5 Things You Need To Know: Summer Movie Edition Part I – NEIGHBORS, GODZILLA, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

With the summer movie semester well into the summer session, the time has finally come to comment on some of what I have seen. This edition will feature Neighbors, Godzilla, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

As always, when I see a movie in theaters, I will (attempt to) write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About…

NEIGHBORSRose Byrne and Seth Rogen

1) Although I hated Neighbors and most of my Neigbors viewing experience, I recognize its relative success as a modern, pushing-the-envelope comedic summer romp.

2) Zac Efron’s body and physical persona may be the closest thing I have ever seen on screen to a Greek God and he and the filmmakers seem to both know and celebrate this.

3) Ike Barinholtz has a brand of comedic timing on The Mindy Project that he brings to his supporting role in The Neighbors. As on The Mindy Project, he is both sometimes hilarious and sometimes far too many steps over the top.

4) I was pleasantly surprised by the chemistry between Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as an oddly-coupled set of new parents. They both were willing to go there – with each other, with other co-stars (particularly the surprisingly fantastic Efron), and with the hyperbole of the plotted circumstances.

5) Neighbors is a movie that delivers a full filling of disgusting raunch and was frequently too much out of control partying for me to take. If this kind of thing is your jam, Neighbors is an escapist escapade, but if you are at a place in your life in which you are ready to settle down with a spouse and kids, be warned.

GODZILLAElizabeth Olsen

1) Godzilla‘s relative CGI and monster reveal procrastination fuels its suspenseful success. Like summer blockbuster heavyweights like Jaws and Jurassic Park (both under the helm of Steven Spielberg the Magnificent), we earn the climactic curtain pull-back.

2) Bryan Cranston is good at acting – sure, see: Breaking Bad. But also, see: Godzilla.

3) Director Gareth Edwards has recently been attached to helm an “untitled Star Wars project.” With operation total secrecy expertly and indefinitely locked in the bag on everything Star Wars movies related, one secret did recently get out: a future Star Wars movie may be even luckier to have Gareth Edwards as its director than Gareth Edwards is lucky to be able to direct a Star Wars movie. If Godzilla’s promise is any indication, this is an outstanding choice.

4) I am not sure when it is going to come and Godzilla is certainly not it (this is by no means a bad thing – the character performance stakes are just a little lower in a movie about a fictionalized monster), but I have a strong premonition that Elizabeth Olsen is going to have an iconic film performance at some point in her career. She has something undeniably unique and compelling going on as an actor and with the right character/director/writer combination may have the talent to deliver something really special.

5) Godzilla is a movie that executes its mission (a summer escape, a chance to see cool looking monsters that destroy things, a platform for  Bryan Cranston to reinvent himself post Walter White) with a confidence, artistry, and intrigue not often reserved for the modern summer blockbuster. Although littered with characters built from traditional stock and a little darker (as in lighting and mood) than necessary, Godzilla entertains (and decimates property and other monsters in its path!) most responsibly.


