Sunday, March 1, 2015

SNL Season 40: Ep. 14

SNL returned, coming off its SNL 40th anniversary extravaganza. How would SNL fare coming off such a huge event? Lets check out the review.

The Cold Open saw Rudy Giuliani (Taran Killam) on Fox News' Real Story W/ Gretchen Carlson (Vanessa Bayer). It then morphed to a Birdman parody, with Giuliani's birdman ego telling him that he used to be "america's mayor". This was a creative opening, although it did fall flat in some aspects. 

Dakota Johnson's monologue turned into your typical Q&A from the audience. Besides cameos from her actual parents (Melanie Griffith & Don Johnson), there wasn't anything memorable here.

Next up was an ad that for sure will get a lot of people talking. It started off as a father (Killam) dropping off his daughter (Dakota), but then comes the twist.....he's dropping her off to ISIS, with the final slogan "ISIS, We'll take it from here dad". Parodying the stories of teens running away to the middle east to join the terrorist organization, I thought this was pretty great. Its always tough to poke fun at serious stuff like this, but this was a far better attempt than the shark tank sketch with Chris Rock. When it comes to edgy stuff like this, SNL is at its best.

The first sketch was "Cinderella".....featuring a bizarre recurring character in Cecily Strong's "Kathy Ann". I have no idea why they decided to bring this character back, and put it in the front of the show. It seems SNL is always wasting Cecily Strong's talents.

Following that was another short featuring Sara Bareilles' "Brave" (about a year late, but whatever), where the women of SNL were "Being Brave" and honest ("say what you want to say"). It took a while to get going, but there were a lot of great lines and moments here.

Next was a predictable "50 Shades Of Grey" press skit, featuring Dakota and a middle school reporter (Kyle Mooney), asking specific details about the graphic movie. Mooney saved this a bit, but overall the premise was just (as I said) incredibly predictable.

The following sketch was about "I can't even" and "literally"....literally. A group of young "hipsters" keep ragging on Margo (Aidy Bryant), whose arms are broken. This was a humorous concept (particularly because I'm finding this increasingly to be the way that some people talk), but it went on a bit long.

I'm featuring the musical guests again. This season has seen some great artists (Hozier, D'Angelo, Sia), but Alabama Shakes topped them all. Brittany Howard isn't just one of the great female rock vocalists today, but overall one of the top rock vocalists right now.

Don't Wanna Fight 

Gimme All Your Love 

There was a bit of an improved rapport between Colin Jost and Michael Che. Jost had a good line on batman's parents, while Che had a couple of pretty good deliveries on marijuana and Chris Brown. Slowly but surely, maybe this team is finding itself.

Kate McKinnon made an appearance as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, giving everyone a ginsburn. Kate Mckinnon is just great at everything she does.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 

Then Jay Pharoah appeared as Kanye West. Following his twitter "apology" to Beck, he appeared to apologize to everyone else....for everything. Pharoah was equally great here.

Kanye West

Finally, we saw Che's high school friend "Riblet" (Bobby Moynihan) return. Riblet could quickly become another great Update recurring character.


Following Update was a pretty odd skit; an emergency room featuring Kenan Thompson in cosplay as Star Trek's "Worf". The only thing that kept this from being a disaster was Kenan. He really played up this character well. The skit ended with a tribute to Leonard Nimoy, which was a nice touch.

Next was a sketch on Net Neutrality in a Bloomberg network-show. Sasheer Zamata may have played the host, but she just continues to get overshadowed in any skit she's in. I don't know how they originally casted her over Leslie Jones. All in all, the opening premise was amusing (poking fun at bloggers and the misunderstanding of the actual definition of net neutrality), but again, it went long and ran out of steam.

The closing "10 to 1" segment went to another Beck Bennett/Kyle Mooney digital short. These just aren't working for me. This was on various types of bullying, but it was just all kinds of "meh". I sense that bennett/mooney shorts will always be destined for the late night slot.

