Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Goodbye Pawnee Edition

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Last night, one of my favorite sitcoms ended its run. Parks and Recreation never was a huge hit, but for its loyal fanbase it was one of the funniest and sweetest shows around. Parks and Recreation is the reason that I knew Chris Pratt was eventually going to be a star and brought the awesomeness that is Ron Effing Swanson into my life – not to mention reinforce the comedic genius that is Amy Poehler. When The Office ended its run, I was ready for it to go; that isn’t the case with Parks and Recreation, which has given us some of the funniest episodes in its final season. I’m so sad that we now live in a world without Pawnee, Indiana.

Ironically, I almost gave up on Parks and Recreation. As a political scientist, I was psyched for a show that was based in the world of local government and had high hopes. When the show finally debuted, I just didn’t dig it. That first six episode season was rocky – they hadn’t figured out the Leslie character and she was too close to simply being a female version of Michael Scott. I decided the show just wasn’t for me after that and had to be talked back into watching the second season; one of my friends assured me that the show had found their groove and was vastly improved. I was skeptical, but after his constant badgering I conceded, gave it another look and was instantly smitten. Since then, I haven’t looked back.

So in honor of the end of Parks and Recreation, “treat yo self” to this week’s pop culture round up. You deserve it.

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  • Ron Swanson get the Shepard Fairey treatment:

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On to non-Parks and Recreation related news…….

  • I didn’t watch much of the Red Carpet coverage, but I missed this earlier John Travolta creeper moment:

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  • Conan and Billy Eichner try out Grindr:

 

  • More bloopers from Game of Thrones:

 

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  • Even Jimmy Page thinks these pint sized percussionists rock:

 

  • Colin Firth is rocking a killer stache in True Detective 2:

 

  • A new poster for The Avengers: Age of Ultron:

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  • Who knew Christina Aguilera was so good at impressions?

 

  • The Kimmel School of Perfect Acting:

 

  • Do you want to see a NSFW version of The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers staring James Van Der Beek and Katee Sackhoff? Of course you do:

 

  • This is from a few weeks ago, but cracked me up – Kid Theater with Michael Keaton:

 

Time for some trailers….

  • The final season of Mad Men:

 

  • Only a few more days until the third season of House of Cards:

 

  • A new teaser for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D:

 

  • The Goldbergs are doing a Ferris Bueller themed episode (including a Charlie Sheen cameo):

 

  • Wayward Pines, the new series from M Night Shyamalan:

 

  • Kristin Wiig in Welcome to Me:

 

  • HBO’s Scientology documentary, Going Clear:

 

  • Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana in Infinity Polar Bear:

 

  • A trailer for Street Fighter V:

 

  • A trailer for a movie about Marshawn Lynch, starring Marshawn Lynch:

 

  • A sneak peek at the new animated short, Frozen Fever:

 

  • Sleater-Kinney teamed up with Bob’s Burgers for their new video:

 

  • Bob Odenkirk was turned into a cake:

 

  • Benji Madden had his wife Cameron Diaz’s name tattooed on his chest. Ah, modern love:

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A photo posted by The B-man (@benjaminmadden) on

 

  • R.I.P. Harris Wittels, executive producer on Parks and Recreation, creator of the term #humblebrag and all around funny guy.

As always, we end with the supercuts and mashups.

  • Frozen meets John Carpenter’s The Thing:

 

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  • Sesame Street parodies House of Cards:

 

  • Sesame Street also took a shot at a Birdman parody:

 

  • A medley of songs from SpongeBob Squarepants:

 

  • A supercut of Danny DeVito’s best moments from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:

 

  • Warren G and Kenny G got together to perform “Regulate”

 

  • And finally, Limp Bizkit meets Seinfeld:

 

Still Alice – A Review

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One of the last Oscar nominated movies that I saw before Sunday’s awards ceremony was Still Alice. This was partially a logistical issue – it didn’t open in Albany until February 13th – and partially an emotional issue. I was putting off seeing the film because I simply didn’t know how it would affect me. Julianne Moore would win the Oscar for her portrayal of a woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and her rapid deterioration, but the issue hit a little too close to home for me since my family has a history of the disease. Having lived through seeing my grandfather slowly not recognize me or his surroundings and the heartbreak that caused his loved ones, I was hesitant to dredge up those memories again. It’s hard to get motivated to see a movie when there is a very likely chance that it won’t be a pleasurable experience. But since I knew that it was likely that Moore would win, I decided to take my chances and go see the film. In the end, though it was a tough viewing experience for me to get through, I’m ultimately glad that I saw it.

Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, a brilliant linguist professor at Columbia University who begins to notice lapses in her memory and ability to articulate thoughts and ideas shortly after her 50th birthday. While her husband (Alec Baldwin) assures her that it is simply a side effect of getting older, Alice seeks out a specialist and her worst suspicions are confirmed – she has a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s disease and there is no cure. Worse, this is a genetic disorder that she may have passed along to her three children (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart). Alice’s memory deteriorates rapidly over time – not long after her diagnosis she becomes confused and disoriented jogging on campus – and she struggles to maintain some connection to her identity and her family while her memories become more fleeting.

Moore is clearly the best thing about Still Alice; her performance is poignant and heartbreaking and it singlehandedly elevates the entire rest of the film. Moore makes you feel Alice’s terror, sadness embarrassment and anger at her situation. As she loses her grasp on the person that she was, you slowly see the light and life drain out of Alice. The film quickly establishes who she is early on in the film so you understand the transformation. The vibrant intellectual from the first five minutes of the movie is replaced by a woman who cannot remember her children’s names or find the bathroom in her own home. Like most Alzheimer patients, Moore has her good days and bad, but the downward trajectory of the inner workings of her mind is constant. The true horror of Alzheimer’s disease is how it robs a person of who they are and Moore captures that perfectly. There’s an honesty and compassion to her portrayal. It’s impossible for me to fully remove my own personal baggage when viewing this performance, but I thought it was an emotionally deft and realistic depiction of what a person with Alzheimer’s disease experiences.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie cannot live up to Moore’s stellar performance. The other actors are fine – I found Kristen Stewart particularly good, and I am not usually a fan – but the story and direction don’t give them much to work with. In fact, without Moore’s excellent work, Still Alice could easily feel like a Lifetime movie. There’s not a lot of subtly to the story and while there are numerous interesting issues raised, they are often left by the wayside. This is, by design, Alice’s story and told from her perspective, but that also marginalizes many of the supporting characters. For instance, one of her children is found positive for the gene that causes early onset Alzheimer’s in genetic testing, all but assuring that they will also develop the disease. That fact, however, is related to the viewer via a phone call and never revisited, so it is hard to fully grasp the significance of this news or to see how all interested parties deal with it. It’s simply mentioned and then then forgotten, without being explored. Some of the other choices of the filmmakers, including the score and how the film is shot, also veer the film into ‘made-for-TV’ territory. If they had simply followed Julianne Moore’s lead and pulled back on the sentimentality and trusted the actors to do the requisite heavy lifting, this could have been a much better film.

I don’t know if others will have the same reaction that I did to the film, but there were several moments in the film where I had tears streaming down my face – a combination of Moore’s stellar performance and the recognition of my own experience in the story. I was young when my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but old enough to understand what was happening and to see the change in his personality and behavior. That in and of itself was difficult to process, but I also understood how the disease impacted the rest of the family and the anguish and frustration that they felt. I wasn’t the only person in the theater that was crying, but I was also probably not the only person in that room with first-hand experience with what Alzheimer’s disease does to both and individual and family. My guess is that Moore’s performance is so good that everyone will feel somewhat affected by Still Alice, but if you are coming to this film with any previous history with Alzheimer’s disease it will most definitely move you. Moore has been consistently solid for so long as an actress and it is nice to finally see her recognized. Still Alice is a worthy performance for her to take home the Oscar.

Still Alice is currently in theaters.

Oscars 2015 Running Diary

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Another Academy Award ceremony is in the books and I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the show this year. I had high hopes for Neil Patrick Harris given how he’s crushed hosting the Tony’s the last few years, but despite a strong start I thought his hosting abilities fell a bit flat. The jokes were way too punny and most of the bits that he did went over like a lead balloon. I don’t know if it was the writing or him, but it just didn’t work. Thankfully there were some great speeches and musical performances to make up for the flaws in the ceremony.

