I’m just realizing that she’s a lost and lonely kid, trying so hard to be a grown-up.

What do you guys think?

2000 Oscar Flubs

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Unfortunately I don’t have time to write down 2,000 different Oscar flubs, so I’ll just focus on the year 2000.

I figured with 11 days until the Academy Awards, I would take a look at the past 11 years worth of Oscars over those 11 days.  I wanted to take a look at the past winners and see if we find those winners to be acceptable now that we’ve had some time to live with the decisions.  It’s funny, for example, how I thought at the time that American Beauty was a worthy winner in 2000.  Now, I don’t feel the same way.  So let’s take a look at the big categories and see what we’d do differently:

Best Picture

The nominees were: American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, and The Sixth Sense

Shoulda Been Nominated: Fight Club, Eyes Wide Shut, The Straight Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Magnolia, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, All About My Mother, Election, The Matrix, Mumford, and a whole host of other great films came out.  1999 was the strongest year for film in twenty years and yet these were the five nominees the Academy chose?

Based on the the rules of this game – which are arbitrary and made up – I have to choose a deserving winner among the actual nominees.  Under that rule, I think the winner has to be Michael Mann’s The Insider.  I think it has the best Russell Crowe performance ever – understated, complicated, fatigued – and the best Al Pacino performance of the decade, one where he doesn’t go over the top.  There are classic scenes (“Mike?  Miiiike?  Try Mr. Wallace.”), wonderful supporting turns by Christopher Plummer, Gina Gershon, and Bruce McGill, and a brilliant script by Eric Roth and Michael Mann that is a bit reminiscent of All The President’s Men.  It’s a film about journalism at a specific time in its history and it’s the defining film about television journalism, in the years before the internet took over.  It holds up remarkably well, much better than American Beauty which now seems trite, heavy-handed, and way too on-the-nose in its allusions.  American Beauty is still a fine film, but it’s not the classic we thought it was at the time.  The Insider, on the other hand, is ever better than we thought.

But neither of them are as good as Fight Club, Magnolia or Eyes Wide Shut.

Best Director

The nominees were: Sam Mendes for American Beauty, Spike Jonze for Being John Malkovich, Lasse Hallstrom for The Cider House Rules, Michael Mann for The Insider, and M. Night Shyamalan for The Sixth Sense.

Shoulda Been Nominated: Fincher, Kubrick, Lynch, Minghella, P.T. Anderson, Almodovar, David O. Russell,  etc. etc.

Mendes won the Oscar and for all the reasons I mentioned above, I think ever aspect of American Beauty was overrated at the time.  I think Mendes did a fine job handling the tone in that film, but his work isn’t as innovative as Jonze’s in Being John Malkovich.  Jonze also had to tame a particular and odd tone with his film and he hit it out of the park, finding the delicate balance between comedy and longing.  I think it’s a no-brainer that this should have been Jonze’s award.

Best Actor

The nominees were: Kevin Spacey for American Beauty (and he won), Russell Crowe for The Insider, Richard Farnsworth for The Straight Story, Sean Penn for Sweet and Lowdown, Denzel Washington for The Hurricane.

Shoulda Been Nominated: Matt Damon gave a brilliant performance in The Talented Mr. Ripley that was overlooked by everybody because of Jude Law’s flashier performance in the same movie.  Damon plays the difficult part in that film and he kills it.  No pun intended.

All of these are really strong performances, but for me this goes to Richard Farnsworth.  I think Farnsworth’s performance in The Straight Story is one of the top 20 performances I’ve ever seen.  His Alvin Straight is quiet, humble, wise, stubborn, and kind.  He’s a man with a lot of demons and we see them all, even the ones he doesn’t speak about.  We are invested in his story, in his quest, to find his brother because we believe in him and we believe in his moral compass – even if it’s different than our own.  He’s a man that has earned the right to do as he wishes and we see the respect he is given by those around him, but we don’t just have to take the movie’s word for it that he’s a man worthy of our respect – he earns it.  We respect this man.  Farnsworth is the reason for it and he’s the reason why this movie is one of the very few that makes me cry every single time I watch it.

Best Actress

The nominees were: Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry (she won), Annette Bening for American Beauty, Janet McTeer for Tumbleweeds, Julianne Moore for The End of the Affair, Meryl Streep for Music of the Heart

Shoulda Been Nominated: It’s a real shame that Reese Witherspoon didn’t get any love from the Academy for her head-turning work in Election.  She imbued Tracy Flick with heart, soul, guile, heartlessness, and soullessness.  Wow.

Not the strongest crop of Best Actress nominees.  Even still, the Academy definitely got this one right.  Swank deservedly got the award for her stunning and heart-wrenching portrayal of Brandon Teena.  Just a fantastic performance that later made her one of the more overrated actresses of the last ten years.  Still, this one was perfect.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees were: Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules (he won), Michael Clarke Duncan for The Green Mile, Jude Law for The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom Cruise for Magnolia, Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense

Shoulda Been Nominated: Sydney Pollack in Eyes Wide Shut, for the pool room scene alone.  The dude was commanding while giving an almost twenty minute monologue.  Pollack goes through about ten different shades of anger and doubt in that scene and we feel every single one.

Michael Caine is fine in The Cider House Rules because he’s Michael friggin’ Caine and he does a flawless New England accent, so he gets points for degree of difficulty.  But I think Tom Cruise was so charismatic and tortured and wonderful as Frank T.J. Mackey that he definitely deserved the award.  Just like Pollack deserved to be nominated for commanding the screen for twenty straight minutes, Cruise does that feat (for less time) at multiple points throughout Magnolia.  He’s filthy, sexist, and mean and yet when he cries at his father’s bed at the end of the movie, he redeems himself.  Cruise makes it work.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees were: Angelina Jolie for Girl, Interrupted (she won), Toni Collette for The Sixth Sense, Catherine Keener for Being John Malkovich, Samantha Morton for Sweet and Lowdown, and Chloe Sevigny for Boys Don’t Cry

Shoulda Been Nominated: Keener got a nom for Being John Malkovich but not Cameron Diaz?  Diaz has the more dramatically difficult part and she really kills it.  I mean, she’s an animal-loving, frizzy-haired, secret lesbian who owns a menagerie of pets and we believe every second of her journey.  I would have not only nominated her, but given her the award.

Of the nominees, it’s hard to find one that I disagree vehemently with.  I don’t know that I would give Jolie the award, though.  I’m a Jolie fan, I think she’s a really strong actresses, but this wasn’t my favorite of her performances.  For me, it’s a toss-up between Samantha Morton and Chloe Sevigny.  Morton’s face tells a thousand tales in Woody Allen’s underrated Sweet and Lowdown – and it has to, considering she plays a mute.  And yet, Sevigny is playing vulnerable, fragile, yet strong enough to be independent.  It’s tough, but I think I’d give it to Morton.

