Category Archives: Reviews

Hoffman List: Haywire & Mission Impossible 3

A couple great villain roles this time around.

Haywire (2012)

Starring:Ewan McGregor (with Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Charming Potato, and Michael Douglas)

McGregor’s Role: Bad boyfriend of the main character and *SPOILER* main villain.

Performance Grade: Hoff-win.

Review: Seeing Ewan McGregor play a bad guy, albeit a spindly sneaky type rather than a massive badass, is oddly exciting. I love him as the charming misguided type, but he plays hate-worthy dick quite well. The rest of the film is serviceable; action and fighting are surprisingly great, and most of the acting is top-notch, though star Carano’s obvious inexperience in the acting world makes her character feel a bit stilted.

Film Grade: A nerve-racking Haywire act.

Mission Impossible III (2006)

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman (with Tom Cruise, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames)

Hoffman’s Role: Cold-blooded bad guy Owen Davian.

Performance Grade: Hoff-win.

Review: If you’ve only ever seen P.S.H. in his more artsy roles, seeing him as one of the most straight-up evil villains in recent blockbusters can be jarring. His viciousness is matched only by his cleverness, which is much like the film itself. Despite a less than stellar pedigree, J.J. Abrams made a sequel that outguns its original.

Film Grade: Mission Thrill-possible

Saturday Night Live – Power Rankings 04/14/2012

SNL POWER RANKINGS: Josh Brolin / Gotye 04/14/2012

1) Andy Samberg (Up 9) - Not everyone likes it, but when Samberg is given as many chances as he was given last night to shine, he typically knocks it out. Last night was no exception. The dude was in everything: The awful Cold Open (as Santorum), the “Game of Thrones” sketch (as the lead character), the “New York State of Mind” parody sketch (as Weird Al, of all people), TWO Digital Shorts (both of which were hysterical), Piers Morgan (as the wire dancing guy), and the “Slow Motion Hallway” sketch. And there wasn’t one sketch wherein he did not make me laugh. They handed him an episode on a plate, and he took it with ease.

2) Jay Pharaoh (Up 10) – Okay, we get it now: Lorne Michaels likes to keep fans on their toes. After weeks of background spots and a few no-shows, Jay Pharaoh had several stand out moments in last night’s episode. Mostly, it was in his impressions; his Will Smith was in the monologue, and was funny as always. His Jay-Z was really the best part of the “New York” sketch. He even debuted a solid Kanye West impression. But his best part was inarguably his recurring character Principal Frye, who made me laugh harder than anyone else in the entire episode. Pharaoh’s character breaking wasn’t as prevalent as Bill Hader’s, but it was almost funnier, and his delivery was perfect. Really ended the show on a very high note.

3) Bill Hader (Down 1) -His sketch volume wasn’t as high as it usually is, but he was given good material and he made it play. He got to show off some technique in the “Slow Motion” sketch, and reprised his role in “Lazer Cats” (a personal favorite). But he owned the episode’s most talked-about moment in “The Californians.” Not only did he lose it, he lost it in full-face close-up. His face changed colors. It was a treat, and one people are going to remember.

4) Kristen Wiig (Down 1) – Wiig could have been higher here, because she made plenty of appearances throughout the night, but she rarely stood out in any sketch and was mostly used as support. Her main highlights were as Michelle Bachmann in the night’s worst sketch and as the main woman in “The Californians.” Otherwise, “Garth and Kath” was dreadful, and she basically danced through her parts in “New York State of Mind” and “Slow Motion Hallway.” They’ve stuck her into supporting roles for a few weeks now, and I wonder if she’s tiring of the treatment.

5) Taran Killam (Down 4) - The Killam train kept rolling last night, showing up in a high volume of sketches with mostly positive results. He shared space with Andy Samberg in the second Digital Short, which let him play around with the musical guest. He got to don the role of Piers Morgan again, and though his impression is dreadful, his caricature is infectious. And he played a small role in “Game of Thrones.” Was it a Killam blowout like last week? No. But they’ve clearly got a space for him going forward, and showcasing his skills has been a priority of late.

6) Fred Armisen (Up 5) - Armisen mostly redeemed himself from last week’s sh*t show, especially in “The Californians,” in which he pretty much single-handedly cracked up the rest of the cast. And while “Garth and Kath” and his rap in “New York State of Mind” weren’t really that funny, it wasn’t for lack of enthusiasm on Armisen’s part. His impression of Ice T was downright funny. Still, they need to keep him on a short leash if they don’t want Armisen overload like they’ve had in the past.

