Sunday, March 29, 2015

SNL Season 40: Ep 16

SNL came off another mini-hiatus, starting what'll be a 3- week run of new shows. So......did you smell what "The Rock" was cooking? (sorry). Lets get to the review. 

The cold open saw President Obama (Jay Pharoah) talking to Sen. Cotton (Kyle Mooney), Speaker Boehner (Taran Killam) and Sen. Cruz (Bobby Moynihan) about Israel, the letter to Iran and the like. Obama then transformed to "The Rock" Obama (Dwayne Johnson), and went on to toss Boehner out the window, and rip off Cotton's hand. Leslie Jones made an appearance as Michelle Obama transformed after hearing that the secret service had wrecked her garden. All in all, this was one of the better cold opens this season. 

The monologue was your typical singing one, with The Rock explaining how he enhances movie franchises. It wasn't original in any sense, but it was humorous enough.

Next was SNL's take on Starbuck's #RaceTogether campaign, with Pep Boy's #GenderReflect...with your mechanic talking to you about gender and sexual identity. This was pretty good, but it felt like it could have been better. It seemed a little safe.

The first skit was a wrestlemania promo featuring Moynihan and "The Rock" (as made-up wrestlers). This whole thing was hilarious. The Rock's character "Coco" went on to mock Moynihan about his herpes...his estranged daughter......and his catfished girlfriend. "I catfished your ass" "That was so intricate". Just terrific writing and well performed.

With Disney's Cinderella being a hit, why not have more live-action Disney movies? Like Bambi for instance? In this trailer we saw Dwayne Johnson as "Bambi", and Killam (while doing a terrific Vin Diesel impersonation) as Thumper, looking for revenge. This was hilarious.....and I would actually love to see this.

Following that was a skit about an anniversary dinner with Kenan Thompson/Vanessa Bayer, as they meet up with Dwayne Johnson and Cecily Strong with a British accent. There didn't seem to be a point behind this, beside a bunch of good 1-liners. It was a lot of good writing without much of a general idea.

The next skit was a scene from a movie "Escape From The Jungle", featuring The Rock, Kate Mckinnon and Pete Davidson. After being hit by darts, The Rock and Pete had to suck the poison out of each other's necks....chest...and you get the picture. Meanwhile, McKinnon's character can do nothing but watch, as she really wants The Rock. The whole premise could have gone south, but it actually worked (if nothing more than for The Rock ushering the line "cartwheel up to me"). Mckinnon's reaction shots were also pretty terrific.

Next was a parody ad featuring Beck Bennett and Mooney for "Brogaine". Besides The Rock's character, this whole thing just fell flat. Kind of surprising that a Bennett/Mooney piece (especially this) made it to the first half of the show.

Weekend Update saw a step back from where we left off. Colin Jost just doesn't seem to have it. He had a little moment with a run on HBO's "The Jinx" opening music, but that was pretty much it. 

The first guest brought back McKinnon's Olya Povlotsky (a woman from a small Russian village). This has become a pretty great recurring Update guest.

Then Michael Che's neighbor Willie (Kenan) returned. I'm not sure this works as a recurring character. It was just alright.

The post Update saw an ill-conceived "Cooking With Paul" show, where Paul (Kenan) was a registered sex offender, cooking with his parole officer ("The Rock"). This just didn't work at all. The only thing that remotely saved it from being the worst skit of the season was the end where Kenan runs/sneaks by the camera.

Next was an Improv show skit...where the person they pull out of the audience was none other than Robert Durst (played shockingly well by Kate McKinnon). This seemed too short, because it did look like it was going somewhere (especially McKinnon's closing line).

The last live skit was an interrogation, featuring good cop/bad cop duo Vanessa Bayer and Dwayne Johnson, along with Killam as the criminal. There wasn't much of a point here besides Johnson's one-liners and how he backed up Bayer, but there were some good moments here.

The 10 to 1 spot went to Kyle Mooney's awkward interview series. This one was one of his better ones, as he went to the circus. What made this work were that the kids he was interviewing were just as awkward when on camera. 

This was an odd up and down show, where the 1st half outpaced the 2nd, but it was a solid show none than less. However, it really looked like it was going to be one of the best shows of the season after the first 25-30 minutes. 