What about you guys?  What would you do?

SNL Recap – Russell Brand and Chris Brown

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

I first became aware of Russell Brand, like a lot of Americans, thanks to his appearance in the wonderful Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Since then, I’ve come to appreciate his presence – whether it’s in movies, on talk shows, or hosting events like the VMAs.  I just find his manner to be refreshing.  He’s thoughtful, erudite, and unbelievably crass.  But his vulgarity doesn’t come from a mean-spirited place.  Rather, there’s an innocence to him that makes him appealing even when he acts like a buffoon.  The movie Get Him to the Greek works so well because although Aldous Snow does some despicable things throughout the course of the movie, we sense that deep down he’s a sweet person.  And that’s all thanks to Brand because he brings that to the table.  He is lewd, but in the most lovable way, and it’s not something that can be learned.  It’s just something he was born with, a natural charisma that attracts people to him.  Although he hasn’t had a chance to really prove it, I think he might have a wonderful range that will extend far beyond comedy.  But for now, let’s see how he does on SNL.

As for Chris Brown…um, not too psyched about that part.

Let’s go to the videotape (or DVR)!  (Please let Stefon make an appearance…)

Cold Open – Jason Sudeikis playing Bill O’Reilly and Fred Armisen doing his bland Obama.  It’s a parody of the Super Bowl interview that O’Reilly did with Obama.  This whole sketch is built around the premise that O’Reilly is a pompous, egotistical blowhard.  Um, thanks for that info SNL, would have never guessed.  It’s definitely a skit that takes the easy and safe approach to the material.  The truth of the matter is that SNL has always been (and probably always will be) a left-leaning program that has done a pretty good job at taking shots at both the Dems and the GOP.  But, in this skit, the really interesting take would be to show Obama as the opportunist in this.  The real problem is that he sat down with O’Reilly to begin with, therefore legitimatizing this moron.  But what is Obama’s motivation in doing so?  And before the Super Bowl?  I think that’s the core idea that would have been funnier to explore than simply showing O’Reilly being condescending to a sitting President.  Anyway, it’s a middling skit that is mildly amusing.  5/10

Monologue – Brand is clean-shaven, looks different…almost respectable.  Did he wash his hair??  Jeez, I guess fame is getting to him.  Anyway, Brand mentions that he’s more famous in England than he is in the states.  Although, I’m not sure that’s really true anymore.  I mean, who doesn’t know Brand in the USA?  “In England, tight pants means you’re famous.”  Brand is really good at pointing out the differences between England and the US, but he’s never been as incisive as someone like Eddie Izzard when it comes to that topic.  He’s pretty much just blathering on.  It doesn’t feel like anybody actually wrote this monologue, but someone just said, ‘Hey Russell, just go up there and gab about whatever comes to mind for five minutes.’  He’s stumping for Colin Firth to win the Oscar, which makes me a little sad.  But at least he supports Portman for Best Actress.  He says Portman prepared for a few months, but he prepared for his sex-addicted, drug-addicted role in Get Him to the Greek for twenty years.  This monologue is all over the place.  This is why I prefer Brand in the movies or in his book than his stand-up.  He’s funny and all, but he’s way better when he’s given some limits because he can stretch the boundaries while staying on point rather than just being “long-winded” as Bill O’Reilly taught me.  Of course this monologue wouldn’t be complete without a Katy Perry reference.  It’s rare that stand-ups do well in the SNL monologues because they insist on doing their act.  Zach Galifiankis was the only one who did his routine during the monologue in recent years and knocked it out of the park.  I’ve written so much about this because I’m utterly bored by Brand’s monologue.  3/10

Gublin and Green, Attorney at Law – This was really not funny.  It’s a one-joke commercial about the Spider-man musical and how many injuries have occurred during the previews.  It’s really no different than countless fake ambulance-chasing ads they’ve done over the years, except with a few references to the Spider-man musical.  Again, this is an instance of SNL choosing the easy joke without going any deeper.  This show is off to a pretty terrible start.  3/10

Ultimate Vacation Giveaway – Kristen Wiig is playing an overly excited Travel Channel correspondent who is about to give away a vacation to a white trash dude played by Russell Brand.  She’s super stoked about giving it away and Brand is not excited at all, just sipping his beer.  Uh-oh, this is dying.  Brand’s accent is pretty good, but I’m almost embarrassed for Wiig right now.  She’s giving so much of herself to this part and this skit is going nowhere.  Where are the jokes here?  I like Wiig and Brand so much, but Brand is given nothing to do and Wiig is just overplaying this and hoping for laughs.  They show past winners going crazy.  Taran Killam pees his pants, that’s kinda funny.  I can’t believe that they have Russell Brand as the host and this is one of the skits they picked.  This made it out of dress?  Really, really bad.  1/10

Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro – Finally something funny!  This is actually pretty brilliant on a few different levels.  This is a parody of hard-nosed British blue-collar crime dramas.  Hader and Armisen have accents so thick that you can’t understand a thing they say.  Hader is so great, saying each of his unintelligible lines with such conviction that it’s easy to believe he’s saying something even though it’s all gibberish.  Russell Brand shows up and he is the only one doing caricature in this skit, probably because he’s making fun of his own accent to a certain extent.  Nasim Predrad is great in this too, as Hader’s girlfriend.  But it’s also a pretty great commentary on how critics in the states go nuts for these kinds of films.  Really solid clip.  In lieu of a digital short?  My guess is yes.  8/10

Next Episode (March 5th) – THE STROKES!!!  They are my favorite band and one of the most important musical acts of my generation.  Their new album is coming out March 22nd and their new single is already out and it’s called Under Cover of Darkness and if you like the Strokes, you’ll like this song.  I absolutely cannot wait to see them on March 5th, I’m already counting down the days.  Oh yeah, Miley Cyrus is hosting…whatever.