As always, I kept a running diary of my thoughts and observations while watching the Oscars. See if your thoughts match mine or find out what you missed.

8:30 – Thank goodness it’s starting. I didn’t think I could take any more red carpet nonsense. Let’s do this, Neil Patrick Harris.

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8:31 – Bradley Cooper always brings his mom as a date.

Watch the opening number here.

8:32 – Cumberbatch with a flask. He knows it will be a long night.

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8:33 – NPH is breaking out the magic early.

8:33 – Anna Kendrick is always a good addition.

8:34 – Now Jack Black, the voice of cynicism?

8:35 – Kendrick has had enough of his negativity.

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8:36 – The Rock is sitting with Oprah?

8:38 – #Smurfs2burn

8:39 – I wonder if Lupita Nyong’o ‘s dress is comfortable?

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8:40 – I really don’t know why Robert Duval was nominated. I was unimpressed with The Judge.

8:41 – A Ruffalo wink!

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8:41 – “The actor goes to.” First flub of the night.

8:42 – JK Simmons for Whiplash. Excited for him – he’s so good in that movie.

Watch his speech here.

8:43 – Simmons speech was a PSA for calling your mom. Sweet and unexpected.

8:44 – Ha – A shout out to Simmons’ role in Farmers Insurance commercials.

8:45 – The guy from PriceWaterhouse Cooper looks like  Matt Damon.

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8:46 – Octavia Spencer is now in charge of guarding NPH’s Oscar predictions. That bit didn’t really work.

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8:46 – Liam Neeson and JK Simmons in less than a three minute span? The Oscars are off to a scary start.

8:48 – Dakota Johnson in a red dress. A little too on the nose. #redplayroom

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8:49 – Begin Again was a cute movie. Go rent it. Adam Levine was actually good in it.

Watch the performance here.

8:51 – I was trying to put my finger on what was missing from the Oscars thus far. Tattoos. He needed to take his jacket off for this?

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8:57 – Please tell me one of the people opening the doors back there is Pharell.

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8:58 – Grand Budapest Hotel for costume design. Two for two!

8:59 – This lady better walk a little faster – her time will be up by the time she gets to the mic.

9:00 – Man, these jokes are TERRIBLE. I expected better from NPH.

9:01 – Reese Witherspoon to present best makeup and hairstyling.

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9:02 – Grand Budapest Hotel wins, ruining my perfect Oscar ballot. Also, that’s rubbish.

9:03 – Channing Tatum in a tux is never a bad thing.

9:05 – A joke about Bermuda shorts? Let’s take this commercial break to regroup and come up with some better material.

9:09 – Nicole Kidman and to present best foreign film. Good time to remind you that Jimmy Fallon blew his chance to date Kidman. That story is never not funny to me.

9:10 – Yay! Ida won. I really enjoyed that film. #Polandrepresent

9:12 – That dude just played chicken with the orchestra trying to play him off and won. I’ve never seen that happen.

9:13 – Octavia is not doing her job – she’s looking at the stage, not the lockbox.

9:14 – Introducing the Best Picture nominees this way seems really rushed.

9:15 – On no. We’re in the audience now. Get back on stage, Harris.

9:16 – Seat fillers getting a little love.

9:18 – EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!

Watch the performance here.

9:19 – Andy Samberg performing in a cape and a powder blue tux is everything. Also – is that a possum?

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9:19 – Audience members are getting LEGO statues. Damn – celebrities get everything.

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9:20 – Please tell me that is Will Arnettt as Batman. Plus Questlove!

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9:20 – That may be the most fun that we’ll see all night.

9:21 – I feel bad for the stage hands that have to clean up the stage after that. That was a lot of confetti at the end.

9:24 – No one in the audience loves their LEGO Oscar more than Channing Tatum.

9:25 – Olivia Pope and Michael Bluth to present Best Live Action Short. Confession – I blew this category off this year.

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9:26 – The camera people really messed that up.

9:26 – More acceptance speeches should start with “Crickey.”

9:27 – I do hope that guy gets his free donut; he wasted enough time  talking about it.

9:27 – The orchestra needs to get aggressive with playing people off or we’ll never get out of here; they backed down once and now it’s chaos. Throw JK Simmons in there!

