Like movies? And words? And words that come together to form coherent sentences talking about movies? Well, then you oughtta read 'Worth Peepin?'. I heard that one guy didn't read it and his cat caught on fire. Just sayin'." --- Check it out! Movie Reviews By Brendan Wahl on Hot off The Press!
Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in captivity at the Robben Island prison, where former inmates now guide tourists around the grim facility. The CBC's senior correspondent Adrienne Arsenault pays a visit.
Nicole Kidman as… Anna
Cameron Bright as… Sean
Danny Huston as… Joseph
Anne Heche as… Clara
Wow, it’s been a while since I did one of these. Instead of focusing on a more recent film or a big Hollywood blockbuster, I decided to take a look at a little independant film that caused quite a stir in the media about six years ago and even enraged some festival attendees. The film I’m speaking of is Birth, a film which stars Nicole Kidman, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, Peter Stormare, Anne Heche, and most importantly… a 10-year old actor named Cameron Bright. What inspired such controversy and, in some cases, hatred from the most liberal of viewers? Maybe a further explanation of the plot will bring this to light.
The film involves a young widowed woman (Kidman) who, after ten years of being without her husband, has moved on and gotten engaged to a handsome young wealthy man named Joseph (Huston). As her life has seemingly changed for the better, an odd thing occurs. At her engagement party, she is approached by a young boy (Bright) claiming to be her long-dead husband Sean reincarnated as a child. At first, Kidman is hesitant and thinks the whole thing to be ludicrous but it appears increasingly so that this boy knows way too much information than would be possible for him to know. This inspires Nicole to become suspicious of the whole situation and as she investigates the matter further, it affects the people around her as they attempt to understand the situation.
When I discovered the film and heard of the plot, I had wanted to see it but I suppose it was just lost in the must-watch shuffle for the past six years. The controversy surrounding the film should be apparent now. People feared the worst when they found out that Kidman’s character would have to end up sharing very tender scenes with a young actor on-screen. There is one “bath scene” and a kiss that they share that really ramped up the controversy and caused the film to receive a wave of boos at the Venice Film Festival, where it debuted. These scenes are blown way out of proportion. The director has asserted that both Kidman and Bright were never naked together on-screen during the bath scene and that the kiss they had was ever so brief that it’s a wonder people found it objectionable.
But rather than just discuss the controversial nature of the film for the entire review, I’d like to focus this REVIEW on… well, you know… whether the movie is good or not. It’s rare for a director to have such a strong debut like Jonathan Glazer did with Sexy Beast (2000), but he managed to show some great promise with that film and it allowed him to explore some darker territory with his second movie. In my opinion, he succeeds.
The acting is a good place to start. I have always liked Nicole Kidman. She’s an actress who can take a nothing role and really inject some life into it no matter how boring the part may look on paper. This is not to say that this role is nothing on paper, but Nicole Kidman is wonderful and perfectly cast in the title role of Anna. She exudes a certain kind of vulnerability but strength at the same time that is rarely seen in a lot of working actresses today and this film gives her a very good opportunity to do so. As far as the acting in the film goes though, Cameron Bright is also quite good as a possible reincarnated version of Anna’s late husband. Cameron is a child actor who doesn’t use cuteness as a replacement for acting and is amazingly versatile for his age. As far as the rest of the actors go, they are generally pretty good but Anne Heche makes the biggest impression out of the supporting cast.
The script itself is also quite wonderful and doesn’t feel heavy-handed or hammy in the least. This film tells its story with intrigue and class and doesn’t build to stupid plot points and have the characters act in unconvicing ways in reaction to the events occurring around them. The direction also helps the story in a huge way, particularly in one haunting yet revealing scene taking place in the audience at an opera where the camera rests on a close-up of Kidman’s face for a good 2-3 minutes while she weighs in on the young boy’s revelation.
Overall, this film was much more than I expected it to be. It’s a good example of not believing critics’ opinions before actually witnessing a film for yourself. This film is definitely worth peepin’.