Royal Taster – Taran Killam is playing the king’s taster.  The king is played by Russell Brand.  The king assures the taster that he’s safe within these walls, despite the fact that he’s had death threats.  The chef then comes in to be berated by the king, who had just killed the chef’s whole family for making the beef too tough.  Also, the chef is next in line to be king if the king dies.  Needless to say, the taster is worried.  Hader is the chef.  Everybody is ridiculously over the top in the skit, trying to be as loud as possible to cover up for the fact that the writing is pretty weak.  I think the premise of the sketch is ripe for lots of possibilities, but the writers have gone a more simple route.  The only funny part is Hader getting close to Brand’s face and poking at him with his nose, causing Brand to nearly lose it.  And the ending, which is fairly close to brilliant.  Wow.  That ending really saves that skit and makes it something subversive and worthwhile.  6.5/10

Chris Brown – As with last week’s performer (Linkin Park), this is just not my thing.  To me, Chris Brown is like the homeless man’s Usher.  He can dance well, which makes his performances easy to watch, but the music is the worst kind of pop.  It’s derivative and boring.  It sounds like he hired Ke$ha’s producer.  But I gotta give him props for his dancing.  3/10

Weekend Update – Starts off with a strong joke about Hosni Mubarak taking over for Regis.  Seth Meyers makes a great point about pictures of yourself with the camera in the picture.  A nice joke about Christina Aguilera’s Super Bowl performance.  Fred Armisen comes on as Mubarak.  “30 years in power and all I have to show for it is 70 billion dollars of the Egyptian people’s money.”  “Basically, I was trying the old Jedi mind trick.”  I like Armisen’s take on Mubarak.  Now that he’s stepped down and Patterson is no longer governor, I’m sad that Armisen’s takes on these guys will no longer be necessary.  He really comes from the Dana Carvey school of impressions, which means that he doesn’t get the voices note-perfect or anything, he just finds one trait that he can hang on to and bases it on that, building an entirely original and new character out of it.  Solid joke about the AOL/Huffpost merger, although that whole saga has been over-reported.  Bottom line about that merger: I DON’T CARE.  A joke about a woman who returned her dog because it clashed with her curtains doesn’t go over too well, but I thought was pretty funny.  Wow, I actually thought Jay Pharoah WAS Lil’ Wayne for a second.  Taran Killam – who is getting a lot of airtime – comes out with him as Eminem to perform a  really inappropriate Valentine’s Day song.  Pharoah gets everything right about Lil’ Wayne, except for the rapping part.  It’s hard to rap exactly like someone else, but Pharoah misses the mark slightly there.  Then again, he’s so good ordinarily that I’m probably holding him to a higher standard.  Killam is a little closer to the mark with Eminem, but still doesn’t quite get there.  Still, it’s a funny idea and a sign of the changing musical landscape.  Meyers: “There’s no nice thing you can say to a woman that ends in ‘knife.'”  Nice joke about Lady Gaga: “I think the most surprising part of this story is that she has sex in a bed.  Oh my lord, Stefon is coming on!  WOO HOO!!!  He deserves his own section.  The score for update is 7/10

Stefon – YES YES YES.  Best character on SNL right now.  He needs his own movie, I would totally watch it.  I can’t even keep up with all these classic Stefon-isms.  Let’s see if Hader loses it this time.  “New York’s hottest club is BOOOOOOOOOF.”  “Pugs, geezers, do-wop groups, a wise old turtle that looks like Quincy Jones.”  “Giz-blow the coked up Gremlin!”  Oh man, I’m dying here, he did the Gizmo song!  “Fuji Howser, M.D.” made Hader lose it a bit.  “Jewpids?”  “Jewish cupids.”  Oh man, Hader is losing it again as he always does.  He never breaks character ever, but Stefon gets him every single time.  “Human suitcase?”  “It’s when a midget on roller skates wears all your clothes and you pull him through an airport.”  HAHAHA, holy shit, that’s great and offensive and amazing.  I understand they need to space out the appearances of Stefon, but I would love to see him every week.  He just slays me.  This saved the show from being the absolute worst of the year.  10/10

Livin’ Single – Vanessa Bayer plays a host on the Oxygen network.  Taran Killam – shit, where’s Paul Brittain tonight? – is playing her co-host, DJ Terry.  It’s a show about being single and all the girls on the show are talking about how they love it, but they really don’t.  Vanessa Bayer really reminds me a lot of Larraine Newman.  The DJ is in love with the host, but she’s not into him.  Russell Brand comes on as Damian, a suave British man and the host is instantly smitten with him.  I imagine the DJ is not going to like this.  Brand feeds her chocolate and she sucks on his finger.  Killam’s stone face is pretty funny.  “Is it sinful if I put your hand on my pectoral?”  “Give us a beat, Terry.”  “No, I don’t want to give him a beat.”  They proceed to start dry-humping.  This is a skit that really shouldn’t work, but Brand and Bayer and Killam are all pretty committed to their characters, which makes it easier to enjoy.  Brand gets the butter…I wonder if that’s in reference to Maria Schneider’s recent passing.  Either way, completely passable skit that I won’t remember tomorrow.  5.5/10

A Spot of Tea – Wow, a Samberg apperance.  Where has he been all night?  Samberg, Brand, and Hader are playing three old proper British women hosting a talk show.  It’s really hard to listen to them because their voices are all so shrill and high, but I suppose that’s the point.  An earthquake hits and their seismograph shows the results.  This is really bizarre and I don’t really think there are any jokes.  I’m hoping that something happens at the end to turn it on its head.  Every time they try to pour the tea, there’s  an earthquake…uh oh, please tell me this is going somewhere unexpected because otherwise this is a waste of everyone.  The show’s sponsor, a cabinet of glass, obviously gets ruined in yet another earthquake.  This is like a skit on a Nickelodeon show or something.  Wow, this was truly terrible.  Oh hey, Paul Brittain finally shows up with cheese fondue for half a second.  1.5/10

Chris Brown Again – This time he’s singing a ballad, which means no dancing, which means cringe-inducing lyrics about being horny and treacly music.  Ugh, this is really terrible.  It’s almost like a parody of the cheesy sex songs that R. Kelly sings.  He’s gonna do you all night, he’s gonna give it to you.  Jeez.  I don’t want to get too much into his personal life, but I wonder exactly what he’s gonna give to you all night.  1/10

Founding Fathers – A top-secret time machine that enables George Washington to appear.  Boehner and Pelosi both plead their cases to see what he would think.  Brand, as Washington, punches out Sudeikis.  Washington is freaking out, takes out his musket and boxes with Boehner, then karate chops Sudeikis.  Pelosi then stabs him in the back and kills him.  I’m surprised they didn’t have Boehner cry as he was getting punched.  Speaking of punches…there was no punchline in this skit.  3/10

Final Grades:

Russell Brand – Really disappointed by his showing tonight.  He was full of energy and all, but I can only fault the writing so much (and it was truly atrocious tonight, a common occurrence when there’s a two or three-week vacation coming) and he just seemed lost.  I just don’t think he was a good fit for this stage and this show.  I think he’s versatile and talented and charismatic, but he was not a strong SNL host.  Like I always say, you never really know who’s going to come through and who isn’t.  4/10

Chris Brown – Blah, blah, blah, boring.  2/10

The rest of the cast – The only thing that stood out to me was the use of Taran Killam and Bill Hader, both of whom were in practically every skit.  Meanwhile, Samberg, Abby Elliott, Fred Armisen and Paul Brittain were all seldom used – if at all.  Hader was probably the MVP tonight, saving some of the skits he was in and was the star of the two best parts of the show – Stefon and the British crime parody.  But Killam is a close second, proving that he’ll be a useful cast member.