7) Keenan Thompson (Up 1) - From Herman Cain to Tay Zonday to his ridiculous villain’s role in “The Californians,” Thompson took his usual place in the production: The sweet petit fors that shows up out of the blue, makes everybody smile, and then quietly steps out. He’s the cleanup hitter of the team, popping up near the ends of sketches and ensuring they come to a satisfying conclusion.

8) Vanessa Bayer (Up 5) – Thankfully, they managed to bring Bayer out of whatever cellar in which they’ve kept her locked. Sure, she played straight man most of the night, in “Slow Motion Hallway” and “Booker T Washington High School Prom,” but they let her have a moment or two of fun in “The Californians.” It was so nice to see her again, it made up for a general lack of things for her to do.

9) Bobby Moynihan (Down 4) - I love this guy to death, and he had several solid spots this week. Of the rapping bits in “New York State of Mind,” his was the only really funny attempt, and even though they didn’t give him much to say, seeing him as George R.R. Martin was amusing. And though he didn’t have lines, he sold the “Newt Gingrich stealing nuts” bit in the Cold Open, which is no easy feat considering how stupid that whole sketch was.

10) Nasim Pedrad (Down 1) - All she gets are scraps, and she makes them into gold for a few minutes at a time. They just don’t know what to do with Nasim anymore, and it’s gotten very, very sad.

11) Kate McKinnon (Down 4) – Part of me expected McKinnon to be completely off the show this week, what with their recent track record of completely forgetting the featured cast members for weeks on end. But she was in the same number of sketches as her debut (two total) and though neither appearance was as visible as they were in her first week, she made the best of both of them.

12) Jason Sudekis (Down 8) - Are they winding down the clock in preparation for some end-of-season exodus from Jason Sudekis? I don’t know. But I can only recall his face from a Cold Open that did him no favors in terms of writing, and then I don’t recall seeing him again the rest of the night.

13) Abby Elliot (Down 6) -Abby Elliot was in this episode. I know, because she played Ke$ha in “New York State of Mind” and basically had one line (“My songs aren’t parodies”). That’s really all I can say about her this week. She was hardly seen or heard from, and wasn’t really a part of the show in any way beyond a moment or two of screen time.

Host Grade: C+ – It’s not a necessarily a knock against Josh Brolin to say he didn’t need to be on screen this week, but really, they didn’t write any sketches where he was prominent enough to factor in the show’s quality, and when he did have things to do, they were sort of passe. He’s a terrific actor, but this wasn’t his show.

Musical Guest Grade: A- – I find Gotye to be pretty middling on record. Decent output, decent background noise. But he really brought it in his two performances, and though he couldn’t stop smiling in the Digital Short, he got a whole sketch devoted to him, which is a high compliment.

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SEASON 37 EPISODE RANKING

 

1) Jimmy Fallon / Michael Buble

2) Jason Segal / Florence and the Machine

3) Zooey Deschanel / Karmin

4) Josh Brolin / Gotye

-A rare example where the cast and the writers, not the personality of the host, made an episode great. After a dismal Cold Open, it immediately picked up steam, and then it was gold pretty much all night long.

5) Melissa McCarthy / Lady Antebellum

6) Danielle Radcliffe / Lana Del Rey

7) Maya Rudolph / Sleigh Bells

8) Alec Baldwin / Radiohead

9) Charlie Day / Maroon 5

10) Sofia Vergara / One Direction

11) Lindsay Lohan / Jack White

12) Emma Stone / Coldplay

13) Anna Faris / Drake

14) Ben Stiller / Foster the People

15) Channing Tatum / Bon Iver

16) Steve Buscemi / The Black Keys

17) Charles Barkley / Kelly Clarkson

18) Katy Perry / Robyn

[Still haven't watched the Jonah Hill ep. I'll work on that.]

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COMING UP

05/15 – Eli Manning / Rhianna: This is my nightmare.

