Frenzy On Blog

SNL Recap – Russell Brand and Chris Brown

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…

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

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?

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

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.


The King’s Speech was fine, I guess…but Best Picture, really?

I was pretty shocked when I read that The King’s Speech had gotten the most nominations (12) at the Oscars this year.  For me, it was really nothing more than a middling film that I felt like I had seen countless times before: poor little rich prince needs to overcome hurdles in order to succeed.  But this time, it seemed like the hurdle was fairly silly.  I don’t mean to belittle folks who have speech impediments, as I understand that they can make life difficult for those who suffer from those afflictions, but it’s not like the guy was dealing with a fatal disease or anything.  The fact that King George VI stammered is a sad foot-note, I suppose, but it’s hard for me to really get behind the guy in a meaningful way when I know that the stakes are not that high.  World War II and Adolf Hitler are sort of looming in the background, but I’m not really that terrified that the future safety of the planet is at stake just because one of the tangential figures involved in that war had a speech impediment.

I really enjoyed the performances of the cast for the most part, but I was fairly underwhelmed by Colin Firth’s portrayal of the titular king.  It’s not that he didn’t do a good job stammering, but rather that I didn’t feel like I knew him all that well by the end of the film.  It’s partly the fault of the script, but what do I really know about this man besides the fact that he has a speech impediment?  The script keeps telling me he’s noble and Geoffrey Rush’s character tells him that “he’s the bravest man” he’s ever met, but why exactly is he brave?  It seems like he’s quite willing to walk away from therapy and help several times throughout the film because it doesn’t suit his royal blood to discuss trivial matters with his therapist.  That doesn’t really strike me as bravery.  Also, Firth comes off as being whiny quite often in his therapy sessions, which doesn’t fit into my definition of “brave.”

I thought Rush and Helena Bonham Carter were good, as they almost always are.  Guy Pearce seemed to relish playing the caddish older brother.  But the film as a whole didn’t really feel all that vital to me.  When we finally get the speech at the end, it’s really not such a great speech.  So, we’re just supposed to look at this as a victory because he didn’t stutter much, but what about the content of the speech?  It’s another example of the film telling me to feel something because other characters feel it rather than making me feel that emotion.

There is also a decided lack of tension in the film, even if you don’t know the history of what happened, because there’s no other possible way for the film to end.  Every single time Firth and Rush part ways, we know they are going to come together again to finish out the therapy session because the film is firmly entrenched in a certain genre with a certain plot.  The subplots don’t inform the characters any more than when we first meet them, there is no great change besides the speech of one particular character, and the film slowly comes to the only logical conclusion.  Some films are about seeing the puzzle pieces come together in the way that you imagine it, but there are no puzzle pieces here, there is nothing to put together.  If you hadn’t seen the film and just pictured what it would be about and what would happen, you could probably safely say that you’ve seen the movie.

Look, I don’t have the energy to mount some big take-down of the film because it’s not an awful movie.  It’s just a pedestrian one that is handsomely mounted, like a decent HBO biopic.  If it won Best Picture, it would be more like Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan (although in my eyes, the winner that year should have been The Thin Red Line) than Crash over Brokeback Mountain (although in my eyes, the winner that year should have been Munich).  Still, I do think we’ll find it laughable in ten years if somehow The King’s Speech beats out the obviously superior The Social Network or Black Swan.

I think the Academy Awards should always, always, always be about rewarding the best film of the year and often, that’s not the case because of political jockeying.  But, I would sincerely hope that the Academy members look at their ballots and think about which film will age the best, which film defines the year it came out, and which one they won’t be embarrassed about in ten years.  I don’t see how it could be The King’s Speech.

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SNL Recap – Gwyneth Paltrow and Cee-Lo Green

If I had to pick a favorite show of all-time, it would have to be Saturday Night Live.  I’ve seen almost every episode of the show for about twenty years, videotaping it when I wasn’t home (or now, DVRing it) and catching up with it late at night or Sunday afternoon.  I think it’s a show that captures the mood of the country and serves as a kind of time-capsule for future generations about what we found funny and who we enjoyed making fun of.  The humor is almost always broad, but I most enjoy the sketches that are absurd.  A lot of people bemoan that SNL isn’t funny anymore.  Anybody who says that doesn’t watch SNL often.  It’s just as funny now as it’s always been.  Go back and watch any season of the show, there were always sketches that flat out sucked and they always went on too long.

The current cast is really good, with folks like Andy Samberg and Bill Hader doing some remarkable things every week while Jason Sudeikis occupies the kind of utility/Phil Hartman role.  Kristin Wiig has been relied upon a lot in the past two season after Amy Poehler left, but I’d like to see more from Abby Elliott who has a lot of potential.  But I think they’re missing the absurdity that Will Fore often brought to the show.

I decided that I would do a pseudo-liveblog/recap of the show starting this week.  I’ll break down each of the sketches and give some thoughts and then give a rating out of “10” to each sketch.  I see a sketch like “Dick in a Box” as a 10, so it’ll be hard to achieve that.  Gwyneth Paltrow has hosted before and between her hosting gigs in the past and her appearances on Jimmy Fallon’s show, she’s shown a wicked sense of humor and excellent timing, so I’m looking forward to seeing how she performs this week.  I really hope there’s at least one “Goop” reference.

Opening Sketch – Kristin Wiig doing her excellent Greta Van Susteren impersonation.  Love Nasim Pedrad this season, she might be the breakout star of the year; her Michelle Malkin is not spot-on, though, and it’s not cutting at all, there’s no joke there.  Ditto Bobby Moynihan’s Sean Hannity.  But the whole skit is just an excuse to have Hader do his James Carville impression, which was funny the first time but is a bit tired now.  Abby Elliott’s Rachel Maddow is probably the best in terms of a straight-up impression.  The skit, as a whole, felt pretty flat and wasn’t a particularly strong opener. 5/10

Monologue – Gwyneth (wearing a black dress that will be easily to slip out of…for changing into costumes, you perverts!) starting off self-effacing, talking about her Britishness, then confusing Kenny Rogers (Sudeikis) for Garth Brooks.  Paltrow is pretty funny and charming, fumbling while trying to duet with Kenny Rogers on “Islands in the Stream.”  Thought there was a missed opportunity for Paltrow to sing the lyrics to “Ghetto Superstar” during the chorus.  Cee-Lo comes out to needlessly elongate the sketch.  Jeez, how tall is Cee-Lo?  Gwyneth is like a full foot taller than him. 7/10

Commercial – A silly send-up of the promos for NBC’s The Cape, replacing the titular item with all sorts of other accessories.  Really enjoyed The Bolo Tie.  A nice interstitial, nothing more.  Crowd didn’t seem too enthused.  6/10

Secret Word – A game show sketch that they’ve done before.  It’s got a good premise, with two contestants playing something similar to to $25,000 Pyramid, except the celebrities keep screwing things up for their partners.  Kristin Wiig and Gwyneth Paltrow are playing the idiotic celebrities.  “There are no secret words to an actress, I see the word and I explore it.”  Wiig kills it in these sketches, when she’s required to be exaggerated and Gwyneth is perfect as the “pretentious” actress…hmmm.  Nothing too special overall.  6/10

Digital Short – Crowd is cheering before it even starts, then I’m cheering as soon as I see Pee-Wee Herman.  Samberg and Pee-Wee doing shots at a bar, loving it.  Ahhh!  The Pee-Wee tequila dance!  Anderson Cooper spotting!  Pee-Wee hitting people with chairs!  Intervention with Chairy!  “They’re a national treasure.”  “I know you are, but what am I?”  Shots!  Surprised they didn’t bring back the “secret word,” especially with the last sketch.  Either way, this was nearly a home run, great digital short.  9/10

Next Week: Jessie Eisenberg and Nicki Minaj.  I’m excited to see what Eisenberg does on live TV, sometimes actors that are able to create indelible characters on film or seem like they have really good senses of humor, just can’t hack it on SNL.  Robert De Niro was awful earlier this season.

Jacob’s Rockin’ Bar Mitzvah – Gwyneth Paltrow as Taylor Swift as a special guest, singing her songs with a “Jewish” twist.  Having been raised Jewish, I chuckled, but I wonder if anybody else will.  Jay Pharoah doing Jay-Z, singing “Empire State of Mind” with a Jewish twist.  I’m sensing a theme and I’m not laughing.  I wish Jay Pharoah was given something to do besides impersonations of black celebrities.  I mean, he does fantastic impressions (his Jay-Z is spot-on), but it seems like that’s all Lorne Michaels lets him do.  Let the man spread his wings!  Abby Elliott doing Katy Perry, easily the funniest song of the three so far (“Ashkenazi Jews are undeniable…”), glad to see Abby getting more air time tonight.  Cee-Lo saying “straight up meshuggana,” blah blah blah.  5/10

Forget You – Gwyneth Paltrow as a music exec, replacing every instance of “fuck” with the word “forget” in reference to Cee-Lo’s famous song.  Pretty funny, “nintendo” for the n-word.  A lot of Cee-Lo in sketches tonight, surprising.  This would be a great 90 second skit, but it’s at least twice that long.  That was weird, it was all just a build-up to Cee-Lo’s performance, don’t think I’ve ever seen SNL do that before.  5/10

Cee-Lo Green – Really not interested in hearing this song if it’s not in its original version.  The whole gimmick with this song was hearing this kind of sweet/sad story about Cee-Lo being overlooked and then saying a cathartic “fuck you” to the woman who made him feel so low.  “Forget” is really not a suitable replacement, no matter how hard the lead-in skit tried to make it okay.  The performance is pretty standard, with an all-girl band and Cee-Lo mostly remaining stationary.  This is not even close to Kanye’s epic performances earlier in the season.  3/10

