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October 2015

This Week I’m Obsessed With: ‘Comet’

Photo by Jenn Murphy
Photo by Jenn Murphy

A large part of my summer was spent obsessing over the new TV series from USA (of all the networks!) called “Mr. Robot.” The searingly smart and clever series (that will return for a second season next summer) was created by Sam Esmail, a relative unknown in an age where the Shonda Rhimeses of the world reign supreme. (Not to say I’m talking trash on Shonda Rhimes. “Grey’s Anatomy” still makes me feel all the feelings on a regular basis and I’m desperate to figure out this season’s mystery on “How to Get Away With Murder.” Shonda’s great.) What “Mr. Robot” did was bring a real cinematic quality to TV, something I hadn’t really seen before and loved. It quickly became one of my favorite new series of the last five years and as the show’s creator, Esmail certainly had a lot to do with that.

 

But this isn’t a “Mr. Robot” review. (If you want that, check out my review of “Mr. Robot’s” pilot episode on Moviefone!) This is a review of Esmail’s first big project before “Mr. Robot,” a film he wrote and directed called “Comet.” I saw that it had popped up on Netflix over the summer and have been itching to watch it ever since “Mr. Robot’s” first season ended. And while it didn’t exactly give me the same “THIS IS AMAZING” feeling that “Mr. Robot” did, it certainly proved even more so that Esmail is a real force to be reckoned with.

 

“Comet” tells the story of Kimberly and Dell (played by Emmy Rossum and Justin Long, respectively) a couple trying to navigate the many potential pitfalls that come with being in a relationship. The film bounces back and forth between five key points in their six-year relationship, where they ruminate on life, love and time, among many other things. Some of their back and forth felt a little “smart for smart’s sake,” but overall they both came off as quirky and somewhat endearing (which definitely had a lot do to with Rossum and Long’s excellent performances). It was a non-linear style of storytelling that I don’t think I’ve really seen much in more romantic fare, but it worked…for the most part, at least.

 

Justin Long (pictured) plays Dell, a pessimist who doesn't believe in love. (Screenshot by Jenn Murphy)
Justin Long (pictured) plays Dell, a pessimist who doesn’t believe in love. (Screenshot by Jenn Murphy)

 

I say “for the most part”, because the non-linear style seemed like it was intended to play into the other aspect of the film’s plot, which was the idea of parallel universes. This whole concept felt like an afterthought in the world of the film, so much so that it was only really mentioned near the end. It was almost like Esmail was trying to say, “Don’t worry if you don’t like romantic movies! This isn’t just a romantic movie! It’s a sci-fi film too!” It just didn’t work. I was much more interested in the main story; it didn’t really need an additional level of plot like that. It also made the character’s personalities seem somewhat inconsistent, but I wonder if that was intentional, like Esmail was trying to show that people aren’t always like they are when you first meet them. If that was the intent, then those inconsistencies can be excused.

 

What made the film really great (and what Esmail seems to have mastered) was the way that it looked. I mean, it was really visually stunning. The coloring throughout gave the film a gorgeous, dream-like feel (which may have been intentional) and Esmail used very interesting angles in his direction that reminded me of what I love so much about “Mr. Robot.” Any shot could have easily been taken out and put up in an art museum; it was that beautiful.

 

Esmail's use of color made the film particularly beautiful. (Screenshot by Jenn Murphy)
Esmail’s use of color, like in the scene where Dell and Kimberly meet (pictured above), made the film quite beautiful. (Screenshot by Jenn Murphy)

 

Overall, I’d say I definitely enjoyed the movie. While it didn’t have the same finesse that “Mr. Robot” has, it was very thoughtful and appealing. I look forward to seeing what else Esmail has up his sleeve.

 

If you’ve seen “Comet” (or decide to watch it on Netflix or Amazon after reading this review, which I definitely think you should) let me know your thoughts in the comments! And if you’re as OBSESSED with “Mr. Robot” as I am, let me know in the comments too. I always have time to talk about that show.