Avg. Score: 7.16 (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
Chris Hemsworth - 7.44
Woody Harrelson - 7.42
Amy Adams - 7.19
JK Simmons - 7.18
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson - 7.16
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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Glee: Top 50 Performances

After 6 seasons, Glee has come to an end. While it fluctuated in quality over time, Glee always provided with top-notch musical performances. I was originally just going to do a Top 30, but I found that too difficult while wading through the songs, so then I decided on a Top 40.....but came up with the same problem. Finally, I came up with a Top 50. Now of course, this list is subjective, and if you have a favorite that I left out, feel free to comment or reply to me on twitter. I feel like every season has a fairly balanced number of here we go.

50) "Don't Speak" (Season 4, Ep.4)
             By: No Doubt, Performed: Cory Monteith/Darren Criss/Chris Colfer/Lea Michele
This was part of that heartbreaking Season 4 episode "The Breakup". Among the first 4 seasons, this episode provided with some of the most moving performances.

49) "Vogue" (Season 1, Ep. 15)
               By: Madonna, Performed: Jane Lynch
Part of a music video project during the Season 1 Madonna episode, this was well done.

48) "Some Nights" (Season 4, Ep. 7)
                 By: fun, Performed: New Directions
This was a good look at some of the new members of Glee

47) "Uninvited" (Season 6, Ep. 1)
                  By: Alanis Morissette, Performed: Lea Michele
Kicking off the final season, this is one of the edgier performances by Lea.

46) "Bad Romance" (Season 1, Ep. 20)
                   By: Lady Gaga, Performed: New Direction females ft/Chris Colfer
A theatrical the Season 1 episode "Theatricality", this was just fun, led by Chris Colfer.

45) "Thriller/Heads Will Roll" (Season 2, Ep. 11)
                   By: Michael Jackson/Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Performed: Naya Rivera/Cory Monteith/Kevin McHale, w/New Directions & Mckinley High Titans
The 1st mash-up on this list, this was worthy of a Post- Super Bowl episode (and better than most actual halftime shows)

44) "Keep Holding On" (Season 1, Ep. 7)
                 By: Avril Lavigne, Performed: New Directions
On its face, this wouldn't make the list, but with Quinn' pregnancy storyline, it provides depth.

43) "Singin' In The Rain/Umbrella" (Season 2, Ep. 7)
               By: Gene Kelly/Rihanna ft. Jay-Z, Performed: Gwyneth Paltrow/Matthew Morrison & New Directions
Another mash-up, the production value of this was great.

42) "Mean" (Season 3, Ep. 20)
              By: Taylor Swift, Performed: Mark Salling/Dot-Marie Jones
Salling didn't have the best voice, but the emotion behind this performance made it stand out, as graduation was approaching.

41) "How Will I Know" (Season 3, Ep. 17)
              By: Whitney Houston, Performed: Amber Riley/Naya Rivera/Chris Colfer/Lea Michele
Done a capella in remembrance of Whitney Houston, this was a worthy tribute

40) "Roots Before Branches" (Season 3, Ep. 22)
               By: Room For Two, Performed: Cory Monteith/Lea Michele
This was an emotional farewell between Rachel and Finn as she went off to NYC.

39) "All You Need Is Love" (Season 5, Ep. 1)
               By: The Beatles, Performed: Darren Criss w/New Directions, Warblers, Vocal Adrenaline, Haverbrook School for the Deaf, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Mike O'Malley, Amber Riley, Naya Rivera, Matthew Morrison
This was performed as Blaine was proposing to Kurt. While it would take over a year, and a break-up; given the results of the series finale, this is still incredibly moving

38) "Something's Coming" (Season 3, Ep. 2)
               By: West Side Story, Performed: Darren Criss
A very underrated solo, this is Criss at his best.

37) "The Scientist" (Season 4, Ep. 4)
             By: Coldplay, Performed: Cory Monteith/Darren Criss/Naya Rivera/Chris Colfer/Heather Morris/Matthew Morrison/Lea Michele/Jayma Mays
Another performance from "The Breakup", this performance really put into perspective the fractured status of these particular relationships during this time.