So all in all, SNL's return was a mixed bag. No live skits really stood out (there were even a couple of horrid ones), but there were a pair of good parody ads/shorts. The material just seemed lukewarm (and maybe that's just the writers coming off the hiatus from the SNL 40 special). We'll see if next week improves.

Avg. Score: 6.83 (each segment was scored out of 10, and averaged, including the musical act).

Bill Hader - 8.06
Martin Freeman - 7.56
Kevin Hart - 7.51
Chris Pratt - 7.50
Woody Harrelson - 7.42
Amy Adams - 7.19
JK Simmons - 7.18
Sarah Silverman - 7.15
James Franco - 7.07
Jim Carrey - 7.01
Dakota Johnson - 6.83
Cameron Diaz - 6.81
Blake Shelton - 6.60
Chris Rock - 6.52

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 Oscars Predictions

The Oscars are approaching, and the race for best picture is going down to the wire. Its among the closest race in years, but how will the rest of the awards play out? From live action short, to best actor, I'll run down through every category right here. Throughout these predictions, I'll also introduce the best picture nominees. So, lets go.

Best Visual Effects:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past

We start off with the top blockbuster award, Visual Effects. For once, no Transformers, each nominee here actually was a good reviewed film. I could see Guardians of the Galaxy taking this, however I'm going with Christopher Nolan's epic, Interstellar. It takes what "Gravity" did last year to a new level.

Pick: Interstellar

Best Film Editing:
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

Best Film Editing can tend to be a tell in the Best Picture race (although maybe not as much this year, being that its without Birdman), but it would certainly be a leg-up for whoever wins. Now it seems pretty clear here, with how Boyhood was made and what it took to edit together footage shot over 12 years, I think it gets the Oscar.

Pick: Boyhood

Best Costume Design:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

There's a lot of style in these nominees. While Into the Woods is a top contender, I'm going with The Grand Budapest Hotel. You'll probably read this a lot through these sort of categories, but the style of The Grand Budapest Hotel is what puts it over the top.

Pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Picture Preview:

An experience of a film looking into the life of Chris Kyle, this is American Sniper

Best Makeup & Hairstyling:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

All very worthy nominees. First, you have Foxcatcher subtly making Steve Carell nearly unrecognizable. Then, The Grand Budapest Hotel totally transforming Tilda Swinton, and of course Guardians Of the Galaxy turning Zoe Saldana into Gamora. Like my call for Best Costume Design, I'm going with The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Cinematography:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mr. Turner

If you're like me, you've probably wondered, what exactly does "cinematography" mean? Well, I have the answer for you. Cinematography is defined as "the science or art of motion picture photography". Given that, it seems clear, this is going to Birdman and its brilliant camera work.

Pick: Birdman

Best Production Design:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Another design award, and another Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel. It thrives on style...blah blah blah (you get the point by now, haha).

Pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Picture Preview:

A fascinating look at a fallen comic book actor looking to make a comeback on Broadway, this is Birdman

Best Sound Mixing:
American Sniper

We now arrive to the first of the 2 sound categories. Being one of those blockbuster awards, I'm going with Interstellar here.

Pick: Interstellar

Best Sound Editing:
American Sniper
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

So, the difference between sound mixing and editing is.......umm.....yeah, I've got nothing. Whoever wins the first usually wins the second, so Interstellar.

Pick: Interstellar

Best Original Song:
"Everything is Awesome" - The Lego Movie (Shawn Patterson)
"Glory" - Selma (John Legend/Common)
"Grateful" - Beyond the Lights (Diane Warren)
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You" - Glenn Campbell: I'll Be Me (Glenn Campbell/Julian Raymond)
"Lost Stars" - Begin Again (Gregg Alexander/Danielle Brisebois)

"Glory" seems to be the prohibitive favorite, and I agree. It really is an epic song by John Legend and Common that really enhances Selma.

Pick: "Glory" - Selma (John Legend/Common)

Best Picture Preview:

A family drama spanning 12 years looking at how sometimes the moment can seize you, this is Boyhood

Best Original Score:
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat)
The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat)
Interstellar (Hans Zimmer)
Mr. Turner (Gary Yershon)
The Theory of Everything (Johann Johannsson)

This one seems to be between Golden Globe Winning "The Theory of Everything" and The Imitation Game. While the score for The Theory of Everything is fantastic, I just have a feeling this will go to The Imitation Game. This is Alexandre Desplat at his typical best (as his name has become a common appearance at the Oscars).

Pick: The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat)

Best Animated Short Film:
The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

We now arrive to the short film categories. Now when it comes to Animated Shorts, you never bet against Disney, and I'm not about to. I'm going with Feast.

Pick: Feast

Best Live Action Short Film:
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
The Phone Call

When looking at live action shorts, what you have to look at are the plot and a starring cast, and The Phone Call has that with Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent, and a plot centering on a helpline call center.

Pick: The Phone Call

Best Picture Preview:

A Wes Anderson film with style, centering on a wild journey at the Grand Budapest...its The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Documentary Short Subject:
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Our Curse
The Reaper (La Parka)
White Earth

A lot of variety here, but I'm going with Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. A very powerful short on the veterans crisis, this seems like an Oscar winner.

Pick: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Best Documentary Feature:
Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth

This category really got turned on its head with the exclusion of the Roger Ebert documentary "Life Itself". Without "Life Itself", Citizenfour has emerged has a favorite, and I think it takes the Oscar. It plays out as a thriller, looking into NSA and Edward Snowden. However, don't be surprised if Virunga pulls off the upset.

Pick: Citizenfour

Best Picture Preview:

A look into how Alan Turing was able to crack the enigma code...while maintaining a secret that could be his own downfall, this is The Imitation Game

Best Foreign Language Film:
Ida (Poland)
Leviathan (Russia)
Tangerines (Estonia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

Through awards season, this has been a race between Ida and Leviathan. While Leviathan took the Golden Globe, Ida has been making gains, and I think it gets the Oscar.

Pick: Ida

Best Animated Feature Film:
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Much like Best Documentary, this category got shaken up when "The Lego Movie" was surprisingly snubbed. Ever since, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has emerged as the favorite, and I think it capitalizes and wins.

Pick: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Adapted Screenplay:
American Sniper (Jason Hall)
The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten)
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

This seems to be the more straight-forward Screenplay category. The Imitation Game is the favorite here, and I think it gets the win for an incredible screenplay that really portrays Alan Turing well.

Pick: The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)

Best Original Screenplay:
Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
Foxcatcher (E.Max Frye & Dan Futterman)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)

This is the more stacked screenplay category. I could easily see Birdman or Boyhood get a leg up here, but the Academy likes Wes Anderson and he would certainly be a deserving winner here. Being that Wes Anderson won during the Writer's Guild Awards, I think The Grand Budapest Hotel takes this.

Pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

Best Picture Preview:

A look into a movement and the work that helped to change the country, this is Selma

Best Supporting Actress:
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

Three of the four acting categories seem pretty locked up, and this is one of them. Patricia Arquette was brilliant in Boyhood, playing a single mother who had her own challenges (along with her son, Mason). 

Pick: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Picture Preview:

A compelling look at the lives of Stephen and Jane Hawking as they overcome obstacles, this is The Theory of Everything

Best Supporting Actor:
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K Simmons (Whiplash)

Another acting category that seems pretty locked in, this was is going to J.K Simmons. His outbursts as Fletcher seem genuinely real, very deserving of this Oscar.

Pick: J.K Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Actress:
Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Once more, this acting category seems like the most locked in. Julianne Moore really brings early-onset Alzheimer's to life and gives it a face in Still Alice. She's going to get the Oscar here.