Saturday Night Live – Power Rankings 04/07/2012

It’s been over a month since I wrote one of these (two weeks I was in Washington D.C. and didn’t have my computer, then three weeks of re-runs), and it feels surprisingly good to be back at it. Kinda like revisiting an old friend. This was an especially weird week too, so without further ado…

SNL POWER RANKINGS: Sofia Vergara / One Direction 04/07/2012

1) Taran Killam (Up 10) - It was inevitable. Killam’s been getting more and more screen time, and with each new sketch he manages to find a different way to nail the role. Michael Cera impression? He knew how to hang back and wait for the big moment. Andy Cohen impression? He made it all him, and it killed. And he was the only part of the godawful “Manuel Ortiz Show” that made me laugh, and that actually counts for a lot. Actually, he wasn’t in the most sketches this week, but if his work continues to stand out like this, he’s got big things coming.

2) Bill Hader (Up 1) - Bill Hader is slowly turning into the guy whose friends have heard all of his jokes but they’re too nice to say anything, so he goes extra big on every line to make people laugh. And sometimes it works, but more often, it’s just kind of disappointing, because this guy that we love is trapped in this cycle and can’t get out of it. That, or everything written for him lately was bad. Either way, he’s getting all the screen time, and a fair amount of laughs, but last night it felt a bit stale.

3) Kristen Wiig (Up 3) -The fact that they brought Gilly back is reason enough to see her this high on the list. That’s a bold move: A character that at least half the audience outright hates and one that hasn’t been seen in over a year. That’s a vote of confidence in Wiig’s abilities. Beyond that, a batch of familiar character types brought her screen time up, and her Drew Barrymore was actually the surprise impression of the night.

4) Jason Sudekis (Up 1) - The front half of this show might as well have been “The Jason Sudekis Power Hour.” Then he all but disappeared. His Mitt Romney Cold Opens aren’t getting better, but I honestly don’t think it’s him; they just have no bite to them at all. That’s a writing issue. He was straight man in the “Action News” disaster and the “Pantene” sketch and cuddled with Andy in the “Just Friends” ad. He’s so likable, he climbs up the ranks bit by bit, week by week.

5) Bobby Moynihan (Up 5) – From here, the cast was so evenly spread, it comes down to very minor differences to break up the rankings. Moynihan’s “Drunk Uncle” was the only Weekend Update correspondant, and was hilarious as always. He also appeared for humorous facial expressions along the way in other sketches, but being the only character in Weekend Update is a big deal. Let’s see if he can break out of it and into some real sketch leads.

6) Kate McKinnon (NEW) -The newest cast member, added over the break, didn’t appear until the back half and provided two impressions. However, these impressions were absolutely hysterical, first as Tabitha Coffey in the “Watch What Happens” sketch and then as a co-lead with the host in the “Pantene” sketch. Most impressively, she didn’t seem at all nervous on screen, really laying into each character with perfect timing and tone. It was really skilled. Don’t expect to see her this high again for a while, though; new people rarely get any screen time after their first episode or two. But this bodes well for her future.

7) Abby Elliot (Up 5) - She was only in two sketches that I can recall, but she was the lead character in one of them, and the other was “Gilly,” in which her part is always fairly large. Weird that her Zooey Deschanel impression would be the only thing keeping her on the show, but it’s a good bit, and any lead role where you can actually draw the laughs is a plus. She’s better off than another female cast member whose most frequent contribution is a celebrity talk show impression*.

8) Keenan Thompson (Down 7) - It simply couldn’t last. The last rankings I did had this man at #1, and I stand by that. But the abnormality of a highly racial SNL episode ensured he’d be somewhere in the bottom half of the list by now. Why does he jump ahead of other cast members who appeared in more sketches? Simple: His turn as Desmond Tutu in “Watch What Happens” made me laugh the hardest of anything in the episode. Add his always amusing awkwardness in the “Manuel Ortiz Show” and you’ve got a case for a place that’s not high, but certainly respectable.

9) Nasim Pedrad (Down 2) – What does this show have against letting Nasim Pedrad have screen time? I don’t know, but it’s getting frustrating.

10) Andy Samberg (Down 2) - I miss Andy when he’s not a big part of an episode, because he typically finds a way to make me chuckle even when he’s doing lame material. Honestly, I know he was there last night, but other than the “Just Friends” ad, I can’t even remember him.

11) Fred Armisen (Down 9) - This isn’t an exact science. If it was, Armisen’s sketch volume would probably vault him higher than this. But his sketches were by far the worst of the night (“Action News” and “Manuel Ortiz”), and basically represented characters I’d like to see buried alive. I’ll concede because he was actually on my television enough to be represented, but if I could, I’d have let him off this week’s list all together.

12/13) Jay Pharoah / *Vanessa Bayer (Down 8/Down 4) – Someone’s bound to be underwritten on this show every week, but honestly, these two are in a bad position. Pharoah has yet to prove he can be a good comedy actor without the impressions on any consistent basis. And poor Vanessa. Clearly somebody just isn’t liking her material for some reason.

Host Grade: B+ – Vergara surprised me. I had very low expectations for her going in; I’ve never particularly liked Modern Family and have actually always thought of her as the most annoying character on that show. But from her monologue, I could tell something good was coming, and she really did quite well, even getting the beats mostly right in the very weirdly written bits like “Gilly.”

Musical Guest Grade: C – One Direction could not be more innocuous if they tried. They’re less N*Sync, more New Kids on the Block. If that distinction even means anything. Iwill give them credit for trying in the “Manuel Ortiz Show” and looking like they were having a genuinely good time poking each other in the face…yeah, I’ve got nothing.

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SEASON 37 EPISODE RANKING

1) Jimmy Fallon / Michael Buble

2) Jason Segal / Florence and the Machine

3) Zooey Deschanel / Karmin

4) Melissa McCarthy / Lady Antebellum

5) Danielle Radcliffe / Lana Del Rey

6) Maya Rudolph / Sleigh Bells

7) Alec Baldwin / Radiohead

8) Charlie Day / Maroon 5

9) Sofia Vergara / One Direction

-Sofia was good, but the writing was hit-and-miss at best. Some sketches made me laugh almost too hard. Many left me bored.

10) Lindsay Lohan / Jack White

-Missed ranking this one from the road, but while Lindsay Lohan was a disaster in everything, the cast managed to pull themselves together and pull out a relatively decent show.

11) Emma Stone / Coldplay

12) Anna Faris / Drake

13) Ben Stiller / Foster the People

14) Channing Tatum / Bon Iver

15) Steve Buscemi / The Black Keys

16) Charles Barkley / Kelly Clarkson

17) Katy Perry / Robyn

[Still haven't watched the Jonah Hill ep. I'll work on that.]

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COMING UP

04/11 – Josh Brolin / Gotye: The only confirmed episode I can find right now, but a great line-up. I have a really good feeling about Brolin in comedy, and the world is all abuzz about Gotye right now (my wife will be pleased, to be sure).

THE HOFFMAN LIST: BIG FISH, MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM, MARY AND MAX

Back from an extended break, my quest to watch every film starring the members of a list I’ve dubbed The Hoffman List continues, this week with three “children’s” films (some of which might be too weird and sad for kids).

Big Fish (2003)

Starring: Ewan McGregor (with Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Helena Bonham Carter)

McGregor’s Role: The young version of the protagonist, Edward Bloom.

Performance Grade: Hoff-win

Review: This was the film that ignited the spark of my love for Ewan McGregor. The guy’s so affable and infectiously energetic in this movie, containing a boyish enthusiasm within a grown-up, confident face. He doesn’t get to show off his usual crying chops, but the film’s ending will leave you weeping enough even without him. The movie hasn’t fared as well in terms of coherance (it’s oddly paced, upon reflection), but it still gets me every time, and might be the most pleasant movie Tim Burton’s ever made.

Film Grade: Not too fish-y

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007)

Starring: Dustin Hoffman (with Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman, a bunch of kids)

Hoffman’s role: The titular Mr. Magorium, owner of a magical toy shop and dispenser of ancient magical wisdom.

Performance grade: Hoff-win

Review: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is one of the most criminally underrated children’s movies of the last decade. Its plot is a little muddled, especially in the third act, and the ending is a bit weak, but Hoffman makes the movie dazzle. Plus, he delivers one of my favorite monologues in the history of film, which I won’t spoil for you but involves King Lear. It’s funny, cute, and heart-warming to the maximum.

Film Grade: Wonder-ful

Mary and Max (2009)

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman (with Toni Collette and Eric Bana)

Hoffman’s role: Max, a sad, lonely, mentally-handicapped man from New York City who becomes pen pals with a sad, lonely girl from Australia.

Performance grade: Hoff-win

Review: This is one of the saddest claymation pictures you’ll ever see. Also, it’s one of the strangest. But there’s a real sense of love for these characters written into this script, and the voice actors (Hoffman especially) make their tragedies (and they have many) into deeply moving adventures.