36) "Defying Gravity" (Season 1, Ep. 9)
          By: Wicked, Performed: Chris Colfer/Lea Michele
This really gave us one of our first glimpses into the rivalry between Kurt & Rachel.

35) "All Of Me" (Season 5, Ep. 20)
          By: John Legend, Performed: Darren Criss
Just another terrific solo by Criss.

34) "This Is The New Year" (Season 4, Ep. 12)
          By: A Great Big World, Performed: New Directions
This performance showed the sense of transition that the characters were going through.

33) "Pompeii" (Season 5, Ep. 20)
         By: Bastille, Performed: Lea Michele/Chris Colfer/Amber Riley/Darren Criss/Chord Overstreet/Kevin McHale/Heather Morris w/ NYC Citizens
The last performance of the Season 5 finale, Rachel finally seemed to be moving on here since losing Finn.

32) "Let It Go" (Season 6, Ep.1)
        By: Frozen, Performed: Lea Michele
This was a perfectly timed cover. Here, Rachel was moving on from her disaster in Hollywood, coming back to find her roots.

31) "At Last" (Season 6, Ep.8)
        By: Etta James, Performed: Amber Riley/Kevin McHale
This was performed during the "double" wedding. McHale was at his best here, finally able to really show off his soulful voice along with Riley.

30) "We Found Love" (Season 3, Ep.10)
           By: Rihanna ft/Calvin Harris, Performed: Lea Michele/Naya Rivera w/New Directions
This performance led into Will's proposal to Emma, an important moment.

29) "Just The Way You Are" (Season 2, Ep.8)
             By: Bruno Mars, Performed: Cory Monteith & New Directions
This song happened during the wedding between Burt & Carole. Finn dedicated it to his new stepbrother, Kurt, a touching moment.

28) "Next To Me" (Season 4, Ep.19)
             By: Emeli Sande, Performed: Idina Menzel/Lea Michele
A powerful duet with Rachel and her biological mother (Shelby), these 2 big voices mesh well.

27) "Rumor Has It/Someone Like You" (Season 3, Ep.6)
              By: Adele, Performed: Amber Riley/Naya Rivera/Heather Morris w/ The Troubletones
One of the top performances of the 1 off-shoot Glee club, The Troubletones.

26) "Raise Your Glass" (Season 2, Ep.16)
              By: Pink, Performed: Dalton Academy Warblers
This was the regionals debut of Kurt with the Warblers, this performance just gives off a sense of joy.

25) "Tightrope" (Season 6, Ep.2)
           By: Janelle Monae ft/Big Boi, Performed: Samantha Marie Ware w/The Warblers
This was the audition that Samantha's character (Jane) used to try to audition for the all-male Warblers. There's such a liveliness to this performance, it felt like old-school Glee.

24) "Seasons Of Love" (Season 5, Ep.3)
           By: Rent, Performed: Amber Riley/Naya Rivera/Chris Colfer/Mark Salling/Jenna Ushkowitz with the New Directions
The opening number for "The Quarterback", this set the tone for the dramatic episode

23) "Take Me To Church" (Season 6, Ep.11)
           By: Hozier, Performed: Noah Guthrie/Becca Tobin/Samantha Marie Ware & New Directions
One of the last sectional numbers, Guthrie's vocals here are sublime. He had one of the best male voices on Glee, but its a shame that he (along with Samantha) were just introduced in the last season.

22) "Starships" (Season 3, Ep.21)
         By: Nicki Minaj, Performed: Alex Newell & Vocal Adrenaline
This was our intro to "Unique". This brought a whole new element to Glee as Unique would later join New Directions.

21) "Someday We'll Be Together" (Season 6, Ep.13)
        By: Diana Ross & The Temptations, Performed: Amber Riley with a Gospel choir
This was Amber's farewell performance, as her character (Mercedes) was setting off for a long tour. This was just one of many moving performances in the finale.

20) "Smooth Criminal" (Season 3, Ep.11)
            By: Michael Jackson, Performed: Grant Gustin/Naya Rivera w/Dalton Cellists (2Cellos)
A duel between Santana and the antagonist leader of the Warblers (Sebastian), this certainly was a battle of a duet.