Weekend Update – I love Seth Meyers as the anchor.  He’s probably my favorite since Norm MacDonald.  Tiny Fey, Jimmy Fallon, and Amy Poehler were all great, but Meyers brings a unique sensibility that is part authoritative and part boyish/puckish charm.  He’s like a mixture of Fallon, Fey, and Poehler.  Boy, I really hope Stefon (Bill Hader’s greatest character) makes an appearance tonight.  “French fries will be the prison cigarette of schools” is a pretty good one, even if the audience politely chuckled.  I love his monologue (Weekend Update’s Constitution Corner) about what the founding fathers would really think if they were around today (guns would be the least of their worries), hilarious and perfectly stated.  The baboon/tangerine joke made me laugh.  Keenan, conspicuously absent from the first half sketches tonight, comes on as the “Rent is Too Damn High” dude and does his usual deal: the obvious joke without taking it anywhere interesting.  Yawn.  Moving on.  “Switzerland: neutral on Nazis, tough on dogs.”  “The guy with the pet skunk definitely also has weed.”  New cast member Vanessa Bayer “on the scene” at the Golden Globes.  Bill Hader as Cher, Nasim Pedrad as Christina Aguilera, singing their answers – not that funny.  Bobby Moynihan as Chaz Bono – very funny.  “Every morning I wake up and…I look at it.”  I liked the I Love Lucy joke.  Garth and Kat, one of my favorite recurring Weekend Update sketches!  Basically Fred Armisen and Kristin Wiig play a singing duo that makes all their words up on the spot.  The hilarity comes from watching Wiig try to keep up with Armisen as he makes up the words on the spot.  Last time they did this, Armisen started laughing almost instantly, which was enjoyable because he never breaks character.  It’s so stupid, but I don’t know why, this skit always kills me.  Gwyneth comes out as a third-member, how is this gonna work?  Wow, shes good.  I love how Meyers plays the straight man during these skits, so fed up yet on the verge of smiling.  “Please, just 10 more really long ones!”  Overall, a pretty middling Weekend Update that’s semi-redeemed by the ending.  6/10

Shakespearean Previews – Nobody has ever done previews before now.  Love Bill Hader as the “voiceover” guy and Samberg as the skeptical peasant who doesn’t understand what “previews” are.  “Coming Soon: Hamlet never believed in ghosts…until his father came back from the dead.”  Jay Pharoah: “Watch out, Hamlet, there’s a ghost!”  Nice.  “Aww, hell nay!”  I’m really loving this skit.  “Coming soon: You loved Henry IV, well guess what, there’s a new king in town…Henry V!”  “Let’s burn this place down!”  “And so they did…and no one ever heard of Shakespeare again.”  This was really good.  8/10

Fresh Prince 20th Anniversary Boxed Set – Jay Pharoah doing his instantly classic Will Smith impression.  I used to love Fresh Prince when I was younger.  “The script just said to react,” so he reacts like Scooby-Doo would react, very funny.  Wow, Gwyneth as the cop looks a lot like Daphne Zuniga.  “Cha-ching!”  Keenan is actually great in this sketch, playing the uptight straight man to Pharoah’s goofball.  This was a clever idea for a sketch and they pulled it off.  Points for not letting it go on too long.  7.5/10

Sportscenter Deportes – I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Paul Brittain this year, like his manner.  This is a pretty silly and funny skit where these Spanish speaking broadcasters inject the English words and expressions into the Spanish recaps.  Armisen interviewing Jay Pharoah as Kevin Garnett.  (Lots of Jay Pharoah tonight and less Keenan, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence; SNL has long had a problem injecting more than one black person into a skit at any given time and in time, Pharoah is going to take all of Thompson’s parts, just watch.)  Tres Equis commercial, Bobby Moynihan popping out.  Paul Brittain is really killing it in this skit and Paltrow is right there with him.  Post-update skits have been way better than the pre-update ones.  8/10

Cee-Lo Green Again – I didn’t buy his album, so this song is new to me, but I’m kinda digging it…it’s got a Princeish beat to it, with heavy rock riffs to go with the R&B flow but Cee-Lo’s got that great voice that holds it together.  It does what a performance on SNL should do: make me download the song.  But it’s not quite good enough for me to check out the whole record.  8.5/10

New Co-Host for Spitzer – Hader’s Spitzer is excellent and appropriately lascivious.  Nasim Pedrad’s Christiane Amanpour is off.  “I’d like to take that bet, but my wife doesn’t let me carry money anymore.”  Gwyneth Paltrow as Heidi Klum.  “Perfect, hired.”  “In or out, in out in out in out.”  “I’m about to say something awful, you should go, hahahaha.”  Ahhh, Armisen as David Patterson always kills.  Nice one.  7.5/10

Final Grades:

Gwyneth Paltrow – She was excellent, really a top-notch host who didn’t rely too heavily on the cue cards and did a lot of interesting impressions.  A lot of energy, lots of different characters, and a lot of fun.  9.5/10

Cee-Lo Green – Wasn’t crazy about his first performance because a neutered “Fuck You” just doesn’t sound right, but he got some points for his second song.  Also, I give him credit for making appearances in some of the skits.  6.5/10

The rest of the cast – Nobody really stood out to me tonight.  Lots of Jay Pharoah and Abby Elliott, which was a good thing.  Wiig, Hader, and Armisen were on their game.  I think Samberg needs to be used more in the skits and not just in the digital shorts (which was awesome tonight).  The cast is a little cumbersome, too many castmembers and not enough parts.  I thought Nasim Pedrad was off tonight, not her best night.  Seth Meyers seemed a little subded on update.  Overall, they didn’t bring the energy that Paltrow brought.  6/10

The writing – The first half was really weak and played it too safe.  The second half was really strong, too more risks.  I think it hit the mark more than it missed.  Nothing I feel compelled to send to my friends tomorrow morning, except for the digital short and possibly – POSSIBLY – the Sportscenter Deportes skit.  7/10

Okay, that was exhausting for me.  I give myself a 5/10, I think I can do better next week.  What’d you all think?


This guy is scoring Francis Coppola’s next flick?

I’m a big Francis Ford Coppola fan.  When I heard that Coppola’s next film was going to be a horror movie starring Val Kilmer – called Twixt Now and Sunrise – I was pretty elated.  The few details that have emerged are: he’s filming it around his own estate and it was based on a dream he had.  Bruce Dern and Ben Chaplin are co-starring along with Alden Ehrenreich (I will never stop beating the drum for this kid) and Elle Fanning.  As many of you know, I thought Tetro was one of the best films I’ve seen in recent years and I’m curious to see how Coppola will follow it up.  And as a youngster, Val Kilmer was one of my very favorite actors – I mean, Tombstone, The Doors, Real Genius, these are fantastic performances.

I’ve been a Dan Deacon fan for a while.  But as you might be able to tell from the video above, he’s…not quite what I would have in mind for a “gothic horror” film.  The dude creates awesome music that makes you want to dance and unless Coppola is making this generation’s Rocky Horror Picture Show, I’m fascinated to see how Dan Deacon will adapt his style to Coppola’s vision.

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Directors Selling Out

I had a long discussion the other day with my buddy Jack about how disappointed I was that Darren Aronofsky was going to be making the sequel to Wolverine as his next film.  Part of me understands that Aronofsky has made his first five films for no money – and probably didn’t make much money himself.  He even said at one point that he was tired of being the only person in the room that wants to make a movie and that with the Wolverine sequel, there are many people at the studio that want him to make this movie.  I get all that and I can even respect that.

But I can’t put him in the same tier as Wes Anderson or Paul Thomas Anderson or Lukas Moodysson, who make the films they want to make.  I think there’s certainly a paucity of original voices out there and I can’t help but think that when one of them chooses a comic book project, that’s one less original film they might have made.  It takes years to make a movie and I would rather those years be spent on projects that don’t have the ceiling of a big blockbuster film or comic book movie.  This goes for David Fincher, too, by the way.  I happen to think he’s one of the five best directors working today, but he’s also made Alien 3, Panic Room and the upcoming Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake, so I can’t really put him on the level of those original filmmakers either.

I thought about all this today with the news that Gareth Edwards, director of one of the underrated films of the year Monsters, is attached to make yet another version of Godzilla.  To me, it just seems like such a waste of talent.  Edwards has already made that movie and made it better because he didn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars at his disposal.  I couldn’t wait to see how he was going to follow up Monsters; now, I feel like shrugging.

The point is: do you think Terrence Malick would make a Batman movie?  Do you think Woody Allen would have directed Godzilla?  Is Harmony Korine ever going to make a movie like Harry Potter or Twilight?

What do you think, am I off-base here?  Who are some filmmakers who would never make a “sell out” film?


Best Albums of 2010

(Warning: this post is not about movies.  Proceed with caution.)

I don’t claim to have the same knowledge about music (historically or currently) that I do about movies.  (I am NOT an expert on music.)  But I do have a passion for listening to new music.  In fact, I find it damn near impossible to write anything without music playing in the background.  Music inspires me and I find the best lyricists today to be some of the best poets; writing poetry is difficult enough without having to set it to a particular beat or rhythm.  This year I spent a lot of time listening to music that was new to me, but wasn’t necessarily new, but I’m going to focus this list on albums that came out in 2010.  As a reference, my favorite artists of all-time are: David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, The Strokes, Nine Inch Nails, Beastie Boys, The Beatles, The Clash, The Doors, The Streets, Fiona Apple, and about a million others – but if you appreciate that cross-section, then you may or may not agree with my choices below.

(Note: I’m going strictly with LPs, but the best things I listened to this year was the EP by The Rassle and the music of Jared Evan.  Full Disclosure: the members of that band are some of my best friends and I’ve known Jared since he was 11.)

10.  Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

I wasn’t a particularly big fan of Arcade Fire‘s first two albums, finding them a bit meandering, pretentious and overly wrought.  I felt with this album, they had a focus which helped me connect to it on an emotional and visceral level; more than that, they created songs that really lingered.  Songs like “We Used to Wait” or “Sprawl II” evoked feelings of emptiness and nostalgia while “Month of May” is just a really good straight-up rock song.  Overall, as a band, I find them to be a bit boring but undeniably talented.  And while I didn’t love this album, at least I can finally see why everyone went nuts over them after Funeral.

