All My Movies: American Pie

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American Pie
Starring: Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Sean William Scott
Costarring: Eugene Levy, Alyson Hannigan, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne, Jennifer Coolidge, Shannon Elizabeth
Times Watched: I'd say 10 is a fair guess? That sounds so high!
Genre: Comedy / Dude Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 58% (really?) / 58 (double really?)

Road To Ownership: I still have no idea to this day how I got into the theatre to see this movie. Wasn't it rated R? I was only 15 at the time it came out, yet I distinctly remember 'sneaking' into the theatre to see it with my sister and her best friend. Anywho, one of the two of us scored some deluxor edition which I still own to this day.

The Plot: Four middle of the road high school guys make a pact to lose their virginity by the time they graduate - namely, at prom. Each guy plays a certain archetype and has their own storyline to overcome: Jim, the socially awkward, sexually naive one who's parents really just don't understand. Kevin, the cocky ringleader with a long-term girlfriend that can't bring himself to say he loves her to get her in the sack. Oz (Chris), the popular jock who lays it on thick while trying to be sensitive, until he realizes he can't have it both ways. And Finch, the astute, debonair high schooler that sips macchiatos, studies latin, and has a thing for older women.

The Good & The Bad: This is one of the movies of us millenials' generation, plain and simple. Although the brand has been severely watered down with the straight to video releases (similar to the 80s 'Meatballs', or National Lampoon's for that matter), the original trio of films - particularly this first one - still holds its own as the birth of the dude comedy, chockful of dirty jokes, rampant sexual hormones, and a killer late 90s soundtrack. Sure it's crude and mildly insulting to women, but at the end of the day, Pie is great fun, and still makes me laugh no matter how many times I watch it - often at different jokes every time.

Watching it this time around I did pick up on some implausibility in the plot I never really noticed before. Namely, that the entire action of the film takes place over three weeks. It seems like a LOT happens, particularly with Finch's rise and fall, Kevin patching things up with Vicki, and of course, Oz's relationship with Heather. That being said, let that detail go (and all the other little tweaky bits throughout) and you've got a pretty hilarious film with a relatively basic plot - will they or won't they? - that makes for a solid hour or two of entertainment.

One thing I like about the Pie series is that despite how much of it is played for laughs, these guys, and many of the encounters / relationship scenarios they're put in, FULLY EXIST. Say what you want about the films, they often posit the worst parts of awkward humanity and make you cringe and giggle at the same time (which actually, is the downfall of the last of the original films, American Wedding, which goes for camp more than crass way too often). Add to the fact the four main guys have great chemistry and fulfill their awkward harmonious balanced group of friends perfectly, plus some great support from the various archetypal females, and you've got a relatively solid roster of acting performances from a bunch of film virgins (hah).

Best Scene: The two most famous scenes from the first two Pie films (aside from the aforementioned 'pie' incident) mix some of my favourite bits with my least favourite - namely, Jim and Nadia's 'study session' and the painting crew's lesbian encounter in the second film. They are the ones most blatantly filled with gratuitous sex, but they are also the ones with some of the most memorable, hilarious moments of the film. The reactions to Jim's dance are five times funnier than the actual act, even moreso when you groan, laugh, and slap your thigh in tandem with the characters on the screen. There are many great moments, but this one is the best!

Worst Scene: I'm going to go with Finch shitting in the bathroom after being poisoned by Stifler. Although the jizz cup scene is disgusting, at least it has a hilarious payoff. Finch shitting? I felt bad for the guy (although he got the last laugh) and the shit humour is not on par with the cleverness of many of the other scenes.

Best Character: I thought long and hard about this while watching. By definition, Oz was the heartthrob of the film and his storyline is still the most appealing to a gal years later (although admittedly I found new 'depth' of all things in Kevin and Vicki's plot this time around)...but really, this award obviously goes to Jim. Jason Biggs, as a newbie to the acting circuit, really gave it his all and was willing to do anything and everything to make us laugh. The thing I appreciate is he wasn't just funny doing pratfalls and sex stunts, he had plenty of humour in the guys' everyday dialogue. Here's hoping a good project comes his way soon.

