Saturday Night Review (Hulu Documentary)

Saturday Night Live

My Rating: 2.5/5

Saturday Night follows the making of an episode of the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live hosted by the legendary John Malkovich. A grueling week long process, the making of an episode of SNL requires many sleepless nights and a litany of sketch ideas that most likely than not get cut. Though the film is worth watching just to see some of the incredibly talented and overworked comedians that make SNL what it is, it largely feels like a missed opportunity on the part of director James Franco to capture the high stakes of the show.

Saturday Night highlights the incredibly difficult task of making people laugh and the reality that failure is a likely outcome. Starting with the pitch meeting on Monday, writers and performers begin the nerve-wracking process of teaming up and writing material in time for the table read the next day where some fifty sketches get cut down to nine. The tension is high as each performer and writer nervously reads their material for the first time with no idea whether they will tank or make people laugh. The selected skits make their way to rehearsals and dress rehearsals where ultimately some still get cut as late as Saturday afternoon. John Malkovich is a great sport and his incredible talent makes for one of the more memorable hosting jobs in recent memory.

Though the subject matter of the film is inherently interesting (it brings to light a process mythologized but not often seen), the film’s style and direction ultimately fail to capture the spectrum of emotions involved in the production process and skates over the more interesting parts. The film is shot mostly handheld and switches often from color to black and white giving it the experimental feel of a student film. James Franco, an SNL hosting alum, directs the film and we are constantly aware of his presence behind the camera. The result is that the interviews are more of a conversation with a well-known celebrity and lack any sort of real depth. Often times Franco is referencing his own experiences on the show. This gave me the feeling that this documentary was more like a jog down memory lane for the actor rather than a real exploration of what it’s like to be a part of such an iconic show. Unfortunately, this rare opportunity for access inside the walls of 30 Rock felt like a wasted opportunity. Franco himself asks Lorne Michaels towards the end of the film “Maybe we’re not getting the full experience?” and I would have to say no, we’re not.


Why India’s Daughter Needs To Be Seen

The BBC’s documentary India’s Daughter about the brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, a young medical student on her way from the movies with a friend who was tricked onto a bus and gang raped has been gaining controversial steam over the past twenty-four hours after India’s government moved to ban the film from being shown on TV in their country. The BBC complied and removed the film from their programming but that hasn’t stopped many Youtubers from posting the film online. The Twittersphere has been blowing up with people either praising the decision to censor the film or vehemently arguing against it. Regardless, if India’s intentions were to censor and downplay the controversy, their approach has certainly backfired.

Having watched it myself today on one of these bootlegged Youtube accounts (I’ll post the link below), I can say that it is one of the most disturbing films I have watched in recent history. The documentary, though not particularly artful, managed to paint a horrific picture of the events of that terrible night when Jyoti Singh was fatally raped in Delhi and even more vividly portray a shocking attitude towards women on the part of the attackers who showed no remorse and took no responsibility for their actions.

One of the more controversial parts of the documentary is the decision to give voice to Mukesh Singh, one of the attackers and the driver of the bus that Jyoti was lured into. He goes on to say truly shocking and vile things such as no decent girl would be roaming around the streets at 9 pm and that the girl is more responsible for rape than the boy without even an ounce of regret or empathy on his face. I understand the concern that by interviewing this man, we are giving him a platform to further his views but I think the interview does quite the opposite. It’s repulsive, it’s shocking and clearly serves to show how monstrous these acts and these attitudes really are. We need to no longer stay blind to the kind of attitudes towards women that exist in India and around the world, we need to face it head on and we need to deal with it. It’s not a platform for hate speech but rather a wake up call for change.

At the beginning of the film, Joyti’s mother explains that her name means “light”. If there is any light that comes from this story it’s Joyti’s life and her determination to educate herself and change the mentality of the world she lived in. There is one part of the film that is unarguably worth watching, it’s the telling of her story. In the final scene of the film when Jyoti’s funeral pyre is burning and we see what is literally her light going out, I was struck with a thought; we can keep that light burning by fighting for changes in society and her death need not be in vain.

Opinion, Review

Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story Review (Netflix)


My Rating: 4/5

Lance Armstrong is sitting in the conference room of his lawyer’s office under deposition aggressively, unapologetically denying any use of performance enhancing drugs during his career. And so starts the film about an arrogant bully who would do anything to get what he wants including deceiving the public and destroying anyone who gets in his way. This film does a brilliant job taking the viewer into the secret world of back rooms and team trailers where some of the world’s top cyclists were shooting up steroids and EPO’s while reaping the benefits of million dollar sponsorship deals.

This film highlights the media’s role in buying into the Lance Armstrong “hero” story. How his struggles with overcoming cancer and his incredible against all odds comeback made him untouchable. The media routinely ignored clues that something more sinister may be going on and continued to present Lance Armstrong as the ultimate sports champion. Those who dared to question him publicly were shunned and personally targeted by Lance.

Director Alex Holmes starts with Lance’s meager beginnings in Texans with dreams of making it big. He paints Lance as an incredibly ambitious man who saw the cycling world as a way to make huge fortunes. When the opportunity presented itself, Lance seemed to think it was a no-brainer that he would enlist the help of one of the most notorious suspected doping doctors in the cycling world; Dr. Ferrari (Yes, that is his real name). His rising momentum came to halt when he received a startling testicular cancer diagnosis. It was in an Indiana State Hospital room that Betsy Andreu and her husband overheard Lance admit to a group of consulting doctors that he had taken a variety of performance enhancing substances.

Lance made a recovery and soon returned to the sport of cycling. And when he returned, it was with a vengeance. It’s here during the seven Tour de France wins that the film gets juicy describing scenes almost too salacious to believe of midnight steroid pickups in a McDonald’s parking lot and last minute blood transfusions in hotel rooms all during the most watched and speculated event in cycling. Regardless of the rightness of his actions, the man sure was bold.

After his wins, Lance Armstrong had practically achieved God status in American sports and his brand was as big as ever. As meteoric as his rise was, so was his fall. A disgruntled former member of his cycling bitter from his firing came out and publicly attested to participating in doping and watching Lance Armstrong do the same. Armstrong was enraged and did everything in his power to fight the truth. A federal investigation was remarkably dropped against Armstrong despite first-hand witnesses to his fraud. But after a follow-up investigation was conducted by the U.S. anti-doping agency, he could no longer lie to the public. Cue Oprah and her now iconic interview in which, within the first several minutes, Lance Armstrong admitted to everything he had fought so hard to hide.

I found this documentary to be incredibly enraging and a fascinating study in what happens when we want so hard to believe in a miraculous comeback story that we are willing to ignore the flaws of our hero. There were many journalists who had sounded the alarm about the deceit but that was a narrative the mainstream media did not want to know. The more I watched, the more I was shocked at how cocky and frankly scary Lance Armstrong behaviors were. As disturbing was this story was there was one hero that emerged from it all: Betsey Andreu, the wife of a former Postal Service team member who for a decade dared to expose Lance’s conduct. While everyone else that knew of the fraud was scared into silence, Betsy Andreu remarkably stood strong and was never willing to back down. As Betsey says in the documentary, “what Lance never hard was the truth.” If there is one clear conclusion to be drawn from this, it’s that Lance Armstrong no doubt was a talented athlete but an even more talented liar.