Film Grade: To the Max

No power rankings for SNL this week

I’m writing from my phone in the passenger seat of my car on the way to Washington, D.C. This is both difficult and tedious. This, no power rankings this week. Suffice it to say that Bill Hader killed, Bobby Moynihan shined, Andy Samberg dropped the ball in all but the Psychic sketch, Jason Sudekis and Kristen Wiig did well, Keenan Thompson referenced Good Burger, Lindsay Lohan was a disaster, Jack White was rocking, and next week should be solid.

Concise enough?

Saturday Night Live – Power Rankings 02/18/2012

There was an episode this week? I already forgot.

SNL POWER RANKINGS: Maya Rudolph/Sleigh Bells 02/28/2012

1) Kenan Thompson (Up 9) - I know. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t seen it. But somehow, a week after near-invisibility and a season of relative indifference, the SNL writers gave Kenan Thompson a huge part of last night’s episode. He was supporting in many sketches, including the Cold Open and his brief appearance as LL Cool J, but leads in “What Up With That?” (in which he clearly gave it his all) and “How’s He Doing?” and a hilarious appearance in “Maya Angelou Prank Show” gave him the edge needed to come out ahead in an abnormally even-spread episode.

2) Fred Armisen (Up 8) - Again, I KNOW. Two surprise leaps in the standings, and from the actors I would have thought least likely to mount such a climb. It’s most easily attributed to last night’s extreme focus on racial sketches. Armisen had a great opportunity to showcase (80s) black cultural icons like Prince, Cornel West, and Bill Cosby (the latter as Barack Obama, a double impression). His sketch volume was relatively high, and his contribution to those sketches was strong. All season people have tired of his schtick. Now that he’s found a way to do something fresh, he’s surely given himself plenty more screen time in weeks to come.

3) Bill Hader(Down 1) - If Armisen and Thompson (and one other actor I’ll be discussing shortly) benefitted from a fairly racially charged episode, Hader was relegated to either the straight man or the talk/game show host, roles he should be used to by now. But while Lindsay Buckingham and Game Show Host are characters he’s trotted out numerous times, it’s a sign that the show still believes in him that he was given so many lead or supporting roles. A high sketch volume with decent contributions lands him in the third position, though it’s likely he won’t stay there long.

4) Jay Pharoh (Up 7) – The third member of the cast to benefit from this week’s race focus (notice a pattern here?) was the one person everyone thought would be this high a lot sooner. Jay Pharoh did his usual impressioneering, with great turns as Morgan Freeman and Jay-Z, but for the first time, what impressed wasn’t just his mimickry but his comedic chops. In “How’s He Doing” and the Cold Open, he played a character rather than a real person, and did very well with it. His facial expressions and dynamics were solid, and he was in a large portion of the production. If he keeps this up, Jay Pharoh might just be the breakout star everyone’s predicted he would be in the years to come.

5) Jason Sudekis (-) – Who can take the world on with his smile? That guy. Jason Sudekis can work a stale bit like dancing in an Adidas track suit or poorly impersonating Joe Biden and make it funny just by grinning the right way. From the Cold Open to “What Up With That,” Sudekis had screen time and charm, which is all he really needs to coast into the 5 spot.

6) Kristen Wiig (Down 3) - Wiig had the only funny moment in the monologue and her infectious cracking up saved the Game Show sketch from surefire mediocrity. Her screen time was slight, but her chemistry with her Bridesmaids co-star Maya Rudolph gave us all something to smirk about. It’s just unfortunate that the writers don’t seem to think she can handle the average-Jane women roles, bringing in Amy Poehler to do work with Rudolph and giving Wiig goofy gags that require her to break character to make her seem human.

7) Nasim Pedrad (Down 1) – Pedrad was one of several cast members to get spiraled down the bill this week because of guest stars and sensitive sketches. But her Nicki Minaj was the second best impression of the “Jay-Z and Beyonce” sketch (behind Justin Timberlake’s Justin Vernon), and sparky stand-out moments are the best she gets these days, which is a shame.

8) Andy Samberg (Down 7) -What did Andy do this week? Not a lot. After being practically handed last week’s episode, he found himself dancing in a George Washington outfit and playing second-fiddle to his friend JT, who he likely coerced into being on the show in the first place. Behind the scenes connections are a plus with this cast, but without screen time, it doesn’t take you anywhere.

9) Vanessa Bayer (Up 3) - Don’t let the improved placement fool you: The writers clearly have nothing to offer Vanessa Bayer right now, which is a shame. She was the straight woman in the Game Show sketch (barely a player), and a backup singer in “What Up With That” when you couldn’t really see her face. I can’t tell you why she’s been given so little to work with, as I think she’s adorable and pretty talented. But clearly someone isn’t liking what she’s doing.

10) Bobby Moynihan (Down 2) – Bobby Moynihan in a Teddy Roosevelt costume: Hilarious, right? All ten seconds of it were amusing. Shame that’s all he did this week. Seriously: This guy is dynamite! Give him a bigger part, and your show could be gangbusters. But then, who listens to me, or the fans, or to laughter?

11/12 [tie]) Taran Killam/Abby Elliot (Down 7/Down 5) -Where were these two? Lorne only knows.

HOST GRADE: -  Maya Rudolph is a former cast member, and like all former cast members who’ve hosted the show in the last three seasons, she has grown immensely since leaving SNL behind. It wasn’t the most stellar episode, and didn’t have the “water cooler” factor of Jimmy Fallon’s hosting stint, but Rudolph is a gem of a performer, and if it takes a mixed race host to get the writers to think about racial issues in their sketches, I’m all for it.

MUSICAL GUEST GRADE: B - I’m familiar with Sleigh Bells’ bombastic live shows already and know that they’re not just talented, they’re balls-out awesome most of the time. But SNL’s sound engineering is THE WORST on television, and somehow the band came across as limp and forgettable instead of brash and interesting.

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SEASON 37 EPISODE RANKING

1) Jimmy Fallon / Michael Buble

2) Jason Segal / Florence and the Machine

3) Zooey Deschanel / Karmin

4) Melissa McCarthy / Lady Antebellum

5) Danielle Radcliffe / Lana Del Rey

6) Maya Rudolph / Sleigh Bells

-A smart week is great; the writers actually thought through the issues they were satirizing (and for once, it actually rose to the lofty title of satire!). But when it came down to it, it just wasn’t that funny. A few really funny sketches (Maya Angelou, Bronx Beat, Jay-Z and Beyonce) made it watchable, but I had forgotten the vast majority of what I’d watched by the time I switched off the TV and went to bed.

7) Alec Baldwin / Radiohead

8) Charlie Day / Maroon 5

9) Emma Stone / Coldplay

10) Anna Faris / Drake

11) Ben Stiller / Foster the People

12) Channing Tatum / Bon Iver

13) Steve Buscemi / The Black Keys

14) Charles Barkley / Kelly Clarkson

15) Katy Perry / Robyn

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COMING UP

Next week is a re-run (Eli Manning is off the hosting schedule, and the universe can breathe a sigh of relief).

3/3 – Lindsay Lohan / Jack White: WTF ARE YOU DOING TO ME, LORNE?!?! God damn it.

3/10 – Jonah Hill / TBA: Academy Award Nominee Jonah Hill. Swirl that around in your brain.

Rumored - Justin Bieber: ……..F**k this.

Saturday Night Live – Power Rankings 02/11/2012

I don’t know where I read this online, but soomeone suggested that someone should do a weekly power ranking for SNL; who’s up, who’s down, who’s working, who’s not. So I thought, “Hey, I can co-opt that idea and pretend I came up with it!”

My typical (read: pathetic) Saturday night involves my wife, some booze, and SNL. I have a tendency to live-tweet the show every week, which, in my drunken state, can be both difficult and frustrating. But somehow, I enjoy it.

So now, each week, I’ll be re-capping the previous night’s episode by grading the performers based on 1) Their sketch volume, 2) Their sketch quality, 3) Intangibles (the ability to save/kill the quality of a sketch, quantity of flubs, ability to make mistakes funny, etc.). I’ll also grade the hosts and musical guests, and rank the best sketches. Then, each week, I’ll update a ranking of the season’s episodes.

ENOUGH EXPOSITION, NOLAN! Let’s do this thing:

SNL POWER RANKINGS: Zooey Deschanel/Karmin, 02/11/2012

1) Andy Samberg – The boy has his off moments from time to time, but Samberg was on fire last night. He was in a moderately high volume of sketches (five total) and was arguably the best part of almost all of them. His “Get in the Cage” is the funniest recurring sketch of the year, he was the only even remotely decent part of “Patio Party” (aka the ungodly Crab sketch), and he played well with the host in “Technology Hump.” Others may have more flash right now, but consistency wins this game.

2) Bill Hader – His usual spate of repetitive impressions/game show hosts was broken last night by an amazing series of ads parodying the Clint Eastwood Super Bowl commercial. His sketch volume low as a result, which is pretty much the only reason he’s not #1.