Worst Character: Nadia. Aside from Shannon Elizabeth's terrible accent, this is the one character that is NEVER funny. Tara Reid, Alyson Hannigan, and Mena Suvari all have playful, humorous moments...Nadia is just a patsy in the boy's horndog game, and when you really stop to think about it, oh my god how horrible is the video incident for her?

Soundtrack of Our Lives: Classic 90s tunes. From Veruca Salt and Harvey Danger to the be all and end all of 90s tunes - Semi-Charmed Kind of Life, you've got a killer power punk soundtrack here. Worth a listen!

If You Like This You'll Like: Obviously the next two pie films, American Pie 2 and American Wedding. Also the slew of dude horndog comedies that came out after it. Van Wilder, Tomcats, Road Trip, Eurotrip, etc. Also some of the more recent dude comedies that have a bit more bite to their screenwriting - Wedding Crashers, 40-Year-Old Virgin, and the like. It's like the guys from American Pie have grown up and are still just obsessed with sex.

It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times...Project Runway Season 8 Finale!

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Wowie! I have to say, this year's reality television has, for the most part, been a bit more compelling than usual. To get my other programs out of the way:

Amazing Race - I have a strong hunch *this* will be the season for the all female team to finally clinch it. Thus, watching the two remaining female teams will prove to be interesting. I'm still heartbroken the glee guys are gone, and not in love with the remaining ladies (Dustin & Kandice for reals!) but I'm crossing my fingers this pans out.

Survivor - I have a feeling this season will start to stretch its legs at the merge. There are plenty of interesting characters this season but the way they've been arranged, and split up, has proven to be a little problematic for the producers. I suspect this week's forthcoming merge will really bring some interesting personalities and conflicts to the forefront. Will Marty be able to create a counter alliance and save his ass? Are Sash and Brenda the next Todd and Amanda (circa China)? Will Alina prevail over her former tribe's haters? When the hell are they going to boot Naonka? How will Holly and Jane fare in the new 'blended' tribe? And please, please tell me Fabio will stick around as he is hilarious / awesome / kind of dreamy in a himbo sort of way?

ANTM - I have to say, I am digging this season of America's Next Top Model. It's still gimmicky and faux fashion as all hell, but I am impressed at the roster of guests Tyra has brought in, and I appreciate that they are more involved with the girls and at panel, versus bringing in the latest celeb flavour of the week. My gut is saying Kayla will take it based on her edit, but I'm also rooting for friggin gorgeous Jane, and curious to see how Ann's storyline plays out. This has been my most must-watch show of the season...

After Project Runway that is. This season was a resounding success, and not just with me apparently - ratings were up, fans were pleased, and naysayers returned to the season with fresh promise. The main reason? The show's casting directors did an excellent job, proving that a good talent competition doesn't necessarily lie in the talent, but the personalities at hand. The last few seasons had pretty boring designers and a lack of the bitchery that made the first few seasons rock. They also, in my humble opinion, were a little lacklustre in the design department. Maybe it's just because the show has been on for 8 seasons, but I feel the last three in particular have felt tired in terms of being WOWed on the runway. The last time I remember feeling like the final showdown was indeed a showdown (or might be a showdown) was the Kenley/Korto/Leanne finale, and indeed it was one of the better finales we saw.

This season? Well, the first three or four episodes proved promising. Gretchen's heinous bitchery was a riot (and regardless of her crocodile tears at the reunion, it was bitchery, same as all the other nasty comments made by other designers...hers was just more notable because it was tinged with self-righteousness, as if her commentary was somehow constructive), the designers ganging up on Michael Costello was an interesting storyline, and evolution of Mondo from weirdo to whiz kid was a joy. That being said, I felt this was quite possibly the worst final 3 collections in the show's history. In fact, after viewing all of the decoy collections, I was sorely disappointed by them all.

Let me explain. Andy and Gretchen's final collections were, to me, equally blah. I thought Mondo should have won, however I have major issues with his show as well. Andy, eliminated first and without much conversation, was screwed because of his devotion to Laotian fabrics, and therefore had to complete 10 looks in 10 days - instead of the 45 days the designers were supposed to get. I thought he did the most interesting things with his clothes, but it often looked like he was being different for the sake of being different construction-wise, versus finding ways to make existing silhouettes feel fresh and interesting. I liked his two colours - green and grey - but I felt like he fell into the trap the judges discussed on the show last week, wherein a collection is NOT just about colour, but about a story. Andy's work could have used some more diversity in colour (or even sticking to the same colour scheme with different fabrics) and it ultimately made his work fall a little flat. I just felt like there wasn't a story behind it other than the fabric's origin and the distracting headpieces. I think back to collections I didn't even like that much - like Mila's 'shadows' last season or Irina's winning 'New York warrior woman', and at the very least I can point to the fact there was a definitive vibe and feeling with both of those shows that rightfully knocked out Andy South from taking the crown.

