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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest Forrest@moviecitynews.com

SNL Recap – Helen Mirren and Foo Fighters

If you’ve ever seen an interview with Helen Mirren, then you’d know that in addition to being a world-class actress, she also has a wicked sense of humor.  She has the twin traits of being both regal enough to play Queen Elizabeth II (The Queen) and versatile enough to play the proprietor of a Nevada brothel (Love Ranch) or a retired assassin (Red).  It’s hard to pinpoint her, she’s a bit of a chameleon and that will hopefully serve her well as she hosts SNL for the first time.

Foo Fighters are one of the last remaining rock and roll bands that really rock, with shredding guitar solos and heavy drums.  I always enjoy their music when I hear it, but I’ve probably only listened to two or three of their albums all the way through.  Dave Grohl is a musical genius, though.  The dude was the drummer in Nirvana, lead singer for Foo Fighters, and did so much work with so many other bands, including Queens of the Stone Age.  Also, he’s hilarious and I’m sure we’ll see him in a sketch or two this week.

Let’s go to the DVR!

Cold Open – Every single time I see Fred Armisen as Barack Obama, I’m underwhelmed before the skit even starts.  The problem is not that Armisen does a bad impersonation, it’s that Obama is really boring.  SNL – and other comedy shows – still haven’t figured out an angle on Obama.  Will Ferrell didn’t impersonate Bush so much as create a caricature of him that was good enough.  Same with Dana Carvey and his Bush senior or Darrell Hammond and his Clinton.  Look at Aykroyd’s Jimmy Carter or Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford.  They weren’t so much about getting the voices right, but about finding one trait that can be exposed and exaggerated.  And with Obama, they still haven’t figured out how to make him funny.  Instead, Armisen plays him as just a regular guy who talks somewhat slowly.  There isn’t a single thing that we come back to, week after week, hoping that Armisen as Obama will say or do a specific thing.  Anyway, this skit was a presidential address from Obama about the recent government almost shut-down.  It was a snooze, as usual when it comes to Obama skits.  2/10

Monologue – Wow, how great does Helen Mirren look for 65?  And right off the bat, she nails an Elton John-queen joke.  And then shows off pictures of her hot body.  Then the male cast members come out in sailor outfits to assist her in a song about her being a “dame.”  It was a pretty cute number, nothing special, but Mirren seemed really comfortable and committed, which bodes well.  Overall, not a very memorable monologue, though.  5.5/10

Mort Mort Feingold – Andy Samberg does play a stereotypically Jewish accountant to the stars.  Basically, it’s an excuse to have the entire cast come out and do their impressions of celebrities while Samberg over-emotes in a way that is somewhat funny.  The celebs rotate in and out, so each cast member gets a line or two.  So we have Paul Brittain playing James Franco, Abby Elliott, Vanessa Bayer, and Nasim Pedrad as the Kardashians, Taran Killam as Ricky Martin, Jay Pharoah killing it as Will Smith, Bill Hader and Helen Mirren as Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Brittain returning as Johnny Depp, and Armisen doing his Gaddafi.  Outside of Pharoah and Brittain, there weren’t really any memorably great impressions, although I’m always a huge fan of Elliot, Pedrad and Bayer’s Kardashian sisters.  I liked the idea of sending up Burton and Carter, but I don’t think they quite got it outside of the costumes.  It was an enjoyable skit, for the most part, though.  Easy to sit through.  6/10

Digital Short – This week it’s devoted entirely to the magical powers of Helen Mirren’s breasts.  Nasim Pedrad requests to “touch ’em” and Mirren allows her, which then leads to Nasim in ecstasy as she has the strangest dream sequence/montage I’ve ever seen.  Then she goes to a place better than heaven…”Helen Mirren’s titties.”  And sure enough, Dave Grohl’s there too.  It was a very short short this week.  The montage sequence is hilarious and if you’ve ever wanted to see Kristen Wiig motorboat Helen Mirren…well, your sure has finally come in.  7.5/10

Fox and Friends – Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer, and Bobby Moynihan playing the airhead hosts of the familiar Fox News morning show.  I think Bayer’s take on Gretchen Carlson is pretty spot-on.  Killam is a little over-the-top in this one, but Moynihan is great in this one.  I love his misunderstanding of the word ‘eclectic.’  Helen Mirren comes on as a crazy person who is “proud to be an American” and is terrified of “reverse anchor babies.”  And that’s it from your Academy-Award winning host, really?  This skit is going on too long.  Although I liked the scroll at the end, which was all the “facts” they got wrong and if you look closely, one of them is “Cell phones do not cause chlamydia.”  It was a stupid skit that dragged on a bit, but it was tolerable and got enough things right for me to give it a pass.  5.5/10