The writing – This is really where most of the blame lies.  After working for three straight weeks, it makes sense that they’ve run out of some of their best material by week three, but this was really bottom of the barrel stuff.  They stepped it up for Stefon’s laundry list of oddities, but other than that, it was like they were on auto-pilot.  Either they had strong premises and couldn’t find the jokes or they had jokes that they couldn’t work into decent conceits.  Either way, this was a terrible night for the writers.  2.5/10

Okay, SNL will be on a break for a couple of weeks, so I’ll come up with some other junk to talk about for the next few Sundays.  But don’t forget to check back here on March 6th so we can discuss the Miley Cyrus episode that airs the night before with the sure-to-be-legendary STROKES performance.

Oh, and I give myself an 8/10 today.  I was on my game.

It’s not what I wanted it to be…

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Last night I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about Blue Valentine.  She wasn’t a fan of the film because she wanted it to be more than it was.  She was disappointed by the fact that the storyline isn’t particularly original or mining new material.  Basically, she wanted to experience something new in the pantheon of dramas about the dissolution of a relationship.

I both agreed and disagreed.  Part of me wishes that it wasn’t just a film about a typical, uneducated, blue-collar couple that are – from the get-go – not destined to be in a happy relationship.  What I’ve longed to see for years and years – and which fiction, film, theater, etc. have never been able to pull off – is a realistic portrait of how a happy relationship comes apart.  In stories of this nature depicted in fiction, like Blue Valentine or Revolutionary Road or Carnal Knowledge, it’s pretty clear that because of the characters involved and their different personality traits that these couplings are not going to last.  I think it’s fairly easy to take disparate characters and jam them together just because they’re attractive or because one of them is pregnant and then show the ramifications later on.  I suppose this is the reality for a lot of people that wind up with partners they don’t stay with, but I think a large portion of relationships die for more complex reasons than that.  And those deaths aren’t usually the result of one big thing or several big things, but rather a slow disintegration of passion and love.  Blue Valentine, as much as I really enjoyed it, does the typical move: it shows us the beginning and the end.  But as anyone who has ever been in a relationship, the real meat is in the middle.

However, that’s not what Blue Valentine purports to be about.  It sets out to do something specific and does it, so does that mean I should critique it for what I wanted it to be and wasn’t?  However, that’s a slippery slope as a film critic because then I could just apply that same logic to a film like Transformers and say that it’s a good film because it does exactly what it sets out to do.

So I think ultimately, we have to take into account what we want a film to be.  A film like Blue Valentine hits us hardest when we find ourselves relating to the characters.  The scene in the Future Room is a masterpiece because practically everyone I know can relate to one or both of those characters in that scene at one point in their life.  But, as a whole, I find it hard to relate to either character because they make decisions that I wouldn’t make and do a lot of stupid things, which is excused by the fact that they’re not particularly well-educated.  For once, I would like to see a film about well-educated people who make the right decisions in their lives and it still doesn’t work out.

So, who’s gonna be the filmmaker to volunteer for that job?

SNL Recap – Dana Carvey and Linkin Park

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

I’ve always been a big fan of Dana Carvey and I’m really excited to have him return to Saturday Night Live.  Because of his lackluster movie career, I think he’s often forgotten and overlooked in the pantheon of great SNL cast members.  Lorne Michaels was a huge fan from the beginning (Carvey famously got Michaels to laugh during his original audition, something that NEVER happens) and everybody thought Carvey was going to go on to be a huge movie star.  With middling (but, I think, enjoyable) films like Opportunity Knocks and Clean Slate, things got off to a rocky start and his film career stalled, unable to show his versatility in a vehicle that was designed around him playing one character.  That’s why he made a movie like Master of Disguise, which everyone kills him for.  It’s a kids’ movie that enable him to play multiple characters, a showcase for his talent.  But the movie was awful and that was it for Dana Carvey.  Let’s hope tonight gets him back on track.  I’m expecting a retrospective of all his best characters.  Hopefully we’ll get a Wayne’s World skit, a Church Lady skit, and maybe even a Hans and Franz skit.  I wonder how all of those sketches will play in this day and age.  My DVR didn’t record it, so I’m watching on Hulu, hopefully everything is in order and I don’t miss anything.

As for Linkin Park…um, not a fan.  Although this video of theirs, directed by the great Mark Romanek, is pretty amazing:

Okay, let’s get on with the recap:

Cold Open – WAYNE’S WORLD! You know, it’s funny, watching this skit reminds me that the Wayne’s World skits are really lame in comparison to the great Wayne’s World movies.  Still, it’s nice to see these characters again, even if all they’re doing is saying “Winter’s Bone” over and over again.  Strangely we didn’t get one “schwing” despite the fact that Carvey said it about eighty times during one of the promos.  Compared to some of the Wayne’s World skits in the past, this one is not up to snuff.  This is really all about the nostalgia factor, which I have to admit kicked in strongly for me.  And why is Mike Myers wearing a Blackhawks jersey instead of the standard black t-shirt that Wayne always wears?  Ultimately I can’t give it any more than a 6/10.

Monologue – Carvey makes a few salient points about the nature of SNL, about how everybody that watches it picks out one cast and then labels them the best.  Carvey, of course, labels his cast as the best.  Wiig, Samberg, and Hader all come out on stage to question this point until eventually the great Jon Lovitz comes out to agree with him.  They sing a song about being the best cast ever.  Truthfully, it’s a little bit like watching two dads come back to their old college and hang out at the frat house.  It’s not embarrassing exactly, but it’s a little upsetting to watch Carvey try so hard when he used to be the most effortlessly hilarious cast member.  He truly was one of the best, but he’s having too much of a good time with this monologue instead of just selling the jokes.  It’s great to see Lovitz, of course, but this entire monologue is just an excuse for the two of them to say old catchphrases; “Acting!” “Chopping broccoli,” etc.  I’m getting a bad feeling about this show…3/10

