Archive for November, 2010


by Brendan Wahl

(Season 3, Episode 1)

Greetings, readers! All five of you. I have finally made a decision to go back in time for these juicy retro episodes of Saturday Night Live after a 3-week absence. I thought I was going to take a longer break, but I decided to go back to it now and begin to delve into the third season of the long-running comedy show. So what is new? What is the same? What can we expect?

Essentially, nothing has changed from the end of the second season to the start of the third. The entire cast is still in tact and now with a fresh start, Bill Murray can start his own legacy rather than continue with his moniker as “Chevy Chase’s replacement. The rest of the cast are back in full force and the only major changes have to do with some of the writers being snipped from the show. That is to say that castmembers Belushi and Murray are no longer credited as actual writers on the show.

Headlining the season premiere is cast and crew favourite Steve Martin. After two good episodes last season and superb performances by Martin, he makes his return at the beginning of the third season most likely because he is loved at 8H and because everyone wanted someone easy to work with at the start of the new year. Martin was a consummate professional during anything he did (at least back in the seventies), always proving to be on the brink of something new and outrageous but giving the whole situation a self-referential wink at the same time.

Joining Steve is a first-time musical guest in the form of country-rock sensation, Jackson Browne. Throughout the years, Browne would be known for his many hits like “Runnin’ On Empty” but mostly because he has had the SAME haircut for THIRTY FREAKIN’ YEARS. In all seriousness, I’ve always enjoyed his music so this should be a fun combination.

Season 3 – GO!

The Show:

1. National Express (1:43)

Saying goodbye to political disgrace Bert Lance (Belushi), President Carter (Aykroyd) gets weepy and walks away, leaving Lance to advertise for National Express “because a lot of people don’t recognize my face.” This really threw me for a loop as I expected a lengthy topical opening here that delved into a silly credit card spoof. Still, not a bad way to start the season although slightly underwhelming. B-

2. Monologue (4:38)

After doing a positively quirky bit involving a classic Bobby Darin song (“Oh, the shark bites!”), Steve-O talks about being a ramblin’ guy and how he goes from town to town starting a new family and then dumps them when he moves on. One of his best jokes involves Farrah Fawcett-Majors and some relatively blue humour that I am surprised made it into the show.  Martin is on an absolute roll with his monologue though, as he requests a pair of cat handcuffs and makes a number of bad feline-related puns. A

3. Royal Deluxe II (1:30)

The newest 1978 model is such a smooth, safe ride that the spokesman (Aykroyd) for this product offers a sensational example: he has a rabbi perform a circumcision in the backseat while they drive down a particularly bumpy road. It’s a classic commercial parody. A+

4. Festrunk Brothers (6:46)

Yes, it’s the debut of the wild and swingin’ Czechoslovakian brothers! In the first edition, Georg (Martin) and Yortuk (Aykroyd) crash a ping-pong game with two “foxy American babes” (Curtin & Radner) in the basement of their new apartment building. This is where the recurring sketch gets its start; from the broken english, the misuse of grammar, and their terrible attempt at trying to impress the girls by playing ping-pong themselves. You can tell that Gilda is pretty close to cracking during the sketch, but everyone manages to keep their composure in this amusing introduction to the two characters. B+

5. Jackson Browne sings “Runnin’ On Empty” (4:15)

Donning his seventies haircut (in the 70s, so I guess its okay), Jackson sings his biggest hit to date about a musician’s life on the road. Jackson is a talented crooner and this is a really enjoyable song. He doesn’t have the most charisma in the world, but it’s still a good performance. B+

6. Weekend Update with Dan Aykroyd & Jane Curtin (11:14)

Danny joins the Update team to give us the first solo anchors for the segment. Danny does well, talking about a story linking fire and third-degree burns. Laraine Newman is our first guest, discussing her trip to China to celebrate Rashashana and her merchandise from the funeral of Chairman Mao. It’s more than a little cruel, but it’s still amusing. The weather promises the pits as far as the air quality goes and firestorms later in the week in a funny bit, but then Bill Murray shows up and hits a home run with his first movie review. This week, Bill reviews The Deep and after showing a very quick clip of the film, decides that he is giving it a negative review after running down the actors in it. Bill throws it right over to Garrett, who discusses Muhammad Ali defending his title and says that Ali will win. The real moment from Garrett though comes from a Hank Aaron record-breaking moment as a baseball player from the Tokyo Giants gives his victory speech. The subtitles are clearly written by Garrett as they disparage the young Asian athlete and paint him as a very lucky individual. Finally, John Belushi comes by to talk about his trip to Durango, Mexico to talk about his journey to find a worthy student to award a scholarship to. Of course, in Mexico, he was persuaded by something else that a “student” was able to provide. It’s a funny bit by Belushi, but he looks a little “out of it.” There’s also a great closing joke involving a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. Great commentaries and lots of good jokes result in a strong first edition of Update. A