1) My X-Men movie journey is very similar to my at-large X-Men journey. Throughout my life, X-Men has always been a franchise, a concept, and a group of action figures to play with that I enjoy and indulge in on extended breaks from Batman. Although they adequately fill the gaps during forced vacations from Gotham City, rarely do Professor Xavier’s crew of mutant super outcasts stand tall against Batman’s human awesomeness. With Batman and Robin and director Joel Schumacher defecating on Batman, the moviegoing experience, and human decency in 1997the X-Men had been handed their cinematic window to makes some dents in Batman’s armored nipples. Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) was a passable franchise welcoming (this does not include anything to do with the mistreatment of Halle Berry’s Storm character nor the CGI budget limitations that make its production value seem much closer to a movie released in 1990). X2 (2003) was a revelatory leap forward and stands up well to this day (the bigger budget and everything to do with Nightcrawler were significant contributors). By the time the inferior and belabored X-Men: The Last Stand rolled out in 2006, Christopher Nolan had just given Batman an exceptional new cinematic restart (Batman Begins in 2005), and the X-Men franchise had to re-mutate again. One attempted genetic experiment was resoundingly anti-climatic – besides the estate of Hugh Jackman, I am not sure there are too many people who have benefitted in any way from the Wolverine movies (their complete lack of pop cultural impact is really telling). 2011’s X-Men: First Class had the opposite effect. Set in 1962 and infused with a nostalgic charm by director Matthew Vaughn, First Class expertly told the X-Men origin story of young Professor Xavier and Magneto through the brilliant chemically balanced performances of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (although a little too miscast as Raven/Mystique, it never hurts to have Jennifer Lawrence on your team). If First Class rebooted and restarted the X-Men mythos in the best of ways, X-Men: Days of Future Past was an opportunity to tie the two X-Men time periods (and actors thereof) into one elegant through-story. The resulting movie, again with Bryan Singer at the helm and again buttressed between two Batman movie franchises, conveniently resets the events of the past movies by creating an entirely new history (popular deceased characters can now have new life in future movies), but unfortunately works to both cheapen what was good about the original three movies and the goodwill brought on by X-Men: First Class. Time travel is the trickiest of fantasy tropes. Mind-blowing is palatable if there is some restraint (this is why I am so stoked for Interstellar and why Inception worked so well – thanks again Christopher Nolan). X-Men: Days of Future Past does not show as much restraint as it could (everything seems awfully convenient, especially the premise that Jackman’s Wolverine is the perfect candidate to take the journey) and the result is a lot of sloppy and imprecise filmmaking (the anti-Usual Suspects).

2) I am thrilled for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s onscreen chemistry and offscreen professional and personal relationship that has grown from their time together on the first movies, but after seeing Fassbender and McAvoy again do their young Erik and Charles thing, there is nothing quite like it. I could sit and watch these two play a board game together or model vintage fashion and it would be mesmerizing (it’s a good thing because these opportunities come up throughout DoFP).

3) If you have seen any of Peter Dinklage’s work on Game of Thrones, you immediately recognize two things – he is a superior actor and you want to see him perform more. I thought that Dr. Bolivar Trask, the sentinel’s Dr. Frankenstein lobbyist, would be the perfect dichotomized bad guy for Dinklage’s talents to shine. Sadly, Trask is written poorly and without a desired amount of ethical and psychological depth. Dinklage is wonderful so not all is disappointing, but this is a lost opportunity to showcase the full extent of Dinklage’s brilliance.

4) For her second straight movie release (I see you, American Hustle), Jennifer Lawrence has played a part she was not born to play. The weight of her movie superstardom and talent may even at times be more of a detriment than of a benefit. You know she is capable of such incredible things, so when her Raven character is given such choppy dialogue and inconsequential and confusing motives, you are left feeling as blue her full-body suit.

5) X-Men: Days of Future Past is a movie with epic, interstellar storytelling ambition that too often feels grounded to Earth. It is too many things all at once such that what it really needs to be – thoughtful, provocative, compelling – fails to fully develop. The future scenes are action-sequence pleasure, but of little care or consequence. The past scenes from the 70s are fogged by a blurry dedication to external realism over internal truth.

Interstellar Trailer – It’s about saving the world

Before yesterday, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar had been cloaked in an introspective veil of plotted ambiguity and fantastical anticipation. Sure, there was this deeply moving yet enigmatic and largely indecipherable teaser about the pioneering destiny of humankind. Although certainly more than just alright (alright, alright), we only gained some awareness of the stakes (expectedly monumental) without learning a mere Hans Zimmer epic musical moan and groan about the terms of engagement.

This has now all changed. The newly released first Interstellar trailer paints a broad brush of its picture (I am sure Nolan has intentionally left out many of the finest details) and of Matthew McConaughey’s (the year of!) protagonist journey. Watch here:

As a true believer in the “In Nolan We Trust” school of cinematic consumption, I may refrain from future preview iterations in order to best preserve my mythologized first watch on opening night in November. For now, these slightly more than two minutes of content leave me delightfully content and give me the following beautiful nuggets to consider:

– I may need to sure up my Murphy’s Law understanding.

– Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper character may be a well-educated man and an engineer, but he is no trained pilot.

– In the world of Interstellar, the Earth has enough planes and televisions to match its desired inventory levels. Food is another story.

– Professor Michael Caine will ask us to confront realities about the limitations of our solar system. Cooper believes Nolan picture favorite Caine has a plan to “save the world.”