In that sense, Gretchen's created 'woman' did earn her some points in my book, and apparently the judges. The fact that the woman Gretchen designs for her is herself also probably did her some favours, because it's easier to buy into a design concept when it reflects a designer's incredibly strong point of view, as Gretchen demonstrated week after week both on the show and on the runway (sidenote - WT EFFFFFF was up her with ridiculous sheer dress for the win? Parading around in panties when you take home the crown is not my cup of tea). For that matter, I hated the crocheted panties that popped up throughout her show. No one but Beyonce or Lady Gaga (while on holidays in Bali) would wear those things. I also hated her pattern and fabric choices for the most part, although - forgive me if this sounds weird - I sort of enjoyed her worldly, muted colour palette. It had a very now feel when you just absorbed the colours and not the gross patterns / materials she chose. I loved the two longer dresses she created (including the final one pictured above) and I could see her stuff selling where I always thought it would - the likes of Urban Outfitters or ModCloth, although most ProjRun designers aim a little higher than that. That being said, I literally wouldn't wear 99% of this collection, including the pieces I 'liked'. I could see Nina's point that they would work in a fashion spread, but I would flip right through it because her clothes are just NOT appealing to me, at least not in this collection.

That brings us to Mondo, the clear winner of the show from a finale collection perspective, a fan's perspective, and a producer's perspective (seriously, I'm stunned the big wigs didn't step in here). First of all, let me say, I was not really a fan of Mondo's design work on the show. I felt like it was all pattern and little innovation in terms of construction or pairing together items in new ways. If you look at the T Lo post on his work throughout the season, it was consistently standard in terms of what he made, and it often felt like he won the challenges because everyone else was so damn lacklustre in what they brought to the table.

But his finale collection won me over in terms of who should have won the season. Let me get the stuff I didn't like out of the way first of all:
- I agreed with Nina's commentary that his styling was very young and it definitely hurt him and made things costumey. There is a lack of sophistication for the woman that is supposed to buy Project Runway winners' collections, and the 'wow' factor that makes his clothes so appealing will surely be filtered down in the actual design realm, thus making him a dicey choice for the win in a very marginal way - can he dial it down?
- I hated the polka dot dress. Hated. I didn't like it with the short bubble skirt either, and I thought that short bubble skirt was horrendously constructed.
- I didn't mind the headbands but the pom poms on the shoes combined with the headbands and the slightly draggy-doll makeup was a little OTT.
- Once again, I'm going to point out his silhouettes were incredibly basic. His most interesting pieces were the ones he bedazzled in my opinion, and that tunic dress everyone was fawning over was a CARBON COPY of the 'square-inspired' leisure wear outfit he created for Heidi's challenge. The high-waisted jumbo plaid pants? Ditto to his 'print-making' challenge outfit. I felt like there was a serious lack of innovation, as there was on the show, at showing me something different, and if the judges wanted to talk us out of the win, that's what they should have honed in on.

Now let's talk about what I did like:
- I am a big fan of sparkles, colours, and rainbows, and Mondo's collection had all of the above in spades. That being said, my sense of style is intimidating for some people - I tend to embrace really dramatic looks and as Heidi explained, while I wouldn't wear one of his looks H2T, I could certainly incorporate almost every single piece of his collection into my existing wardrobe, and that is something I absolutely can't say about the other two collections.
- I LOVED his prints. I've been feeling Mexican-inspired tapestry prints lately and seeing them in Mondo's collection reaffirmed my desire to snap some up for myself. MIA's sense of style let a glimmer of 'Neon Indian' seep into the fashion world a couple of years ago, and based on what I saw for the Spring 2011 runways I anticipate Mondo's collection will still seem very now (and a very bad decision by the judges) by next summer.
- The leggings with the funky prints are something I would fully want to own. They remind me a lot of Douglas Coupland's stunning circuit board / test pattern collection for Canadian retailer Roots, that I am It's hard for me to put into words how I would own his entire collection, and the fact that Mondo's collection reminded me of it made me go squee!
- As I said before, Mondo's best looks were the ones he customized with his own doodads. The pailette-embellished tank, and the skull top and bag were among my faves, but I understand how a big chunk of the shoppers out there might be a little...gah.
- I thought Jessica Simpson felt a little out of her element among the judges, but I do credit her one comment that if you walked into a store and saw Gretchen's collection on a rack, it'd be a little...blah. If you saw Mondo's however, you would naturally gravitate towards it.