7. Mike McMack, Defense Lawyer (5:09)

During a sexual harassment court case, criminal lawyer extraordinaire Mike McMack (Martin) lambastes the victim (Radner) on the stand by bringing up meaningless past sexual experiences to try and paint her as a woman of ill repute. Steve’s performance is what stands out in this hilarious character piece as Murray provides good foil for our host as the opposing lawyer. McMack hitting on the poor woman afterwards makes the whole sketch that much funnier. A-

8. Keypunch Confession (3:31)

After not having made a confession for several years, one man (Morris) notices the tremendous advancements in technology when returning to the church. The priest (Aykroyd) introduces the Trinity 3000, which tells the confessor how he can pay for his sins or if his so-called sins are actually sin-worthy. The twist at the end is good too making for an amusing sketch. B

9. Great Moments In Rock & Roll (5:54)

A young junkie, Alice Sloan (Newman), tells the story of her relationship with Roy Orbison (Belushi), a singer who always stood perfectly still when he sang and always wore dark glasses. Laraine is good in her role as a 1960s hippie and Belushi does a pretty good Roy Orbison (especially when he sings) with the joke essentially being that Orbison is so still and wooden that he repeatedly falls over and needs to be held up by his manager (Murray). Still funny, though. B

10. The Franken & Davis Show (9:26)

Hosted by the famously homophobic Anita Bryant (Curtin), Franken & Davis present a beauty pageant if it was composed entirely of men. The two finalists are Mr. California (Davis) and Mr. Arkansas (Franken), who participate in a number of ridiculous contests to determine the winner between them. The rest of the cast participate as various other contestants and Mr. Martin himself shows up as “last year’s winner,” Craig Rasmussen. This sketch is spot-on in its satire from the hilarious interpretive dance by Mr. California to the Hollywood-phony answers provided for questions from Ms. Bryant. A-

11. Jackson Browne sings “The Pretender” (5:36)

It’s time for song #2 from JB, which ends up sounding quite a bit different from the first. This one’s more of a somber, slow-moving tune that has some excellent lyrics and showcases Jackson’s voice a bit more. All in all, it’s about on par with the first tune. B+

12. Kromega III (1:43)

Introducing… the new watch that’s so complicated to operate it will actually take 2-3 people just to make it work. Ridiculous commercial parodies like this are always so delightful. This one’s no exception. B+

Steve thanks Jackson and everyone in attendance before slow-dancing with Danny for a few seconds. Aykroyd then steps off the stage while the rest of the cast wave goodnight to everyone.

This was a pretty strong premiere. There were a few top-level sketches and not a bad one to be found thanks to a newly-energized cast and a strong ringleader in Steve “arrow-through-the-head” Martin, despite his lack of appearances tonight. Besides his leading role in the Festrunk Brothers sketch and as Mike McMack, Martin was absent in a number of sketches and the cast stood front and center. Of course, that may have been intentional on Lorne’s part so as to make the cast the stars of the show and make sure the premiere featured them as much as possible as the show was gaining more and more momentum.

Jackson Browne provided ample sound on this episode and was a good addition. There’s not much to say about Jackson that I haven’t already said except for his STUPID HAIRCUT and his talented crooning.

Notes:

It was funny how the Festrunks were talking about “big American breasts” to Jane & Gilda, both of not-particularly-large mammaries.

“Nick Nolte, you look like a Denver cop.” “Robert Shaw, you disturb me.”

“How do you feel about playing Anita Bryant?” “Not only am I a great fan of hers, but we’re also ex-lovers.”

“Kromega III: It’s like asking a stranger for the time.”

I think this was a stronger premiere than last year’s. Not one sketch was bad.

This episode starts a short-lived trend of all the Update commentators meeting at the desk just before Weekend Update begins.

Host Rating: A

Musical Guest Rating: B+

Show Rating: B+


by Brendan Wahl

(Season 36, Episode 7)

In Year 34, SNL had another huge breakthrough and became even more culturally relevant. This was due (in part) to the 2008 Presidential Election that had everyone stirring over Sarah Palin, John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton to name the four biggest political players. This comedic institution took over and reigned supreme like they usually do when they’re in the midst of election season. That season also was one of the more cameo-heavy years in the history of the show and featured a large number of good to great episodes that far exceeded Years 29 and 30 (two of the worst recent years in my opinion).