9.  Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

Damon Albarn is just a twisted genius and with this album, he’s finally lifted Gorillaz to the same plateau as Blur.  At first, it seemed like Gorillaz would be a one-off gimmick, but now they seem more relevant than ever.  The two previous Gorillaz albums seems to be trying really hard to blend a lot of different styles of music, while Plastic Beach blends those genres seamlessly.  Cuts like “Stylo” and “Sweepstakes” get an assist from hip hop artist Mos Def and they flow incredibly well with a song like the hypnotic “Some Kind of Nature” with a guest vocal by the legendary Lou Reed.  Snoop Dogg, Mick Jones, and De La Soul also make appearances on this undeniably fun record.

8. Wavves – King of the Beach

I was a fan of Wavves last record, which relied heavily on “noise” and feedback and distorted vocals.  I was wondering if Nathan Williams, the man behind Wavves, would be a one-trick pony and if he’d continue to use those same noise elements in his sophomore record to hide his deficiencies.  Well, King of the Beach is a much cleaner album and Williams had nothing to hide.  This is an out and out beach record, as the album’s title suggests.  The title track, “Post Acid,” and “Super Soaker” just make you want to rock out with a few friends in the sand.  But what I found really fascinating were songs like “Linus Spacehead” and “Idiot” which are about alienation, loneliness, and depression.  The lyrics aren’t that incisive, but the way Williams sings them and the way he hides his emotions inside of “upbeat” songs, really resonated with me.

7.  Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I didn’t really care about Taylor Swift and I don’t particularly care that Kanye is brash and full of bravado.  Like any great artist, all that should matter is the art that they put out there.  And for me – as someone who listened exclusively to hip hop as a child but grew weary of the direction it went int – Kanye West is the only artist that matters in the rap game right now.  Nobody else sings about their own securities quite like he does and on this album, he puts it all out there.  He talks about getting cheated on, cheating, lying, what his dreams and fantasies are, the whole ballgame.  But what makes this record so special is that it isn’t derivative of anybody else’s work.  No other rapper would have the insight or the gall to sample an Aphex Twin track for a heartbreaking cut like “Blame Game.”  No other rapper would admit to his douchebaggery so candidly, as West does on “Runaway.”  And no other rapper would talk so insightfully about fame, as West does on “Power.”  People can talk all they want about Jay-Z‘s guest appearances or Nicki Minaj‘s insanely brilliant verse on “Monster,” but this is a peek inside the brain of a genius named Kanye West and he’s the first to admit that it’s not always pretty in there.

6. The Walkmen – Lisbon

I’ve always had a soft spot for The Walkmen.  “The Rat” is just one of those instant classic songs that brings me back to a time and a place of my youth and still resonates with me, almost a decade later.  I’ve admired a lot of their work, a song here and a song there, but I hadn’t found a complete album of theirs that I liked from start to finish.  Lisbon is not a perfect album – the last three tracks are shrug-worthy – but it’s so beautiful and evocative for two-thirds of it.  It opens up with the song “Juveniles” and the lament that, “You’re with someone else/tomorrow night/doesn’t matter to me” and it’s clear that this is a break-up album.  And it’s a heartbreaking one.  The stand-out track is in the middle of the album and it’s called “Stranded” with the gut-wrenching refrain of “And I’m stranded…and I’m starry-eyed.”  If you want to lay in bed and think about your past loves, this is the album for you.

5.  Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today

I don’t often agree with Pitchfork, but we’re definitely on the same page when it comes to “Round and Round” as the best song of the year.  That song just has such a perfect bridge and chorus that I would have put Ariel Pink’s album on here even if the rest of it sucked.  But the truth is that the rest of the album is almost as good.  Songs like “Fright Night” and “Beverly Kills” are just stellar.  Pink’s music might not be to everyone’s taste, but this is certainly his most accessible music.  There’s a nostalgic quality to his music, as if it comes from some undefined era in your childhood that you can’t quite place.  This album is like a mixtape you made when you were ten years old and just found again recently; all of the songs sound familiar, but you can’t quite sing along to them.  “Round and Round” is a nice entryway into the album for those who aren’t familiar with Ariel Pink’s style because it’s the poppiest song he’s ever recorded.  If you haven’t yet, then give it a listen.

4.  Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Social Network Soundtrack

For someone who claims to be a film-loving lunatic, I’m not the kind of nerd that plays the scores for movies all day long.  I think there are only a handful of scores that I actually bought and I think two of them were by Clint Mansell.  The problem for me is that I like to listen to music with lyrics.  I mean, I love classical music as much as the next person, but when I come home at the end of the day, I want the music to literally speak to me.  But, as I said earlier, I’m an enormous Nine Inch Nails fan and therefore, I’m a huge Trent Reznor fan.  This is the best score for a film since Jonny Greenwood’s compositions for There Will Be Blood and it’s some of the best music period that I’ve heard all year.  In between seeing the film in theaters and getting my screener, I found myself re-living the experience again and again by listening to the score; the music and the images are married together in such perfect harmony that I couldn’t help but picture scenes of Mark Zuckerberg created FaceMash juxtaposed with images of Final Club parties while listening to the masterful “In Motion” which could easily be an instrumental track on a NIN album.  And I certainly re-lived the regatta race scene again as I listened to Reznor and Ross’ electronic cover of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”  This is moving, soulful, and rocking music and it’s what every score should aspire to.  If this doesn’t win the Oscar for best musical score, I may throw a shoe at my television.

3.  LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

I really hope that James Murphy doesn’t make good on his promise that this, his third record, will be the last LCD Soundsystem album.  With each successive album, they are getting better and better and tighter and tighter.  The opening track, “Dance Yrself Clean” is such an assured, confident piece of music, lulling the listener into safety for the first three minutes until it explodes in a cacophony of bass, synth, and drums and all of a sudden your body is demanding that you move.  A lot of critics have made comparisons to David Bowie‘s Heroes, especially on “All I Want” and I think it’s an accurate assessment.  But songs like “I Can Change” are more reminiscent of early 80s New Wave groups like Devo than anything else.  But really, by the time you get to the finale “Home,” it’s pretty clear that LCD Soundsystem isn’t really like any other band.  Sure, they have influences and borrow some bits and pieces from the groups that have come before, but I can’t really think of any other band that sounds quite like them as a whole.  And I hope they continue to put albums, if only to see where they could possibly go from here.

2.  Best Coast – Crazy For You

A lot of people might point to some of the simplistic lyrics Bethany Cosentino uses as a sign that she’s not a talented songwriter.  I humbly disagree.  Yes, a lot of the lyrics are trite, but that doesn’t make them any less true.  And when she sings these pained lyrics with her soulful voice, it’s almost like they’ve never been sung before.  All of the songs on her first full-length album are, more or less, about wanting a guy, losing a guy, finding a guy, wishing a guy would like her, smoking pot, and her cat.  But the music is beachy (no surprise, she’s dating Wavves lead singer Nathan Williams) and fun, never allowing Bethany to mourn her situations for too long.  But the best thing Bethany has going for her is her humility; on tracks like “Bratty B” she talks about missing her boyfriend but then apologizing for being so needy.  One of the stand-out tracks for me is “I Want To” which starts out with the repetition of the line “I miss you so much” with the same chord plucked over and over again until  it erupts in a wave of emotion as she pleads for things to go back the way they used to be.  The single, “When I’m With You” is a good place for any newcomer to start, it’s a fun and yet poignant song about being lazy or crazy and having the best time with the person you love.  It’s a miracle that this wasn’t my favorite album of the year.

1. Vampire Weekend – Contra

I know, I know.  I hated them too.  Or, at least, I wanted to hate them too.  They seem so pretentious and posed, with their Ivy-League educations and well-to-do backgrounds, what could they possibly know about love and life and suffering?  Well, apparently a lot.  I gave this album a listen and was absolutely floored by it.  The depth of their lyrics, the boldness of the music, the way lead singer Ezra Koenig’s voice hits these amazing high notes – no, no, no, I can’t possibly be loving this band, could I?  Contra is the rare sophomore album that actually made me go back to the band’s first album and realize that I had them wrong all along.  Contra actually makes their debut album better because it shows that they are committed to a certain sound and style and they are capable of growth.  Most of their music happens to deal with rich kids with rich kid problems, but hell, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about rich people, it doesn’t make The Great Gatsby any less heartbreaking, does it?  The song I listened to the most this year is Vampire Weekend‘s epic “Diplomat’s Son” which is a six minute song about having a crush on your friend and the one night that the feelings are reciprocated.  A close second is the song “Run” which is about a couple growing older together and never leaving their mundane lives but keep telling each other that they could always run away.  At least, that’s what I think it’s about.  Like I said, the lyrics are deep and dense and there are many possible meanings.  People listen to the shake of the music and think that Vampire Weekend is just a silly little band, not realizing that what they are accomplishing is extremely difficult.  This is what rock should do: the music draws you close enough to pay attention to the lyrics, which add a whole other layer of enjoyment.  I’ve listened to Contra upwards of fifty times this year…I’m still enjoying new layers.

Okay, so what did I miss?  What should I have put on this list?


Top Ten TV Shows

I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie.  Aside from seeing an average of 150 new films of every year, I also watch a lot of television, listen to a lot of new music, and I read quite a lot of fiction.  As I begin the early preparations of my top ten films of the year list, I decided to give TV its due.  And to answer the critics who will inevitably shout about the ridiculousness of lists…well, I like them and I think they help provoke discussions and (friendly) arguments.  Hopefully my top ten shows of the year will do that.

I want to start by talking about one show you won’t see on this list: Lost.  It was, without a doubt, my favorite show on television while it was airing but I thought it completely crapped the bed.  It wasn’t just the finale, which clearly showed that the creators had no idea what they were doing, but the entire last season.  Within the first seconds of the new season, with Jack on the plane, I thought, “this is not where I want this to go.”  I will always love Lost for the enjoyment it gave me for the first five seasons, but anyone who defends the last season is completely deluding themselves.  I got choked up during the finale, only because it was super manipulative.  I didn’t expect answers to all of my questions, but I expected something that would have satisfied me in a more tangible way.  Every character spoke in vague generalities right down to the very end and I wanted something concrete…I think we all did.

(Note: I’m not including reality shows for two reasons.  1) It’s embarrassing to admit which reality shows I watch (coughRealWorldcough) and 2) I don’t really see the artistry in those shows (coughTopChefcough).)

Honorable Mention:

I really wanted to put Dexter on this list, but I can’t ignore the fact that the first two or three episodes fell flat and the season finale was incredibly disappointing.  Michael C. Hall was as fantastic as ever, but after last year’s killer season finale, this one seemed a little too easy.  Julia Stiles gave the show a new energy in the middle part of the season as Lumen and the deepening of her relationship with Dexter was the most enjoyable part of the season.  I hope she’ll be back next year and I hope the stakes are a bit higher.

I also would have loved to have put Weeds on the list, but I just think it’s petering out.  My biggest gripe with the show from the beginning has been that Nancy Botwin is one of the most despicable characters on television and certainly the worst mother.  I’ve grown tired of seeing her get painted into a corner only to find a way out only because I can no longer root for her to succeed.  Mary Louise-Parker is such a wonderful actress, but I think she needs to spread her wings with a different character.  Justin Kirk, however, still makes the show an entertainment.

30 Rock is still consistently funny every week, but is suffering from the problems that most sitcoms have as they mature: the characters become caricatures of themselves.  Rather than each of the cast members becoming a deeper and more nuanced character, they settle into certain personality traits that ultimately define them.  So Tracy is merely the wacky guy, Jenna the narcissistic actress, Jack the Republican, Liz the lonely gal, etc.  I tune in to every show and I laugh consistently, but I don’t care about the characters in any real way.  It’s like watching a cartoon.  A very funny one.

The Office is like hanging out with old buddies.  I know each of the characters so well that I feel like I know what they’re going to do in every given situation.  It’s a comfortable situation rather than one I tune in to for something mind-blowingly original and dazzling.  I think the show is running out of real stakes for these characters because there is no major conflict unless you count Michael and Holly or Andy and Erin, but those are lightweight issues compared to Jim and Pam’s courtship in the early seasons.  I still love it, but it’s not transcendent television any longer.

The first season of Eastbound and Down was pure gold from start to finish.  The second season finished stronger, but it started out of the gate a little bit slowly.  It took a while for the show to find its rhythm in Mexico, but once it got going (right around the time that Stevie shows up), it really took off.  The last episode was not only hilarious, but oddly poignant and it showed what a terrific actor Danny McBride can be when he wants to.  If only the first two episodes were as good.

Both Modern Family and Parenthood just missed this list because of  a last-second inclusion of something else.  Both of these shows are as funny as they are soul-soothing.  I know that I can flip these shows on and feel the need to call my own family.  Modern Family‘s Phil is proving to be one of the funniest characters on television thanks to a wonderful performance by Ty Burrell and Parenthood‘s Peter Krause holds that show together every week, just as he holds his family together.

Okay, so here’s the top ten:

10) Skins

Nothing gets under my skin (no pun intended) quite like the fact that MTV is re-making this wonderful British show.  The original is frank in its depictions of drugs, sex, and just being a damned teenager.  The fourth season of the show, which follows its second generation of teens, starts off with the suicide of a young girl after she takes some drugs.  The first episode seems to clear up the mystery of why and how, but the repercussions follow our main cast as the season ambles along.  This season falls apart towards the end, especially as Effy develops a strange relationship with her therapist, but it’s engaging enough throughout that we forgive its moments of silliness.  It’s certainly not on part with the first two seasons, mostly because the characters are not as likable and the actors not as charismatic, but it’s still better than most shows on American television.  Jack O’Connell as Cook really surprised me this season, taking a character that I did not care for in the first season and deepening it, making him the true hero of this generation of kids.

9) True Blood

If you think this show about vampires, werewolves, fairies and shifters is too silly, then I completely concur.  But if you can embrace the fact that it’s going to be ridiculous, then I think it’s one of the most entertaining shows on TV.  The political points it tries to hammer home are a bit on-the-nose, but otherwise this is a show that is not meant to be taken seriously.  It’s about watching these insanely beautiful people inhabit a strange world where sexual tension pervades every word and action.  I think Anna Paquin deserves a great deal of credit for being the guide that allows us to believe in this world for an hour every Sunday.  This is a soap opera, but a great one.

8) Louie

Louis C.K. is the funniest stand-up working today, but he’s a difficult person to cast in a television show.  He’s raunchy and dirty, but he brings a strange kind of sweetness to his comedy, a sweetness that is really buried in neuroses.  Lucky Louie was not the project for him because it pigeonholed him in an typical (yet ironic) sitcom.  With Louie, he gets to plumb the depths of his own psyche and he does it by writing and directing every episode; this is Louis C.K. through and through.  It’s a ballsy show too, that is comfortable with whole sections that are not designed to make you laugh.  I especially liked a scene where Louie shares a smoke with the dad of a bully on the steps of his Staten Island home; it’s not funny, but it’s true and it felt right.    With Curb Your Enthusiasm taking the year off, it’s a good thing we had Louie to take the “awkward comedy” reins.

7) Boardwalk Empire

This is a dense show that I think will grow into something gorgeous and even more complicated.  The first season did a wonderful job of giving us this ensemble of great characters that will hopefully be utilized even more in future seasons.  Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt do wonderful jobs of giving us characters that are duplicitous, murderous yet not evil.  Both men have charitable streaks, moments where they do incredibly loving things for the people they care for.  As the season progressed, though, I found myself completely engaged in two other characters: Chalky White and Richard Harrow.  Chalky, played deliciously by Michael K. Williams, is just flat-out awesome, doing what he needs to do for himself and his people.  Richard is just one of the most original and engaging creations on television, a man who lost half his face in the Great War and is now the most sensitive yet cold-blooded snipers ever.  Characters like this (and the ones played by Kelly MacDonald and Michael Stuhlbarg) make up for the fact that Paz de la Huerta is giving one of the most terrible performances I’ve ever witnessed in a great show.  I just don’t know what she – or the creators – are going for with that character, but she doesn’t resemble a rational human being in any way.

6) Bored to Death

Being an aspiring novelist living in New York City, I probably have a greater affinity for this show than most people.  But I will say that I didn’t like most of the first season, finding it off-putting and strained.  But it’s really come into its own in the second season by giving us more Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis.  More importantly, the show has done a good job of getting all three of the main characters together more often because that’s when the show really takes off.  Danson, especially, should be given every award there is for his performance as George Christopher, the perpetually stoned magazine editor and benefactor to Jonathan, our hero.  I think Jason Schwartzman also did a wonderful job of giving us a more sympathetic (emphasis on pathetic) portrait of a struggling author with a love for white wine.  The season started off with an episode in which Jonathan runs around Times Square with an S&M bodysuit on and ends with he and George going to smoke some pot; in between, there were moments of hilarity and startling poignancy.  Poignancy, you ask?  When George is headed off to surgery and the nurses asks him if Jonathan is his son, I was already in tears before he said, “Yes, yes he is.”

5) Saturday Night Live

Know what the worst opinion to have is?  “SNL hasn’t been funny since ________.”  That bothers me so much because it shows that whoever said that doesn’t know much about SNL.  Go back and watch those early “great” years of the show and you’ll see that was just as hit or miss as it is now.  The show was never consistently funny all the time, the skits always ran on too long, etc.  Then there’s “this cast sucks.”  People said the same thing when the cast had future superstars Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and Chris Rock or when Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon were on.  The point is that, yes, it sometimes misses the mark and there are off-shows, but when it’s on, it is the funniest live-action comedy show out there.  Between the Digital Shorts and Seth Meyers’ wonderful job on Weekend Update, SNL is still going strong and I’m still watching it (well, DVRing it) every Saturday.  If you disagree, then I suggest you go on Hulu and check out Bill Hader’s “Stefon” character who recurs on Weekend Update from time to time…pure deranged genius.

4) Friday Night Lights

This is not a show about football.  I’ve had so many friends of mine who aren’t sports fans tell me about how they have no interest in “a show about football.”  It’s a show about a town, a family, a group of friends and they just happen to be connected to each other through football.  Sure there are scenes of games, but they are way less dramatic than the intimate moments between people.  This season, the show has taken a drastic turn with Coach Taylor stuck with the newly formed East Dillon High football team and we just know that there’s going to be a showdown with his old squad, the Dillon Panthers.  This season took a cue from Necessary Roughness, where there is no shot the team is going to win the championship but you just hope they can stick it to the bad guys.  However, the heart of this show has always been about Coach and his wife Tami, who are the greatest married couple on TV and played expertly by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.  Also, Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) is still around breaking and mending hearts wherever he goes; he’s the character that I’ve become more drawn to as the seasons pass, a different take on the reformed bad boy who is not quite reformed but not that bad.  This season introduces new characters and brings back old ones and its to the show’s credit that it all meshes seamlessly.  I wish that this upcoming season (currently airing on DirecTV) wasn’t its last because I can see how it could go on forever…at least as long as Coach and Tami stick around.