Church Lady – This one gets off to a good start, the writing seems stronger.  I love Nasim Pedrad, Abby Elliott and Vanessa Bayer as the Kardashian sisters, they really nail it.  (Side-note: I was really stoked when I saw Abby Elliott outside of a restaurant downtown on Wednesday night, but couldn’t work up the nerve to say anything.)  “I’m Khloe and I’m third.”  I understand that Carvey really wants to bask in the glory of his first “Isn’t that special?” in a decade, but the pause he takes feels a bit like grandstanding to me.  Bobby Moynihan comes out as Snooki, which the crowd always loves, but it’s probably my least favorite recurring “character.”  Moynihan is super talented, but his Snooki is lame, getting by on the “hilarity” of a fat guy in a dress.  “Oooh, a Guido!  You’re hot, make out with me!”  Carvey makes it work, though.  The Church Lady definitely ages better than Wayne’s World.   Really, Justin Bieber?  This dude is everywhere.  He’s at the Knicks games, on Jon Stewart, now SNL.  I have Bieber fever, I think, and it’s going to kill me.  Church Lady is getting turned on by Bieber, that’s an interesting twist.  Wow, this skit is nine minutes long, that’s ridiculous.  People complain about skits on SNL going on too long, but lately they’ve mostly been under five minutes.  Wayne’s World was six minutes, this one was nine, the monologue was six, that’s like a third of the show’s actual running time spent on three pieces.  Crazy.  But the Church Lady skit was the best so far, a welcome return.  7.5/10

The Roommate – Again with the Bieber!  This filmed short is brilliant.  It’s a minute long parody of the Minka Kelly/Leighton Meester movie, except with Samberg (as Sir Ben Kingsley, haha) as Bieber’s roommate.  I really enjoyed this one quite a bit.  Samberg often does this nerdy, nasally weirdo, but he does it so well.  9/10

Linkin Park – This is so awful.  I know there are people that really enjoy this kind of music, but I can’t make it past a minute of this rap/rock/emo/whiny boringness.  Ugh.  1/10

Teen Crisis Hotline – Celebrities helping teens.  I love Hader’s Alan Alda, it’s one of the most pitch-perfect impression I have ever heard.  You can see how good it is when you compare it to Dana Carvey’s Mickey Rooney, which is not really an impression so much as a caricature.  But that’s what Carvey always did well.  People think he was a great impressionist, but his real talent was in picking out one aspect of a person and then building a “character” out of this real-life person (i.e. George Bush, Ross Perot, etc.).  Armisen does Ice-T, which is okay, but more dependent on the make-up and clothing than the voice.  Abby Elliott’s Anna Faris is pretty great, though, spot-on.  “Drunk dad, ooooh, bummer!”  Jay Pharoah, the modern day Eddie Murphy, doing Eddie Murphy!  Brilliant, just brilliant.  Guess this will give Eddie Murphy another excuse to disown his SNL years and never return.

Weekend Update – This is all out of order because of Hulu, which is annoying.  I wish they’d let me just watch Weekend Update straight through instead of breaking it up into clips and ruining the flow.  Oh well.  Paul Brittain as James Franco, hopefully this will be good.  I think Brittain has secretly been one of the strongest newcomers I’ve seen since Andy Samberg and I’m glad he’s getting more airtime.  “I like having jobs!”  Brittain’s got the smiling down pretty well, but it’s not a particularly distinctive impression, and this segment seems designed just to make the joke that James Franco does a lot of things and it gets old quickly.  Thankfully it’s only two minutes.  Kristin Wiig as Angela Dixon, former disco queen turned weather expert.  I’m guessing she’ll break out into song during a forecast…yep, there it is.  Against all odds, I’m really enjoying this character and these songs.  I think Wiig is at her strongest when she does larger than life personalities, but that are grounded in something like a song, which gives the character a focus.  Sometimes she can fall into the trap of just being over the top, but here it makes sense and it works.  And Meyer always make all these characters work with his exasperation, he’s a great straight man.  Winners/Losers: Egypt was a strong segment.  “You cannot punch the handsome off Anderson Cooper.”  Tunisia is the Soundgarden to Egypt’s Nirvana, love the early 90s grunge references.  “Egyptians are great at preserving things.”  The Empire State Building run-up is “great if you love running marathons but always wished someone’s ass was in your face.”  Overall, a pretty good update, no complaints.  Still no Stefon sightings…sigh.  8/10

Linkin Park Again – I’m not even going to pretend that I watched this.  I saw it was in black and white, though, for no discernible reason.  Skip.  N/A

Deidra Wurtz – Abby Elliott finally gets her own skit and it’s a pretty funny premise.  She gives bad news to people even though she’s something akin to a Midwestern valley girl.  She really fully embodies every character she plays and she’s very versatile.  How long until she’s the star of a romantic comedy?  This isn’t the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s got a strong conceit and it’s executed as well as it could be and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  I won’t be re-watching it anytime soon, but I wouldn’t mind if I saw this character again in the future.  Where’s Dana Carvey?  And, less importantly, where’s Kenan Thompson?  6.5/10

Sports Bar – Hey, it’s Taran Killam, haven’t seen him in a few weeks.  Armisen and Carvey are the leads of a British New Wave band playing at a small sports bar during the Super Bowl, annoying all of the customers who just want to watch the game.  I love Hader and Brittain in the background and Carvey and Armisen are totally committed to this.  Finally, they’re letting Carvey create something new instead of just doing retreads.  This is a really funny premise and I think Carvey and Armisen are just absolutely killing it.  I really like the ending, with Killam admitting that he liked the song.  And I have to admit, I liked the song too.  I wish the skit went somewhere a bit more interesting, but it was still pretty good.  8/10

Pageant Preview – Starts with a very unfunny minute of Kenan and Dana Carvey doing southern accents.  And it doesn’t get that much better from there.  They’re hosts of a kids’ beauty pageant and they describe the contestants as they come out and it’s just awful.  Samberg comes out as a kid dressed as a cowboy, which is mildly funny and helps save the skit somewhat.  But really, there’s no joke here and it’s just uncomfortable to watch.  How did this make it out of dress?  2/10

Final Grades:

Dana Carvey – Really hit and miss and I’m not sure how much of the misses are his fault and how much was the writing’s fault.  And I don’t know how much he contributed to the writing of his own skits.  Church Lady worked, Wayne’s World didn’t, but the best parts of the evening – The Roommate and Weekend Update – were without him.  He had a bit too much enthusiasm in the beginning, but seemed to settle down as the night went on.  Overall, not the dynamic return we were all hoping for, but decent enough.  6.5/10

Linkin Park – Made it through one minute of their ten minutes of stage time.  I don’t really think it’s appropriate to grade them since I find their music abhorrent (although, seriously, check out that Romanek video above, it’s awesome).  So, I’ll go with N/A