19) "Home" (Season 6, Ep.2)
          By: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Performed: New Directions alumni, New Directions & Marshall Williams
This whole "Homecoming" episode was just classic Glee.

18) "Come What May" (Season 4, Ep.15)
         By: Moulin Rouge!, Performed: Darren Criss/Chris Colfer
A big duet that occurred with Kurt fantasizing about Blaine, they really tackled this big song.

17) "Valerie" (Season 2, Ep.9)
         By: Mark Ronson ft/Amy Winehouse, Performed: Naya Rivera w/ New Directions
This was Rivera at her best; one of the first times that she really shined.
(This video is the Season 5 version, from "100")

16) "Losing My Religion" (Season 2, Ep.3)
         By: R.E.M, Performed: Cory Monteith
A Monteith solo, he may not have had the best overall vocals, but he really displayed the emotion behind this performance.

15) "This Time" (Season 6, Ep.13)
       By: Original Composition (Darren Criss), Performed: Lea Michele
Lea's farewell solo performance in the series finale, this was the top original song from Glee.

14) "If I Die Young" (Season 5, Ep.3)
         By: The Band Perry, Performed: Naya Rivera w/ New Directions
Naya's tribute performance to Cory Monteith, you can sense the real and raw emotion.

13) "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (Season 2, Ep.10)
        By: Frank Loesser & Lynn Garland, Performed: Chris Colfer/Darren Criss
One of the top Colfer/Criss numbers, Kurt would profess his feelings to Blaine after this song. 

12) "Landslide" (Season 2, Ep.15)
       By: Dixie Chicks (version), Performed: Gwyneth Paltrow/Naya Rivera/Heather Morris
Much like the previous Colfer/Criss duet, this Rivera/Morris piece was moving, as amidst confusion, Santana confessed her feelings to Brittany.

11) "Maybe This Time" (Season 1, Ep.5)
        By: Cabaret, Performed: Kristin Chenoweth/Lea Michele
A split-screen duet, this was just a grandmaster performance.

10) "I Know Where I've Been" (Season 6, Ep. 7)
        By: Hairspray, Performed: Alex Newell, Transgender Choir & Dot-Marie Jones
A powerful moment as Coach Beiste was going through his transition, with support from Unique.

9) "River Deep - Mountain High" (Season 2, Ep.4)
      By: Ike & Tina Turner, Performed: Amber Riley/Naya Rivera
As part of a duets competition, this duet by Mercedes and Santana should have come out on top.

8) "Faithfully" (Season 1, Ep.22)
      By: Journey, Performed: Lea Michele/Cory Monteith & New Directions
Performed right after Finn had professed his love for Rachel, you could sense their connection.

7) "Make You Feel My Love" (Season 5, Ep.3)
     By: Adele, Performed: Lea Michele
The most heartfelt performance by Lea, it's impossible to be dry-eyed while hearing this beautiful tribute to Cory Monteith.

6) "If I Were A Boy" (Season 5, Ep.5)
      By: Beyonce, Performed: Alex Newell
Bullied in the boy's bathrooms, Unique lets out her frustration here.

5) "Don't Rain On My Parade" (Season 1, Ep.13)
      By: Funny Girl, Performed: Lea Michele
The opening number for New Directions during sectionals, Rachel really sets the tone with this masterful solo.

4) "Somebody To Love" (Season 1, Ep.5)
      By: Queen, Performed: New Directions
Performed during a showcase, Rachel had just re-joined after initially quitting to join the school musical. You could really sense New Directions starting to come together.

3) "I Lived" (Season 6, Ep.13)
      By: One Republic, Performed: All New Directions alumni/faculty
The last performance of the series finale as the auditorium was being dedicated to Finn, this was a fitting final performance. Literally every former student (no matter their time spent), was there.

2) "Teenage Dream" (Season 2, Ep.6)
      By: Katy Perry, Performed: Dalton Academy Warblers
This was our intro to Darren Criss's "Blaine". "Teenage Dream" was a groundbreaking performance, as it was the beginning of Kurt & Blaine.

1) "Don't Stop Believing" (Season 1, Ep.1)
      By: Journey, Performed: Lea Michele/Cory Monteith w/ New Directions
Glee had a lot of fantastic and groundbreaking performances, but "Don't Stop Believing" stands above the rest. This was our first look at New Directions, and their long ascent on this journey.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Body Image

Recently, social media and society has seen an increased awareness when it comes to topics like LGBT awareness and gender equality. However, there's still one glaring issue that's slid through the cracks....body image. More importantly, body shaming.

Its 2015, and its still seen okay too shame someone for how they look, their appearance, etc. This goes both ways when it comes to body shaming, judging people on both sides of the spectrum (from comments like "eat a sandwich", to "you should work out"), and just looks in general.

In society, there's a perceived notion of what a perfect body looks like for each gender. For a woman, not too thin, but not too big, with just the right curves. For a man, certainly not thin, but tall and muscular. The majority of this post though will be focusing on female body image.

When it comes to female body image, the "perfect" body is seen everywhere; the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, Victoria Secret Models, runway and fashion models. I could cite far more examples, but the point is that these images are plastered everywhere across all media platforms. For example, we saw the cover of this year's SI Swimsuit magazine unveiled on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.  We've also seen plenty of media coverage of New York City's "fashion week". Its not hard to understand how these become the target/standard-bearer for plenty of young woman. However, most celebrities don't fits these "supermodel" standards.

First, we have the Oscar and 10x Grammy winning British singer Adele. She's told the media she rarely thinks about body image, and doesn't want to be a "skinny-minny". However, that hasn't stopped people from obsessing over her body.

Next, 4x Grammy winning British singer and songwriter Sam Smith. During one of his acceptance speeches at the 2015 Grammy's, Sam Smith said "I was doing everything to try and get my music heard. I tried to lose weight and I was making awful music. It was only until I started to be myself that the music started to flow...". This is the pressure that artists face, focusing on their image instead of their talent.

Now the main reason I wanted to do this post, original American Idol and 3x Grammy winner Kelly Clarkson. She recently released her first new album (Piece by Piece) since 2011. In the meantime, she's released a greatest hits album, christmas record and is now a proud mother. However, that hasn't stopped some hack tabloid writer(s) (1 especially who will remain nameless here) and social media trolls from commenting on her appearance. I won't pretend to know everything behind the scenes, but Kelly has said publicly that it was rough pregnancy (resulting in morning sickness that was so severe it required hospitalization).  Kelly has responded to criticism saying that she's okay with what she's got, and that if the public doesn't like it, they can move on (an attitude I wish more artists had).

As pointed out with these 3 examples, artists seemingly have to worry about more than just their talent. They worry about their image and style. All that should matter are their own vocal talents. Whether its how one looks or dresses, all that should matter is one's confidence, and not the public's perception. Just in general, we should let people express and simply be themselves, and stop forcing them into a bubble.

Whether its runway looks or swimsuit models, those looks shouldn't be what we strive for. We need to stop airbrushing ourselves, and focus on our positive qualities, what makes us unique.

Lets put an end to body shaming.

"Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not look out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it" - Bruce Lee

Sunday, March 8, 2015

SNL Season 40: Ep.15

SNL kept its post SNL 40 special run with Chris Hemsworth and the Zac Brown Band, but was it a better effort than Dakota Johnson last week? Lets get to the review

The cold open saw Kate McKinnon nab the role as Hillary Clinton, as she talked about her personal e-mails and her aspiration for the presidency. Now, while Amy Poehler was pretty good as Hillary, it didn't really feel like a true impersonation. I always found that her voice was all over the place. In Comparison, McKinnon was pretty spot on here, and it will just be even more refined as the 2016 election heats up in the coming year.

The monologue saw Hemsworth bring up his other 2 brothers (I never knew there was a 3rd brother), along with his "adopted" 4th brother....Kenan Thompson. From here, it followed to a typical Q&A audience bit. It was nice seeing Chris bring along his brothers, but all in all these types of monologues are just plain and boring.

Following was an American Express ad parody featuring Hemsworth of course. Hemsworth states that it took him "days" to get work in Hollywood, and that he looked too much like Thor. It was amusing, if not a little predictable, playing off of his looks.