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

 

 

This Week I’m NOT Obsessed With: Halloween

Photo by Jenn Murphy
Photo by Jenn Murphy

I’m going to be honest with you guys: I am not the biggest fan of Halloween. Once I aged out of being able get free candy from strangers in a way that wasn’t creepy or possibly illegal, I lost interest in the holiday altogether. I’ve never liked being scared, so the idea of visiting a “haunted” anything doesn’t get me pumped. (Plus, I truly believe that if someone jumped out at me in a haunted house, my gut response would be to punch them in the face and that would just ruin the fun for everyone else.) And my head seems to be too big for most wigs, which really limits costume options. I like to think I’m not the only one in this Halloween-less boat, so I thought I’d present you all with five interesting, pop culture-y events you can potentially go to in Chicago that are NOT Halloween-related! Hooray!

 

Monday, October 26: “Cinderella” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

The ultimate fairytale is back in Chicago, this time in a glorious opera form! Starring mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as the titular heroine who finds love with the Prince despite her familial obstacles, this Italian opera (with projected English subtitles, don’t worry) by Gioachino Rossini has received great reviews so far. It also has beautiful costumes that will put any “Sexy Pizza Rat” costume you might see at a Halloween party to shame. Want to class up your Monday night? This is the way to do it.

Details: Monday, Oct. 26 @ 7:30 p.m.; Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive; Tickets start at $34; 312-827-5600, for more info, click here.

 

Tuesday, October 27: “The Second City’s Fast, Loud and Funny”

In case you weren’t aware, Chicago’s Second City comedy theater and training center is one of the go-to places for any great aspiring funny person who wants to break into the comedy industry. Alums include a who’s who of famous funny people like Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key and Stephen Colbert. Any opportunity to see Second City sketches and performers is an opportunity that cannot be missed, which is why you should definitely check out this show. Covering the many non-issue issues of modern life, “The Second City’s Fast, Loud and Funny” will make you laugh, which is a lot better than screaming because a guy dressed as a werewolf grabbed your arm at a “haunted corn maze” or whatever.

Details: Tuesday, Oct. 27 @ 8:00  p.m.; UP Comedy Club, 230 W. North Ave., 3rd Floor; Tickets start at $26; 312-662-4562, for more info, click here.

 

Wednesday, October 28: “Cinema Science with The Field Museum”

If you’re a movie buff like me, you want to know everything there is to know about a film, down to the exact science. Lucky for us, Chicago’s Field Museum has made that possible with their new event at the Music Box Theatre. You’ll get to watch a movie (in this case, the adorable and mildly concerning Pixar film “Wall-E“) and then you’ll get to hear from a lecturer on the science behind the movie! It’ll be a lot more fun and informative than watching “Halloweentown” for the umpteenth time. Trust me, it doesn’t really hold up as much as you want it to.

Details: Wednesday, Oct. 28 @ 7:30 p.m.; Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.; Tickets are $10; 773-871-6604, for more info, click here.

 

Thursday, October 29: “Bad Jews”

What’s more terrifying to you: zombies, or deep-seeded family dysfunction? If you said the latter, then “Bad Jews” is the play for you. Written by Joshua Harmon, “Bad Jews” follows the Feygenbaum family and the tensions that come to the surface when a beloved family heirloom is up for grabs. Chosen as a critics’ pick by TimeOut Chicago, the play’s biting humor and wit will make you happy you skipped out on that pumpkin-carving party you were invited too. We all know the carving is secretly the least-fun part.

Details: Thursday, Oct. 29 @ 8:00 p.m.; The Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halstead St.; Tickets start at $38; 312-988-9000, for more info, click here.

 

Friday, October 30: “#DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment”

If my Tuesday suggestion somehow wasn’t enough funny for you, then check out “#DateMe.” The show is based on an online experiment done by actress and Second City veteran Robyn Lynne Norris, who created 38 fake and ridiculous dating profiles on OkCupid. The show is made up of the results of the experiment and portrays the funny and somewhat crazy world of online dating. You’ll leave laughing, unlike if you went to see a horror movie, where you’d leave panicked and unsettled. Laughing seems like the better option.

Details: Friday, Oct. 30 @ 8:00 and 11:00 p.m.; UP Comedy Club, 230 W. North Ave., 3rd Floor; Tickets start at $31; 312-662-4562, for more info, click here.

 

I hope that at least one of these events tickles your fancy and helps you to enjoy your week without any Halloween pressure! Let me know in the comments if you plan on attending any of these events or do attend one and become OBSESSED! Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go listen to the “Hamilton” cast recording for the 8 billionth time.

 

Stay classy,

Jenn

This Week I’m Obsessed With: The Process Behind ‘Saturday Night Live!’

If you’re anything like me (and I assume if you’re still reading this blog after I went full “Hamilton” on you last week that you are) you’re still mildly freaking out over last night’s amazing episode of “Saturday Night Live,” hosted by Tracy Morgan. Between the truly inspired casting of Larry David as Senator Bernie Sanders in the cold open, the full-on “30 Rock” (my favorite show of all time, by the way) reunion in Morgan’s monologue and the appearances of beloved Tracy Morgan characters like Brian Fellow, Woodrow and Astronaut Jones, the show totally made up for the lame Miley Cyrus season opener and the surprisingly tepid Amy Schumer episode. Here’s hoping the momentum isn’t ruined by the next new episode on November 7, hosted by the always irritating Donald Trump.

 

It’s sometimes crazy to think that a show that elaborate can be fully thought out and executed in just a week but after over 40 years of shows, the people at “SNL” seem to have it down to a science. This process is currently being explored at “Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition,” a really impressive exhibit in New York City full of props, costumes and other fun tidbits that follows the day-to-day events that go into making an episode of “SNL.” I was able to check it out over the summer and lucky for you, I took lots of photos. Instead of going through the whole collection like some annoying relative after a long vacation, I’ve decided to narrow it down to just nine pictures that sort of follow the week-long process that goes into making the show and give you a glimpse of what all can be seen at the exhibit. It doesn’t appear to be closing any time soon, so if you get a chance I suggest you go see it. And for more details on the weekly process itself, check out this great New York Post piece.

 

Plans for each episode begin on Monday in Creator of "SNL" Lorne Michaels' office, where cast members, writers, and the host meet to pitch sketch ideas. Until recently, this was the desk that Michaels sat at.
Plans for each episode begin on Monday in Creator of “SNL” Lorne Michaels’ office, where cast members, writers, and the host meet to pitch and discuss potential sketch ideas. Until recently, this was the desk that Michaels sat at for these meetings.
Following a day of writing on Tuesday, all of the written sketches are assessed at a read-through on Wednesday. This part of the exhibit recreated the read-through table, which is apparently always stocked with food.
Following a day of writing on Tuesday, all of the written sketches are assessed at a read-through on Wednesday. After the read-through, only a select number of sketches are chosen to be featured on the show. This part of the exhibit used a projector to recreate the read-through table, which is apparently always stocked with food.
Starting Wednesday night continuing on into Thursday, the show's set builders work on designing and building the sets that will be needed for that week's sketches. Here are some of the designs and notes from previous sets.
Starting Wednesday night and continuing on into Thursday, the show’s set builders work on designing and building the sets that will be needed for that week’s sketches. Here are some of the designs and notes from previous sets used on the show.
Wednesday and Thursday are also when the various costumes and prosthetic makeup pieces are created. In order to work more efficiently, each cast member and host has to get a plaster cast made of their face that the makeup artists can work off of. See if you recognize any of the faces pictured here.
Wednesday and Thursday are also when the various costumes and prosthetic makeup pieces are created. In order to work more efficiently, the cast members and host have plaster casts made of their faces so the makeup artists can work while they’re off rehearsing. See if you recognize any of recent cast members faces that were displayed here.
The exhibit had so many memorable costumes that brought back memories of all of the great characters "SNL" has featured.
The exhibit had so many memorable costumes that brought back memories of all of the great characters “SNL” has featured, like Stefon and Hanz and Franz.
Every scripted line in the show is written out on a cue card. Here is the full pile of cue cards used for a recent episode. That's a LOT of writing.
Since there is little time to memorize everything, every scripted line in the show is written out on a cue card. Here is the full pile of cue cards used for a recent episode. It’s a lot.
After a terrible car accident in June of 2014, it didn't seem entirely clear if Tracy Morgan would ever return to the "SNL" stage, or any stage for that matter. This cue card, used at the "SNL" 40th Anniversary Special that aired in February of 2015, addressed his absence. Luckily, he made a full recovery and as I mention earlier, hosted this week's show!
After a terrible car accident in June of 2014, it didn’t seem entirely clear if Tracy Morgan would ever return to the “SNL” stage, or any stage for that matter. This cue card was used at the “SNL” 40th Anniversary Special that aired in February of 2015, when Morgan was still healing. Luckily, he made a full recovery and as I mentioned earlier, hosted this week’s show!
A wide variety of people have hosted "SNL" over the years. Here's a thank you note from the Queen of Daytime TV herself, Oprah Winfrey, after she hosted in 1986.
A wide variety of people have hosted “SNL” over the years. Here’s a thank you note from the Queen of Daytime TV herself, Oprah Winfrey, after she hosted in 1986.
Countless incredible talents have made their way through "SNL's" hallowed halls, helping to make it the important comedy establishment that it is today.
Countless incredible talents have made their way through “SNL’s” hallowed halls, helping to make it the important comedy establishment that it is seen as today.

 

So there you have it, folks! A look into a week at “SNL” and “Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition.” Pretty impressive, right? Makes you want to watch an episode of “SNL” right now. Might I recommend this week’s episode, if you haven’t seen it already? Trust me, you’ll be OBSESSED.

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

This Week I’m Obsessed With: ‘The Ham4Ham Show’

 

It’s hard to look anywhere in Broadway news these days without hearing about “Hamilton,” the ground-breaking hip-hop musical (created by and starting literal genius Lin-Manuel Miranda) about the life and times of founding father Alexander Hamilton. As someone who was lucky enough to see the show back in August (after years of looking forward to it following this and Miranda’s first Broadway musical, “In the Heights“), I can tell you that it lives up to all of the hype and then some. This show is truly incredible and because of that, it’s like, super difficult to get tickets.

 

The show, like many on Broadway, has a lottery two hours before each performance where people can put their name in for a chance at last-minute tickets for that night’s show. In this case, the tickets are $10, a “Ham” for “Ham,” if you will. Miranda decided to add some extra fun to this event a few times a week with five-minute shows before the winning names are called, now known as “The Ham4Ham Show.” They can really be anything; sometimes there’s special guests like beat-boxing dynamo Shockwave of rap-improv group Freestyle Love Supreme (I was actually at this one!), other times it’s just cast members from “Hamilton” showing off their own special skills.

 

This “Ham4Ham Show” in particular celebrated the heroes behind the scenes. Miranda brought out “Hamilton” Stage Manager Jason Bassett to call cues while the cast performed the musical number “The Ten Duel Commandments.” I found this one to be especially awesome because not only does it show one of “Hamilton’s” amazing musical numbers in all its glory, but it also gives a real glimpse into all of the action going on backstage to make what we see onstage happen. It can be easy to forget that when you’re focused on the performance, so it’s great to see it recognized like this.

 

Enjoy the video and look for more on YouTube. Howard Sherman, an NYC-based arts administrator and advocate, seems to be there for most, if not all of them and always provides video. Also, check out the show’s cast recording, currently available on iTunes. It’s really one of the best I’ve ever heard. And if you get a chance, try and see the show! I promise, you too will become OBSESSED.

 

Stay classy,

Jenn

This Week I’m Obsessed With: 6 Podcasts That’ll Get You Pumped For Awards Season

Photo by Jenn Murphy
Photo by Jenn Murphy

It may seem like the season of glamorous dresses and shiny gold trophies is lightyears away, but really, we’re already in the thick of awards season. The summer of superhero movies, tentpoles and franchises based on young adult novels has passed, and now it’s time for fall and the many film festivals that come with it. This is the time where a large number of the films that will be competing for awards come wintertime premiere for the media and start their long campaigns for award show glory. Because of this, I thought it would be the perfect time to share some of my favorite film-related podcasts that’ll not only get you in the award-season spirit, but will also just get you excited about movies in general. And don’t worry, all of these podcasts can be easily found on iTunes.

 

1) “Filmspotting

If you just love movies so gosh-darn much that you can’t stand it,  check out “Filmspotting.” This Chicago-based weekly podcast is a haven for lovers of film in all its forms. Co-hosted by film instructor Adam Kempenaar and film critic Josh Larsen, each episode is composed of a review of a current movie (this week it’s the Emily Blunt-led action movie “Sicario“) as well as a movie-related top 5 list that can range from “Top 5 Neighborhood Movies” to “Top 5 Movies About Writers.” Kempenaar and Larsen have a great rapport and provide interesting context given their backgrounds in the film world. “Filmspotting” is a great way to keep up with the latest and greatest in the film world and have fun in the process.

 

2) “Little Gold Men

If you’re looking for an insider’s guide to award season and everything that goes along with it, Vanity Fair’s “Little Gold Men” provides that in spades. Hosted by Vanity Fair’s digital director, Mike Hogan, Vanity Fair’s Hollywood editor, Katey Rich and Vanity Fair’s Hollywood columnist, Richard Lawson, the show delves into the ins and outs of awards season from the perspective of three people who have a front-row seat to all of the action. The bi-weekly show has only released one episode so far, but it was great, focusing on the Toronto Film Festival and it’s standout debuts. “Little Gold Men” is great if you want to be the smartest person in the room (at least, in regards to buzzy movies) at your next party.

 

3) “Awards Chatter

If “Little Gold Men” just isn’t enough awards talk for you, check out “Awards Chatter.” Like “Little Gold Men,” “Awards Chatter” focuses on the films that are getting the most awards buzz and is hosted by someone covering the entertainment industry (in this case it’s The Hollywood Reporter’s awards analyst, Scott Feinberg). Unlike “Little Gold Men,” “Awards Chatter” also features interviews with the people making these buzzy movies. Past guests to the weekly podcast include recent Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (who appears to be trying for a second with his new film “The Danish Girl“) and TV favorite Jason Segel, who’s putting his hat in the Oscar ring with his performance in “The End of the Tour.” Feinberg is not only knowledgeable about awards season’s present, he also has a great memory for awards season’s past, regularly spouting off data and facts about previous winners. For someone who’s looking for the data behind the trophies, as well as some compelling interviews, “Awards Chatter” is the place to go.

 

4) “Happy Sad Confused

If you don’t care as much about all of that awards show discussion this far away from the actual ceremonies but still want to hear fun, interesting conversations with your favorite stars, then you should definitely check out “Happy Sad Confused.” Hosted by MTV News Correspondent Josh Horowitz, this weekly podcast (named after the series of photos that Horowitz takes with each guest) features an in-depth interview with someone who is currently starring in a newly-released movie. Recent guests have included Andrew Garfield (promoting his new film, “99 Homes“) and “Sleeping With Other People” star Alison Brie. This show is great for someone looking for an entertaining conversation to make them feel less lonely on the drive (or train ride, I don’t know your life) to work.

 

5) “The Blacklist Table Reads

If you’re looking to not just hear people talk about movies, but hear actual movies themselves, then I suggest the incredibly interesting and entertaining “Blacklist Table Reads.” What is it exactly? Well, it’s a podcast that takes screenplays that have yet to be made into actual movies and presents readings of these screenplays, often with well-known actors like Darren Criss and Colin Hanks. Essentially, it’s a movie for your ears. One screenplay is done a month and in between are interviews with some of the hottest screenwriters. It’s hosted by Franklin Leonard, founder of “The Black List” itself, a hugely important online source for screenwriters. This show is great for people who have already seen all of the buzziest films in theaters and are looking for something more off-the-map. And who knows? You might be listening to a future Oscar-winner.

 

6) “How Did This Get Made?

If you’re more interested in the polar opposite of The Oscar, aka The Razzie, then “How Did This Get Made?” is the perfect podcast for you. Where all of the other shows on this list celebrate the best in film, “How Did This Get Made?” celebrates the worst. Each episode, hosted by comedians Paul Scheer, June Diane Rapahel and Jason Mantzoukas, focuses on a particularly terrible film and asks the titular question, how did this get made? Many episodes include guests (like “Orphan Black” star Tatiana Maslany) who join in on the lovingly done takedowns of films like “Masters of the Universe” and “Jupiter Ascending.” This show is a great, refreshing break from the typical high-praise world of award season. It’s also just really, really, ridiculously funny.

 

Hope these podcasts get you thinking about movies and more specifically, award season! Let me know which podcast really gets you going, and also of any entertainment-related podcasts that you’re OBSESSED with. Sharing is caring.

 

Stay classy,

Jenn

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