Pick: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Actor:
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

This is the closest acting race. All awards season, this has been between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton. Redmayne had a break-out role in The Theory of Everything, but Keaton has had an acting renaissance in Birdman. Redmayne seems like the slight favorite, but I see Keaton getting the Oscar.

Pick: Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Best Picture Preview:

A look into the working relationship between a student and a band leader who will do anything to work towards perfection, this is Whiplash

Best Director:
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

We now arrive to the 2 main categories, and each one is basically a toss-up at this point. Over the last 2 years we've seen Best Director and Picture split (Ang Lee & Argo, Alfonso Cuaron & 12 Years A Slave), and I wouldn't be surprised if we see that happen again this year. Richard Linklater was the early favorite, but Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu took the director's guild. With this late momentum he's been getting, and with how it was shot in a series of 1-takes, I'm going with Inarritu.

Pick: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)

Best Picture:
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Now, the big one. The winner will be among the pantheon of the greats (although it should be noted that not every great film won best picture, and not every best picture winner is a great film....just look at Crash). But the two emerging front-runners here are great films, Birdman and Boyhood. This is truly the closest race we've seen for Best Picture in quite some time, and I've tried to wrap my mind around it. In the end though, I thought the best way for each movie to be honored is for a Best Director/Best Picture split kind of year (which this seems to be), so my pick is...Boyhood. This is a movie that could have just fallen apart after year 3, or 4. But its the fact that the film comes about naturally that makes it work.

Pick: Boyhood

Friday, February 20, 2015

Best Picture Podcast

In this Podcast, I go through and review each Best Picture nominee, along with ranking them in the end. (Sidenote: I recorded the 2nd half of the Podcast using headphones, so it sounds cleaner. And also, sorry for the stuttering, haha).


You can expect my full Oscar predictions either late Saturday or early Sunday.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

2015 Grammy's Preview

With my Album of the Year review series wrapping up, that can only mean 1 thing....The Grammy Awards are fast approaching. The Grammy's can be hard to predict, but I'll give it my best here. Now, I'm only predicting 10 categories (that should  probably be televised), just to make sure this doesn't go on too long (being that the Oscars are in 2 weeks, which always make for a long post). So with that, here we go.

Best Country Solo Performance
"Give Me Back My Hometown" - Eric Church
"Invisible" - Hunter Hayes
"Automatic" - Miranda Lambert
"Something In The Water" - Carrie Underwood
"Cop Car" - Keith Urban

A who's who of the country market, to start us off, this category is pretty loaded. Miranda Lambert is always an awards favorite, but I'm going to show a little bias here, and go with my favorite, Carrie Underwood. "Something In The Water" is throwback sounding, back to "Jesus Take The Wheel", but its still a well done track, that shows off Carrie's vocals. 

Pick: "Something In The Water" - Carrie Underwood

Best Country Album
Riser - Dierks Bentley
The Outsiders - Eric Church
12 Stories - Brandy Clark
Platinum - Miranda Lambert
The Way I'm Livin' - Lee Ann Womack

This is another pretty tough category, with a lot of different ways to go. I could go the safe route with Miranda Lambert, or go with Eric Church, whose album had a bit of a southern rock flare to it. However, I'm going out of the box with Brandy Clark. A seasoned song-writer for the likes of The Band Perry and Kacey Musgraves (among others), she's just now breaking out with the much acclaimed 12 Stories. I wouldn't at all be surprised if Brandy gets the Grammy here (although as mentioned, don't count out Church or Miranda).

Pick: 12 Stories - Brandy Clark

Best Urban Contemporary Album
Sail Out - Jhene' Aiko
Beyonce - Beyonce
X - Chris Brown
Mali Is... - Mali Music
Girl - Pharrell

This one comes down to Beyonce and Pharrell....but who are we kidding? This one is going to Beyonce, and I'd be shocked otherwise.