9:28 – That was a long lingering shot on John Travolta for no apparent reason

9:29 – Now the Best Documentary Shorts…..didn’t see these either but I’m right again.

9:30 – WHAT IS UP WITH THAT POM POM DRESS???

9:31 – Viola Davis is here to tell us about the award ceremony that wasn’t deemed important enough for TV.

9:33 – Oh dear. More crowd work

9:34 – Oyelowo perfectly sums up how I feel about the Oscars thus far:

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9:34 – After applause for David Oyelowo NPH says “Oh, now you love him.”

9:35 – Gwyneth Paltrow is friends with everyone.

9:39 – Tim McGraw to sing for Glen Campbell. Such a sad and beautiful song.

See his performance here.

9:42 – Neil Patrick Harris in his underwear during a Birdman tribute. That’s confidence.

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9:42 – Ha! Miles Teller on drums.

9:44 – Miles Teller and Margot Robbie to talk about another award ceremony that wasn’t TV worthy.

9:45 – Siena Miller and Chris Evans present the sound categories. No patter, just down to business.

9:46 – Whiplash wins Best Sound Mixing. Good on them – that movie sounded great.

9:48 – It’s always fascinating to watch the dynamic of multiple winners on stage. Shouldn’t you sort out time allotments before you get on stage? It’s always one person hogging the mic and others trying to get a word in edgewise.

9:49 – American Sniper for Best Sound Editing. Always bet on the movie with a lot of gunshots.

9:51 – Jared Leto is always interesting. I like the flower on his lapel.

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9:53 – I love that Emma Stone is still holding her LEGO Oscar.

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9:54 – Unsurprisingly, Patricia Arquette wins Best Supporting Actress.

Watch her speech here.

9:55 – She’s cramming a lot into this speech.

9:56 –Using her time to call for equal wages and rights for women. #girlpower

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9:57 – Meryl and J Lo are all “right on, sister.” Ethan Hawke is also a fan.

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9:59 – Here’s the Peeta that won’t throw paint on you….Josh Hutchinson.” Either I’m tired or that was actually clever.

10:00 – Rita Ora to perform the nominated song from Beyond the Lights.

Watch her performance here.

10:02 – Does Chloe Grace Mortez’s dress have pockets?

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10:03 – Visual effects – Guardians of the Galaxy or I riot.

10:04 – Boo! Interstellar wins. Sigh…I’m too old to riot.

10:06 – Kevin Hart better watch it – Anna Kendrick is not going to put up with his foolishness. She already threw a shoe at Jack Black tonight.

10:07 – Feast is such a cute animated short. Definitely watch it if you get the chance – especially if you are a pet owner. And honestly, the other animated shorts this year were kind of meh.

10:08 – I do dig NPH’s maroon jacket.

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10:09 – The Rock and Zoe Saldana make a nice couple. Here to present Best Animated Feature.

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10:11 – Big Hero 6! Never been so glad to get a pick wrong. Such an adorable movie.

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10:13 – Are the orchestra playing NPH off?

10:20 – Chris Pratt in the house. Hopefully adding some much needed personality to these proceedings.

10:21 – Even Star Lord can’t make this interesting. Grand Budapest Hotel wins Best Production Design.

10:23 Confirmation – That WAS Will Arnett. Fabulous!

10:24 – Idris Elba? Now you have my full attention again.

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10:25 – Birdman wins for Cinematography. Edward Norton looks delighted.

10:30 – Meryl Streep for the In Memoriam aka “Bring out your dead” segment

Watch the segment here.

10:32 – I’d forgotten that Edward Hermann died. :-(

10:34 – Hmmm….Robin Williams didn’t get the last spot. And no Joan Rivers?

10:35 – I hate when they do this – no need for a whole separate performance after the montage. No disrespect to Jennifer Hudson – she’s great. But this is unnecessary.

Watch her performance here.

10:42 – Phew. I was just thinking to myself that this show was severely lacking in Cumberbatch. His been fairly low profile tonight.

10:44 – Dang – another one wrong. I would have thought putting together footage over twelve years would have earned Boyhood Best Film Editing. But Congrats to Whiplash!

10:46 – Lucious Lyon in the house! Please tell me that you people are watching Empire.