– “We are not meant to save the world. We are meant to leave it.”

– McConaughey’s Cooper will be back for his kids, but must go on this mission first to save them.

– “We must reach far-beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals, but as a species. We must confront the reality of Interstellar travel.” Yessir.

My confrontation has officially begun.

The Challenge: Free Agents Weekly Power Rankings – Week 5

There has been much going on outside of The Challenge over the past few weeks that has kept me off of the written word treadmill, but I hope to reconcile this beginning early next week. For now, here are my almost belated Week 5 Power Rankings…

Week 5 Power Rankings


Eliminated – CHET (week 1), DUSTIN (week 2), BRANDON (week 4), ISAAC (week 5); Medical Disqualification – FRANK (week 3)

9) SWIFT (last week: 9)

8) COHUTTA (last week: 5)

7) JOHNNY (last week: 8)

6) LEROY (last week: 7)

5) PRESTON (last week: 6)

4) JORDAN (last week: 3)

3) CT (last week: 2)

2) ZACH (last week: 4)

1) JOHNNY BANANAS (last week: 1)


Eliminated – JEMMYE (week 1), EMILEE (week 2), NIA (week 3), LaTOYA (week 4), JASMINE (week 5)

9) JONNA (last week: 10)

8) ANEESA (last week: 7)

7) DEVYN (last week: 8)

6) NANY (last week: 4)

5) CAMILA (last week: 4)

4) THERESA (last week: 6)

3) JESSICA (last week: 3)

2) LAUREL (last week: 1)

1) CARA MARIA (last week: 2)

Thoughts on the new GOTHAM trailer

It has been a fair assumption from the beginning of its inception that a network television show set in the city of Batman would go to series. Yesterday this foregone conclusion became a reality. As a further mark of Fox’s investment in this destined ratings hit, they debuted the first extended trailer for Gotham during the long-awaited season premiere of 24: Live Another Day. I caught it later in the evening on YouTube and have since watched it several times with evolving opinions and reactions meandering through a debris field of nostalgic wonderment, emotional bias, and objective critique. Watch here:

My first viewing “blink” was somewhere in the neighborhood of “Is this real life or am I dreaming?” and giddy excitement. As a dedicated fan of Batman and his environs since before I could read (Batman is on my personal Mount Rushmore of pop cultural royalty), each new telling of any aspect of the Gotham story is met with a high degree of passionate anticipation. This series (although not a revelatory concept, I sketched out my own version of Gotham centered on the GCPD with my neighborhood Batman fan club chapter in middle school) focuses on the world of Gotham before a young man was forced to dress up in a cape and cowl and the trailer lets you in on many of the key players. The foreboding music and tone feel like remnants of the Caped Crusader world that Christopher Nolan built (this is only a good thing). Ben McKenzie’s brooding and mostly silent (at least in the trailer edit) Detective Jim Gordon is the story’s protagonist and from the trailer, I am ready to ride shotgun in his squad car. It appears as though showrunners have chosen to make Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock more Andy Sipowicz from NYPD Blue (tough love mentor) than Bunk Moreland from The Wire (sloppy and soulful drunk) and I am fine with this. I am not sure what to do yet with Jada Pinkett Smith’s big bad boss, but she does seem primed to give a most hammy and villainous performance. The Wire’s John Doman’s unexpected involvement (unlisted on IMDB) was a welcome treat. Production and direction value (and I recognize that this is all footage from a higher pilot budget) seem to be at the highest level of network television capability (not every series can be as gorgeous to look at as Game of Thrones).

There is just so much wonderful here that it took a closer look to figure out what seems slightly off. Although I recognize the value of exploring the young Bruce Wayne’s ascension to masked vigilante and at least the immediate impact that his parent’s murder had on the psyche of the urban community, I am not sure there was a worthy purpose to so overtly backstory all of these villains. In all of my Batman following years, the only villain that intrigued at this expositional level was the Joker (and he seems that he is being intentionally saved for later season February sweeps). Everyone else was created as reaction to Batman’s existence and only live in the Gotham world because of the stakes that Batman has so dramatically raised. Why not eliminate this element and tell a gritty drama of urban decay rather than a overwrought and repetitive comic book origin story? I remain the ever hopeful and will graciously add Gotham to the top of my DVR queue in the fall, but at least part of this diehard wishes that my beloved character’s world was to be told with a slightly different storytelling palette.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has something to say