Pick: Beyonce - Beyonce

Best Rock Performance
"Gimme Something Good" - Ryan Adams
"Do I Wanna Know?" - Arctic Monkeys
"Blue Moon" - Beck
"Fever" - The Black Keys
"Lazaretto" - Jack White

Now this one is a true toss-up. In such a loaded field, I think the top contenders here are "Fever" and "Lazaretto". These pair of tracks are both exceptional in their own right (The Black Keys with a throwback feel, and Jack White with a cool funk sound). As close as it is, I have to give the edge to Jack White.

Pick: "Lazaretto" - Jack White

Best Pop Vocal Album
Ghost Stories - Coldplay
Bangerz - Miley Cyrus
My Everything - Ariana Grande
Prism - Katy Perry
x - Ed Sheeran
In The Lonely Hour - Sam Smith

Could we see an upset here? Possible (from Ed Sheeran), but this Grammy has Sam Smith written all over it. This surely won't be the only award that Smith will walk away with.

Pick: In The Lonely Hour - Sam Smith

Best Pop Solo Performance
"All of Me" (live) - John Legend
"Chandelier" - Sia
"Stay With Me" (Darkchild Version) - Sam Smith
"Shake it Off" - Taylor Swift
"Happy" (live) - Pharrell

This could be an interesting category. It seems like it should be another Sam Smith win (and knowing how my predictions tend to go, it probably will be), but I just have a feeling that the Grammy's could recognize Sia here. "Chandelier" really is unlike any song I've heard before, and has proved to be a massive hit. In a last minute change of my predictions, I think Sia pulls off an upset here.

Pick: "Chandelier" - Sia

Best New Artist
Iggy Azalea
Brandy Clark
Sam Smith

We've seen upsets aplenty with Best New Artist in the past (whether it was Bon Iver beating Nicki Minaj and The Band Perry, or Esperanza Spalding beating Mumford & Sons), but I'd be hard pressed to see it happening here. Sam Smith made a name for himself and soared on the music market this past year. If there is any upset, look for Brandy Clark, but this one is going to Sam Smith.

Pick: Sam Smith

Best Song of the Year
"All About That Bass" - Meghan Trainor
"Chandelier" - Sia
"Shake it Off" - Taylor Swift
"Stay With Me" (Darkchild Version) - Sam Smith
"Take Me to Church" - Hozier

As we continue with the big 4 awards, this one could be a little tricky. I won't even get into the differences between song and record of the year (I believe one is for songwriting, and the other recognizes the artists and producers). In terms of songwriting, "Take Me to Church" had one of the sharpest and strongest messages. This could easily go to "Stay With Me", but Hozier's breakout hit seems to be something that the Grammy's like to recognize, and I see them doing it here, with Hozier pulling off the upset.

Pick: "Take Me to Church" - Hozier

Best Record of the Year
"Fancy" - Iggy Azalea ft/ Charli XCX
"Chandelier" - Sia
"Stay With Me" (Darkchild Version) - Sam Smith
"Shake it Off" - Taylor Swift
"All About That Bass" - Meghan Trainor

For Record of the Year, it feels a little more narrowed and straight forward. Maybe Sia pulls off another upset here, but this seems to be Sam Smith all the way, with his own first breakout hit "Stay With Me". This song is just layed out and performed perfectly.

Pick: "Stay With Me" (Darkchild Version) - Sam Smith

Best Album of the Year
Beyonce - Beyonce
x - Ed Sheeran
In The Lonely Hour - Sam Smith
Girl - Pharrell

We now arrive at the big award of the night, album of the year. The Grammy's could go a number of routes here, but I think the top contenders here are Beyonce and Sam Smith. Beyonce's self titled album was unexpectedly released back in December of 2013, and it just may be Beyonce at her best. On the other hand, Sam Smith (at least for me) literally had a perfect full length album with In The Lonely Hour. Beyonce could pull this off, but I'm going with Sam Smith capping off a solid night with this Grammy. (You'll note that I've linked all of my album of the year reviews to the nominees)

Pick: In The Lonely Hour - Sam Smith