Mary Shelley/Frank Stein – Helen Mirren plays the famous author. celebrating the publication of her novel with some friends at her house.  Then her landlord, “Frank Stein,” shows up and bears an uncanny resemblance to the Frankenstein monster, bolts in his neck at all.  Armisen plays Frank Stein and takes offense at the book, saying that he doesn’t appreciate being made fun of.  It’s a pretty funny idea, but it doesn’t really go anywhere.  It’s a little repetitive and has just one real joke.  Paul Brittain comes out as hunchback named Igor, Frank’s son.  The ending kinda makes it work.  Gotta give it points for a clever idea.  6/10

Foo Fighters – They’re singing a song off their new album called “Rope.”  It’s got a pretty good riff, a little bit slower in tempo.  Hey, it looks like Pat Smear’s back in the band.  I didn’t realize that.  The Foos have a lot of energy and always put on a good show, jumping around and going nuts, but I’m not sold on this song as a great lead single the way something like “The Pretender” or “All My Life” in terms of the later output, but it’s a solid enough jam.  7/10

Weekend Update – Update’s on only forty minutes into the show tonight, which is about five or ten minutes earlier than usual.  We better get a Stefon sighting since there’s a three week break after tonight and that would mean like three months with no Stefon.  Do they not realize that that character is gold?  “It is reported that Kate Middleton will have six hairstylists helping her on her wedding day.  And if I understand the role of ‘princess’ correctly, then all of those stylists will be cartoon bluebirds.”  Bill Hader comes on as James Carville to talk about the government almost-shutdown.  I appreciate Hader’s Carville impression, which is the perfect sort of SNL impression, but I never find his appearances that funny.  Right off the bat, he’s got a Mambo No. 5 reference and talks about how he was raised by a family of eels.  The unfortunate thing is that if Hader is coming on as Carville, then he almost surely isn’t coming on as Stefon…DAMN YOU, LORNE MICHAELS!  GIVE ME STEFON!  Also, we’re spending way too much time with James Carville.  I’ve noticed the trend on Update these days seems to be to let Meyers do only like three or four jokes before bringing in another guest.  I think Meyers should look at Norm MacDonald’s Update and see how he just crushed like twenty or twenty-five jokes every week.  I love Meyers, I just want to see more of him.  Kristen Wiig comes out as a flight attendant from that Southwest Airlines flight where the roof blew off the thing.  Her hair is straight up like Marge Simpson and she still has her oxygen mask around her neck.  When Meyers asks her when she knew something was wrong and she goes, “I noticed the roof of the plane wasn’t there the way it had been.”  “I’m one of those ‘funny’ flight attendants, so I said, ‘well at least this flight isn’t BOEING.'”  I don’t know why, but I’m actually enjoying this.  I thought that was pretty clever.  Meyers kills a couple jokes about prostitutes accepting credit cards in Pittsburgh and then we’re off to another guest, Jean K. Jean.  This is actually my favorite character that Kenan Thompson does, the French Def Jam comedian who dances at the end of every joke.  “You know what they say about French parties, right?  They start with crudites and they end with nuditays!”  I think my favorite part of these appearances is watching Seth Meyers dance in his seat while Kenan stands and grooves.  “A couple in Michigan is planning to walk more than 2500 miles to their wedding in Las Vegas this fall.  No word on whose idea it was.  But it wasn’t his.”  Not a bad Weekend Update, not a great one, and it really could have used some Stefon.  6/10

The Best of Both Worlds with Hugh Jackman – Andy Samberg is playing Hugh Jackman, “Both the most masculine and the most feminine man in the world.”  This is already hilarious.  He’s the guy who plays Wolverine and the guy hosts the Tony’s.  He brings out Taran Killam as Gerard Butler, another man who has TWO SIDES! playing The Phantom of the Opera and the lead in 300.  TWO SIDES!  And wow, Samberg is breaking!  He never breaks!  Kenan Thompson comes out as Ice Cube, gangster rapper and star of family flicks like Are We There Yet?  TWO SIDES!  Helen Mirren comes out as Julie Andrews, kind and cute musical superstar.  Two sides?  Doesn’t appear so until her tea comes out wrong and she murders her assistant with the help of Ice Cube, blood spraying everywhere.  TWO SIDES!  Samberg breaks again towards the end, a sign of how funny the skit was.  This was one of the best skits that SNL has done in a while.  It had a clever idea, a clear focus, and shadings of a plot.  Great job.  9/10