Last night marked the second outing of the new HBO comedy/social commentary/fake news program satire of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Certainly and obviously a branch off of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tree (even more so than the more straight satire of the character starring in The Colbert Report), its half-hour format without commercials has admittedly on occasion had me checking the clock, but it also affords him segments like the clip imbedded below – the almost thirteen minute unleash of a full-formed opinion on the horrors of the death penalty. As Bill Maher’s final “new rule” on each episode of Real Time has shown us, this type of elongated editorial can have an elongated impact. John Oliver has always been undeniably witty and hilarious, but if this type of truth-telling can become a staple of his new platform, there will be weeks of tonights ahead of him on HBO.

The Challenge: Free Agents Episode 4 – A Good Old-Fashioned Recap

“This is an individual game. This is not a team game.” – Johnny Bananas

As prolific playwrights, screenwriters, and Greek literature revolutionaries have done before them, The Challenge producers are active employers of dramatic structure. Each episode begins with some simple exposition, often foreshadowing the climactic conflict later in the episode. This week’s expositional section of “Inadequate” begins at a Uruguayan pool party. Preston takes this opportunity to work on fine-tuning his swimming strokes and shirtless modeling skills. Camila sees it as an opportunity to improve upon both her cocktail creation and consumption abilities. LaToya, the little verbal engine that could not be denied in week 1’s elimination against Jemmye, gets that some of the social pleasantries mask the bigger competitive picture. “With the game being Free Agents, everybody that you call your friend are really not your friends and deep down inside they are actually gunning for you.” The first foreshadowing seed of exposition is planted!

In other expositional intel, Aneesa is not feeling the “overachieving, showboating, I’m better than you” romantic alliance between Jordan and Laurel. She shares with Theresa and Zach that she would prefer that Jordan and Laurel take their apparently hilarious sexual activity (there was laughter!) out of her bedroom. Aneesa just dropped the second seed of expositional foreshadowing and this tree of drama could grow personal.Jordan and Laurel

This week’s challenge is called “Bounce Out,” a game in the vein of soccer or hockey in which the goal is to score goals (the first team to score three wins), except each player will be wearing a giant plastic bubble of his or her face that according Zach makes him look like a “fat girl.” What is going on right now indeedJonna. There will be two lines for each team (cleverly titled Group A and Group B) and within each line one player will be the ball and the other players will then be strategically on offense, defense, or a little bit of both. “So basically we just have to get inside these gigantic gerbil balls and bounce each other all around.” Pretty much, Laurel. Johnny in a bubble

Poetically and finally deserving of the responsibility of the position, Johnny Bananas and Cara Maria are chosen as team captains. Let us see how these two veteran veterans do with their selections!


1) Team Bananas – LAUREL

2) Team Cara – ZACH

3) Team Bananas – CT

4) Team Cara – CAMILA

5) Team Bananas – THERESA

6) Team Cara – ISAAC

7) Team Bananas – JORDAN

8) Team Cara – ANEESA

9) Team Bananas – NANY

10) Team Cara – LEROY

11) Team Bananas – JOHNNY

12) Team Cara – DEVYN

13) Team Bananas – JESSICA

14) Team Cara – BRANDON

15) Team Bananas – SWIFT

16) Team Cara – LATOYA

17) Team Bananas – JONNA

18) Team Cara – COHUTTA

19) Team Bananas – PRESTON (by default)

20) Team Cara – JASMINE (by default)Jasmine

Final Team Bananas: Men – Bananas, CT, Jordan, Swift, Preston; Women  – Laurel, Theresa, Nany, Jessica, Jonna

Final Team Cara: Men – Zach, Isaac, Leroy, Brandon, Cohutta; Women – Cara Maria, Camila, Aneesa, Devyn, LaToya, Jasmine