Le sigh. At the end of the day none of the finale collections really wowed me or took my breath away or confirmed in my mind that a specific person should win. No matter what, I'm a little choked Gretchen won, mostly because I feel it was a product of the show not wanting to repeat itself with a designer that has a similar avant garde LOOK AT ME aesthetic to last season's winner, Seth Aaron Henderson. ProjRun has never been a show that cares much about (unlike ANTM) having the first "fill in the blank" designer, so I don't know why it would have been a big deal to have Mondo win when he's a designer with a similar, but more whimsical aesthetic to a past designer. After all, Irina's collection was a goddam doppelganger to Christian Siriano's (hats and all) and she still won.

I'm not disappointed in the series as a whole though, and I won't be walking away from it. The story-building process this season was really strong (although surprising they didn't give Gretchen a better edit if they handed her the win...) and I feel like the show's creators are learning as they go for what resonates with audiences and what doesn't. They've had two blah seasons and one weak design season since moving to Lifetime, and I imagine they'll be brainstorming ways to keep fans coming back. At the very least we got to see one of the BEST judging sequences ever, one I like to call 'the lesser of two evils' when deciding a winner. Till next time!

- Britt's On

All My Movies: American Idol - Search for a Superstar

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American Idol: The Search for a SuperstarStarring: The Idol Crew + contestants from Season 1
Times Watched: I'll go with 3?
Genre: Music
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: NA

Road To Ownership: Let me explain! Do you remember what a BIG DEAL Idol was in its first, and in particular, second seasons? It was the biggest sensation in town, hot on the heels of another summer reality sensation, Survivor. I was in high school at the time and received this DVD as a Christmas gift in a Secret Santa exchange.

The Plot: The bulk of the DVD is about an hour long, give or take, and basically gives you a rushed overview of the first season of American Idol. You get some glimpses of the auditions - including Kelly Clarkson's and a handful of the worst ones out there - snippets of the top 30 round, a week-by-week recap of the theme, eliminated contestants, and usually one or two of the top performances, and then at the finale you get to hear Justin Guarini sing 'A Moment Like This', plus Kelly's emotional rendition after winning (which is subsequently butchered by Nikki McKibbin or whatever her name was). There's also a few other features that mash together cast interviews, behind-the-scenes clips, and moments from the show.

The Good & The Bad: You know in retrospect, it would have been cool had Idol put this DVD together properly. They *rush* over all of the weeks so quickly, and include not one, but TWO Nikki performances, plus some of Justin and Kelly's worst performances (in the penultimate episode). It would have been nifty had they featured every contestant at least once, as well as at least three or four songs from Kelly - also, why no love for the 'Big Band' week, which in my opinion had some pretty great moments? Bah!

Er, anyway. Although there is some fun nostalgia with watching this DVD - a pre-groomed Kelly! A tiny set where security hazards (crazed fans) exist! Pre-crazy Paula! Brian Dunkelman? - it's ultimately a pretty disappointing recap of the first, great, socially phenomenal season of American Idol. Awhile back they reaired the season with commentary from the contestants and judges and it was way more interesting (when I caught a glimpse anyway) than this thing, although it made for entertainment while ironing when I watched it, I guess.

I just wish they'd done more performances, less recaps / talking. Like, did you need to include each competitor's goodbye video? That's one of the WORST filler-worthy parts of the show? Having every group number (and not just the majority) would have been nice as well, cause at the end of the day, seeing the singing is all I want to see! Plus it would have been nice to include some of the judges' more memorable critiques / reactions - like after Kelly's 'Natural Woman' performance. God I'm getting impassioned over this.