One of the most effective hosts during that season was Anne Hathaway. Her hosting stint was a wonderful first-timer appearance with Anne appearing in a number of different roles, most memorably her ode to Julie Andrews in the delightfully cruel Mary Poppins sketch about the true meaning of supercalifragelisticespialidocious. Anne also served as the “straight” character in a bunch of sketches and was never a host that tried to hog the spotlight for herself. She was also accompanied by a willing and energetic cast so both of those qualities melded together to create one of the more entertaining shows that year. It also seemed like pretty much everyone had a moment in the sun.

Hathaway returning was a gimmie and it was just a matter of how long it would be before her second hosting appearance. Joining Anne is Florence + The Machine, a band I am fairly unfamiliar with but a lot of people seem to be stoked about seeing so I’ll leave my judgment until I watch her perform. The cast is also in a really good position this season so let’s see what they’re able to cook up.

Program start!

1. The Rachel Maddow Show (5:13)

It’s the second appearance of Abby’s spot-on Rachel Maddow impression as she interviews John Boehner (Hader), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Wiig), and Charles Rangel (Thompson). Boehner makes vague allusions to what “the American people” want, Pelosi makes the same vain expression of muted anger like “someone forgot to use a coaster,” and Charles Rangel mentions that he is an unethical person but not a criminal. Kenan’s Rangle impression is humourous as are the others which, combined with the smart writing, makes this an amusing cold open. B+

2. Monologue (3:11)

Anne talks about her newest movie in which she gets naked (why haven’t I bought my ticket yet?) and is then interrupted by several male castmembers (Moynihan, Samberg, & Thompson specifically) who inform her that being naked in their respective sketches would make it funnier. She is only too willing to participate but the trick is on them once Kristen shows up. Cute monologue, but nothing special. B-

3. Transportation Security Administration (1:11)

Due to the new regulations for airport security, the TSA now operate a late-night steamy commercial advertising their sexy pat-downs. They also poke fun at the way in which sex line commercials advertise extremely attractive young girls but deliver something far from that. Pretty hilarious piece. A

4. The Miley Cyrus Show (5:32)

Yay, it’s back! This time, Miley (Bayer) introduces her puppet Smiley in her “comedy monologue” and Billy Ray (Sudeikis) ups the creepy level this time with hilarious payoff. Miley’s guest this time is Katie Holmes (an unexpectedly great impression from our host) and it results in another great clip featuring Hannah Montana herself auditioning to be in the new Batman film. This sketch had so many funny lines and a great moment featuring Miley showing so-called “sexy pictures” of herself that people have deemed controversial, which just points out how ridiculous they are in real life. Another home-run for Bayer with this sketch. A

5. Free Thanksgiving Dinner (4:59)

It’s time for a long-awaited appearance from Penelope (Wiig), who this time helps out at a soup kitchen making thanksgiving dinner for homeless people. Anne plays the counterpart to Penelope’s madcap one-upsmanship and this recurring character gets a bit of a jump-start. The visual gags in this Penelope sketch are top-notch and I would actually say this is my favourite bit of hers. Hathaway even gets more of a character to work with than most hosts who play off Penelope and shows off her wonderful hosting talent. A-

6. Royal Engagement (4:30)

The marriage of Prince William (Samberg) and Kate Middleton (Anne) is the subject here as the soon-to-wed couple meet with the Queen (Armisen) and Philip (Hader) to announce their wedding plans. Once William steps out of the room though, the real voices of the royal couple come out as disgusting-sounding cockney. It sounds one-note, but it was a very amusing sketch from the humourous “real accents” to the threats to the fight at the conclusion of the sketch between Liz and Phil. B+

7. Florence + The Machine sing “Dog Days Are Over” (3:56)

Flo and the band sing a melodious tune that really proves how wonderful her voice is and the amazing heights it can reach. The song itself seems to be split in two distinct parts and it results in one of the top performances so far this season. A+

8. Weekend Update with Seth Meyers (14:10)

The highlight of Update this week is a segment called “C’mon, Dictionary!” in which Seth attacks Oxford for naming “refutiate” the word of the year. Meyers is relentless in his attack on the English language for whoring itself out to this terrible mash-up of reputiate with an ‘f’ instead of a ‘p’ and it results in one of the funnier commentaries in recent memory. The guests this week include Guy Fieri (Moynihan), who introduces some alcohol-heavy recipes while obnoxiously making a fool of himself. Moynihan is usually funny, but I’m not a huge fan of this impression and the segment was pretty much the same joke over and over again. Also joining Seth is the creator of the alcoholic caffeinated drink, Four Loko, Chris Hunter (Sudeikis). This segment works a lot better as Jason often works well with these spokesman-type characters. Finally, Jay Pharaoh stops by to show what Thanksiving songs would sound like from people like Jay-Z, Drake, and Biggie Smalls. The only one I really know is Jay-Z but it works anyway due to Pharaoh’s charisma. Solid Update. A-