10:47 – Is Howard really getting this chocked up over The Imitation Game? This is really weird (Watch it here).

10:48 – The sound editing is just awful for this show. Either that or the microphone just attacked Terrence Howard.

10:49 – NPH just can’t seem to say David Oyelowo’s name right.

10:50 – Oyelowo and Jennifer Anniston to present Best Documentary Feature.

10:51 – Is the winner wearing leather arm bands?

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10:57 – Oh good. More jokes about the locked Oscar picks. Because that’s really working.

10:58 – John Legend and Common to perform “Glory.”

Watch the performance here.

11:00 – Really like the stage presentation for this song with the bridge and the marchers. Really captures the movie.

11:02 – That was legitimately powerful. Chris Pine is crying.

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11:03 – That was a tough segue to pull off.

11:04 – Finally – a solid joke “Benedict Cumberbatch is the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck.”

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11:04 – Ha – John Travolta and Indina Menzel as presenters. That’s a solid decision. But he’s still hella creepy. Stop touching her face.

11:05 – A well-deserved win for “Glory.”

Watch their speech here.

11:07 – Common for President. Awesome speech. He and Patricia Arquette should team up.

11:08 – John Legend’s speech was great too.

11:12 – Scarlett Johannson to introduce whatever Lady Gaga is up to.

11:13 – Ugh – The Sound of Music? The timing of this couldn’t be any worse after that powerful Selma moment.

11:14 – Nothing against The Sound of Music, but it’s almost 11:15. Ain’t nobody got time for a tribute to a 50 year old musical.

Watch the performance here

11:15 – Why the hell is Lady Gaga standing so far back on the stage?

11:20 – OK. Wholly unnecessary, but Gaga did a fantastic job.

11:20 – Nice moment with Julie Andrews. But did Lady Gaga go back in time? Since when is she throwing around words like “incomparable?” I blame Tony Bennett for this.

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11:23 – The good night for Grand Budapest Hotel continues with a win for Best Original Score.

11:24 – Now Adrian Brody is winking at the camera. Is that the new go-to move?

11:29 – Is Eddie Murphy going to actually do something tonight?

11:30 – Birdman for Best Original Screenplay.

11:31 – I just love how Alejandro Inarritu says “Birdman.”

11:32 – Does Michael Keaton have snacks?

11:33 – Kneel down. Oprah is on stage.

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11:35 – The Imitation Game with a somewhat surprising win for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Watch his speech here.

11:35 – Ha! He thanks Oprah.

11:37 – Good use of his time. Nice speech by Graham Moore. “Stay weird, stay different.”

11:41 – Ben Affleck here to present Best Director, which is kind of ironic.

11:42 – Can we, as a nation, just agree to stop saying Birdman’s subtitle?

11:43 – The momentum is building for Birdman. Alejandro Inarritu wins.

11:44 – Was that John Stamos in the audience? Has he even been in a movie?

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11:48 – Home stretch – Cate Blanchett here to present Best Actor.

11:49 – I would love if they used the fake baby scene from American Sniper for Bradley Cooper. Just so everyone on Twitter would lose their minds.

11:50 – Let’s cut to the chase – did Michael Keaton bring his hot son?

11:51 – Ha! Cate Blanchett introduces the winner by saying “okey dokey smokie.”

11:52 – Eddie Redmayne? For reals? Michael Keaton was robbed.

Watch his speech here.

11:53 – A fine performance and a fine speech. Not my choice, but Redmayne was adorable in his excitement.

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11:54 – Alright, alright, alright – Matthew McConaughey to present Best Actress.

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11:56 – Hope no one was waiting to see Gone Girl. That clip just gave away a big plot twist.

11:57 – That pause had me worried, but it’s Julianne Moore for Still Alice.

Watch her speech here.

12:00 – Ugh – ENOUGH WITH NPH’s OSCAR PICKS ALREADY!

12:03 – Sean Penn is here to present Best Picture and look unhappy.

12:04 – “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?” This is why we don’t let Sean Penn talk. Birdman for the win!

12:06 – We’ll wrap this up with some thoughts from Michael Keaton:

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So what did you think about the Oscars? How did NPH do? What were your favorite moments? Sound off in the comments below.