3) Kristen Wiig – Wiig finally broke out some fresh characters this week. Her “Victorian Lady” wasn’t amazingly funny, but it was refreshing. Her Madonna was also a lot better because she didn’t attempt to sing (I don’t know why the writers always try to make her sing, because she can’t impersonate singing voices to save her life). And the “Newspaper” sketch was all her; she embodied that classic film woman so perfectly it was uncanny. But perhaps her best moment of the night was her Bjork impression in “Bein’ Qurky,” saving a relatively dull sketch and shooting her up to this spot.

4) Taran Killam – His Piers Morgan and Michael Cera impressions sounded nothing like the real thing. But Killam sold his bits so well that he mined gold from the dirt. Plus his dancing in “Les Jeunes Des Paris” is always delightful. Killam is fast becoming a major star on this show.

5) Jason Sudekis – Sudekis was finally given a week to show off his skills. Unfortunately, for all the sketches they threw at him, including yet another Mitt Romney Cold Open, either he fell flat or the material never fully landed. The Cold Open in particular was rough because it seemed aimless until a dog (of all things) saved the material from itself. As one half of LMFAO, he didn’t get much to work with. His only real success came in the “Newspaper” sketch, though he did mess up a few lines. He’s finally getting the screen time his fans have been clamoring for, but it’s just not catching right now.

6) Nasim Pedrad - Her contributions were mostly minor, including voice-only work in “Technology Hump” that was fairly amusing. But they included two relatively strong impressions (M.I.A. and Arianna Huffington) that shined, even though the jokes they gave her weren’t the strongest.

7) Abby Elliott – Her Zooey Deschanel impression made up the main bulk of her contribution to the show, and though it was essentially the lead role in the sketch, it was a fairly one-note routine.

8) Bobby Moynihan – Moynihan is possibly the most under-utilized actor on the show. Watching him in the background of any sketch can make it better, including his dancing in Les Jeunes Des Paris and his typing in the “Newspaper” sketch. I just wish they’d give him more screen time. A few feature spots on Weekend Update aren’t enough; he needs a few real sketches of his own.

9) Fred Armisen – He was barely in this episode, which is surprising given his ubiquity the rest of the year, but his absence was, honestly, welcome. He showed up as one half of LMFAO and in the Verizon ad parody, but he was pretty underwhelming in both (he even seemed to be coasting a bit).

10) Keenan Thompson – Thompson was given no opportunities this week. They even squandered a chance for him to play Cee-Lo in the Piers Morgan/Madonna sketch. But his status is safer on the list than others.

11) Jay Pharoah – Pharoah was all but shut out of this week’s sketches, showing up briefly in “Victorian Ladies” and almost nowhere else. He seemed almost despondant during the “Jay Pharoah Show” sketch two weeks ago, as though he wasn’t happy with his material. Are the writers taking it out on him by writing him out of the show?

12) Vanessa Bayer – Bayer is sweet and adorable. But was she even in this episode? I don’t remember seeing her face once, which is a shame, as she was starting to showcase some solid comedy skills. We’ll see next week whether she can keep her head above water and stick it out to come back next season.

Host Grade: A-  –  With SNL hosts, comedic timing is a crapshoot. To find someone who can hit the right beats when they need to be hit is rare, and even if the host plays variations of herself for most of the episode, she still needs to be able to find the meat on the jokes. Thankfully, Zooey Deschanel made the material work for her, and worked more like a regular cast member than a star slumming it on late night comedy shows.

Musical Guest Grade: B-  – Karmin has “Top 40 One-Hit Wonders” written all over them, but their performance was inoffensive and actually fairly tight, even if the music was unimpressive.

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SEASON 37 EPISODE RANKING

1) Jimmy Fallon / Michael Buble

2) Jason Segal / Florence and the Machine

3) Zooey Deschanel / Karmin

4) Melissa McCarthy / Lady Antebellum

5) Danielle Radcliffe / Lana Del Rey

6) Alec Baldwin / Radiohead

7) Charlie Day / Maroon 5

8) Emma Stone / Coldplay

9) Anna Faris / Drake

10) Ben Stiller / Foster the People

11) Channing Tatum / Bon Iver

12) Steve Buscemi / The Black Keys

13) Charles Barkley / Kelly Clarkson

14) Katy Perry / Robyn

COMING UP

02/18 – Maya Rudolph / Sleigh Bells – Another SNL alum gets a hosting gig, and just in time to do a great Whitney Houston tribute. Although I dread the Twitter anti-hipster backlash against Sleigh Bells, who are absolutely intense live but are anything but populist fare.