Well, this is it. After an exciting season filled with highs and some lows, we come to the end of it with another reliable host in Buck Henry. What can be said about the second season? While it was definitely more consistent than the debut year for Saturday Night Live, it still wasn’t at its peak for this cast yet. The second season was filled with many memorable moments/sketches/musical guests and the cast was more than up for it despite some brief downtime after losing Chevy Chase. Bill Murray’s time on the show had a shaky beginning but it was just starting to gain some momentum at this point and this is his last shot before the season ends to really make his impact.
Going with a reliable go-to host, Lorne hired Buck Henry for this episode (and would do so for every other season finale during the first five years). Buck was a man who was game for pretty much anything and that was pretty evident when looking at his past hosting appearances earlier in Year 2 and his two appearances in Year 1. However, his willingness to participate would become even more evident in future episodes, but that’s another story. Anyway, I digress. Buck is one of the great hosts on the show and one of the easiest to work with so its plain to see why they would want him back again and again.
Joining Mr. Henry are two musical guests, although performing as a duo. Jennifer Warnes, who would be best known for her duet with Joe Cocker of “Up Where We Belong,” joins Kenny Vance on the show. Vance, who is somewhat of an unknown to me, would return to the show during the infamous Doumanian era to become musical director and managed to acquire acts like Aretha Franklin, Prince, and James Brown. Not too shabby. Warnes has a heck of a voice but having no knowledge of Vance, I have no idea what to expect from this guy.
For the final time this season, START!
1. A Fireside Chat (3:06)
The energy shortage was a major issue during President Carter’s regime and this sketch highlights that fact in a humourous fashion as members of the Presidential family must keep pedaling a bike that is powering the White House energy. Jimmy (Aykroyd) and Rosalyn (Newman) have no problem switching off between manually running the generator, but when poor Lillian (Radner) has her turn, it’s an entirely different story. It’s a clever sight gag and one that makes this brief opening a classic. A
2. Monologue (3:11)
Buck announces that he wanted to do something different this time and so, having the clout and being cleared to do anything by NBC, he invites a lady on-stage to perform a live sex act. Unfortunately, a rather burly man somehow misinterprets Buck’s invite and manhandles the host onto the bed he has carefully set up. Buck’s monologues are usually wonderful and this was funny as well. B+
3. Samurai B.M.O.C. (7:04)
After discussing semantics with a black revolutionary leader (Morris), the Dean (Henry) of the university meets with Samurai Futaba (Belushi), who is being halted from graduating. Like always, Henry has terrific chemistry with Belushi’s Samurai and they switch it up enough every time to keep the recurring character from becoming stale. The sketch is like poetry and though the Samurai works with Buck-less sketches as well, Mr. Henry always brings out the best in him. A-
4. Jennifer Warnes sings “Right Time of the Night” (2:50)
Sporting some glasses that immediately give away the decade she’s from, Warnes belts out a tune that manages to entertain and have some pretty good lyrics as well. Warnes looks high, though, by her body language that she exudes during this performance. Either way, it’s solid. B+
5. In The Shower (3:42)
Spastic and entertaining Richard Herkiman (Murray) turns a shower with his wife (Radner) into a variety-style show with songs and guests including the man she’s cheating on him with. As her secret lover (Henry) enters the shower, he and Richie’s wife are all hugs and kisses while he talks about how hurt he is in a very off-putting smarmy way. Much like Nick the Lounge Singer, this character plays to Murray’s strengths and is another breakout moment for him during the second season. B+
6. Return Of The Coneheads (9:49)