Best Scene: Kelly Clarkson singing 'Natural Woman' or her winning performance of 'A Moment Like This'. So ironic when you consider how vehemently she broke things off with the Idol crew after the series. But for reals, the latter was a pretty iconic pop culture moment in the 00's.

Worst Scene: Justin's performance in the penultimate show. Really producers, of all the performances, you included this one? I would have much rather seen "Get Here", which is what he was *known* for.

Best Character: Er...Ryan Seacrest does a decent commentary?

Worst Character: Brian Dunkelman. You got fired for a reason bro, and it's your fake tears after the gang's performance of 'That's What Friends Are For'.

Soundtrack of our Lives: The best of the 60s, 70s, 80s, big band...yeah you get it.

If You Like This You'll Like: Apparently there are other idol DVDs out there, plus I'm sure a good chunk of the show's breakouts have concert DVDs to their names.

GRADE: 1.5/5

All My Movies: American History X

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American History X
Starring: Edward Norton, Ed Furlong
Co-Starring: Beverley D'Angelo (of National Lampoon fame!), Fairuza Balk, Avery Brooks
Times Watched: 1
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 84% / 62

Road To Ownership: This is another one of the boy's movies that I've never watched. Apparently he watched it in 'Electronics', aka the high school filmmaking course he took. It struck him enough that he bought it and watched it one more time, but last night was the first time he'd watched it in however many years.

The Plot: The film opens with Danny Vinyard rousing his brother Derek from having sex with his girlfriend because a couple of black guys are jacking his car. As a revered neo-Nazi, Derek snaps, pulls a gun on the hooligans (who, for the record, are specifically targeting him after a basketball court feud), and ends up killing them. Three years later and Derek is quietly released from prison, a changed man. He is disturbed to find out however, that Danny has spent the last three years idolizing his older brother and falling into the same cult-like devotedness to Cameron, the man that first brainwashed Derek with Nazi idealism all those years ago. Danny has been tasked with writing an essay about Derek's arrest and the events that led him there, which we hear about through Danny's voiceover and see in flashbacks provided by both brothers.

The Good & The Bad: This movie was very different from what I thought it would be, partially because at one point I assumed it was about Malcolm X (durr). It was stirring, but not in as haunting a way as one might think. Sure it was disturbing to see these people so filled with hatred and bile, and everytime Ed Norton had his shirt off, you definitely did a double take (and not just because his bod was ridiculous) at his tattoos, but really the filmmaker did an excellent job at showing the sheer naivete of the characters, especially Derek's 'rise' and fall so to speak in the Neo-Nazi world.

In this instance, the black & white really worked for the flashbacks. Aside from making it easy to jump back and forth across plot points, it also served as a visual reminder that Derek used to see things quite literally in black and white, that his vision was very obscured and cut and dry. The progression of his character from the smug, vicious killer we see in the beginning to the desperate, searching man at the end were excellently delivered through the story's set-up, and most importantly, through Ed Norton's incredible acting job (but more on him later). There was some beautiful artistry (even when it was painful to watch) throughout, although sometimes the director got a little too friendly with the slow motion / high-speed camera effect.

There are a couple of weak areas though. The film does a good job of setting you up for some tension, that something bad will happen, you just don't know what (although in review, the repeated importance of the relationship between Derek and Danny and the 'what if it happened to you?' discussions set things up quite well for the ending). However, I felt like the specific delivery of the ending was kind of random...which debatably might have been the point, but it still didn't feel like a balanced payoff to how the film opened.

I have less problems with the ending than I do with some of the shadowyness regarding what Sweeney (the black principal that encourages both brothers to see the error of their ways) was trying to get Derek to do, both when he visited him in jail and towards the end when him and the cop asked him to 'step in' and talk to his people...whatever that meant. I felt like Sweeney working with the cops and collaborating with Derek and teaching Danny all could have had a stronger payoff / connection to one another. In fact Sweeney's character was kind of a bizarre shadowy enigma - why DID a guy with two doctorates settle with being a principal / vigilante justice seeker in a rough area of LA? I don't know. In general it felt like there were a number of loose threads that weren't wrapped up quite as smoothly as they could have been. I also sincerely wonder what effect the final major event in the film would have on all of the main characters. I sort of feel like a teacher writing in the comments of a paper you turn in - I wish they had just pushed things a little further in some areas.