02/25 – Eli Manning / J. Cole – Oh f*** my c***.

Hoffman List: Wag the Dog, The Ides of March, The Ghost Writer

For the first Hoffman List review, I decided on a three-for-one: One film I saw recently for each of the three current members of the list, to give folks a look into how the process works. So! Here goes:

Wag the Dog (1997)

Starring: Dustin Hoffman (with Robert DeNiro, Anne Heche, and Woody Harrelson)

Hoffman’s role: Stanley Motss, a Hollywood producer who’s asked to fake a war for the U.S. government to distract the nation from a major scandal.

Performance grade: Hoff-win

Review: Wag the Dog is a delightfully disturbed film in many ways, laughing in the face of war as though it were nothing more than a Saturday morning cartoon. And while all the actors do a fine job, Hoffman steals the show. It’s classic Hoffman: A character who’s just smart and likeable enough so that he charms everyone around him and gets away with madness, but also crazy and spoiled enough for us to laugh at him as much as with him. He anchors a strong cast and makes what could be an uncomfortably real satire wonderfully surreal.

Film grade: Wag-tastic

The Ides of March (2011)

Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman (also Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, and Paul Giamatti)

Hoffman’s role: Paul Zara, campaign manager for presidential candidate Mike Morris

Performance grade: Hoff-win

Review: Modern political thrillers tend to range from the bloody to the boring. Thankfully, The Ides of March is neither. Though it’s not exactly earth-shattering either; for the first half of the movie, much of the audience will be wondering why the characters are overreacting to what is really a minor political scandal. For the second half, when a major shift occurs in the story, the audience will likely wonder why people aren’t reacting more to what is really a huge political scandal. All in all, though it’s a good film, focused primarily on Gosling, who is exceptional. Hoffman, meanwhile, is suitably fiery and gives some great monologues (as he is wont to do) but is severely lacking in screen time.

Film grade: Ides-ee it again

The Ghost Writer (2010)

Starring: Ewan McGregor (also Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams)

McGregor’s role: The unnamed “Ghost” hired to pen an autobiography of the disgraced British prime minister

Performance grade: Hoff-win

Review: For all his faults and legal problems and possible molestation rapey-ness, Roman Polanski knows how to direct a picture with vitality and tension. While it takes a while to get off the ground, the dramatic revelations of its secrets are so tantalizing the story propels forward deftly. More to the point, Brosnan and McGregor have extraordinary on-screen chemistry, shifting their relationship through a range of emotions that really bring out the best in them both. McGregor doesn’t get a stand-out crying scene (easily his best attribute; it should be in all of his contracts), but he still brings his A-game.

Film grade: Ghost write-on

Introducing The Hoffman List

I’ll say it loud and proud: I love Dustin Hoffman. The man’s a prince among men; in acting, he’s one of the greatest that ever lived. He makes even terrible movies watchable, and he makes good movies great. He plays every character as if it’s the most important one of his career, and he always brings up his supporting cast.

I enjoy watching his movies so much that I’ve decided on a mission: Watch every movie ever to feature Dustin Hoffman, however obscure or ridiculous, and write about it here.

And because I’m a glutton for punishment I have a thirst for good acting, I’m going to include another Hoffman into the list: None other than Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

PSH and DH are in very similar positions as actors, though at very different times in their careers; they’re both considered wildly talented but are often forgotten when people talk about the best actors of their respective generations.

And hey, you know what? I decided I wanted to open this list up to actors not named Hoffman. So the first honorary inductee into the Hoffman list will be: Ewan McGregor.

Does that seem wrong to you somehow?

Well it shouldn’t; McGregor is one of the world’s most underrated movie stars. He’s the only actor who didn’t have to earn my love back after the Star Wars prequels (Natalie Portman did it with V for Vendetta, Liam Neeson did it with Kinsey, and Samuel L. Jackson did it by continuing to be a BAMF in all situations). He made Angels and Demons acceptable. He’s been in some of the best forgotten movies of the last two decades (Trainspotting, Big Fish, Stay, The Ghost Writer). He even made me not hate Moulin Rouge (briefly).

So I start this list with three: Dustin Hoffman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and honorary inductee Ewan McGregor. Follow along, there may be some surprises in store.

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