9. The Essentials (4:40)

Robert Osbourne (Sudeikis) introduces some “lost scenes” from The Wizard of Oz, which include the introduction of a new character in the form of a weather vane (Armisen). The actor playing him is very stereotypically Jewish though and often complains about some miniscule problems they encounter. There’s not much to say here. Anne plays the Dorothy role while Killam, Hader, and Samberg are the Tin Man, Lion, and the Scarecrow respectively but they don’t get much of an opportunity to do stuff. It was a pretty one-note sketch and while Armisen put forth a lot of effort, this didn’t really work. C+

10. WXPD News New York (3:53)

After a grisly shootout, veteran reporter Herb Welch (Hader) goes to the scene and interviews the family about what they witnessed. This is a revelation for Bill as he plays a great senile old man who has clearly waited way too long for retirement. Jason Sudeikis as the in-studio news anchor plays off him well also as the perplexed youngster. Welch eventually starts using the microphone as an unintentional weapon and Hader’s physical comedy really gets to shine here. This sketch had me laughing out loud during its entire duration. I think it was a combination of Hader’s ridiculous old man, Hathaway’s amusing Brooklyn housewife character, and Sudeikis’ deadpan performance. A

11. Mega-Mart (2:07)

Featuring a ridiculous sale by a Wal-Mart knockoff gets more and more ludicrous with the removal of security guards, a lineup to the store sponsored by Four Loko (along with ANOTHER hilarious performance by Hathaway), and Kirk Douglas being hid somewhere in the store for people to find and get an autographed copy of his book. Bobby Moynihan works wonders as the crazed spokesman and the announcer is also a high point of this piece. A

12. Camel Tame (1:14)

Camel toe got you down? One friend (Pedrad) tells another (Wiig) about a great new product known as Camel Tame that will easily get rid of your unsightly groinal shape. Instead, it juts out like a big groin pouch. Another humourous commercial parody. B+

13. Florence + The Machine sing “You’ve Got The Love” (2:54)

The second song features some great violin work and, of course, some more tremendous vocals from Florence. Is that a giant harp in the background? Either way, this is another exercise in voice work as Florence stretches her vocal muscles to the extreme. A

14. Horse Play (2:47)

Much like the “Bunny Business” sketch from last season, this time it’s an advertisement for the soundtrack for a cartoon movie about horse baseball players. Joining the fun here is Randy Newman (Armisen) once again, the lead singer (Wiig) of the Cranberries, Alanis Morisette (Anne), Robert Smith (Samberg) of The Cure, Cee Lo (Thompson), and Adam Lambert (Sudeikis) in a hilariously brief bit. I loved this just as much as the aforementioned “Bunny Business” bit. A-

Anne looks absolutely elated to be on-stage and thanks absolutely everybody that she can before delivering hugs en masse.

Well that was a step up from last week’s slightly-above-average broadcast. If you thought Scarlett was fun, Anne was a revelation in that she delivered on an even grander scale than her last hosting stint and was seemingly up for anything. From donning a British accent and playing Kate Middleton to doing a spot-on impression of Mrs. Tom Cruise, Anne was on top of her game and looked like she was having a ball at the same time without getting too giddy and appearing unprofessional or anything. I sincerely hope she becomes a five-timer.

Florence + The Machine were very welcome in the musical department of things tonight. Flo proved that she has a heckuva voice and a terrific live presence with a mere two performances on the show. They were both full of heart and determination. It’s so nice to see a host/musical guest combo where both parties are so willing and excited to be there.

The cast was also great this week and just like Anne’s last episode, it seemed like everyone was well-represented outside of maybe Paul Brittain (of whom I’m anxious to see repeat his Ed Vincent character). It’s hard to pick the best sketch of the night but I am really loving the Miley Cyrus Show as a recurring bit so I would probably go with that one. It’s also a good example of Vanessa Bayer’s strong comedic talent.

Notes:

“And that’s what Thanksgiving is all about…”

“Dad, shnock it off.”

That dig at The Princess Diaries was cute.

“Oxford Dictionary, please stop RAFING the English language.”

“Keep that away from Guy Fieri.”

I also have to wonder why Jay was wearing a “Jay Pharaoh” shirt…

Host Rating: A+

Musical Guest Rating: A

Show Rating: A


by Brendan Wahl

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’.

8/10