‘Soul’ is Pretty Dang Soulful

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Soul (CREDIT: Pixar/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Angela Bassett, Questlove

Directors: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: December 25, 2020 (Disney+)

Graham Norton as a hippie sign waver? I wasn’t expecting that. I like it!

I’m going to go ahead and whip out the “Does this movie make me want to do what it’s about?” type of review. So here goes: does Soul make me want to have a soul? Very much so! I may already have one, but if I don’t … I’d like one! Also relevant: when I’m listening and/or singing along to soul music, that’s pretty dang invigorating as well. (Soul features more jazz than soul, but soul and jazz are often in conversation with each other.)

It’s ultimately a religio-philosophical matter whether or not an inner essence exists, and what it should be called, and how it should be defined. Which is all to say, we probably can’t fully ever know all there is to know about the soul. This film is part of that inquiry, and if its inquiring essence resonates with anybody, then it might just be worth incorporating its ideas into our personal philosophies. Soul posits that our purpose isn’t what we’re passionate about, but how we’re passionate. That’s pretty damn life-affirming from my vantage point.

Grade: 4 out of 5 Jerrys (and 1 out of 5 Terrys)

SNL Review November 3, 2018: Jonah Hill/Maggie Rogers

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

This post was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Love It

Teacher Fell Down – Now here’s a welcome example of SNL being more experimental than usual: starting the scene right after the inciting incident, combined with generally weird (but mildly so) behavior. Then a bunch of confused spectators comment on the strangeness of the situation and try to restore some sanity, but without getting too worked up about it. Honestly, a lot of this is just solid sketch writing, but deployed in a way one would ever think to do.

6-year-old Adam Grossman cracking Catskills-style jokes at the Benihana never fails to be a delight. Giving him a (not actually) Jamaican nanny proves to be a stroke of genius for providing him with fruitful material…Oh man, those Pug Wigs are legendarily adorable.

Keep It

Jonah Hill’s Five-Timers Monologue – I always love a visit to the Five-Timers lounge, and since we’ve seen it multiple times before, subversion is a good idea, too. The basic idea here is that the #MeToo movement has spread to the Five-Timers Club, thus only female members are there to welcome Jonah. This approach doesn’t quite fit, though, as none of the male members are really known for their mistreatment of women (notwithstanding the recently arrested Alec Baldwin’s anger issues and Chevy Chase’s noted difficulty to work alongside). Of course, this could also be a commentary on the relative lack of women in the club and in the history of SNL and in comedy in general. Which is a fine idea, but then a lot of the jokes are just the ladies lightly teasing Jonah. This is all to say, there are several worthwhile avenues present here, but overall it’s a bit scattered. Side note: I gotta give it up to Candice Bergen for being a legend who just stares at her phone during the goodnights.

The Ingraham Angle has some funny gags about FOX News overreaction, though no great overarching point…The Democrat Midterm Ad‘s biggest laugh comes from Mom Aidy Bryant screaming that kidding about voting is NOT FUNNY!…Divided We Stand is fairly amusing self-satisfied theater, but I am most tickled by the fact that it is taking place at 43rd and “Lincoln Tunnel Service Road”…Michael and Colin really have to fight for desk time with all those correspondents, but at least they get a good crack about Gritty in there…I would say making fun of people’s appearances is not political satire, but Pete Davidson does acknowledge that and makes fun of his own looks as well, so he knows what he’s doing…Brittainy, Every Teen Girl Murder Suspect on Law & Order is one of those Update bits that pretty much perfectly captures the trope it’s tackling but doesn’t quite fully integrate itself within the context of Update; so: funny, but a little disorienting…Kenan’s David Ortiz really knows how to be a spokesperson for products and concepts that we never realized needed endorsing…America’s Got Talent: Wait, They’re Good? identifies what I assume is an actual overdone reality competition trope. It’s a good joke, but the execution is a little dragged-out…HuckaPM features some intense falling-over physical comedy; bangin’.

Leave It

KCR News Albany – Hoo boy, this is a mess. The writing is all wrong, what with the tone veering wildly in multiple directions, and the direction isn’t great either, with technical glitches and bad timing. The tragedy is, there are some decent jokes in there, but it is never clear what the base reality is. Thus, I am too confused to laugh. At least the sketch doesn’t end on a bummer, but alas, that happy ending only makes everything more confusing.

Jonah Hill

On a scale of SNL Five Timers, Jonah Hill is steady and effective enough. He has a memorable recurring character in his repertoire, so he hasn’t scaled this height with nothing, though he is still a far cry from the most legendary in this hallowed club. In this outing, it’s clear that he’s happy to play along pleasantly with the cast and that he doesn’t feel any need to go out of his way to make himself the star. It makes for a mostly functional episode.

Maggie Rogers

On a scale of musical guests I’ve hardly heard of before their SNL debut, Maggie Rogers has definitely caught my attention. For someone in her twenties, she sure looks and sounds polished. Plus, there’s always room in the pop scene for more folk music without getting all Mumford & Sons-artisanal about it. And you gotta love that Suspiria-style red dress.

Letter Grades:

The Ingraham Angle – C+

Jonah Hill’s Five-Timers Monologue – B

Benihana – B+

Democrats Midterm Ad – B

KCR News Albany – C

Divided We Stand – B-

Teacher Fell Down (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Maggie Rogers performs “Light On” – B+

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B-
Pete Davidson – B
Brittainy, Every Teen Girl Murder Suspect on Law & Order – B-
David Ortiz – B

America’s Got Talent: Wait, They’re Good? – B-

Maggie Rogers performs “Fallingwater” – B

HuckaPM – B-

Pug Wigs – B+

SNL Review May 19, 2018: Tina Fey/Nicki Minaj

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CREDIT: Gianny Matias/NBC

My letter grades for each sketch and segment is below. My in-depth review is on NewsCult: http://newscult.com/snl-love-itkeep-itleave-tina-feynicki-minaj/

Holsten’s Restaurant – C+

Tina Fey’s Monologue – B

Royal Wedding Reception – C-

Morning Joe – C

Mean Girls – B

Nicki Minaj performs “Chun-Li” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B/B+
Eric and Donald Trump, Jr. – B
Bishop Michael Curry – C

Dateline: Pervert Hunters – C+

Sarah Plain – C

Nicki Minaj ft. Playboi Carti performs “Poke It Out” – B-

Livingston High Talent Show – C

Dick Wolf’s Chicago Improv – B

SNL Recap December 19, 2015: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler/Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

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SNL: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in December 2015.

“SNL’s” Christmas episodes often have a homecoming feel, insofar as good vibes are easier to come by than usual, and visits from old friends are part of the deal. Usually sports teams designate a winnable game as homecoming, because nobody wants to lose homecoming. So it only makes sense when the “SNL” Christmas lineup features as co-hosts two of the show’s most famous alums who have developed quite the comedic partnership, and as musical guest one of the most iconic rock stars of all time who has a beloved Christmas song in his arsenal. It would take a lot of effort to screw this one up.

Republican Presidential Debate – The GOP primary circus is a bit of a boon but also a formidable challenge for “SNL’s” political machine. The endless supply of candidates ensures plenty of buffoonery but makes for material that is by definition unfocused. Sketches that cruise through a menagerie of characters are reliable for a few laughs, but they are rarely classics. The best political moments have one or two star impressions. Who is the star of this sketch? Is it Darrell Hammond dropping in for his iconic Trump, Beck Bennett as a wimpy Jeb Bush, or is the star the lack of a true star? The best impression is probably Jay Pharoah’s Ben Carson, but he does not have the screen time to show for it. This is all to say, there is plenty of quality here, but it’s all just crowding each other out. B-


SNL Season Premiere Recap September 28, 2013: Tina Fey/Arcade Fire

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They’re all just twerkin’ 9 to 5.

Obama Press Conference
With  all the guests that Obama was bringing on to tell their stories, I thought this was going to be one of those every-cast-member-appears sketches, what with the huge cast and all.  But it ended up only covering about 60%.  There seemed to be a fair amount of applause for Beck Bennett – did people recognize him from the AT&T commercials?  Or was that just premature applause for Aaron Paul?  I had heard speculation that the cold opening would cover Ted Cruz, or maybe Breaking Bad – what do you know, they were both right!  Cecily’s appearance here was the first of several times this episode I was upset we’ll never see her again as a guest on the Update desk, with the complaint of a broken iPhone 5S a rather Girl at a Party-esque problem. B-

Tina Fey’s Monologue
I like a well-crafted pun, delivered with conviction (or a terrible pun delivered with conviction), so Tina’s fake recurring characters were a quick delight.  And I also like deconstruction, so Tina explaining that new cast members have to pay their dues as backup dancers to the host was better than just another plain old song and dance monologue.  And those outfits made it clear that we are living in a post-Magic Mike world. B+


SNL Recap May 7, 2011: Tina Fey/Ellie Goulding

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Cold Opening – Osama bin Laden’s Video Will
Essentially mandatory.  I laughed a few times, though this was more a collection of parts instead of a significant whole. B-

Tina Fey’s Monologue
Falling back on the singing monologue format yet again?  Out of 20 monologues this year, this makes 9 (10 if you count Zach Galifianakis).  Anyway, Tina plied her usual off-putting, yet sexy style, and Maya plied her usual wildly pitchy, overly dramatic style, and the most memorable – and disturbing – moment came with Kristen and Kenan as the singing, big-headed babies. B-

GOP 2012 Undeclared Candidates’ Debate
If Tina was going to reprise Palin, it was nice that she did so in a sketch that wasn’t entirely hers.  Of course for this sketch to succeed, Darrell Hammond had to return as Trump (and when Romney was introduced, I thought, “There’s someone Darrell Hammond would probably be playing if he were still on”), and Jimmy McMillan was just an added treat.  All in all, when it comes to crazy in the GOP, Sarah Palin is still around, but she has been outshone, several times over. B+