This time, Beldar (Aykroyd) and Prymaat (Curtin) welcome Dr. Ray Bondish (Henry), who brings a large pyramid with strange writing on it. It is interpreted as an urgent message from Remulak and the family finally explains their origins much to the delight of their visitor. After ejecting him, the Coneheads plan to drive away so they can return home in a hilarious filmed portion of the sketch. There, we get to meet another Conehead (Morris) and the High Master of Remulak (Belushi) who is set to have an arranged marriage with Connie (Newman). Unfortunately, she is not the virgin bride he expected. This sketch really pushes the absurdity of these characters, but it’s fantastic and the best of their appearances so far. A+
7. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (7:03)
Commenting on the Frost/Nixon interviews, Curtin announces that Tricky Dick has also committed petty crimes like robbing liquor stores in the Washington area. There’s also an amusing piece involving a microphone being attached to Seattle Slew and his jockey (with the voices done by Chevy Chase!) as they bump along during the race. Emily Litella (Radner) interviews Bella Abzug (the real McCoy), who apparently has a huge announcement to make but Litella fumbles the introduction up so much so Bella just stops the interview with “nevermind.” Even our host stops by to deliver Jane an award for Outstanding Television Journalist for the 1976-77 season, but begins to regret it and take it back after he realizes that Curtin won’t sleep with him for it. B+
8. Rhonda’s Bridal Shower (5:30)
Another appearance by the Jewish New Yawker (Radner) sees her gathering with friends and has the same response for every gift she receives from her friends. The sketch basically consists of a bunch of typical New York gals talking about all things New York. There’s not a whole lot of substance to this sketch and though the performances are fine, the piece is kind of stale. The sketch is a little too long as well and just doesn’t feel like it really has a point. C
9. How Your Children Grow (3:37)
Jane hosts a show featuring a scientist (Henry) showing off his recent experiments of one girl (Radner) who has to enunciate the punctuation in his speech. The second girl (Newman) rings a bell and then Jane gets a cookie. The twist of the sketch is really funny and that’s mainly where the humour comes out of. Don’t get me wrong, though. This is a very cleverly constructed one-joke sketch. A-
10. Film: Dog In Bed (:43)
A film by Bill Wegman rather than the Weis man this week features his dog taking a snooze in bed until the alarm clock wakes him up. That’s literally the entire sketch. I don’t even know how to rate that. So I won’t.
11. Kenny Vance sings “The Performer” (3:58)
A rollicking little tune by Vance, who looks really, really tired. It’s got a bit of a mariachi sound to it as well and that only adds to the enjoyability. Not as great as Warnes’ tune, but still pretty solid. B
12. Lucky Lindy (6:12)
Charles Lindbergh (Henry) attempts his flight from New York to Paris despite the distractions of a narrator (Aykroyd) and his pornographic magazines. Every time he drifts off to sleep or becomes distracted, he gets very close to the Atlantic Ocean and eventually is visited by a certain shark (Chevy Chase!) that can live on land. It’s a pretty big surprise and a funny one at that which is a great way to finish off the sketches for the year. A-
13. The SNL Band performs “Departure Lounge” (3:50)
With a piece written by Howard Shore, the Saturday Night band performs the instrumental piece and despite the fact that Howard freakin’ Shore wrote this and it’s obviously going to be a good ballad, it kind of takes some of the momentum away from the show. Still, it’s a good tune. B
14. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (2:12)
Mr. Mike makes his return as an impressionist and this time, his big act is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (the cast & writers)… if they had large steel needles shoved into their eyes. It’s essentially a repeat of the last two times he did “needles-in-the-eyes” impressions, but it’s still odd and darkly amusing. B+
Buck thanks the shark, who then promptly “eats” him. Chevy then pops out to say hello and everyone else waves goodbye for the summer.
And that, my friend, is that.
So what can be said about the second season of Saturday Night Live? I think I’ve said everything I’ve really wanted to say about the season already and have nothing too much to add. This episode, while certainly not the best one this season, was a solid one and held up as another fine set of performances from Buck Henry. Buck proved once again that he was a most qualified host and that he doesn’t even need to be the center of attention to be funny. He provided the cast with a shot of adrenaline like he usually did.
