Sesame Street: it's not just for toddlers anymore. In fact, it hasn't been 'just for toddlers' since the first day that some brilliant marketing person on Team Sesame discovered the power of puppet-based viral videos. The formula is simple: take a recognizable character like, say, Cookie Monster or Ernie (not Camilla, because nobody likes Camilla) and stick them in a topical pop culture reference. The lyrics don't have to be poignant. The set doesn't have to be expensive. The extras don't even have to be of voting age (child labor laws don't fly on the Sesame). But somehow, they work wonderfully.
Consider the latest in the stream of Sesame Street-related pop culture videos. It's Cookie Monster singing "Call Me Maybe," with delightful lyrical changes like "me just met you" instead of "I just met you." How wildly frothy! Really, though, Cookie's endearing plea to "share it, maybe" is a heartwarming message that we all stand to think about when it comes to Sesame's array of pop culture offerings. I've compiled 12 other fantastic representations of Sesame Street marketing — it's advertising that's so good, you won't even know you're learning while you watch it! Scroll down for True Mud, Desperate Houseplants and, of course, Veg Side Story ("I've just met a squash named Mariiiia."):
1. Share It Maybe
2. Survivor: Musical Chairs
3. Desperate Houseplants
4. Smell Like A Monster
5. Heaviest Catch
7. Spider-Monster the Musical
8. The Closer
9. Veg Side Story
10. True Mud
11. The O Network
12. Murphy Brownbag
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When a movie gets knocked around from one crummy release date to another one would assume that it is pretty awful. However even I a knowledgeable and open-minded film geek wasn’t prepared for the monstrosity that is Season of the Witch a medieval mess that has reportedly been in the works for a decade. You’d never be able to tell so many years of preparation went into this sad excuse for a B-movie based on its laughable CGI dialogue and contrived premise. How many flavors of bad is this supernatural stinker? Sample this…
A period horror action flick Season of the Witch is initially set in a cursed city suffering from the Black Plague that has deformed and decimated the majority of its population. The disease has been unleashed as a result of a literal witch-hunt gone wrong. Ancient evil forces are afoot and the blame is put on a young girl who the Church believes is a witch. Though imprisoned in the dungeons of a castle her power reigns supreme. Enter Behman (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) Knights of the Crusades who happen upon the city on their way back to civilization. Once recognized as deserters they are imprisoned and given the choice to remain captive or lead a suicide transport mission to a remote monastery where the girl’s innocence or guilt can be determined. If deemed evil she is to be destroyed.
The premise though far from original could have been cool if executed with some style but director Dominic Sena (Gone In Sixty Seconds) is incapable of making it enjoyable. Instead of creating suspense through eerie environments he settles for cheap thrills that fall short every time. His use of CGI is painfully bad conjuring effects that would’ve looked dated around the turn of the century. Most insulting is the film’s big “twist” - a lazy paradigm shift so easily foreseeable the movie should have just been called The Devil’s Advocate. Is that not bad enough for you? Just wait it gets better (read: worse).
Stars Cage and Perlman are Razzie bound with a pair of pathetic non-performances. The accomplished actors don’t even try to get into character. Rather they don period garb shield and sword and run around like cheap imitations of their former selves for two hours. You won’t hear any attempts at English accents because apparently 14th Century Knights are just like contemporary buddy cops. With this little effort being put forth by the two men who are essentially the reason folks will pay to see the movie Season of the Witch doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. The supporting cast which includes Ulrich Thomsen Stephen Graham and Christopher Lee try to bear the burden but cannot undo the damage that Cage and Perlman inflict upon this film. The scariest thing about Season of the Witch is the movie itself an abomination of bad filmmaking and terrible acting.
This week I had the extreme privilege of being invited to the writer’s room of SNL with Paul Rudd and Paul McCartney. I had been before, but not an ‘event’ episode like one of the funniest actors and a Beatle on the same episode. Say what you will about the show, but being there was fantastic (as it should be).
One of the things that few realize is that while there is a lot of talent and star power on the stage being filmed, there is an equal number behind the scenes just hanging out. Don’t believe me? There were so many people there that I passed by Edward Norton three times and didn’t even realize it (my girlfriend alerted me to this after the fact. I was remiss I didn't get a chance to ask him to punch me in the face). I walked through a doorway with Jon Hamm and nearly passed out from being around so much handsome. When we first got off the elevator we knew we got off on the wrong floor (we got off on the 8th where they film, the writer’s room is on the 9th) because Lorne Michaels was walking down the hall and we passed Paul McCartney’s dressing room. Whoops.
It was an amazing night with great performances, many laughs, and an incredibly random sighting of Val Kilmer (who has really nice hair by the way. Seriously, no split ends at all).
Anyway, onto the skits:
One of the cool things about being in the writer’s room is learning what got cut between the dress rehearsal and the taping. Apparently they cut a minute from the cold opening which included a 9/11 joke that got booed. Thankfully the final result was mercifully short to make room for McCartney’s extra performances.
The 'Kissing Family' sketch has been nearly done to death, but I really appreciated them going for it hardcore early on with Bill Hader feeling up Paul Rudd.
'What’s That Name' was the most delightful skit from this week. Great set up, execution, and jokes and perhaps the only funny appearance from Kristen Wiig this week.
The Mastercard sketch was brilliant if only for Bill Hader’s near pitch perfect impression of Julian Assange. “Ever seen the fourth season of Hanging With Mr. Cooper? You’re about to!”
Why Paul McCartney decided to a bunch of Wings songs is beyond me. Perhaps because it was so close to the anniversary of John Lennon’s death. But either way, experiencing a living Beatle’s performance was amazing. And then after ‘Get Back’ during the credits he continued with ‘Back in the USSR’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There.’ Everyone in the audience, the cast, crew, all the celebrities just hanging out, we were all on the floor dancing, singing, and shouting. Mind = blown.
Stefon is becoming one of my favorite characters. I wouldn’t like to see a movie based on him (he’s perfect the way he is), but it wouldn’t be that bad.
Weekend Update had some unusually consistent jokes this week topped off with Paul McCartney acting like Camilla. Best joke? I won’t ruin it but it happens at 2:10.
Here’s an interesting behind the scenes fact. Sometimes we complain about how the sketches seem to end awkwardly but this is a peril with live television. Such a thing happened with this very funny skit when it didn’t cut on cue. Nevertheless it was great to see Jay Pharoah inhabit a character and not a impression. This kid is someone to watch out for, his control over his voice is outstanding. If SNL continues to use him wisely (which I’m sure they will) they will reap many benefits.
Abby Elliott is one of my favorite players of recent years because she’s really funny. And maybe she just happens to be a little bit beautiful, but that’s purely a coincedence.
NBC hasn’t released it, but the Willkommen sketch was funny if only because it was the only real chance to see Jason Sudeikis this week.
And one final insight that I learned from this little excursion was that if you want to know what the backstage looks like at SNL, just watch 30 Rock. They manage to almost nail it on the head. The only difference is that’s its a little more roomier and a little bit cleaner (but that's like complaining about how the people on TV are too "pretty").
For those who love the idea of people walking around with paranormal skills Push is right on the money. Basically the big bad government strikes again -- this time in the form of a shadowy agency known as the Division. They have genetically transformed citizens into an army of psychic warriors with tag names such as “Pushers ” “Shifters” and “Sniffers ” who brutally dispose those unwilling to participate in their reindeer games. Nick Grant (Chris Evans) a second-generation telekinetic or “Mover ” is one such rebel hiding out in Hong Kong. He meets the tough-as-nails Cassie (Dakota Fanning) a 13-year-old second-generation clairvoyant or “Watcher ” also on the run and through uncontrollable circumstances reluctantly follows her on a quest to bring down the Division. Wanna know what a “Bleeder” does? It isn’t pretty. While the story weakens at points it’s saved by winning performances especially from Fanning. This is her sort-of coming out film -- moving away from the childish and into more adult fare cursin’ and gettin’ drunk in Push like a pro. This kind of teen wiseass role could have been played obnoxiously but Fanning gives it depth and heart. Her longevity as a actress is quite evident. The charmingly good-looking Evans (Fantastic Four) too makes the most of his reluctant hero a guy with a bigger chip on his shoulder than he’d like to admit. Other standout turns include Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) as The Division’s No. 1 badass a top-notch Pusher who can put any old thought in your head and Camilla Belle (10 000 B.C.) as Nick’s part-time love interest who holds the key to the whole operation -- at one point quite literally. Director Paul McGuigan showed his mettle with the tightly wound thriller Lucky Number Slevin -- and continues the trend by crafting another slick actioner. What he does best is make Hong Kong a vital and integral part of Push. Shot entirely on location the nooks and crannies of the city gives the film a very claustrophobic feel while the stark minimalistic environs enhances the sort of hopelessness of the situations playing out. One particular climactic battle on top of a glass roof is pretty cool. Any of the film’s faults lie in the script which seems to meander and feel forced at times but ultimately Push is just pure escapist fun.
Told from the perspective of one innocent maid Mary Macearchran (Kelly MacDonald) the story starts as she arrives at the magnificent country estate of Gosford Park. On this particular weekend host Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his wife Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) have invited an eclectic group to the house for a shooting party. The guests include Sylvia's two sisters (Geraldine Somerville Natasha Wightman) their respective loser husbands (Charles Dance Tom Hollander) her cantankerous aunt Constance (Maggie Smith) for whom Mary works British matinee idol Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) and his American friend Morris Weisman (Bob Balaban) a film producer who makes Charlie Chan movies. As the upper-crust guests bicker about money and power the ranks of house servants personal maids and valets below make sure their charges are well taken care of under the guidance of the head butler Jennings (Alan Bates) head housekeeper Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) and head cook Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins). Through Mary's eyes we see that the glamour of the upstairs patrons and the seeming precision downstairs are not all they seem. The two worlds are destined to collide and when they do it leads to only one thing--murder.
One of the joys of an Altman movie is his uncanny ability to take a huge ensemble cast of really good actors and carve out a film from their personal stories. This style can also work to the film's detriment however and in Gosford Park the mostly British cast melds together almost too well. Often you can't even tell who's who. Still with all the talent involved there are at least a few bright moments: Smith as the wisecracking Constance an old lady who's very used to being waited on hand and foot gets all the best lines and delivers them flawlessly and veteran actress Mirren is also brilliant as the staunch Mrs. Wilson. She turns in one of the film's only heartbreaking scenes as her character grieves for the son she gave away long ago in the name of servitude. Also good are MacDonald as the young Mary Clive Owen as the valet Robert Parks who carries more than just a chip on his shoulder and Emily Watson as the headstrong chief housemaid Elsie. Northam too shows off his musical abilities as the suave piano-playing singing Novello. The rest all blend together except unfortunately the two American actors--Balaban comes off as annoying and Ryan Phillippe playing an actor pretending to be Morris' valet is in way over his head.
Interestingly the film is taken from a story idea dreamt up by Altman and Balaban. One wonders if perhaps the two were inspired to create Park after watching an episode of the classic '70s British television drama Upstairs Downstairs which was about a wealthy British household whose servant class had just as many dramas as the people they served (hmm sounds familiar). Sure it's conceivable that two Americans sitting around talking about making a distinctly British movie (and a period piece to boot) could pull it off and with a tremendous talent like Altman attached you'd think it would work. But Park misses the mark. The Altman-esque qualities are all there--the way he interweaves his characters' stories and shows real people with real emotions--but maybe just maybe Altman is simply out of his element. You enjoy the ride but it's not a ride through appealing territory and you're definitely watching from the window as the characters live a life you never really become a part of.