3) In Treatment

This is just such a fantastic example of how great writing plus great acting equals a great show.  There are no elaborate sets or special effects, just two people talking in a room and the dramatic tension within those conversations.  Gabriel Byrne’s Paul is an unusual therapist who gets close with his patients and the way in which he aligns with the people he treats is one of the big themes this season.  Irrfan Khan, who has always been an underrated and fantastic actor, absolutely kills it as Sunil this season – a man who is living with his son and his son’s family in the States and the friction between he and his daughter-in-law.  Debra Winger’s episodes weren’t as strong for me, but I thought she was good in them.  I didn’t respond to the “Jesse” episodes early in the season because he seemed like such a brat, but as I continued with it they became some of my favorites and it’s in no small part due to Dane DeHaan’s complicated and conflicted portrayal.  But this season for me was all about Paul’s relationship with his new therapist Adele, played by the uber-talented Amy Ryan.  The episodes start off by turning the “Gina” sessions from the previous two seasons on their head, making us question the ethics of Dianne Wiest’s character.  Then, of course, the complexion of Paul and Adele’s counseling changes and we veer off into unexpected (although not uncharted) territory for this show.  The last episodes weren’t as satisfying as they have been in the past – nothing is really resolved – but I’m hopeful that HBO will renew it for another season.  There may not be a large number of In Treatment fans (although there should be), but we are passionate and loyal.

2) Archer

Hands down the funniest show on television.  It took me a while to watch this animated show on FX, but when I did it absolutely floored me.  I’m not the kind of person that laughs out loud a lot when I’m alone, but this show had me crying from laughter and my neighbors must have thought I was insane.  The show follows the most self-centered and hilariously deranged secret agent, Sterling Archer, who works at an agency called ISIS that is run by his mother Mallory Archer.  I don’t really know where to go from here because I don’t want to ruin a single second of this show for those of you haven’t seen it, but I’ll just say that H. Jon Benjamin does incredible voice work as the titular character and Arrested Development alums Jessica Walter and Judy Greer (as well as Jeffrey Tambor) also do excellent work.  I’ve been quoting this show non-stop since I saw it – the humor is really quite insane, especially when it’s derived from the relationship Archer has with his butler Woodhouse.  Here’s an example and if you don’t find these this type of humor funny then it might not be for you:

Archer: I have to go. But if I find one single dog hair when I get back, I’ll rub… sand… in your dead little eyes.
Woodhouse: Very good, sir.
Archer: [pause] I also need you to buy sand.
Woodhouse: Yes, sir.
Archer: I don’t know if they grade it, but… coarse.

1) Mad Men

The funny thing about putting these two shows together is that the style of the clothes in Archer is heavily based on the clothes in Mad Men and Archer is kind of a dead-ringer for Don Draper himself.  But, there is no longer any doubt in my mind that Mad Men is the best show on television right now and is possibly in the running for greatest television show of all time.  That is not just hyperbole either; I honestly can’t think of another show that has been this dense and this beautifully crafted.  This season of the show could be called “MadMan.”  It  puts Don Draper in a new office with a new apartment, having moved out following his divorce from Betty, and in the early going he does not handle it well.  Gradually, Don tries to become a better and healthier person.  By the end of the season he is engaged and we’re left wondering if he’s really made any strides at all.  The episode where Don and Peggy spend the night arguing as they try to figure out the ad slogan for Samsonite is certainly one of the best in the show’s history, but I think the season finale is even better.  When Don travels to Disneyland and he sees his secretary Megan cleaning up a spilled milkshake with a smile instead of the scowl that Betty would have worn, it’s one of the greatest moments in the show because no dialogue needs to be spoken for us to understand what is happening.  Everybody at that table, including Don’s kids, has a revelation in that moment, but it’s a subtle one.  And it’s moments like that that make Mad Men such a wonderful show, the way it doesn’t feel the need to spell out its intentions, giving us the benefit of the doubt.  It doesn’t talk down to us and it doesn’t talk at us, it asks us to pay close enough attention so that we can make the most out of our experience of watching it.  The agony of waiting another eight months for a new episode is excruciating.


127 Hours (Dir. Danny Boyle)

127 Hours is, so far, my pick for the most overrated movie of the year.

Don’t get me wrong, 127 Hours is not a bad film, it’s just one that doesn’t really strike me as having a particular point of view or an interest in characterization.  For some folks, that won’t be an issue, they’ll walk into the film wanting to see a man stuck in a perilous situation for an hour and change and then cut his arm off.  For those folks, that will be enough and they’ll walk out satisfied.  But for me, I need arcs, I need characters, I need to walk out of a film knowing more than when I walked into it.

I don’t know Aron Ralston any better now that I’ve seen a movie about him than I did before I walked into it.  Before the film started, I knew him as the guy who cut his arm off because he was trapped in a crevice for five days, his arm pinned by a rock.  Now that I’ve seen the film and had a day to digest it, I will still think of him in the exact same way.  He is still nothing but a fascinating symbol of the human will for survival.

And all of that is fine and dandy, except that a film is an opportunity to shape that symbol into a character and bring him into focus.  Danny Boyle instead eschews traditional narrative tropes that would have worked to the film’s benefit, instead just giving us minute after minute of James Franco screaming and gasping and slowly dying of thirst.  And while I admire Boyle’s courage in trying to make an interesting movie about this struggle, I don’t think he completely hits the mark.

Imagine Into the Wild, except the entire film is set in the “magic bus” at the end of the film.  After all, that part of Chris McCandless’ life is what brought him to our attention to begin with; had he not died in that bus, nobody would have known who he was.  But instead, the film travels back to give us a picture of how this character came to get to that bus, what drove him as a person.  As a result, when McCandless dies, we feel we have known this character and feel the loss of him.  Conversely, in 127 Hours, we don’t feel like we know Aron Ralston at all, so we he finally decides to cut his arm off, I didn’t feel the film earned that moment.  I didn’t understand what that moment meant to Ralston or what it was supposed to mean to us beyond the surface act of actually doing it.

The film gives us snippets of Ralston’s life, of how he doesn’t return his mother’s calls and his fractured relationship with a girlfriend.  But I’m not sure what these snippets signify other than that Ralston had lived a fairly normal life and had fairly ordinary motivations to get out of this situation.  This would have been the film’s opportunity to deepen the characterization of Aron by deepening his relationships with the people around him.  One could say that, “oh, but what if those relationships were boring in real-life?”  Well, this is a fictionalized account of what happened, the film therefore has license to change things around in order to fit the screen in a more interesting way.  That is the difference between feature and documentary filmmaking, the ability to shift the truth (and some would argue that documentary does the same thing).  I guarantee you that there are many elements of 127 Hours that were completely made up, but even if Boyle didn’t want to invent something entirely that would make Aron’s past more interesting, I’m sure there must have been something already there.  Human beings are inherently complicated, I’m sure there was something in Aron’s past that would capture our attention and make us care more about his plight.

Instead the first half of the film is especially trying to watch because it’s, frankly, boring.  After the initial fall in the crevice, all I was thinking was, “how long until he cuts off his damned arm?” because much of the running time is focused on Aron chipping away at the rock with the knife he eventually uses to do the deed.  There are a few good moments where Aron talks to the camcorder he brought with him (the best moment in the film is probably the “talk show scene”), but I didn’t like the fake “escape” sequence.  If you have to pad your running time by including a five minute long scene that didn’t actually happen, then you might want to think about how to better structure your film.

James Franco is good in the role, but I don’t understand the unanimous acclaim for his performance because I don’t know what he does that another (good) actor couldn’t have done.  The role doesn’t demand that much from its actor other than to scream a lot; there are very few choices that an actor could make that would change the complexity of the character.  If you had replaced Franco with, say, Jake Gyllenhaal, would the film/performance be vastly different?  Franco was certainly convincing in the role, probably his best performance to date, but I’m not convinced of its greatness, especially in a year with so many fantastic lead performances.

As for Danny Boyle, I suppose this is the kind of film you’re allowed to make after you win an Oscar, but I was disappointed with a lot of the visual “tricks” he used in order to keep the story entertaining.  A lot of the close-ups of the water being drunk reminded me of Aronofsky’s work in Requiem for a Dream, only not done as effectively.  I always found that Boyle has had a lot of trouble with the endings of his films (besides Shallow Grave and Trainspotting) and at least here, he found one with a ready-made perfect ending.

The scene of the actual arm-cutting itself wasn’t as disgusting as I anticipated it would be.  Blood doesn’t have the same effect it once did, but the moments where he has to break the bone and then cut through nerve endings were powerfully rendered.

But I got the feeling as the film went on, careening towards its inevitable conclusion that I was essentially watching a snuff film minus the death.  There are some that would be excited by that prospect, but I’m not one of them.



I’m a little late on giving thanks, but I do have quite a few things to be thankful for this year.  First and foremost is you, my loyal readers, who make it worthwhile for me to spend time in front of my laptop for hours at a time.  I know a lot of you by name from our e-mails back and forth, others I just know are there, and most I hope to hear from in the future.  With the new format here, I’m excited to be able to communicate with you in the comments.  Anyway, thank you for thinking that my silly scribbling is worth your time.

I’m thankful for David Poland for continuing to give me more space in his center of the internet universe and for Kim Voynar for painstakingly editing all of my columns and making me look good every week.  And of course, the rest of the MCN staff (Pride, Dretzka, Pratt, Wilmington, Klady) who I’m honored to see my name next to on bylines.

I’m thankful for all of the great movies I see every year and for those that I’ve yet to see.  This year I’m especially thankful for David Fincher’s The Social Network, which continues to impress me every time I think of its various accomplishments.  Fincher has firmly established himself as one of the top three or four directors in the field, someone whom I will gladly line up for, despite the projects he chooses.  I have no doubt that his remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be vastly superior to the mediocre and overpraised Swedish version.

I’m thankful for the great performances this year by Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), Rachel Weisz (Agora), George Clooney (The American), Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right), Robert Duvall (Get Low), Tilda Swinton (I Am Love).  These actors are almost always worth watching and this year, they were especially convincing in their roles.

I’m thankful that Steven Spielberg finally got the cojones required for him to make his long-gestating Lincoln biopic.  But I’m even more thankful that Daniel Day Lewis has replaced Liam Neeson in the title role.  I’ve gone on record more than a few times that I think DDL is the greatest living actor (and it’s not even close).  He works so rarely, so the fact that he’s taken time out to make this film leads me to believe that this will be one of Spielberg’s “good” projects.  I’m certainly more excited to see this than Robopocalypse and Tintin.