One final note. A lot of people have noted that the film goes for shock value in order to elevate itself - the infamous curb stomping and shower raping scene in particular are frequently cited. While I couldn't watch the curb stomping, I think the inclusion of those particular scenes was there to show the monumental shifts in power and in effect, demeanour, of Derek, and thus were well-executed and important to the story.

Best Scene: The opening scene was very artfully, dramatically directed - music and all - and the return to it midway through the film (with more context) was truly chilling. The glint in Edward Norton's eyes, the feeling of 'this is my chance!' in comparison to the reformed man we've gotten to know provided an excellent character study.

Worst Scene: I found the dinner table flashback a little hard to follow - were they talking about the grocery store the gang Danny and Derek belong to knocked over? - and also a little long, and a little frustrating to watch. Also I'm uncertain about the timing - did that conversation happen the same night that Derek got arrested? In retrospect it provided a very good set-up for the ending, but it was a little oblique compared to the rest of the film.

Best Character: Derek, obviously. I don't know why he isn't more appreciated, but Ed Norton is easily one of my favourite Hollywood actors, without me ever explicitly stating it. Whenever I see a film with him in it I'm amazed by the levels of depth and interest he can bring to a whole range of characters. In this film in particular, he has the most expressive eyes I've ever seen - especially as demonstrated in the jail scenes.

Worst Character: Davina, the boys' sister. She felt like dead space, other than to be a marginally more forceful commentary than their somewhat oblivious mother about how stupid Danny and Derek are being in their devotion to Cam at different points. It's also baffling because she seems way older than she apparently is. Her weird maturity and total disbelief in the boys' naivete just feels jarring compared to Danny's security in Cameron. You would think with a sister so adamant against his skinhead lifestyle and a brother in jail, Danny would smarten up, but apparently Divina is useless. Also Seth Ryan (played by Hollywood's go to angry / fat character actor Ethan Suplee) was hella annoying, but that was the point I think.

Soundtrack of Our Lives: An interesting mix. The haunting choir score of the opening and closing was used to great effect- these innocent angelic voices against the monstrous acts we witness. Beyond that you've mostly got some thrasher rock music here and there.

If You Like This You'll Like: Well, anything with Edward Norton logically. Also films about counterculture, jail, and racial tensions. Trainspotting and Requiem for A Dream come to mind for some reason. Boys In The Hood, Elephant...

Final Grade: 3.5/5

New Faces, Same Ol Thang

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You may have noticed in my recap of new fall premieres, I failed to talk about Saturday Night Live. The thing is, I wanted to wait to let the newbies have a bit of time to stretch their legs before I talked about it. We're still only two episodes in and I'm still hesitant to jump on one side of the fence or the other, but after doing more work on my self-imposed music project and noticing the one of the newbies' first starring sketch had earned a spot on the YouTube home page, I felt the need to speak up.

Here's a question that once upon a time had a very easy answer when it came to Saturday Night Live: what makes for a good episode, season, or 'era' of the show? Is it the cast or the writing? At one point, it would have been a no brainer to answer the writing, for you can have a comedic genius on your show (as a regular or a guest) and completely waste them if the writers' don't sharpen their pencils to a fine comedic point. SNL always had a reputation of hiring good talent, the cream of the crop more often than not, so any shortcomings often fell on the writers, and not the infinitely talented cast.

Nowadays however, it seems bland and blander are continually dragging the show down in terms of both cast AND writing. The main problem of the current era, as I've stated in the past, is the men are generally interchangeable and forgettable, right down to their names. The breakout stars of the male-dominated cast have been the ones who have a little something extra - like Andy Samberg and his digital shorts or Fred Armisen's chameleon-like getups (although to Bill Hader's credit he does play a good movie scene stealer, it's just too bad most people don't know his name). On the flip side, this was okay for awhile because we had some really solid female leads in the form of Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Kristen Wiig.

Now that Wiig is on her own however, the talent seems dangerously unbalanced. Wiig is ridiculously overused, and often thrown into sketches as the centrepiece in variations on a similar theme (which often have to do more with her making faces for the camera rather than throwing out clever deliveries of amusing lines). Wiig is a greatly expressive actress, fantastic at embodying different characters, but more often than not they just make her into a really OTT performer because the writers are too damn lazy to write some great dialogue. Consider that the majority of her most famous characters are well known for the words and inflections they use - Penelope, Judy the travel guide, and the Target Lady - versus the ridiculous facial expressions of the likes of Gilly.

We've gone through several ladies over the years designed to accompany Wiig as the female cast dropped out to make babies and career moves. Casey Wilson was unceremoniously turfed after two unimpressive seasons as a featured performer. Jenny Slate's amusing doorbell bit didn't save her f-bomb-laden reputation after one season. Abby Elliot was mysteriously upgraded to full cast member status this season despite having ZERO characters to her name (other than a half-baked, irrelevant Angelina Jolie impression), and still failing to do anything of note in the first two episoides. Naveen Andrews made it through her first season, which is fine by me as I thought she showed the most promise of last year's new gals. And finally we now have new meat in the form of Vanessa Bayer.

VB is the one who had the aforementioned YouTube clip, a segment of her hosting a talk show to replace Amy Poehler's hilarious 'Dakota Fanning Show, the similarly titled 'Miley Cyrus Show'. Poehler's take was hilarious because she portrayed Dakota Fanning as anything but a bubblegum blonde, regularly sending barbs in the direction of her piano playing sidekick and outsmarting the majority of her guests. In contrast, Bayer's Miley impression was a lot more dead on with who Miley actually seems to be - a slightly obnoxious loudmouth with a really, really grating way of speaking. There were all of two funny moments in the sketch: when she claimed she was also seeking out darker roles like Johnny Depp, and the clip of the movie she was in with Andy Samberg, but other than that, a good impression does not a hilarious sketch make. Yet SNL is shoving it down the throats of the masses as this week's buzzed about moment...

Which no doubt means they'll trot it out a million and one times. I don't know what's up with the writers these days, but it seems once they hit on a formula that maybe sorta kinda works, they drive-it-home. How many times did we see 'What Up With That' last season (and have already seen it once this one)? Or the same troop of unfunny bits - Keenan's alien sports co-host, the 'Scared Straight' segments (that are only remotely funny cause the boys always look like they're going to laugh), or the oft-repeated 'Fred Armisen takes over a talk show and can't help'? Egads, I'm getting frustrated just looking at this.

Typically speaking, I enjoy seeing a few old favourites return, but for the most part the show has failed to produce any memorable characters other than the ones Wiig has produced. While I get jazzed for the occasional appearance of one of her characters, the writing has dropped of considerably, and the fact she's so overused makes me less interested to see much more of her than I already do. Some of the best sketches in recent memory have been the ones that are standalone pieces (like last year's hilarious 'Single Ladies' bit), or the first time you encounter something like 'What Up With That'. At the very least, writers, make a radical variation on the theme to surprise us and make us laugh. Let Lindsay Buckingham sing instead of Keenan!

As for the other cast members, so far the other two white dudes have seamlessly blended into the cast of forgettable faces, and I don't mean that in a nice way. I'm happy the show has added some more diversity in the form of another African-American male, but much like Bayer's Miley impression, just because he does a 80% job of Will Smith, doesn't mean he's going to be super funny. The show is just in such a terrible place right now, with flagging talent on the main cast and a lack of creativity to let the featured performers (and ahem, Abby Elliot) step up to the plate and do something worth talking about that is actually FUNNY.

Finally, to conclude my SNL rant I'm going to repeat what everyone in the blogosphere seems to be repeating: what the hell is up with the lack of host inclusions? Aside from Abby Elliot, they get less lines and interaction than anyone else they're featured in a sketch with. There's an old rule in advertising that if you run out of ideas, you should go back and look in the archives to see what worked with the best sketches - and hosts - ever. I'm not saying rip a sketch off from the 1970s, but I am saying pay attention to what makes something funny or unfunny, because right now the writers seem to have no clue with what to do with the majority of their hosts. Jon Hamm and Justin Timberlake are two of the best hosts in recent memory, but even their more recent episodes were flagging compared to just a couple of short years ago (which begs the question - who all has been shuffled out of the writing department lately?), and I'm sure the multiple-time hosts like Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin have noticed it as well. One of the best episodes in the current era I can think of is the hilarious Christopher Walken episode. And you want to know why peeps? Because it picked up on so many elements of his character (including the awesome 'Walken Family Reunion') and what it would be funny to see him do - not, where can we stuff this celeb into a main cast member set piece?

I see the challenges SNL is currently grappling with, but the formula they're messing with is so old, I'm just wondering why they're so adamant at destroying their legacy with such terrible casting, writing, and use of hosts over the last few years.


- Britt's On

Comprehending Can Con

3:43 PM Posted In , , , , , , , , , Edit This 0 Comments »
Lately I've been working on a self-imposed project regarding the radio industry, part of which has involved some judicious analysis of the Canadian Content standards imposed by the government run CRTC (radio & television commission). For those of you that aren't aware, the CRTC requires a certain level of programming be Canadian on a daily basis. So if you're wondering why your favourite pop station plays excessive amounts of Hedley or Drake, CanCon is the reason.

Back when CanCon was first introduced, it was admittedly kind of a joke. You only needed to have 25% of your weekly playlist be Canadian music, and it could air at anytime. By the time the 90s rolled around, this number was bumped up to 35% - both on a weekly basis, and during peak hours from 6 AM to 6 PM. Given that the average hour of programming has 10 to 14 songs, this averages out to about 4-6 songs per hour needing to be part of the MAPL system. That is, Canadians had their hands in at least of two of the following: the music composition, the vocal performance (artist), the production, and the lyric-writing.

On one hand, the fact this system really strengthened itself at the same time as the Canadian music scene went stratospheric points to the fact that CanCon 'works' to develop new artists, which at the end of the day is what it's all about - providing a platform for Canadian musicians to celebrate their individuality and actually work as a musician (no matter what element of the MAPL system they're involved in) for a living.

On the flip side, 35% is awfully high, and doesn't really do tons for Canadian artists. Basically if you're lucky enough to have a breakout single (or a one hit wonder) you'll get airplay - and plenty of it - creating a false sense of popularity and credibility. I remember being a youngster in the 90s and thinking "I can't stand The Tea Party and Moist but they must be HUGE given how often MuchMusic plays their tunes!" If CanCon didn't exist, I doubt a good chunk of the musicians the proliferated in the 90s would have been as big as they are - but is that a good thing or a bad thing if a decent number of them only produced mediocre work at best?

The other problem with the 35% rule is if the goal is to develop new Canadian talent, the sheer lack of new Canadian talent again makes this a bit of a throwaway rule, and has actually made popular music even more disposable than the name 'throwaway pop' implies. More often than not, you'll hear a slightly dated Avril Lavigne or Nelly Furtado tune on a popular music station in order to make their CanCon targets. This works out well for the stations because neither artist is obscure enough to prompt a switcheroo (wherein you go channel surfing), but in terms of developing new Canadian talent? Well, it's not. Instead what you've got is very skewed radio station formats that don't want to risk overplaying Drake's latest single too many times - they essentially have twenty to forty 'must play' songs during the peak hours, 95% of which probably don't include any Canadian music whatsoever. They then pepper each hour with various Canadian tunes that are either current (and where hot Canadian artists are a godsend) or a tiny bit out of date, such as singles from their previous albums.

My overall thought is I like the idea of Canadian Content, on paper. Just like communism sounds good on paper. Artists like Hedley would probably be nowhere with it, so that's kind of nifty. On the other hand, I think it's seriously messing with the airwaves and allowing for more diversity on what we hear when we tune in for some free music listening. There's plenty of up and coming acts from other parts of the world that would love the exposure, but weirdly Canadian radio only responds (at the moment) if a song BLOWS UP and is thus worthy of their very limited 'hit list'. It makes us behind the times in the latest trends and artists, unfortunately, which in turn has many folks switching off their radios altogether in favour of their personally crafted iTunes mix.

My suggestion on how to fix the CanCon issue? I think I'd reduce the total requirement for CanCon a bit during peak hours - down to 30%, but keep the 35% for the overall week. I'd also make a requirement that on hit music stations, 10% of the tuneage should be released in the last two years, or perhaps 5% in the last year, to make music directors a little more creative in mining new Canadian talent. I'm sure that overcomplicates things which is why they make it a flat 'rate' of 35%, but I guarantee if you sat down and looked at a chart station's playlist or even just flipped on the radio when tackling a major house project for the day, you would easily recognize the issues I'm talking about.

- Britt's On

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