Jennifer Warnes proved to be a pretty good musical guest as did Kenny Vance, but both performers really only did one song each so it’s hard to get a good grasp on how either would be were they to be the solo guest. However, judging from this episode, they were both apt and performed well. The SNL Band acted as a sort of unofficial third musical guest and while I’m not a huge fan of that type of music, their performance was fairly good as well.
I will post my year-end awards/demerits for Season 2 in a few days.
Pretty clever bit of business was Buck Henry referencing the monologue at the beginning of Samurai B.M.O.C. Speaking of that sketch, why did it have such a long build-up to the Samurai’s entrance?
Buck Henry was still wet from the shower sketch during his brief appearance in the Coneheads bit. Pretty funny to see, but I don’t know why.
I think those people that were in New York during the filmed Coneheads portion did not have a clue what was going on.
How Your Children Grow: “The doctors removed half his colon.” “Semi-colon.”
“As far as we know, she’s just some dumbo who likes to ring a bell and point to her right.”
“Unexpected turbulence suddenly jerked the plane off… course.”
Every now and then I take a chance and grab a couple DVDs that look intriguing to me or that I’ve heard good word of mouth about or even ones that have a solid rating over on IMDB. This one looked mighty interesting to me. It starred the underrated John Krasinski, Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph, and directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition). So about five or six months ago, I picked it up not knowing what to expect. Tonight, I sat down to watch it.
The first thing one should know about this film is that despite the fact that it does not represent The Office or Saturday Night Live in regards to its general tone, it is most certainly still a comedy. Well, let’s call it a dramedy at least. It reminds me somewhat of movies like Lost in Translation or Broken Flowers as those are both dry, witty comedies (that both star Bill Murray, go fig).
The plot is pretty straight-forward. A couple in their early thirties, Bert (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) find out that they will be having a baby and prepare to tell the good news to Bert’s parents since Verona’s are long since deceased. After finding out from his mother (Catherine O’Hara) and father (Jeff Daniels) that they are moving to Belgium, the young couple decide that there is no reason for them to live in Denver anymore and decide to go on the road to find their new home all the while running into various colourful characters along the way.
The film plays out like an ensemble piece, but really the main characters throughout the entire movie are Bert and Verona and the focus lies on their intriguing relationship.
Not many details of the film can be released here without giving too much away, but the acting in the movie is definitely its strongest point. Krasinski gives a layered dramatic performance and even though his comical moments reminded me a lot of a certain employee of Dunder Mifflin, it definitely works for this character and gives him an extra dimension and layer of humanity.
I have never been a fan of Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live (I liked when she did Donatella Versace and that’s about it) so she surprised me the most here. She underplays her role for the most part and delivers a solid performance. Her part involves less comedy than Krasinski’s and she manages to hold up her end of the dramatic baggage with aplomb.
The supporting characters are also fun. We get Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels as Bert’s parents, two actors who can always shine in even the smallest of parts. Stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan shows up in a bit role as Verona’s sister’s husband and provides some laughs, but ultimately there are two actresses in this film who stand out among all the bit players. Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
I’m not really familiar with Janney’s work, but she excels here playing an out-of-control mother who is admittedly “a little crazy” and drives her negative husband (Gaffigan) quietly insane. It’s a role that requires a certain madcap energy and for people to like her and yet hate her at the same time. Janney pulls this off wonderfully and despite laughing at pretty much anything she said, I also wanted to strangle her too.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is very different from that character and plays a mother who has taken a more obscure route with her children. Swearing off strollers (because it “pushes the child away”, you see) LN (Gyllenhaal) revolts at the sight of a this object of separation when it is given as a gift to her from Bert and Verona. The entire sequence of our two main characters in LN’s home is probably the best (and funniest) piece of the whole movie, especially when Bert is able to get some sort of comeuppance.
This is not to take away from the writing or directing in any way. Mendes is a tremendously gifted director who knows how to work with ensemble casts quite well and Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida have crafted a wonderful script — full of wit, charm, and most importantly…humanity. Is that so much to ask in a movie like this?