The rest of the cast – I think the MVP award goes to Abby Elliott this week.  Her Khloe Kardashian was stellar, her Anna Faris was unbelievably good, and her new character Deidra Wurtz really worked.  It was good to see Paul Brittain, but I thought his James Franco was kinda weak.  Wiig had a good week, her disco weatherwoman was a nice addition to Update.  It was good to see old castmembers like Lovitz and Mike Myers, but wish they would have stuck around and done a few more skits.  Bieber was in more skits than the two of them.  Samberg was excellent as he always is, same with Nasim Pedrad and I wish Jay Pharoah was given more to do than just his amazing impressions.  I was happy that Kenan was absent from most of the skits, though.  7.5/10

The writing – Not the best night for the writers tonight.  I think The Roommate, Update and the Sports Bar skits all had strong premises but a lot of the others ones didn’t go far enough.  The Pageant was awful and the Monologue should have been stronger and I really wish they did something better with Wayne and Garth.  5/10

I’ll give myself a 5/10 for watching on Hulu, which is not my favorite method of watching SNL.  Plus, I’m fairly hungover, so I’m not sure I was on top of my game.  Next week, we’ve got the hilarious Russell Brand and Chris Brown, so I’ll see you all then!

Sex vs Violence: Why are we even talking about MTV’s Skins?

Monday, January 31st, 2011

I’m an unabashed fan of the UK version of Skins.  It was (and is) a show that doesn’t shy away from what actual teenagers do, namely fornication and drug/alcohol abuse.  It doesn’t matter if a kid was reared by good parents or bad ones, what makes them teenagers is the fact that they make mistakes.  After all, making mistakes and getting in trouble is all a part of the learning process of growing up and living a healthy lifestyle and it’s usually something we get out of the way as teenagers and young adults so that we can go on to be functional parts of society (unless you’re Charlie Sheen…sorry, too easy).

So why are people shocked (shocked!) that there is a show out there that actually has the balls to address this basic part of modern Western culture?  We were all teenagers once.  It strikes me that teenagers today are really not all that different from the young people that went to Woodstock and got stoned out of their minds on acid and weed.  Sure, kids today have replaced acid with MDMA, but it’s pretty similar.  The music has changed, computers and cell phones have made everything more attainable than they once were, but purposeless hedonism has always been pervasive amongst young folks.  The people of the Baby Boomer generation might argue that they had a sense of purpose, that they were fighting against the man and the Vietnam war and all that.  Well, I would argue that young people today are more politically aware than ever before because of the internet and that the use of mind-altering drugs and having casual sex didn’t (and doesn’t) really do anything to change the world (unless it’s really good sex).

The good Skins

But the part of the outrage that is truly, well, outrageous to me is the fact that all of this hubbub is over a show that a) really sucks and b) isn’t nearly as graphic or insightful as the UK original.  The original version of the show had copious nudity, lots of swear words, and didn’t shy away from emotional complexities.  Can you imagine what the puritanical parents’ groups in the US would do if the remake was half as intense as the original?  They’d probably lose their collective shit.  So why didn’t I hear a whole lot of outrage in the UK about the realistic (and sometimes purposefully unrealistic) portrait of their teenagers in the original Skins?  Why are we in the states so hung up on “protecting” our poor, fragile children from “graphic” imagery?

For me, this always goes back our country’s fascination with violence over sex.  Sex is taboo in our culture, but violence is everywhere.  We can turn on any of the big four networks and watch people get shot and stabbed and it will be approved for all ages, but if someone dares say the word “fuck” or shows a naked rear, it becomes transgressive television.  The same goes with movies.  The MPAA limits the amounts of times you can say “fuck” in a movie or else you’re slapped with a restrictive “R” rating, yet Transformers can have millions of bullets flying and still get a PG-13.

The bad Skins

You know why this happens?  It’s because the folks with the loudest voices are the prudes that take offense at someone having an orgasm.  The folks that don’t find such imagery offensive are likely not to find the violence in films offensive either, so they don’t speak up about it.  If there is ever going to be a change in our culture, if we’re ever going to accept sex as a natural and lovely part of life, then we have to speak up and scold the sponsors for leaving a show like Skins and scold the parents’ groups for telling us what we can and can’t watch.

I don’t like the US version of Skins, but not because it offends me in its depictions of youth (it just offends my sense of good television), and I think it’s ridiculous that in the year 2011 people will still get up in arms about sex and drugs on TV even though it’s probably happening more than they know in their own houses.

SNL Recap – Jesse Eisenberg and Nicki Minaj

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

I’ve been looking forward to this edition of SNL since I first heard that Jesse Eisenberg was hosting.  I thought he gave the best male performance of the year in The Social Network and he’s proven great comic timing in films like Zombieland, Adventureland, Roger Dodger…land, and a host of others.  But it’s always fascinating to see who rises to the occasion on live television and who fails.  Just because you’ve been great before doesn’t mean you’ll be an ideal SNL host, but my finely-honed SNL instincts tell me that Eisenberg will do pretty well.  Apparently Mark Zuckerberg is going to make an appearance as well.  I’m not the biggest fan of real-life counterparts meeting the people who play them because I don’t think there’s that much potential there, but we’ll see how the Zuck does.  As for Nicki Minaj, can’t say I’m the biggest fan, but I do love her amazing verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” off his new album.

As usual, I’ll be offering my thoughts on each skit and giving them a rating out of 10.  Okay, let’s go to the videotape!

Cold Open – Kristen Wiig doing Michelle Bachmann’s rebuttal speech, “second attempt.”  Looks over to the side, chart is also on its side, then the next chart is turned around completely.  This is a pretty easy joke and an easy target and was already done on by Olivia Munn oon The Daily Show earlier this week.  This is the kind of skit that, if it were not political, it wouldn’t open the show.  Hell, it probably wouldn’t have made it past the initial pitch if there wasn’t an identifiable political target here.  These are the worst kinds of SNL skits, where they try to stay topical rather than finding the joke first and then building a sketch around it.  The mistake is compounded by this open going on for a full four minutes, which is about three minutes too long.  This was a stinker.  1/10

Monologue – Eisenberg’s hair is longer and straighter, looks like he’s nervous and full of energy, but he kinda always looks like that.  Says he’s not the “shy and unassuming” guy he often plays in movies.  “Who is that freight train of confidence?  Or not, I wouldn’t want to pretend to be an expert…”  That’s pretty funny stuff.  “Every 28 days, a female will shed her uterine lining.”  He seems more and more comfortable as this monologue goes on.  “Heeeere’s Jesse!”  Samberg as Zuckerberg comes out to complain, “All hail the Zuck.”  Zuckerberg and Lorne Michael backstage, Zuck looks really happy to be there, smiling even though he’s supposed to be upset.  Zuck makes it onstage as Eisenberg and Samberg compare notes on how to play Zuck.  Eisenberg, Samberg, Zuckerberg, Berg, Berg, Berg Berg’s the word.  Awkward conversation between Eisenberg and Zuck, who calls The Social Network “interesting.”  I think this is another example of trying to inject topicality awkwardly into the proceedings.  The monologue was going well, Eisenberg was charming, but then they had to bring in Zuckerberg and the whole thing lost a good deal of energy.  Still, it was fun to see Zuckerberg and Eisenberg poking fun at themselves.  6.5/10