Under Underground Records – This is one of my favorite repeated skits.  Basically, it’s just a collage of randomly assorted nonsense thrown together in a jumble.  It’s a commercial promoting the Crunk-Ass Easter Festival that will “Give Jesus Nightmares!”  It’s got “DJ Vlade Divac” and “Eagle Eye Cherry” and the eggs are scrambled!  Jay Pharoah is DJ George Costanza in bunny ears.  I can’t even keep up with the weirdness in this, but it’s worth watching.  I mean, they’re gonna put the Chilean miners back in the mine!  8.5/10

The Roosevelts – A parody of the History Channel’s scuttled Kennedys mini-series.  We learn all about FDR’s dirty secrets, like how FDR (Hader) was talked into using a wheelchair to get him elected by Eleanor (Mirren).  And how Eleanor convinced Hitler to start the war when all he wanted to do was paint.  Armisen plays producer Joel Surnow who claims they had a historian on set.  Then Brittain comes on as the historian to say that he was “on the set, but mostly as an object of ridicule and derision.”  Abby Elliott comes on as Marilyn Monroe and makes out with Helen Mirren!  Basically, that seemed to have been the point of the whole skit.  But for me, the skit is best when Paul Brittain just shakes his head at all of the inaccuracies.  Good idea, could’ve had better execution.  6/10

Perspectives Photo Studios – Another short that opens with Kristen Wiig and Nasim Pedrad at a bar.  Wiig talks about how disappointed she is because the guy she’s seeing sent her a picture of his penis and it looked so small.  Cut to Jason Sudeikis, who talks about how that won’t be a problem for men anymore with Perspectives Photo Studios.  They use cutting-edge photographic techniques to enhance the size of your penis.  Or use another dude’s wang.  This is a pretty clever commercial.  Seth Meyers comes on as himself, talking about how he sends pictures of his “peen to every lady in his phonebook” when he’s not doing Update.  Stupid, but funny enough.  7.5/10

Foo Fighters Again – This time they did a song that is apparently called “Walk” that I’m already more impressed with than I was with “Rope.”  It’s a slow-build song that is more closely aligned with a song of theirs like “Everlong” or “My Hero.”  I really dig this one, might even download it.  8.5/10

Bongo’s Clown Room -Sudeikis is playing the DJ/hype man at a strip club.  He’s spouting strange comments about how he’s been sober for a week and then the female castmembers come out and dance awkwardly, with Pedrad disinfecting the pole as she dances.  “We want to apologize to y’all for the stray dogs in the parking lot.  Looked like one was giving birth.”  Some of the jokes are funny, some fall flat.  But Elliott, Pedrad, Wiig, and Mirren pole-dancing is pretty funny.  It went a bit too long, though.  5.5/10

Final Grades:

Helen Mirren – My only complaint with Mirren’s hosting is that she didn’t seem to be used nearly enough.  She appeared to be absent for long stretches or her roles in skits would be reduced to doing two or three lines.  Other than the Frankenstein skit and, to a lesser extent, The Roosevelts one, she wasn’t the lead character in any skit.  It seemed that, rather than building a show around Helen Mirren, they fit Mirren into skits they already had, save a few.  Mirren was great when she was used, though, so I can’t blame her, but I feel like the sample size was pretty small.  8/10

Foo Fighters – Great band.  Liked the first song, really liked the second song.  They’re still rocking sixteen years after their inception, a remarkably long run for a 90s rock band.  8/10

The rest of the cast – Brittain and Killam got a lot of burn tonight, which is a good thing.  Wish there was more Pharoah, Pedrad, and Elliott.  Wiig was used sparingly.  Hader was used frequently.  Hard to pick an MVP tonight of the castmembers, but I think I’ll go with Samberg for the Hugh Jackman skit.  7/10

The writing – Overall pretty solid.  The only stinker was the open.  The rest was mostly middling, but the Hugh Jackman skit killed it and there were a few other good moments.  Good episode overall.  7.5/10

And as for myself, I give a solid 7.

See you guys in three weeks for Tina Fey’s return to SNL!

One Response to “SNL Recap – Helen Mirren and Foo Fighters”

  1. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Noah! I miss your blog. Come back!

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin