Frenzy On Blog Archive for January, 2011

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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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Quote Unquotesee all »

“I am just grateful I am still around. I would love to be Steven Soderbergh, but I am lucky to be Joe Swanberg. Actors want to work with me, people want to give me money, and my nightmare scenario remains: Getting in bed with a studio, spending years on a movie, and it turns out horrible, but now I’m rich.”

Actually, by Hollywood standards, you’re right, I said. That is unambitious.

“It is, and yet, if you can go to bed happy at night, doing what you want, isn’t that ambition for a lifetime?”
~ Swanberg On Swanberg By Borelli

“In retrospect, nothing of that kind surprised me about Philip, because his intuition was luminous from the instant you met him. So was his intelligence. A lot of actors act intelligent, but Philip was the real thing: a shining, artistic polymath with an intelligence that came at you like a pair of headlights and enveloped you from the moment he grabbed your hand, put a huge arm round your neck and shoved a cheek against yours; or if the mood took him, hugged you to him like a big, pudgy schoolboy, then stood and beamed at you while he took stock of the effect.”
John le Carré on Philip Seymour Hoffman