Commercial – Bill Hader as a pre-op transexual in an ad for “Estro-Maxx.”  This is pretty clever.  Armisen running on the treadmill.  Paul Brittain is going to be a breakout star, I’m telling you; “I’m the head of a major corporation.  I can’t spend all day increasing market share AND turning my penis into a functional vagina.”  Bobby Moynihan at airport security; last week he was Chaz Bono, this week he’s a transexual.  Keenan as the TSA officer showing up at the party at the end was a nice touch.  6.5/10

Mr. Wizard’s World – Okay, I’m excited because I remember watching this show as a kid.  This is kind of obscure, so I already love it.  Bill Hader doing a pitch-perfect Mr. Wizard, one of the strangest talents a person can have.  Eisenberg, Nasim Pedrad, Keenan, and Abby Elliott are the kids.  They’re learning about static electricity, rubbing baloons on themselves and each other, Eisenberg and Nasim are getting a little too comfortable rubbing the balloons on each other.  “What’d you experience with the balloons?”  “Something new?”  “It felt like a good headache.”  This is a clever skit already.  “You guys feeling that charge?”  Eisenberg and Nasim are killing it in this skit, really going for it.  “What’d we learn from this experiment?”  “I like rubbing?”  Oh boy, what are they gonna do with that Van de Graff generator?  Nasim and Eisenberg humping the generator, their hair is sticking up.  “I wanna do science in the shower.”  Wow, that was an excellent skit.  This is what I’m talking about, the skit wasn’t topical but managed to cram a whole lot of laughs into it because the basic premise was already funny.  9/10

Don’t Forget the Lyrics – Is this an actual TV show?  I’ve never heard of it.  Jason Sudeikis is host Mark McGrath “…and yes, I do this now!”  Eisenberg as the first contestant.  “Don’t forget the lyrics.”  “That is the purpose of this show, yeah!”  Eisenberg has just got a whole lot of energy tonight and is investing himself fully, really impressing me.  “I Love Rock N’ Roll” is the song he’s chosen and he ends it with, “So come and kiss a lime, you dance machine” instead of “Come and take the time and dance with me” and I’m officially laughing out loud by myself.  “Lock ’em in.”  Next song is “Doctor Doctor” by Robert Palmer.  I know where this is going and I can’t wait, which means the writers have a solid premise.  Instead of “bad case of loving you,” Eisenberg sings, “I’ve got one extra testicle.”  Not as funny as the first misread lyric.  “Cel-e-brate Saddam Hussein.”  “I was thinking of a different song.”  That’s a good one.  “It’s Not Unusual” by Tom Jones and he sings…”It’s not unusual to get a boner a the movies.”  Not bad.  Nice Toy Story 3 joke too.  I think this sketch started out strong and then faltered as it went on.  Still, I laughed out loud, so points for that.  7.5/10

Next Week – Dana Carvey is hosting!  Wow, I really hope he does nothing but old characters that I haven’t seen in forever.  Bring back Mike Myers and do Wayne’s World!  I’m sure they’ll do Church Lady.  I hope we get a reprise of “Choppin’ Broccoli.”  He was one of the best cast members of all-time, but he probably should have been a permanent SNL fixture since his movie career never really took off.  It’s a shame too because I actually consider both Opportunity Knocks and Clean Slate to be perfectly decent vehicles.  Linkin Park is the musical guest next week, so that’s, um…they still exist?

Herb the Reporter – Bill Hader doing his old guy reporter Herb Welch.  Usual shtick, he talks really softly and shoves his microphone in people’s faces.  Hader is interviewing his Adventureland co-star Eisenberg and keeps shoving his mic in his face, focusing on the fact that the kid is wearing pajama bottoms.  I gotta say, this is not my favorite recurring character.  It’s a one-joke skit that seems like a poor waste of Hader’s considerable talents.  There’s only so many times I can watch Hader hit someone in the face with a microphone.  Keenan showed up to get hit in the face and Hader is losing it, having to turn away from the camera to hide his laughter.  Well, at least someone’s laughing.  3/10

Digital Short – Let’s hope this one is as good as the Pee-Wee one from two weeks ago.  John Waters presenting “The Creep.”  All of the Lonely Island guys are in this one, dancing like creeps, dressed in suits that are too small with pencil-thin mustaches and glasses.  This is pretty good, but the best part is watching the faces that Andy, Akiva and Jorma are making.  Nicki Minaj shows up as the female creep and drops a good verse, but her presence doesn’t really work that well because she’s not nearly as creepy as the Lonely Island boys are and diverts attention away from the funny.  I enjoyed aspects of this one, but it’s not a home run.  A solid 7/10.

Nicki Minaj – She’s dressed like Kirsten Dunst in Marie-Antoinette or like a character in an Adam and the Ants video but her back-up dancers and the band isn’t keeping with the theme.  I don’t know what this song is, but I’m not really digging it.  She’s got some pretty good skills as a rapper, but the beat is way too treacly.  I don’t understand her choice in dress because it limits her ability to move around the stage, so she’s just kinda standing in place and swaying slightly.  4/10

Weekend Update – As with every week, I’m hoping Stefon makes an appearance, but it’s already been a Hader- heavy show so I doubt they’ll go there.  Meyers starts with a joke that manages to combine the current events in Egypt and the McRib.  Well played, Meyers.  Another Michelle Bachmann joke, I’m sick of this topic.  “This week Comcast officially took control of NBCUniversal and I have to say: things are better already.  Seriously.  I have to say that.”  Fred Armisen shows up as Egpytian President Hosni Mubarak, talking about the internet and blaming Time Warner.  “I’m beloved, my approval rating is 115%.”  “We needed ten plagues before we left, you know what I mean?”  Armisen killed it as Mubarak, a really funny take.  Charlie Sheen joke, “It’s a good thing he kept the cocaine in a briefcase because if anybody saw him, they’d go ‘there goes Charlie Sheen with some paperwork.'”  A pretty clever joke about the two waitresses fired from the Standard hotel for being short.  Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry…Keenan is throwing money around as Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry.  “Not one nomination…poor, poor Tyler Perry.”  White people problems?  Isn’t that a trending topic on Twitter?  “My best friend is Oprah.”  “I Can Do Internet All By Myself.”  “Adventureland, where a young man is sad because he has a job.”  This is a pretty solid skewering of Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry and his movies.  Lame New York cab joke.  Lady Gaga wants her fragrance to smell like “semen and blood” and Meyers says it’s gonna be called “Hotel Mattress.”  Jersey Shore’s fourth season is going to be in Italy, which Meyers says will hopefully segue into an episode of “Locked Up Abroad.”  Pretty soft joke to go out on, but the Update was fairly solid overall.  7/10