Although Cara makes strong picks for her first guy and girl (in a physical challenge like this, you want to have Zach’s Thor-like frame on your side), Bananas team has the clear advantage on paper. If we use last week’s power rankings as the only barometer, Bananas’ guys are ranked 1, 3, 4, 8, 10 and girls are ranked 1, 3, 5, 8, 11. Cara’s guys are ranked 2, 5, 6, 7, 11 and girls are ranked 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10. Some additional things to note about these numbers: although Cara’s last guy chosen was Cohutta (ranked no. 2 going into episode 4), his size is a distinctive disadvantage in this challenge (Jasmine, ranked no.7, was not chosen for the same reasons). If you add up all of the number rankings of each team with the lower number having the better team, Johnny’s guys sum to a 26 and girls to a 28 (total of 54). Cara’s guys add up to a 31 and girls add up to a 38 (total of 69). If the numbers indicate a clear advantage, then the eye test does even more so. How can a team of Bananas, Laurel, CT, Jordan, Nany, and Jessica possibly lose?

Back to the “Bounce Out” event, Bananas creates his groups. Group A will feature Swift, Jonna, Jessica, Theresa, and CT with Bananas himself as the ball. Group B will include Preston, Laurel, Nany, and Johnny with Jordan as the ball. Theresa correctly notes that the two balls, Bananas and Jordan, are “both really agile, both really quick, and smart players.” Cara’s Group A will be Camila, Aneesa, Cara Maria, Cohutta, and Jasmine with Zach as the ball. Her Group B will be LaToya, Brandon, Leroy, and Devyn with Isaac as the ball. Again, advantage all around to Team Bananas. Zach hopes that because Isaac is a “crazy white boy” he will be “good at running and hitting people” because, employing the theory of the Artist Formally Known as Ron Artest, “sometimes being crazy is better than being prepared.” Jessica’s strategy is just to “not die.” Cohutta is concerned about Johnny and CT, but feels good that on his side they have “Zach, and Zach, and pretty much Zach.”

Round 1 begins with Zach, “aka Conan, aka Thor, aka Goliath,” bouncing through much of the Team Bananas defensive unit. Meanwhile, Bananas, a “sneaky little guy,” darts around, plows through Aneesa, and then, like a “Mack truck,” crushes Cara Maria’s “little deer” en route to his team’s first goal. Team Bananas – 1. Team Cara – 0. In the least surprising moment of the episode, Camila and Zach have a adrenaline-laden, shouting blame-off after the initial defeat.Bounce ItRound 2 is the stalest of mates for a while. Jordan’s ball is up against three able defenders at the visiting team net. Laurel and Nany’s intended “let’s f—in annihilate him” strategy toward Isaac seems to be working wonders, although Zach contends that Isaac seems to be “jogging on a run” and calls his performance “pathetic.” All of this changes when Johnny (of Bridgewater) instructs Preston to “go help Jordan.” Preston, oft picked last and oft overlooked (did anyone see his swimming prowess at the pool party?), comes to the rescue (cue triumphant sports music!) and wills Jordan into the net for a Team Bananas second goal. Preston’s post game interview says it all: “I just got there and put all my gusto into it and got Jordan into that net. I’m always picked last, but people should realize at this point whichever team I’m picked last for is usually the team that wins.” My preseason “Break Out” predictions for Preston and Jessica continue to gain momentum (I like to forget how I chose fondly departed Jemmye for this season’s “The Leap.” Maybe I was referring to a leap back to the United States? Nope, no I wasn’t.). Team Bananas – 2. Team Cara Maria – 0.

With some defensive improvement from the back line of Team Cara (Jordan misogynistic contention about the performance of Bananas is hereby ignored), Zach is able to force his dynamic physical presence to a goal in Round 3 against the Team Bananas defense. Team Bananas – 2. Team Cara Maria – 1. After receiving some strategic advice from Camila (“get up, step backwards”), Isaac puts the round 4 stakes in perspective: “They only need one more point to win. We need two. It’s all up to me, and our game plan is do exactly what we did last time. (sarcastic pause of doubt) We’ll see.”

Team Bananas continues to pound Preston against the defensive wall in Round 4. Isaac decides to mix it up strategically by using both The Challenge wall and TJ Lavin the Great as “picks” (this, expectedly, works horrifically). Jordan scores, Preston wins the group’s unofficial MVP vote (Swift, while talking about it so passionately in his interview, starts “boppin” until his chair falls over! This is high unintentional comedy.), and Zach will do whatever it takes to avoid Isaac as a future teammate in Uruguay (we are a long time away from random wikipedia lemon facts). Team Bananas – 3. Team Cara Maria – 1. For the fourth time this season, Bananas, Preston, Laurel, Nany, and Jessica have avoided a potential vote or draw situation. For the fourth time this season, Cara Maria has not.

