5 best skits of SNL’s 42nd season premiere

Just in time for presidential debate season, “Saturday Night Live” returned with its 42nd season premiere, starring host Margot Robbie of “Suicide Squad” and musical guest The Weeknd. If you didn’t stay up past 11:30 p.m., here were the five best sketches of the night:

5. Actress Round Table 

This sketch follows the same awkward formula of “So Ghetto,” but this time four women are in a panel discussing how gals are treated in the modern film industry. Hosted by a representative from Glamour.com (Aidy Bryant), panelists Marion Cotillard (Cecily Strong),  Keira Knightley (Margot Robbie), Lupita Nyong’o (Sasheer Zamata), and DeBette Goldry (Kate McKinnon) compare the trials of discrimination and wage disparity.

While Knightley, Nyong’o and Cotillard had similar experiences, McKinnon’s Goldry, a former Golden Age of Hollywood MGM star, boasts about shooting up opium and “flappin’ my toots for a bunch of krauts.”

McKinnon’s performance is as stunning as Baddie Winkle’s Instagram account, even causing Robbie to break character for a second.

4. Weekend Update

The Weeknd gave Colin Jost and Michael Che another opportunity to give another “Weeknd Update.” 

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But that’s not all to look forward to. Jost compares our presidential candidates to the latest unwanted smart phones: Clinton’s the iPhone 7 because its forced upon us and Trump’s the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 because he might explode.

While most of Jost and Che’s jokes were lukewarm, they had strong guest stars with Kenan Thompson reprising his role as “Big Papi” David Ortiz and Cecily Strong reprising her role as  Cathy Ann, now one of America’s “undecided voters.”

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3. Presidential Debate Cold Open

Last Monday’s bizarre presidential debate was comedy gold and “Saturday Night Live” didn’t disappoint us. The almost 10-minute skit opened with McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton limping onto the stage with pneumonia and leaving us with a somersault and shimmy.

Meanwhile Alec Baldwin nailed Donald Trump’s accent and mannerisms, repeating many of Trump’s debate (and after debate) lines verbatim. After two minute’s on the stage Trump gets ready to leave, yet moderator Lester Holt (Che) reminds him that he still has 88 minutes to go.

To this, Trump responds: “My microphone is broken.”

Clinton’s gleefully response: “I think I’m going to be president.”

2. Mr. Robot Parody feat. Leslie Jones

You gotta give Leslie Jones credit for this hilarious and self-aware sketch. After Jones’ very public website hack this summer after she starred in the “Ghostbusters” reboot, this “Mr. Robot” parody attempts to explain the culprit behind these hacks: Leslie Jones herself.

Pete Davidson stars as hacker Elliot Alderson, who’s confronted by Jones computer ineptitude (Her computer’s password is password on her Window’s 95).

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1. Celebrity Family Feud: Trump vs. Clinton edition

SNL celebrity game shows have been a wonderful way to showcase its talented cast of impressionists, but this episode of “Family Feud” is just too real.

The feud, of course, is between the Republican and Democratic candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Their teams seem to reflect the speakers at their respective party’s conventions.

In the Trump camp is campaign manager Kellyanne Conway (McKinnon), daughter Ivanka Trump (Robbie), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (Bobby Moynihan) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Beck Bennett).

Meanwhile, the Clinton camp is filled with its cool celebrity stars: former President Bill Clinton (Darrell Hammond), former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (Larry David), comedian Sarah Silverman (Melissa Villasenor) and “Hamilton” star Lin-Manuel Miranda (Strong).

All these characters have good lines, but Larry David’s Sen. Sanders offer the best reason Clinton should be elected: “Sen. Clinton is the prune juice of this election. She might not seem that appetizing, but if you don’t take her now, you’re going to be clogged with crap for a long time.”

The Trumps reenact this creepy “Children of the Corn” campaign ad.

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The je ne sais quoi of ‘Still Alice’

Early on in the film “Still Alice,” Julianne Moore is running. She’s not chasing after someone like she was in sci-fi thriller “The Forgotten.” She’s truly lost. And the monsters she’s running from are invisible — like the Silence from “Doctor Who.”

Moore plays Alice Howland, the type of woman you’d aspire to be. She’s poised and articulate. Intelligent and accomplished. And very, very loved. This is evident in the first scene of directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s film, “Still Alice,” starring Julianne Moore as the loving and successful Columbia University linguistics professor.

When we first meet her, Alice is surrounded by her impressive family. Her husband John (Alec Baldwin) is a doctor at Columbia University. Her eldest daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) graduated from law school and is an expecting mother-to-be. Her son, Tom (Hunter Parrish), is going through medical school. Her youngest girl, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), is pursuing a career in acting in Los Angeles.

Yet, if you’ve read Lisa Genova’s bestselling novel which the film’s based off of, you know how this story goes. Here’s a woman who has everything. Watch as she tragically loses it all.

Alice is running from something more far frightening than the aliens who kidnapped her kid. She’s running from Mother Nature, who gifted her with the inherited disease which also crippled her late father. At age 50, she’s been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer and she’s slowly losing her mind.

We watch Moore transform from the charismatic and self-assured professor and mother to someone who loses her bearings. She pulls out a bottle of Dove body wash from the fridge. She repeats questions and sentences over and over and over. She soils herself while looking for the bathroom in her own house. She doesn’t recognize her house-keeper or daughter. “I wish I had cancer,” she tells her husband. “I wouldn’t be so ashamed. People put on pink ribbons if you have cancer.”

As Alice loses more and more of herself to the disease, the camera blurs. Cinematographer Denis Lenoir focuses his lens on Moore’s forlorn expressions and vivid red hair. In one scene, Alice is the only one in focus. Her husband and children are blurry in the background, discussing her treatment as if she’s not there.

Glatzer, who’s been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, might know what it’s like to feel invisible. ALS has taken his words, but not his mind. The film treats disease with sensitivity, but also forces us to confront the frightening effects of aging. We might also lose our minds someday — our ability to see, hear and think. Whether it’s at 50 or 100, our years are all numbered.

If it was Glatzer and Westmoreland’s intention to make us empathize with the sick and elderly, they’ve succeeded. The camera focuses on a series of text — Words with Friends, plays, lecture notes — all the building blocks of human communication. When we lose our words, we lose our ability to think as well as our ability to express our desires. We become invisible. A husk of our former selves. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have thoughts or feelings. We just might not know how to express them.

Through Glatzer and Westmoreland lens, Alice is never invisible. Moore shines. Instead, words, people, faces and settings blur around her. She’s still Alice — even as she loses her sense of time and place, her words and memories. She says so in a tear-jerking speech given at an Alzheimer fundraiser: “I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once…. It means so much to be talking here, today, like my old ambitious self who was so fascinated by communication.”

“Still Alice” was written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland based on Lisa Genova’s novel. The film is nominated in the 87th Academy Award for Best Actress. Moore won the 2015 Golden Globe award for Best Actress for her performance as Alice Howland. 

All almost aboard the ‘Rise of the Guardians’

Once you pick up your suspension of disbelief along with your 3D glasses as you walk into the theater, “Rise of the Guardians” becomes quite an enjoyable film.

Based on William Joyce’s “Childhood of Guardians” series, the film centers around Jack Frost (Chris Pine), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman — five guardians appointed by the Man in the Moon to protect children’s belief in magic against the forces of the Bogeyman, Pitch Black (Jude Law).

With an estimated $145 million budget, Dreamworks Animation’s “Rise of the Guardians” looks beautiful. Jack Frost, with his youthful face, big blue eyes and playful and carefree grin, is eye candy — cute as the Zac Efrons, Justin Beibers or Josh Hutchersons of the world — as he lures kids into snowball fights and guarantees snow days. (After all, who doesn’t love a guy who’s good with kids?) Meanwhile, the film’s animation is delightful, featuring a potpourri of colors and wonders. Easter eggs walk into rivers of pink dye while dreams float out of your head and prance around. Yetis assemble and paint Christmas toys in the North Pole while tiny tooth fairies, which resemble hummingbirds, flutter under pillows to collect teeth.

Although Pine may be as good looking as his animated counterpart, Jack, the 32-year-old actor’s voice is too deep to match the face of his character — who looks half his age. Pine’s voice, who commands the Starship Enterprise in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot, is too suave, smooth and confident for a character who’s young and lost — trying to discover who he is and why he died. Closer to teenaged heartthrobs, like Efron or Hutcherson, would have been better suited for the role.

Meanwhile, Pine’s co-stars shine with their mastery at accents. Although we know Jackman can sing and voice a pretty good American accent, it’s refreshing to hear Jackman’s native Australian accent as he voices a large bunny that resembles a kangaroo. Meanwhile, Baldwin’s Russian accent completes the unconventional Santa Claus character, which also has “naughty” and “nice” tatooed on his arms. And Law, with his English accent, always sounds sexy — even when he’s voicing a misguided, black-haired villain that resembles Loki from “The Avengers.”

“Rise of the Guardians” takes us on a journey on the Polar Express — proving that you’re never too old to believe in magic. All you have to do is open your heart and believe.

“Rise of the Guardians” was directed by Peter Ramsey. The screenplay was written by David Lindsay-Abaire.

‘Rock of Ages’: a guilty pleasure

It’s 1987. “Rock ‘n’ roll is a disease,” or so says Patricia Whitman (Catherine Zeta-Jones), wife of Los Angeles Mayor Mike Whitman (Bryan Stanton). The problem — Patty says — lies in “sex, hateful music, and…”

Patty pauses like former GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Perry did when trying to name the three governmental agencies he would eliminate.

“Sex,” she finally says as the conservative women around her gasp in horror.

Meanwhile, the supposedly dark and dirty realm of rock ‘n’ roll — embodied by rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), front man of the band Arsenal — is trying to persevere against the burgeoning ’90s boy bands that are ‘pop-ing’ up among the 14- to 21-year-old crowd. You already know how this story ends. (I’ll give you a hint: It’s a Journey power ballad recently resurrected by Fox’s hit television show “Glee.”)

Despite the predictability and cheesiness of “Rock of Ages” — (you would think with Fox’s “Glee” and NBC’s “Smash,” we would be used to people singing about their feelings by now) — it does what’s any Broadway musical is designed to do. It’s a safe, crowd-pleaser — comfortable and familiar like your favorite stuffed animal, fairy tale, or Bon Jovi song. You have your young heroine who gets on a bus to follow her dreams, a rock wizard who disappointingly turns out to be no more than a man hiding behind a curtain, a budding “Rolling Stones” journalist looking for a story but falling in love instead, and an opening sequence where everyone in a moving bus starts singing. (Does it sound like the plot to “Almost Famous” yet?)

In addition to the familiarity of the story, a familiar cast of actors propels the show. Catherine Zeta-Jones is known in another musical movie role as “Chicago’s” vaudeville actress Velma Kelly. Russell Brand is known for his comedic charm in movies such as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Alec Baldwin is Jack Donaghy of NBC’s “30 Rock” and ‘brass balls’ Blake from “Glengarry Glen Ross.” (At one point, Baldwin’s character Dennis, the owner of rock ‘n’ roll club, The Bourbon Room, talks about a band named Concrete Balls.) And who could forget Tom Cruise — strutting half naked for half the movie, eluding sex, seductiveness, and vulnerability.

“Rock of Ages” is different from director and choreographer Adam Shankman’s previous canon “Hairspray” because it covers Los Angeles’ underworld — from rock ‘n’ world to prostitution — while “Hairspray” features a teen-friendly television dance show. Still, that doesn’t make the singing and dancing numbers of either any less well done. Catherine Zeta-Jones does high kicks in a skirt while singing Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Tom Cruise straddles a microphone while he sings Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Julianna Hough pole dances as she sings Journey’s “Anyway You Want It.” Diego Boneto jumps up on the table as he sings a mash-up of Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The choreography to “Rock of Ages” is fun and high energy, even if the song transitions and plot are cheap and obvious. But like watching “Glee” these days, aren’t the music and big performance numbers why you’re still tuning in in the first place? And if rock ‘n’ roll is still a disease, “Rock of Ages” is also bound to be a guilty pleasure — so bad that you can’t help but watch.

“Rock of Ages” is directed by Adam Shankman and written by Chris D’Arienzo, Allan Loeb, and Justin Theroux.

To see this published in Imprint Magazine, click here.