After months of controversy and a set of not-so-secret secret emergency showcases, Saturday Night Live has chosen Sasheer Zamata to join the cast midseason as a Featured Player, making her the first black woman to be cast on the show since Maya Rudolph left in 2008. She is set to make her first appearance on the January 18 episode, alongside host and musical guest, Drake. While we're sure that almost immediately after she starts working at Rockefeller Plaza she'll be asked to play Michelle Obama, Beyonce, and Oprah Winfrey in rapid succession, we're really looking forward to seeing some of the original characters and sketches she will bring to the table. As an established writer, comedian and actress, a lot of her work is available online, including her web series, Pursuit of Sexiness, which has given us a glimpse at what's to come when she debuts on SNL.
In anticipation of her debut, we've taken a look at her original characters to try and determine where they would best fit in on Saturday Night Live, and which current cast members would work well opposite them.
Character: Thandie Snood, Host of "Fresh Findings"From: Her character reelHow It Would Work: Of all of the characters featured in Zamata's online videos, Thandie Snood feels the most ready to make the jump to Saturday Night Live. Firstly, she comes with a "talk show" premise already, and since the show has been relying more and more on talk and game show based sketches as of late, this could be a big advantage to helping Thandie Snood make it to air. In addition, the on-air breakdown that includes Thandie giving herself a pep-talk in the mirror and comparing a broken ukulele to the demise of her marriage make the character the right amount of odd to make it easy to expand the character into a longer sketch, resulting in a bigger freak out, or allowing other character the opportunity to react, both of which are things that SNL specializes in when it comes to developing sketches. Just add Kenan Thompson staring at Thandie with his signature wide-eyed confusion, and it could air right away.
Character: Jen at the GymFrom: Her character reelHow It Would Work: If Thandie was the most SNL-ready character that Zamata has in her arsenal, Jen at the Gym needs the most work to make it the viable focus of a sketch. However, the character's awkward nature and penchant for over-sharing mean that she could easily fit in with SNL's roster of weirdos and oddballs with a little bit of polishing. We could see Jen playing well off of another character or two, maybe as some sort of a double-act, or as the kind of character that pops up briefly for bit parts in sketches, just to add a bit of insanity to the proceedings. Think Triangle Sally meets Sally O' Malley.
Character: Sassy Mama Girlfriend, Host of "Watch Yo Mouth"From: Her writing reelHow It Would Work: There's no doubt that SNL will want to have at least one "sassy" character in their docket, so why not take Zamata's vegan cooking show host and find a way to work her into other sketches? While the cooking show featured in Zamata's reel is a great way to showcase the character, and features a great punchline about the side effects of cutting an onion, we see Sassy Mama Girlfriend hosting a character-based talk show. The best SNL talk shows have always revolved around some sort of outlandish, over-the-top host, like with "Bronx Beat" or the "Barry Gibb Talk Show," and we could see this character fitting in well amongst all of those other segments. It would also allow Zamata to keep the beats of sadness and frustration that are featured in the "Watch Yo Mouth" clip, but would also give her more time to explore them while giving Sassy Mama Girlfriend some characters to play off of. Consider it the perfect alternative to "Waking Up With Kimye."
Character: Melanie Mostnik, Host of "Morning After Meals"From: Her writing reelHow It Would Work: Both SNL and Zamata appear to be big fans of "host" characters, which would give her plenty of opportunities to come up with sketches that work with the tone of the show. But while Melanie would make a decent basis for a game show host, we love the premise of her hosting a cooking show in the kitchen of her one night stands, and think it would work perfectly as a filmed sketch, with Taran Killam or Brooks Wheelan playing the surprised guy. With the right amount of nervous energy on his part, and the right amount of annoyance and forced pleasantness on hers, we could easily see this fitting in on the show. SNL has been utilizing a lot of filmed sketches this season, with varying levels of success, but we think that "Morning After Meals" has an original enough premise that it would wind up being one of the better ones this season.
Character: N/A, "White Ad Executives Make Commercials for Black People"From: Her writing reelHow It Would Work: Zamata doesn't actually appear in this sketch, which is one of many commercial parodies that she has featured on her reels, but of all of them, it feels like it would work the best on SNL. Between the Morgan Freeman narration and the ridiculous acting, the sketch balances silliness with satire, which would make it a good fit for the commercial slot on the show. SNL has always been well-known for its commercial parodies, and Zamata's reel proves that she has experience writings ones that are snappy and memorable. Plus, her writing talent will help her establish herself on the show quickly, and would allow her voice from getting lost in bit parts and one-off characters. And since we're sure someone on that show has a Morgan Freeman impression ready to go, she won't have to waste any time when it comes to developing new commercials.
Character: Male Stand-upFrom: Chioke Nassor's Storytime SeriesHow It Would Work: Zamata uses an obnoxious, aggressive male stand-up character when she is re-imagining an incident where she was flashed on the street from his perspective. He starts off the story loud and brash, full of confidence, and then, as his set goes on, he starts to become sad about the bad first impression he made, and the possible loss of a genuine connection. We could see this character working well as "one of the guys" in a sketch with Jay Pharoah, but the real similarity is with Kyle Mooney, whose Internet sketch group Good Neighbor features a surfer dude named Todd, who also has moments of genuine self-reflection and existential crisis. Mooney's digital sketches have been among the highlights of the new season, and we think that he and Zamata would work well together, creating weird situations and characters that feel the need to think back on their life choices. Together, they will be laughing and learning.
Character: Cashier; BaristaFrom: Inside Amy Shumer; Totally Biased with W. Kamau BellHow It Would Work: Both of these characters are smaller, side characters, who are more of the straight-men than many of Zamata's other characters. However, both show that she plays off of other people really well, which is always an asset in sketch comedy, and that she has the ability to make a quieter character just as memorable as one that is loud and over-the-top. As a featured player, it's likely that Zamata will have to play a similar role in many of the sketches she's in this season, and her annoyed cashier on Inside Amy Shumer proves that she will likely be able to keep from getting lost in all of the insanity that is coming her way. It also would make her a good counterpoint for someone like Kate McKinnon, who specializes in weirdos, as she wouldn't be bowled over the force of McKinnon's characters. Plus, her barista on Totally Biased will hopefully give her the basis for a lot of character whose oddity is scaled down, which would help balance out the structure of the show.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Instead of following a ragtag team of brutes hired for a suicide mission to destroy an Earth-bound meteor Seeking a Friend for the End of the World plays out the apocalyptic "what if?" scenario from the everyman vantage point. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) the film pairs average joe Dodge (Steve Carell) with wallflower Penny (Keira Knightley) for a journey across the east coast a hunt for Dodge's college sweetheart. Scafaria takes a character-first approach to her anti-blockbuster examining the end of the world with a pitch black sense of humor. But the road trip loses steam as it chugs along with the film's insistence to avoid Hollywood disaster tropes taking a toll on the entertainment value. Dodge and Penny are so normal they aren't that interesting to watch. In turn neither is Seeking a Friend.
Worse for Dodge than the whole "destruction of humanity" thing is the fact that he's facing it alone; his wife leaves him he has no real family and he hates nearly all of his friends. While everyone he knows is either hooking up or shooting up in hopes of going out on a high note Dodge buckles under the weight of an existential crisis that feels all too familiar. To his rescue is next-door neighbor Penny who insists the two hit the road together to go find Dodge's one-that-got-away. They don't have much of a choice as New York City is quickly overrun by Malatov cocktail-hurling riots.
When the catastrophe and societal chaos is seen through Dodge's eyes and Carell's complex interpretation of the straight man Scafaria hits all the marks. Watching Dodge tell his cleaning lady to go home because "What's the point?" is heartbreaking while his good friend's descent into frat boy madness for the same reasons nails mankind's vile tendencies. And through it all it's funny thanks to Carell's impeccable timing. When Dodge is eventually paired up with Penny the film meanders the two never unearthing what it is about each other that keeps them sticking together. The duo run into a kindly truck driver (who's hired an assassin to off him when he's unaware) a TGIFriday's-esque restaurant full of zany drugged up waiters and even one of Penny's ex-boyfriends whose locked down with automatic rifles and Ruffles chips in anticipation of the end. But Dodge and Penny's quest is mostly about the in-between moments the quitter grounded human reactions to the apocalypse. Even with great performers at the helm Seeking a Friend doesn't organically shape those moments so much as contrive them. In one scene Penny fondly recalls the wonders of listening to music on vinyl Dodge listening carefully and learning. It's a soft and low key discussion perfect juxtaposition against the big-scale problem at hand but when a twenty-something is explaining records to a guy nearing 50 it comes off as twee instead of truthful. The problem infiltrates most of Seeking a Friend's character moments.
Scafaria has an ear and eye for comedy but Seeking a Friend boldly reaches for something more. Sadly ambition doesn't translate to success a messy tonal mix that fail to make it all that engaging or emotional. Carell and Knightley serve the material as best they can but this is the end of the world an even that requires a little weight a little sensationalism and a little more than a casual road movie.