I’m thankful that I’m still surprised by the movie industry sometimes, like when I heard that Francis Ford Coppola was secretly filming a horror movie called Twist Now and Sunrise with Val Kilmer (my favorite actor for much of my young adult years), who badly needs a reclamation project.  After Coppola’s last film, Tetro, which I thought was a masterpiece, I have high hopes for this one.  It’ll also be nice to see the best young actor you’ve never heard of on screen again (Alden Ehrenreich).

I’m thankful that I still have so many gaps in my movie-watching history, allowing me to see films like Rocco and His Brothers for the first time.  It gives me comfort to know that there are thousands of great films out there, waiting for me to discover them.

I’m thankful for my favorite filmmakers: Lukas Moodysson, Arnaud Desplechin, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Rebecca Miller, The Coen Brothers, Michael Haneke, Gus Van Sant, Steven Soderbergh, Noah Baumbach, Sidney Lumet, Todd Field, Darren Aronofsky, Alfonso Cuaron, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, Larry Clark, Harmony Korine, Lars von Trier, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Terrence Malick, Judd Apatow, Susanne Bier, Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell, Mike Nichols, Walter Salles, Alexander Payne, Jonathan Demme, Sofia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola, Jim Sheridan, Gabriele Muccino, Peter Weir, Fernando Meirelles, Danny Boyle, Roman Polanski, Spike Jonze, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Winterbottom, Cameron Crowe, James L. Brooks, Alejandro Amenabar, David Wain, John Cameron Mitchell, Julian Schnabel, Curtis Hanson, Stephen Frears, Sam Mendes, Doug Liman, Frank Darabont, the Wachowskis, Milos Forman, Whit Stillman, Ang Lee, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, and so many more that I’ve forgotten.

For all those who think “they just don’t make ’em like they used to,” I’d like them to take a look at the list above and name me a time when so much talent was behind the camera at the same time.  These filmmakers give me so much to be thankful for, whether I enjoy their films or not; because I know at the end of the day, they make films that I’m glad to have seen.

I could go on about the great things in my own life, from wonderful friends to an amazing family, but each and every one of those people knows how truly thankful I am to have them.

The single thing I’m most thankful for, though?  The feeling of walking into a film, expecting greatness, every single time.  Hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

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Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams Interview

I saw Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer on an airplane a few months after it came out.  As soon as it came out on DVD, I knew I had to watch it again, to get a better feel for the complexities of this tightly-wound thriller.  It held up and it continues to hold up as one of the better films released this year.  So when I had the opportunity to talk to Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams about their experience making the film and working with a master filmmaker like Polanski, I jumped at it.

Williams is a woman that every geek fell in love with in Rushmore and has done solid work ever since, while Brosnan has made some fascinating choices since hanging up the James Bond tuxedo nearly a decade ago.  They filled me in on working with Polanski, working with each other, and gave me some info about their upcoming films.

Olivia Williams: Sorry, I’m not very good at these three-way things.

Noah Forrest: Yeah, I feel like the ringleader of a strange carnival.  But I wanted to start by saying that I liked The Ghost Writer a lot and I wanted to congratulate you on that.

Pierce Brosnan: Thank you.

Olivia Williams: Thanks.

Noah Forrest: I wanted to ask both of you whether you came to this film because of the material or for the chance to work with a director like Roman Polanski?  And I guess we’ll ask Olivia first.

Olivia Williams: Oh, that feels all wrong.

Pierce Brosnan: It’s exactly right, Olivia.

Olivia Williams:  Well, it would have to be a combination.  I would have worked with Roman in pretty well anything, but I was very, very lucky that it was this character.  And I completely responded to her immediately.  Not least, without giving too much away, but I had Roman Polanski working very hard on my own denouement.  So I feel consider myself very lucky and privileged to have worked with him and got to play this.

Pierce Brosnan: You had Roman working on your what, Olivia?

Olivia Williams:  My own dénouement.  Maybe that’s arrogance to call it that, but it felt like that.

Pierce Brosnan: Oh no, not at all.  [Pause] For me, it was definitely working with Roman.  He’s such an iconic figure on the landscape, so when I got the call – when I was in London – to go have lunch with him, I hopped on the train and had a most delightful three hour lunch with this great man.  And luckily I had a wonderful part to play as well.

Noah Forrest: And did you and Olivia know each other before filming began or was this the first time you had met?

Pierce Brosnan: It was the first time we met.

Olivia Williams:  We have some mutual friends, so I had heard he was delightful, but that can always be a lie in Hollywood.

Pierce Brosnan: We were on that wonderful island, Sylt, and I got a call and knew she was coming in the afternoon and I got a call from her saying, “Let’s have dinner.  I’d like to have dinner and talk.”  So we hit the ground running.

Olivia Williams:  I felt that we should at least have dinner, considering we were supposed to have been married for twenty-five years. [Laughs]

Noah Forrest:  It’s the least you could do, I guess… [Laughs]

Olivia Williams:  I’m not much of a method actor, but I felt that was a good place to get started.

Noah Forrest:  It’s interesting because you are playing husband and wife, but you don’t share much screen time with one another.  So is it difficult to come up with an idea of who your spouse is or what your marriage is if you don’t get to develop that on screen?  Or do you have to develop that off screen?

Olivia Williams:  I’m not being facetious when I say that the dinner was actually very useful for that, to have a sort of genial time before we started sniping at each other.  A lot of it, for me, was set up because I pestered poor Robert Harris with e-mails and he wrote this wonderful paragraph of things to heed of, that I have to love my husband though it seems in many ways that I’m using him.

Noah Forrest:  Well, I think that’s a tough kind of line you both have to balance – giving hints away without giving everything away.  And I guess you have to rely on the other actors to do the same.  So was the difficult for you to know what your character is, without letting the audience know immediately.

Pierce Brosnan:  Well, not in my case, I don’t think.  I feel that he’s a man about to burst, his brain’s open (and he finally gets his brains blown out) because he knows that he’s in a damaged relationship and its been like this for some time.  The wolves are at the door for him and the long knives are out and he’s hanging by a thread, he’s a very pathetic character.  When he sits on the sofa and he feebly asks, “What would you do?”  It’s the ultimate humiliation.  He succumbs to that.  Olivia is so strong in her work, she cuts like a knife with her performance…it made me feel great in my own sick way about this character.

Olivia Williams:  Having two really tough women fighting over him, having two lionesses protecting him, and the moment when – I think we’re talking about the same scene on the sofa – essentially Ruth says, I bow out, take him with you.  Drama film is about people at the extreme of their lives and you meet all these people when they’re already up against it.  You’re introduced to Ruth, she’s screaming and slamming the door…she’s already behaving just about as badly as any of us ever will.  And then it cranks up.  That’s what Roman does – he just keeps on cranking you up and cranking you up.  And that was such a pleasure to act.

And, as you say, playing one thing and doing another.  There’s a trend in scripts of people saying what they feel all the time and that’s not as much fun as an actor, it’s much more fun to say one thing and do something else.

Noah Forrest:  Well, it’s much more true to life that way, I think.  Often, we’re not saying what we feel.  But Pierce, you bring up that scene which is so wonderful because it exposes what is supposed to be one of the great leaders of the world and he’s really just a sad man at the end of the day.  I think the message there is very subtle, yet direct and I really admired that about the film.  Were you wary of being Tony Blair?  Because there were so many allusions – namely, being the former Prime Minister.  I was wondering if that was something you were fearful of?

Pierce Brosnan:  No, I wasn’t fearful of that.  Roman sort of released me from that on our first lunch.  I said, “Am I playing Tony Blair?  Because it’s already been done brilliantly by Michael Sheen.”  He said, “No, you’re not playing Tony Blair.”  Which made absolutely sense because whatever I did it would turn out to be Tony Blair anyway.  All roads lead to Tony Blair.  Robert Harris is a good friend of his as well.

I did look at Tony Blair’s work as Prime Minister, I watched his speeches.  But I didn’t try to indicate or play this fellow.

Olivia Williams:  You got the grin, Pierce.

Pierce Brosnan:  I got the grin, I got the grin.  I used it once.

Olivia Williams:  And the sadness killed me.  I think you’re talking about the moment, Noah, that I loved when the Ghost says, “It looks like Rycart Publishing set all this up.”  And Pierce says, “Can you ask them to stop?”  Because there was such sadness and powerlessness in that moment.

Noah Forrest:  The thing is, I don’t think you’re playing Tony Blair.  I just asked that because I think you sidestep a lot of traps that one could fall in.  And I think it was well-done that you managed to create this character that was uniquely its own.

Pierce Brosnan:  Well, he’s an actor.  He’s a born actor.  You take the emblems of the script.  He’s really this fellow with Peter Pan syndrome.  He plays at being the Prime Minister, he’s a puppet.

Olivia Williams:  That’s a brilliant phrase, actually, “the emblems of a script.” There were some things about the Blairs that were very important to honor to make the script work.  And one of them was what Pierce was saying, the fact that he was the charismatic one, the one that people immediately responded to and loved of the two.

Noah:  It’s almost an interesting feminist take on it because this really takes that saying of “Behind every great man is a woman” to its logical extreme.  But I wanted to ask both of you – I mean, Roman Polanski is one of my favorite directors and he’s kind of renowned for being a controlling filmmaker.  Did you find that to be so?

Pierce Brosnan: I had a baptism by fire with the fellow.  My first day’s work was really my last scene with the character – it was on the airplane, on the jet.  I walked straight into this vortex of Polanski and after that day’s work, he left me alone.  I could see him get twitchy and I could feel his energy and I think we were all on our game because you just don’t want to get found out by Roman.  You don’t want to have this guy coming up to you saying, [in Polish accent] “Why do you do it like this?  Why?  Why?”  [Laughs]

Olivia Williams:  Well, the point is that he’s worthy of being one of your favorites because there’s nothing accidental on that set.  Nothing has happened by accident.  It’s happened because Roman has seen it in his head and he wants it to be there.  And therefore he really deserves the title of a great director or a great auteur.  It is a terrifying experience to work with, but we were all in.  As Ewan [McGregor] used always said, “You can argue with him, but he’s right, you do it his way and the whole machine works.”  If you rebel, the machine doesn’t work.  For him, filmmaking is very painful.  The man is in quite a lot of pain most of the time, it feels like.