TCM The Essentials – I love it when they do these TCM parodies, mostly because I love TCM and Robert Osborne.  We’re taking a look at the “Bride of Blackenstein” with Jay Pharoah as the doctor, Keenan as the monster, Eisenberg as Igor and Nicki Minaj as the Bride.  I guess they felt like they had three black people on tonight for the first time in ages, so they could finally do a sketch that is all about Nicki Minaj’s ample posterior.  Pharoah is doing Dr. Blackenstein like he’s a young Eddie Murphy.  “Where did you get the mouth, Igor?”  “From a ho who didn’t know her place!”  Eisenberg and Pharoah are the best parts of this skit and of course, they are relegated to the background so that we could focus on Keenan and Nicki Minaj doing stereotypes.  “I’ve just been with Jewish girls.”  “Oh, then you gotta understand.”  Hader and Wiig, “You know I like a booty like yours, flat and shapeless.”  “Good!”  I felt like this skit was a missed opportunity that focused on all the wrong things.  I can’t imagine how many people will be offended by this, but the truth is that the only thing offensive about it is the waste of Pharoah and Eisenberg who were clearly game, but weren’t given enough good material to work with.  5/10

MTV – Andy Samberg as the head of programming, talking about the awful US remake of Skins.  “Because of all the controversy and ‘child porn laws’ we lost our sponsors.”  Samberg knocks over a prop and almost loses it, but he’s a professional and keeps it together.  Eisenberg and Abby Elliott in a scene from Skins, promoting Kennedy Fried Chicken.  “Speaking of which, cool cocaine.”  “Stank ass foot powder, so sexy.”  Paul Brittain shows up to promote “Walzer Toyota.”  “Just hearing about used cars makes me hella horny.”  Nasim shows up for a four-way.  I think this skit would probably work better without the product placement angle.  It limits them.  If they just did a straight up parody of Skins.  “That sounds great…for young vaginas.”  Abby Elliott was excellent in that skit and Paul Brittain’s “I’m twelve” at the end was a nice touch.  I hope they’ll revisit Skins is a future episode, but I doubt it’s going to last long enough.  It’s a shame, I think there was a better skit to be made.  6/10

Spa Talk – Kristen Wiig as Tyla Yonders, host of Spa Talk.  “Isn’t stress gross?”  She’s basically a modern-day hippie.  Keenan and Abby are playing a married couple.  Wiig sprays water all over Keenan’s face, then spreads lotion on it.  This skit is really not working already and it’s getting worse and worse.  This is a character in search of a skit to put her in.  The talk show aspect is not really being utilized, Keenan and Abby are playing stock characters, and there are no jokes.  Oh boy, it’s going on, more guests coming.  Eisenberg, Vanessa Bayer (hey, welcome to the show at 12:45!) and Bobby Moynihan as the family.  I suppose the joke of the skit is supposed to be Kristen Wiig’s hippy-dippy character rubbing up against blue-collar folks, but it is just not working at all.  I don’t know how this wasn’t cut after Dress because this is unbelievably awful.  She rubbed turtle shit on their faces, wow, this is really bottom of the barrel.  Please tell me it’s over now.  Thank goodness, it is.  1/10

Nicki Minaj Part 2 – She’s still wearing her Bride of Blackenstein hair, except now she’s wearing the most disgustingly colorful onesie I’ve ever seen.  I’m definitely digging this song more, though.  I think her talent lies in the fact that she’s a rapper that actually has a nice voice, which makes her versatile, and this song really exploits that talent.  And her outfit shows us that she wasn’t padding for that Bride of Blackenstein skit, either…Jesus.  8/10

It’s Too Big – Andy Samberg as Arthur Perkins in a paid advertisement.  Jesse Eisenberg joins him  as his friend to promote “El Shrinko” for men with penises who were once too big.  The joke is that it’s clear that they’re just trying to come up with an excuse for why they are lacking endowment.  “It’s why Arthur and Randy’s penises are too small.”  Wiig, Bayer, and Nasim show up to vouch for them.  For the last skit of the night, it was concise and induced a chuckle.  6.5/10

Final Grades:

Jesse Eisenberg – He did a really good job.  I was impressed by his level of commitment and energy.  He didn’t seem to look at the cue cards at all and was elevated every character he played.  I really hope he’ll be on again in the future because he’s a great utility player, seeming like he would fit in as a regular castmember.  I think the writing stranded him in some poor skits, but he was sharp throughout.  9/10

Nicki Minaj – I thought she was solid overall, with special credit given to her for acting in the Digital Short and the Bride of Blackenstein sketch.  Not sure that I’m rushing out to buy her album anytime soon, but it was pleasant enough to see her and listen to her.  7/10

The rest of the cast – No MVP tonight, except for Eisenberg maybe.  I think Jay Pharoah, Paul Brittain, and Abby Elliott all need to be used more.  Armisen wasn’t really in a lot of skits tonight either, surprisingly.  Sudeikis did a good job as Mark McGrath.  I thought Nasim did a good job overall, with excellent work in the Mr. Wizard skit.  Bill Hader was the most-used castmember tonight and the results were strong (Mr. Wizard) and weak (Herb Welch).  Taran Killam was completely absent this week and he’s been used pretty sparingly all season, so I wonder if he’s gonna stick around next year and Vanessa Bayer didn’t show up until the last two skits, but she did solid work.

The writing – Really up and down night tonight.  There were two absolute stinkers with the cold open and the Spa Talk skit, which was just DOA.  However, the Mr. Wizard skit was a real high point.  Everything else was somewhere in the middle.  They had two weeks to come up with material for tonight and I felt like this was a bit of a let-down.  Don’t Forget the Lyrics was a decent skit, one that I might consider watching again and Weekend Update was pretty strong this week, even with an absence of Stefon.  6/10

As for myself, I give myself a 5.5/10.  I think I’m getting better at this SNL Recap thing in my second try, but just like the show itself, sometimes I have trouble going on too long.  So, at almost 3000 words, I’m going to say adieu.  See you next week for Dana Carvey’s return.