The first Saturday Night Live of 2014 came with a lot of anticipation. Not only was it the debut of new featured player Sasheer Zamata, who was cast after a highly publicized nation wide search for a black female, it was Drake's first time shouldering both host and musical guest roles, after not acting since he was a handicapped high schooler on Degrassi (unless you count his Anchorman 2 cameo). But both SNL and Drake showed confidence in his abilities, having him appear in the cold open as a delightfully delusional A-Rod ("I'm also suing steroids for being inside of me"). The "Piers Morgan Live" opener was also anchored by Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan killing it as Chris Christie, along with Kate McKinnon doing a better impression of Justin Bieber than any male cast member could muster.
Drake's initial monologue seemed as if the rapper was dabbling in stand up comedy as he transitioned into a sketch about his black/Jewish/Canadian Bar Mitzvah. Using the monologue to do a sketch that could have gone anywhere in the show was an unorthodox move (pun intended) that paid off. It answered questions about whether Drake could deliver as a comedic performer, while giving an exaggerated illustration of his upbringing. It also gave newbie Zamata a chance to be seen earlier on, on the arm of Kenan Thompson, who's recently taken his foot out of his mouth about why SNL had not hired any black females until now.
The best sketch of the night came early, carried by Thompson who played rapper/reporter Sway, hosting "Hip Hop Classics: Before They Were Stars." This concept played off of Drake's transition as a wholesome child star into a hip hop artist, showing other famous rappers with that followed similar paths. Playing off equal parts nostalgia and absurdity, it featured Lil Wayne as Steve Urkel, Rick Ross as a Teletubbie, and Flava Flav as the voice of adult Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years, among others that were funny even without knowing the references. The sketch appeared to be pretaped, aside from Thompson's spot-on live rendition of Sway ("I'm not saying there's a cat on my head, but if there is I have to feed it").
Weaker sketches throughout the show were mostly a result of risks being taken that didn't land. Freshman featured player Noël Wells tried her hand at Nancy Grace, a role comedic juggernaut Amy Poehler has nailed for years. The sketch had funny points, including McKinnon's commentary as a Colorado baker profiting off pot ("I'm Walter White and this is Baking Bad!") but to say Poehler's act is hard to follow would be an understatement. The "Slumber Party" sketch featured a great premise with Aidy Bryant as a girl at a sleepover who's too into her friend's dad. Bryant nails lines like "If you're looking for your dad he's in the palm of my hand." But the innocence that makes her depiction of a creepy gal pal so funny was compromised by taking it in a sexual direction before revealing she's really a disabled 25 year old. An aggressively flirtatious teen girl crushing on a dad would've been funny enough as is.
This highly anticipated episode of SNL was not the best episode, but it was also far from the worst and served a clear purpose. It put Drake on the map as a talented and naturally charismatic actor and entertainer, as he delivered in sketch after sketch with performances comparable to veteran cast members. Holding his own and even carrying several pieces, he merits a Justin Timberlake level of respect for being able to bring it from start to finish on Saturday Night Live. He will likely host again and perhaps rekindle his acting career.
There was an interview recently on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that did more damage to the GOP party than the entire shutdown. What happened? A Republican precinct chairman in North Carolina was interviewed on the show and said some really dumb, racist things. You could tell they were going to be in that vein when he said, "My best friend is black." Yup, that practically set up a neon sign. After the show aired, he then resigned his position.
Yes, I know it wasn't Ted Cruz doing something like that, but it did wind up being a bloody nose for the GOP, however small it may be. They probably don't even care, given that Congress has approval ratings lower than contracting ebola. Yes, I'm sure that many people would rather bleed from every orifice than trust politicians implicitly.
The thing is, when it comes to media, journalism has been king for many, many years. People would trust what was read in the newspapers and many news anchors were held in such high esteem that they might as well have been nominated for sainthood: Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Diane Sawyer...the list goes on. But now the media is being viewed through a prism of mistrust. It seems like more people are listening to Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central than someone like Piers Morgan on CNN or anybody on FOX News.
What helps Stewart and Colbert (well, Stewart more, since Colbert is a persona) is they can take an irreverent view on it that is still surrounded by truth and can expose the hypocrisy of what goes on in the government. Maybe the media got too high up on its pedestal and began thinking it could tell people what it wanted to behind its own agenda, even under the pretense of fair reporting. The Comedy Central duo tend to get under the hood and shine their light on what goes on there. Maybe they could call themselves "America's Auto Mechanics."
So maybe people should hope that Stewart gets many more politicians to appear on his show to show what they really stand for instead of having it sanitized on the news. Maybe in a couple of decades from now, we'll look at Stewart like we looked at the other anchors. And that's no laughing matter.
Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.