Pierce Brosnan:  Especially when he can’t get the right lens.  [Laughs]

Olivia Williams:  And when it’s not right, he actually said to us that he closes his eyes and sees in his head this model vision.  And he’s trying to force everyone and every object there to recreate that vision.  I would be really upset if what I’m saying makes him sound like a difficult person to work with because that doesn’t come into it.  There is a vision and we must all try to make it happen and then you, the viewing audience, will see what this man has created in his head.

Pierce Brosnan:  You get a lot more from his camera, from the positioning.  As you work on a scene, he will really take time to find the best dramatic angle.  In relation to what is Olivia is saying, he really takes the time.  That day when we were on the airplane, I was ready to go and Ewan was ready to go, it’s a six or seven page scene.  But he spent the morning, as we sat there, just finding the angle.  He worked backwards and forwards, backwards and forward.  You could feel him generating this energy and you’re thinking, “Well Christ, I’m here, Ewan’s across from me, just put the camera here and shoot it.”  But, he didn’t.  He spent the morning looking at the guns, looking at the laptops, dealing with the props…

Olivia Williams:  He never quite recovered from the disappointment of never finding the right slippers for under the bed.

Pierce Brosnan:  Oh really?  [Laughs]

Olivia Williams:  And he was angry to the end of shooting and beyond that these slippers weren’t disgusting enough to be an old man’s abandoned slippers.  And Ewan said that he brought him hundreds of wheelie suitcases that the Ghost carries with him in every scene, that wheelie suitcase had to be right.  That matters to him as much as an actor, almost.  Would you agree?

Pierce Brosnan:  I would whole-heartedly agree.  He gets involved in every detail, the squib, the blood going off in my head, the bullet wound…But it was an exhilarating experience to work with him and I would go out again, in a heartbeat, to work with him.

Noah Forrest:  Does this aspect of his, where he’s very demanding and exacting, does that carry over to your performance as well?  Like he does he do line-readings?

Pierce Brosnan:  Yes.

Noah Forrest:  Oh really?

Olivia Williams:  I would call it a demonstration.

Pierce Brosnan:  A demonstration.  My line, I remember, “Give my ghost a Calvados,” I mean he had so many variations on that.  I tried.  I said, “I’ll try my best,” but it always sounded like I had a Polish accent, so it didn’t work.

Olivia Williams:  It’s interesting because you’d resent it if he wasn’t right.  I made some objections and wanted to change some stuff in the dinner scene and he said, “No, I’ve eaten this meal.”  The food was designed around the scene.  What we ate, the way it looked, how long it took to chew it.  And so, to go in and say, “My character wouldn’t say that,” actually insults the amount of work and preparation that went into it.

Pierce Brosnan:  Did he really say that about the food?

Olivia Williams:  He really did, he absolutely did.  He literally said we timed the scene.  I wanted to make a line shorter and he said, no, I timed it.

Noah Forrest:  Wow.

Olivia Williams:  But he said that he and Robert had actually made the meal and had eaten it when they were writing it.

Pierce Brosnan:  Oh my.

Noah Forrest:  That’s pretty exacting, yeah.

Olivia Williams:  I was kicking against it and I was trying to bring something of myself to the playing of the character, but after he explained his process, I backed off.  “Let me do anything I can to recreate your vision.”  And that was the pleasure of it.  The pleasure wasn’t to kick against it, but to give yourself entirely over to his process because that’s when you “get it” with him, I believe.

Noah Forrest:  I suppose there’s a certain school of directors who believe that acting is an act of submission.  That’s gotta be so difficult for an actor to get to that point, where they’re willing to trust the director.

Olivia WilliamsWell the fact that he has such a track record and he’s not 24 is working in his favor.  I think if most 24 year olds tried to do that with their actors, they’d get kicked in the teeth.  But I think there’s too much of a fashion possibly with directors who are saying, “That was great, do you think maybe possibly you might mind trying it this way…”  And I think if you’re going to have directorial greatness, you need to be…You know, Wes Anderson who I worked with, he’s also exacting but in a different way.

Noah Forrest:  Well, I was going to ask you about Wes Anderson because Rushmore was the first film that I saw you in.  I think I was 15 or 16 when it came out and I was so totally blown away by it and I was going to ask you if they had a similar process because he seems very precise as well.

Olivia Williams:  They couldn’t be more different as people, but there is definitely a comparison to be made in how exacting they are and how clear their vision is.  I worked with Wes when he was very young and starting out and I think it’s interesting that he had such a pleasure with puppets on Fantastic Mr. Fox because he can really make them do exactly what he wants.  [Laughs]  And that is said with love.

Noah Forrest:  And Pierce, I’ve been following your career for a long long time.  I remember seeing The Lawnmower Man when was I was very young and being like, “That guy is gonna be a star!”  But I think it’s interesting the direction your career has taken because it seems like you’ve built up this image and you’ve spent the past decade kind of slyly subverting it with movies like The Matador or The Tailor of Panama.  And even now with The Ghost Writer.  I was wondering if that’s a conscious decision on your part of if these just happened to be the roles you found most attractive?

Pierce Brosnan:  It’s 50-50 really.  You set your intentions to do something, like I did when I came here in 1981, which was to be as successful as I possibly could be in movies.  Well, I got a TV series.  Beggars can’t be choosers, so I ran with that for all it was worth.  And of course, doing Remington Steele, I created this image for myself that ultimately led to James Bond.  So, you find yourself painted into a corner, so you have to find your way out and find parts that will lend themselves to your own creativity and potential.  So yes, there’s certainly a conscious effort to re-mold, re-define, change.  I believe I can play more than one character, so hopefully one can play more than one note.  So that’s the task at hand, always has been.  You know, I’ve managed to stay employed throughout this career.  I’m really a working actor and I’m always happy to go to work.   I don’t like trying to toil over the next direction of where I should go.  Sometimes I’ve just had to work to feed my family.  It hasn’t always been the work I want, but I’m working and that’s the greatest joy for any actor: to work.  And you have to have patience.  So it’s nice to make twists, to make sharp left turns. The Matador was certainly a wonderful experience and one that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t make it myself, because you get pigeonholed.  People don’t take risks, so that’s why having one’s own company or having a partner as I do in Beaumarie St. Clair at Irish DreamTime, it’s been the most exhilarating and exciting work for me.

Noah Forrest:  And both of you have exciting movies on the horizon.  Pierce, you have Salvation Boulevard coming out next year.  And Olivia, you’ve got Hanna, which is Joe Wright’s next film.  So is there anything either of you can share with us about those films?

Pierce Brosnan:  We went back out to the desert there a month or so ago to put an added scene on it, which I hear works like gangbusters and that’s as much as I know.  I haven’t spoken to anyone about it.  George Ratliff is directing from a book with the same title; Ed Harris, Greg Kinnear and myself.  Just wasn’t enough of Greg.  We kicked the movie off and then it goes off in different directions.  I had a great time doing it.  It was wonderful to be with Greg again.

Noah Forrest:  Well you and Greg Kinnear had great chemistry in The Matador.  And Olivia, what can you tell us about Hanna?

Olivia WilliamsIt was interesting movie from Polanski to Wright.  He’s another director with an extraordinary vision.  It feels like it’s happening much more on the set, his vision and gift.  This film is so many things.  The script just jumped out, I loved the script.  It’s part assassin thriller, it’s part road movie.  I’m in the road movie section of it, so I was driving a huge hippie truck around Morocco with Jason Flemyng and Saoirse Ronan.  She’s astonishing.  I have quite a small part in it, but I was like, come on, this kid is gonna be trouble.  She was so phenomenal in Atonement and she was only 12, now she’s gonna be 16 and a pain in the ass. [Laughs]  She’s absolutely delightful, humble, beautiful.  When she turned those blue eyes on me, I was like, “Okay, you’re gonna be a huge star.”  And Cate Blanchett, you just can’t argue with her…you really can’t argue with her, it’s very difficult.  [Laughs]  I haven’t seen it, but I can’t wait.

Noah Forrest:  Well, I’m gonna get you guys out of here on this question, which is what I ask everyone before they leave: what is your favorite film of all-time?

Olivia Williams:  Pierce, you go first, give me time to think!

Pierce Brosnan:  [Rushing]  Uh, um, There Will Be Blood!

Noah Forrest:  That’s a good one!

Olivia Williams: The Man Who Would Be King.

Noah Forrest:  That’s another great one.  Two wonderful choices.  Well thanks to the both of you.  I really appreciate this.

Olivia: Thank you.

Pierce Brosnan:  Okay, I’ll see you later tonight Olivia.  Noah, goodbye!

My Interview With Tilda Swinton

Yesterday I had the immense pleasure of speaking with the lovely and talented Tilda Swinton.  I recently caught up with her performance in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love and was rather moved by it.  By any standard, Swinton is award-worthy for the tamed intensity she brings to the part.  It’s a melodramatic film, but one that definitely has a bolder artistic vision than the average melodrama.

Speaking with Ms. Swinton by phone yesterday, she had a lot to say about how the film was made and such, but what I was most struck by was how warm she was.  Often, she is cast as a cold figure, so I was surprised by the tenderness of her voice.  I would ordinarily upload this as a podcast, but the quality of my taping wasn’t easy to listen to, so I’ve transcribed it for you.

Tilda: Hi Noah.

Noah: Hi Tilda.  I just wanted to say, first of all, I’m an enormous fan.  I’ve been a big fan of yours since I saw The War Zone when I was 17.

Tilda: Thank you very much.

Noah: I Am Love, I just saw it yesterday and I was really impressed by it.  And I was just so curious how you became involved in the film and what attracted you to this particular story and this particular character?