On the post challenge night, there is immediate strategic talk. CT, Swift, and Preston are riding on Leroy for his lackluster defensive showing. Leroy graciously takes the joke, but is concerned that it may be his time. A pillow talk between Real World: Portland cast members and Laurel reveals her intention to vote for Aneesa (the seeds of exposition are flowering!). Laurel pleads with her whisper party not to share intel. The next morning, Jessica, attempting a “I won’t vote for you if you don’t vote for me” move with Aneesa, reveals that there is talk about Aneesa as an elimination candidate. Aneesa takes this to Jordan who denies his “friend’s” involvement, but learns from Aneesa that this all came from a conversation with Jess (no matter how naively benign it might have been). The possibility of a winning team deliberation confrontation is at an all-time high.

At the deliberation, talk about potential men remains inconclusive and Johnny Bananas and Nany remind everyone that this is part of the game. When Jonna tries to take the “someone else can talk first” route about the girls, Jordan calls her out (“you gotta have a voice at some point”) by comparing her to “Jessica.” It’s on. Jessica: “Jordan may be able to bully other people, but honey, you’ve got the wrong girl.” After Jordan yells and confront her with his belief that Jessica has been carried up until this point, she promptly calls him out (Princess Hulk angry!) for his lackluster performance in the log challenge (totally fair) and for being afraid of feeling “inadequate” (this episode title alert knows where to hit him!). Personal buttons have been pushed (Real World: Portland baggage continues to be in play) and Jessica walks out of the room.

Bananas continues his role as sagacious lion to Jessica’s young cub and advises her to “let it go,” but privately is concerned about Jordan’s treatment of a woman. Back in Jordan’s camp of sympathy, there is negativity toward Bananas for his lack of viable allies on this season and for Jessica for “doing nothing.” Some battle lines for later in the season (if the season preview is any indication) have been formally drawn.

Laurel and JonnaThe voting process is all kinds of messy. Even before TJ Lavin the Great (still recovering from being inadvertently – or was it? –  “smoked” by Isaac in the challenge), Laurel’s tribal council whispers to her most spineless teammates (Jonna and Swift) rub Aneesa the wrongest of ways. (The flowers of exposition have reached a full bloom!). Aneesa calls BS on the first three votes against her (Nany, Swift, and Laurel) and TJ Lavin the Great asks her why (regrettably). After Aneesa spews jargon about whispering and bullying (Opinion – She is totally overreacting in her desire to have justified reasons for voting for her. Laurel wants her gone and convinced others to do the same. Period.). TJ Lavin the Great is forced to cut this Aneesa and Laurel fight off (“All right girls! That’s it. Enough is enough.”) before greater escalation or before Aneesa embarrasses herself any more out of entitled veteran fear. The eventual vote is a tie between Aneesa and LaToya (They each got four votes. Jasmine received the other three and is understandably upset that both of her rival partners, Jonna and Theresa, voted for her. This really is an individual game, Jaz.). TJ Lavin the Great calls for a re-vote with only Aneesa and LaToya eligible. After five votes for Aneesa (she flips some literal and figurative birds to Laurel and Jessica along the way) and five votes for LaToya, it all comes down to CT’s final voteWithout flinching, The Challenge greybeard votes for LaToya and Aneesa relieved, talks about the dilapidated karma of Laurel.

The men vote begins with little fanfare until Jordan indicates why his vote is for Leroy: “Man, this dudes a good competitor. It sucks that these are the guys we had to choose from.” LaToya, from her perch next to TJ Lavin the Great as the chosen girl for elimination, takes open offense and begins the following exchange:

LaToya: “Guess we ain’t votin’ based on performance no more.”

Jordan: “Yours was.”

LaToya: “Shut the f— up and keep your ass on the other end of the couch. You are a fake motherf—–. You walk in and out of my room smiling and saying s—. When you grow up, grow some balls, and keep it real, then you can say something. Right now, don’t say s— to me. Zip it up, motherf—–. I could whip your ass and not give two s—- about it…we can proceed TJ. I do apologize for the interruption.”

LaToya and JordanShots officially and hilariously fired. (Brandon is voted in for the guys, receiving four votes. The only drama here is that his buddy Swift went with what he perceived to be popular sentiment instead of having the back of his buddy. Brandon, you know Swift isn’t really sure how to play this game, right? Swift is regretful.) LaToya is still hot back at the house and goes at Jordan one more time. Laurel, coming to his defense, tries to reason with LaToya and Jessica and indicates that there are many sides to the story. LaToya respects Laurel’s position as “his woman,” but wants her to see how Jordan is not always as kind as he could be. Let us all water this second expositional seed!

It’s draw time, or is Cara Maria and Frank like to call it, hell. This time Zach is the unlucky recipient of bad luck and Brandon is the unlucky recipient of Zach’s bad luck because he has to face Zach in an elimination. ZachAs these things tend to go, Cara Maria is back for another elimination (“Of course, why not? Me. Again).Cara Maria

Tonight’s elimination is called “Oppenheimer” (as in Manhattan Project leader J. Robert? Let us hope there is no catastrophic nuclear radiation as a byproduct) in which our competitors run by each other in opposite directions in a circular cage to see who will be the first person to ring a bell. If it sounds that simple, it is that simple. The first to two bell rings wins. Production probably thought there would be more potential for a mid cage collision, but instead there is just a lot of sprinting. Just like that, Cara Maria wins the first two heats and eliminates LaToya from the competition. LaToya and CaraAfter last week’s time-consuming and endurance-testing elimination, Cara deserves this far more forgiving battle round. A stats wiz on her own right, Cara has now been in twelve eliminations in seven seasons and acknowledges that distance from eliminations does not make the prospect of winning grow stronger. Instead, it just increases anticipation and fear. TJ Lavin the Great astutely tells Cara Maria that she is “amazing.” LaToya makes quite the first impression of her The Challenge career and sums it up perfectly: “I met a lot of nice people. I met a lot of bad people. But overall, a lot of people I’ll never forget and hopefully I will get a chance to see everybody again in the future.” We hope so too.

On to the men, despite Brandon’s football experience, Bananas predicts that this elimination is going to be Brandon’s “swan song.” In the first heat, Zach repeatedly tramples over Brandon before ringing his bell. Brandon recognizes the fallacy in his strategy. The second time around is just a footrace and Zach is stronger and faster. TJ Lavin the Great: “Brandon – this ends your time on Free Agents. I’ll see you in the future for sure. Take care, man.” Brandon is well-liked to the end and Swift knows he messed up.Brandon

To fulfill its dramatic structural obligation, the final scene of this week’s episode takes us back to the Laurel and Aneesa battle. Aneesa has a poolside chat with CT about Laurel and Jordan. Aneesa: “I promise you – every time I have the power to vote her in, I will do it. Over and over again.”

And there it is for this week. Next week’s episode promises more of the foreshadowed Jordan and Bananas collision. Ready we will be…

Stay tuned for the week 4 power rankings later in the week.

Billy on the Street: The Meryl-Go-Round!

Each time I think he cannot conceivably go any further, Billy Eichner reaches into his singular brand of pop-cultured referential comedy and redefines what is possible. I am not sure I have seen more effort put into an irreverent comedic sketch and the host/sportscaster announcing thereof. This is priceless humor, well-excuted direction (especially for Fuse!), and Billy on the Street at his absolute apex.

May we all get “More chicken for Tucci! More chicken for Tucci!” INCREDIBLE.

The Challenge Free Agents: Weekly Power Rankings – Week 3

The weekly power rankings are finally creeping toward a whiff of objectivity. Three weeks in, we have actual statistics to compare competitor performance. I have always reserved my subjective rights, but as this season continues to be thematically about chance (what were the odds that it would be Frank to have the alien viral infection?), facts must be used more. Without further ado, here are the Week 3 Power Rankings with some statistics included…

Week 3 Power Rankings


Eliminated – CHET (week 1), DUSTIN (week 2); Medical Disqualification – FRANK (week 3)

11) SWIFT (last week: 11)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 2 safe draws, lots of “boppin”

10) JOHNNY (last week: 12)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw, 1 elimination round that did not happen, 4 votes against him, low male stripper score

9) ISAAC (last week: 9)

Season stats: 0 wins, 3 safe draws, 1 vote against him, leading the group in the delivery of random Uruguayan facts found on wikipedia

8) PRESTON (last week: 8)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), running statistics are incomplete, 0 eliminations! he, Cohutta, and Bananas are the only three men who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote

7) BRANDON (last week: 10)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 4), 1 safe draw, 1 vote against him, highest “team captain selection” rating

6) ZACH (last week: 7)

Season stats: 0 wins, 1 safe draw, deceptively high “comedic interview” score

5) LEROY (last week: 6)

Season stats: 0 wins (strong second place finish week 2), 1 safe draw, 1 vote against him, women distraction level high

4) JORDAN (last week: 3)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw (from a DQ), 1 instance of competition hubris that did not have positive results

3) CT (last week: 2)

Season stats: 1 team win (team of 14), 2 safe draws (1 from a poor team performance), current leader in “strongest beard” and “most money put on bar tab” rankings

2) COHUTTA (last week: 4)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on team of 14 and 1 on team of 2!), 0 draws or eliminations, he, Bananas, and Preston are the only three men who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote, only male competitor to have a faux wedding planned for him, current leader for best metaphor (comparing Nany’s smell to “wild honeysuckle blossoms”

1) JOHNNY BANANAS (last week: 1)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on a team of 14 and 1 on a team of 4), 0 draws or eliminations, he, Cohutta, and Preston are the only three men who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote, strongest score in “this is an individual game” awareness


Eliminated – JEMMYE (week 1), EMILEE (week 2), NIA (week 3)

11) JONNA (last week: 12)

Season stats: 0 wins, 2 safe draws, 1 elimination vote (a win against Emilee), 2 votes against her, frontrunner for most unexpected interview hairstyle

10) LaTOYA (last week: 9)

Season stats: 0 wins, 1 elimination (a win against Jemmye), 11 votes against her, many opportunities of showing what she is all about, highest position in the “a vote for me may come back to haunt you” rankings

9) DEVYN (last week: 10)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), 1 vote against her, high score in “most welcome return” competitor rankings

8) THERESA (last week: 8)

Season stats: 0 wins, 2 safe draws, 1 vote against her, already the winner of the “most unexpected sneakily good baller” award and a contender for the “wow, she’s taller than I thought” award

7) JASMINE (last week: 6)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw, running away with “Greatest Challenge house whore aspirations” rankings (Johnny is currently in a distant second place), one of three current competitors who has survived a Nia fight and lived to tell us about it (also Jordan and Johnny)

6) ANEESA (last week: 2)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw, a substantive combination of veteran cred and angst

5) NANY (last week: 7)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), tied with Camila for the lead in the “out of control nighttime extra-curricular activity” rankings, only female competitor to have a faux wedding planned for her

4) CAMILA (last week: 5)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 4), 1 safe draw, tied with Nany for the lead in the “out of control nighttime extra-curricular activity” rankings, tied with Laurel for “female competitor who is most highly regarded by the men in challenges” rankings, only competitor to organize a bachelorette party on this season

3) JESSICA (last week: 4)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on a team of 14 and 1 on a team of 4 and a second place finish week 2), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), competitor this season who has seen the greatest “Q score” rise (EW? Yeah, she did), currently in the top 3 in the “could be a Marvel superhero” rankings (along with Jordan and Laurel)

2) CARA MARIA (last week: 3)

Season stats: 0 wins, 2 safe draws, 1 unsafe draw and elimination win (against Nia), ranked first in the “TJ Lavin the Great said incredible things about me” rankings and the “other competitors are finally showing me respect” rankings (Preston has his sights on this category, but can’t seem to crack into the top group)

1) LAUREL (last week: 1)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on a team of 14 and 1 on a team of 2), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), ranked 1st in all four power rankings this season, tied with Camila for “female competitor who is most highly regarded by the men in challenges” rankings, best “I don’t want to ever face her in an elimination” score of any of the women, ranked first as well in the “most loyal and supportive friend” rankings