The first skit was about a fake Disney show "brother to brother" starring Taran Killam and Hemsworth as brothers. The premise was that Killam was going to try and take a test as Hemsworth. At first this skit looked like it was going to be a dud, but it picked up as the teacher (Cecily Strong) points out all of the ways that Killam looks nothing like his "brother". Strong and Killam really sold this (along with Aidy Bryant as a student who chimed in as well, talking about Hemsworth's 'back-side' so to speak). I'll admit, I was worried that every other skit from here on out was just going to focus on Hemsworth's looks, but luckily it pretty much ended here.

Next was an Empire parody. I may be one of the few people around who hasn't seen an episode of Empire, so I didn't quite get it, but all in all this seemed fine. Chris Hemsworth was a character for "White America", as he awkwardly mulled around the office/studio. (sidenote: it would have been impossible for SNL to do this even a few seasons ago)

Following was what SNL does best, a skit straight out of left field. It was centered on a spaceship in the future, being captained by an animal that has evolved beyond humans.........chickens. Yes, there was a literal live chicken, doing chicken things....being a chicken. If there were any doubts on Chris Hemsworth as an SNL host, he threw those out with this skit, he was just brilliant. You really felt like he loved this chicken. Of course he had to ad-lib a bit when talking to the chicken.....because it's a chicken, and it'll have none of your stage directions and cues. In the end to save the ship, the chicken had to go into a microwave-like space.....and get cooked. Cecily Strong gave a strong ending line; "We're going to eat her..she smells so good....because she was such a bitch". Bravo SNL writers, bravo. These odd skits that work are what they've done best this season.

Next was the "Iggy Azalea" show, with McKinnon as Iggy. She had Azealia Banks (Sasheer Zamata) on to try and get past their feud. Then Chris Hemsworth appeared as another Australian rapper, teaching what to do when you don't really know how to rap. SNL hasn't done a lot of pop culture skits this season (going for more originality) so I was okay with this. What range from McKinnon, going from Clinton to Iggy. She truly is the MVP (she even did a better Iggy than Iggy).

Weekend Update was at its finest this season. At first it just seemed like the same-old same-old, but then Jost and Che had a brilliant joke riff on Ben Carson. Then Che got Jost to read some of his jokes to show how tough it is, and Jost had one of the best breaks/flubs on a "39 inch" line. Jost finally seemed genuine. Maybe there is hope for this team.

The first Update guest was Leslie Jones, talking about how tough it is to date....or just live in NYC during the winter. So many avenues. Jones was great, as always.

Second was Cecily Strong as "Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With At A Party", talking about Boko Haram and ISIS. This character is always fantastic.

The post Update skit was an "Action News 7" update on the Avengers defeat of Ultron's army. Bobby Moynihan went on to interview Thor (Hemsworth) who was hamming it up for the cameras (as the city was destroyed). Iron Man (Killam), The Hulk (Pete Davidson) and Captain America (Beck Bennett) also made appearances, but Thor was the center of this skit. You knew an Avengers skit was coming, but at least they did it better than when Jeremy Renner hosted a couple years back. 

Next was a skit about a Soap Opera set where the director (Kenan) wanted his stars (Mckinnon/Hemsworth) to act with references to the Jeffersons during a particular dramatic scene. This was a skit that had a really good premise, but not in the right setting. It was somewhat amusing, but it felt like it took forever to reach the punchline.

Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney appeared with another short, this time a general lampooning of reality shows (basically any reality show you could think of). I've been highly critical of these Bennett/Mooney shorts, but this one was at least an improvement from their prior ones. This one more resembled one they did with Chris Pratt on 90s television. 

SNL closed out this week with the return of the Porn Stars, this time trying to sell "Dolce & Gabbana". Over the past season or so, this recurring skit has gotten a little stale because the writing hasn't been as clever or subtle. That changed with this appearance. They didn't just go straight for the sexual innuendos. Also, Chris Hemsworth was pretty great here.

This was a vast improvement from last week's SNL with Dakota Johnson. It was the 1st great show of 2015 since Kevin Hart's episode. Chris Hemsworth was a fantastic 1st time host, and I imagine we'll see him again down the line (Maybe when Thor 3 comes out). There weren't any real duds, and even the weaker parts of this week weren't completely flat.  

Avg. Score: 7.44 (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
Chris Hemsworth - 7.44
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, 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