Tilda: Well, Noah, as you may or may not know, this film is something that came out of my relationship with Luca Guadagnino.  It’s something we devised together.  We started talking about a film like this about 11 years ago and we started building up the narrative about 7 or 8 years ago.  It was a film that we talked for a long time before we had any idea about what the milieu of the story might be, about the kind of film in which melodrama would slip into tragedy somewhere along the line.  And a film that I would call “sensational,” that wouldn’t be particularly dialogue-based, a film that worked on all sorts of “language of cinema” levels.

We had made an essay-film together about 7 or 8 years ago called The Love Factory, which is an interview between Luca and I, in which he talks to me and it’s just a close-up on me.  And during the course of this conversation, we talked about love.  And afterwards, when we were editing the film, we decided to take this idea, the germ of this concept of a revolutionary love in the life of a woman who I would play and we would place that at the heart of the narrative.  So that was the first we had, this woman who I would play who would come across some kind of revolution in her life based on love.  Thereafter, we started to think that she would be some kind of alien in some kind of milieu that she hadn’t been born into.  It was a time when we didn’t know it would necessarily be set in Italy, but fairly soon we decided to set it in Italy.

It took longer to work out where she was going to come from, but at a certain point she became Russian.  Not only because we were reading a lot of Tolstoy at the time [Laughs] but also because we worked out that because we wanted to set the film in this very kind of haute bourgeois milieu in Milan, we wanted to set it at the highest point of milieu, which is about ten years ago at the start of the century.  And so if you go backwards from that, that makes her a Soviet Russian and we wanted her to come from a world that she could never return to.  So all of these things, it kind of became a detective story, working out how things had to be in order for the feeling to be right.  So it took a while.

Noah:  In a sense, you’re kind of an alien to this material as well because you’re playing a Russian who is playing an Italian…

Tilda:  Yeah.

Noah:…so I think that’s very interesting.  It did remind me a bit of Anna Karenina in a lot of ways…

Tilda:  Yeah…yeah.

Noah:…but it actually reminded me a lot of the Kubrick film, Barry Lyndon, which is one of my favorite films.

Tilda: Not only because Marisa Berenson is in it [Laughs].

Noah: [Laughs] Right, I was going to say, Marisa Berenson being in it really brought that home.  But just because every shot is so deliberately composed.  And I was wondering, as an actor, do you feel it gives you more or less freedom when the frame is so, uh, composed.  I mean, when it’s so fixed?  Because it seems like every shot is so well-staged that I was wondering if you like to be able to roam around or is it good to know the constraints of the frame?

Tilda: I mean, to be honest with you: you always know what the constraints of the frame are whether the camera is hand-held or not.  It’s always important to work very closely with the camera because the camera’s all you got really, frame is everything.  So if the frame is fixed, as you say, and very iconic, that tells you absolutely how you’re going to operate within it.  But by the same token, if you’re being followed by a hand-held camera, that’s also a constraint if you like.  That’s also a dance.  One of the things that we really wanted to do from the very beginning was to approach a film about rich people in a kind of humanistic way.  Very often – and I know this from working on a film called Orlando with Sally Potter, which was also about rich people in a humanistic way – there’s a sort of mesmerism that seems to happen when you make a film about rich people, like the camera gets sent into a sort of sleep.  Very often, people find themselves grinding to a halt, filming in a very theatrical, static way.  And we wanted to play with this, so that we would have the possibility of being back in a very cinematic way, having long wide-shots so you actually get the full milieu.  But then at the same time we wanted the camera to be quite free so that it would also be able to come in very closely and be round the back of someone’s ear or under someone’s armpit or actually very, very close to their features so that you could see them as humans and not just as some theatrical animals on a set.  And this is one of the reasons that we worked with Yorick Le Saux, who is this great cinematographer who I worked with on Julia and who I introduced Luca to, who had that capacity to be on the one hand very formal, but also very intimate and very fluid.  So we wanted to shake it up, but at the same time we wanted to have – I will tell Luca what you said about Barry Lyndon, because that’s an enormous compliment to him and to us because Kubrick is one of our favorite filmmakers and Barry Lyndon is the pre-eminent modernist look at that kind of formal setting.  And I think that’s a great compliment.

Noah:  It’s also a film about this perpetual outsider, which Emma [Swinton’s character] certainly is.  She’s trapped in this gilded cage.  Speaking about the way the film was shot and edited, I think that makes the ending even more satisfying because it’s just this kind of burst of energy which hits you on such a visceral level.

Tilda:  The very strange thing about the ending is that the ending is in many ways the first thing we had.  When I say we worked on the film for 11 years, what I mean is that those early years, before we even knew what the narrative was going to be, we were thinking about a kind of emotion that we wanted to hit.  And the most excited we could be was a film that ended in a certain way – even outside of any details of what the narrative would be, we knew that we wanted a film that the denouement of which would be silence.  Just have no dialogue.  And would have a relationship with music and a relationship with movement that was more choreographic, that was more like a ballet or more like an opera than traditional cinema.

So I would say that from the moment of the “pool scene” (for readers who don’t know what we we’re talking about), from that moment on there’s really nothing spoken.  And we had that fixed in our mind – not the details of what would actually happen – but we had the emotion, the color, this incredibly high, operatic feeling and we had this in our mind.  I always say it was like we had an apple and we put in on the top of a pedestal and we knew that in working out the narrative for the rest of the film, it was like building a staircase up to that apple.  Because we knew where we were going to end, but we just didn’t know how it was going to start [Laughs] or what the middle was going to be, for the longest time.

So that was really the challenge, to find a way up to the apple; and it was touch and go and I’m sure there are people who don’t think we got there, but it was a very particular challenge to work out the end of a film before the beginning or the middle.

Noah: I think that’s a fascinating way to work.  The only other time I think I’ve heard about a filmmaker doing something like that is I believe that Paul Thomas Anderson, when he did Magnolia, he knew the last image he wanted on the screen…

Tilda:  Interesting.

Noah: …so the whole film was kind of like a way to get to that image.

Tilda:  Yeah, how interesting.

Noah:  You’ve worked with some of my favorite filmmakers – everyone from Bela Tarr to Jim Jarmusch to David Fincher to the Coen Brothers.  Do you think it’s more important to work with a great artist behind the camera or is it more important to find a great piece of material?

Tilda:  Well, I’m never one for finding material.  I mean, I always find the people first.  That’s just the way I’ve worked.  Luckily, I’ve had the very good fortune of starting by making films with people and making the material with them, so they always came first just in terms of the chronology.  And I’ve had the really blessed experience recently with people like the ones you mentioned coming to me with pieces of material.  But it’s always the people that I’ve gone into a dance with – in my view whatever material Jim Jarmusch comes up with or Bela Tarr or the Coen Brothers – I’m always going to want to go and dance with them because I really love them, for a start, and I really think that the dialogue and whatever they’re going to do is going to be interesting.  I’m trying to think if I’ve ever had a piece of material come my way – I’ve always made my deal with the person.  It’s an arrangement that I’m very happy with.  It’s what I’m interesting in really – the conversation with the filmmakers.  And friendship, to be perfectly honest, because I’ve been really blessed and some extraordinary people ring me up.

Noah:  Do you ever have any interest in directing yourself?  Or dancing with yourself, so to speak?

Tilda:  No, I’m really trying not to direct.  Really, really hard.  [Laughs]

Noah:  It’s a constant effort to not direct?

Tilda:  There are some friends – Luca is one of them – that are constantly teasing me, but I’m not going to give in.  I like to be in communication, in a sort of dialogue with someone else.  Collaboration is my forte, so not at this moment, it’s not what I’m interested in, no.

Noah:  Do you have any people on your wish list of people you’d like to work with that you haven’t yet?

Tilda:  Of course.  [Laughs]  But I’ve had the happy experience of meeting them around the corner.  It’s a very strange thing that people do tend to meet themselves in this meal pond that we work in.  And certainly in the milieu that I work in, which tends to be coming from a kind of – if not underground, then certainly independent world where people really understand collaboration and the need for fellowship.  In that world, there’s a lot of comradeship around and people do tend to bump into each other and introduce each other to other people and it’s very easy to make relationships.  And I’m happy to say that I’m constantly finding new relationships.

For example, at the moment, I’m starting to develop a piece of work with Apichatpong Weerasethakul [Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives].  He’s someone that I’ve been in communication with for a while and we’re now beginning to get down to talking about the film we’re going to make together.  And that’s just wonderful.

Noah:  I read that you have a movie coming out with Lynne Ramsay, who is fantastic and works so rarely, so what a great opportunity.

Tilda:  Yeah, yeah, well we all, including she, wishes she wouldn’t work so rarely.  So let’s hope that she doesn’t work so rarely from now on.  But this is something we’ve been developing for a few years together and at last we’re cutting it now and we’re very excited about it.

Noah:  Ah, well I can’t wait for that.  And news just broke either today or yesterday that you may or may not be attached to Wes Anderson’s new film [Moonrise Kingdom].

Tilda: I may.  He’s the most recent lovely person who has sent me an e-mail [Laughs].

Noah:  I know you’re busy, so I’ll let you go, but I have one more question and it’s something I ask everyone I interview.  What is your favorite movie?

Tilda:  So unfair, that question.  If you asked me what my 100 most favorite movies would be, that would be easier.  Oh lord.  I was asked recently online what my 5 favorite movies are, and I randomly picked 5 out of my head and within a few minutes, I wanted to pick another 5.  But one is really cruel.  Let me just quickly think.

[Long pause]

Well I always say Au Hasard Balthazar and I always say I Know Where I’m Going.  And I very often say To Be or Not to Be by Ernst Lubitsch.

But tonight, because I just finished watching it with my children, I’m going to say What About Bob?

Noah: Oh what a great movie, I love that one!

Tilda: [Laughs] So tonight my favorite movie is What About Bob?

Noah: Well that is one of the greatest answers I’ve gotten to that question.  Well, thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate it.

Tilda: Thanks Noah, have a good night, bye!

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon