Frenzy On Blog Archive for April, 2011

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!

1 Comment »

Come Back, Warren Beatty!


So I just finished reading Peter Biskind’s biography about Warren Beatty, “Star,” and I found it as enjoyable as all of Biskind’s other books about Hollywood.  He has a knack for finding people that are willing to speak their minds about subjects that are usually taboo and off-limits according to the modern-day PR machine.  Even if half the stuff in his books is not quite true, there is a verisimilitude that makes one shrug and go along with it.

In his Warren Beatty book, Biskind made me appreciate the career of Beatty more than I once had.  Growing up, I was not a particularly big fan of Beatty.  I saw Dick Tracy, Bulworth, Bonnie and Clyde and wasn’t particularly impressed with any of them.  Bonnie and Clyde, in particular, is a film that is to be appreciated more than loved today.  What was once such a novel idea, using techniques that were unheard of at the time, doesn’t really translate today.  It’s a fine story told well, but it’s hard to feel the groundbreaking effect today that it had in 1967.

But when I saw Reds about five or six years ago, I was absolutely floored.  That was when I saw Beatty in a different light.  It’s a flat-out masterpiece about politics, love, and America.  It is literally one of the most difficult undertakings that any star has ever attempted and if you read Biskind’s book, you’ll understand why it had to be Beatty and why it had to be at that time of his career.  It’s rare that a movie star at the height of their power will choose a project that is so obviously divisive and controversial and throw their weight behind it.  Not only that, he enlisted fellow superstars Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson to join him.  And rather than shy away from the responsibility of the film for fear of being called a commie, he took the reins as director, producer, star and writer.

I don’t want to get too bogged down in talking about Reds (and I could talk about it all day long), but I have to mention the thing that Beatty gets so right.  As a life-long liberal, only he could have such an insight to craft scenes showing the in-fighting among liberals.  It’s no wonder why liberals are often trounced by their conservative counter-parts – they’re too busy fighting each other.  It’s an incredible insight into a part of politics that isn’t talked about often enough.

But the point that I really want to make is this: it’s been a decade since Beatty made a film (the atrocious Town and Country) and it doesn’t seem as if he has anything on the horizon.  After reading the book and seeing what Beatty’s work habits are like, it’s not hard to understand why someone might not want to work with him.  He’s demanding, exhausting, a ditherer, and a pest.  Almost every film he’s worked on has been bogged down by over-runs and budget problems because the man seems almost pathologically incapable of making a decision (and this is someone that Arianna Huffington was championing for President in 2000).  His last few films have been box office flops and nobody really knows who he is anymore.  He’s only made six films since Reds came out in 1981.  So, it’s not hard to see why his making a comeback might not be feasible.

But remember when Tarantino almost cast him in Kill Bill?  That would have been perfect.  No disrespect to the late David Carradine, but when you’re waiting the whole movie to finally meet “Bill,” it’s a bit disappointing when it turns out to be Carradine and not someone with the aura and star power of Beatty.  But, those are the types of roles that Beatty should be doing now that he’s 74-years-old.  He was always a leading man, not a character actor, so perhaps it’s hard for him to play a role like that, but he’d be great as the heavy in a film or as the type of guy who gives sage advice.

I mean, hell, I’d love to see him back on the big-screen as the leading man in any kind of film, but I just don’t know who else would pay to see that movie.  I’d really love to see him act in a movie about an aging Casanova who is reaching the end of his life and looking back.  What he really needs is a champion like Tarantino, or Fincher, or one of the Andersons to bring him back into the public eye.  (Although one of the interesting tidbits in the book is that P.T. Anderson wanted Beatty for the Burt Reynolds part in Boogie Nights and Beatty insisted on playing the Dirk Diggler character!)

I suppose the thing that I found really upsetting when I finished Biskind’s book was the fact that there really aren’t that many iconoclast actors anymore.  Who out there is similar to Warren Beatty?  I guess one could make the case for George Clooney, but he’s too prolific.  The man only made something like 20 movies in his lifetime and I guess that’s what ticks me off more than anything; he was such a talent and it’s a shame that we only have these 20 films.  As a director, he only gave us four.

My favorite Beatty film, though, might be McCabe and Mrs. Miller.  In Biskind’s book, it sounds like a miserable shoot since Robert Altman and Beatty were like oil and water, but the end result was one of the great Westerns of all-time.  Beatty believed that great art usually resulted from “hostile intelligences” and when you see the finished films he’s made, it’s hard not to say that he might have a point.

Well, excepting Ishtar, of course.

7 Comments »

SNL Recap – Elton John

I mean, we all know that Elton John is a world-class singer/pianist and he’s crafted some of the greatest songs of all-time, but I’m curious to see if he’ll be able to entertain us when he’s not singing on SNL.  My guess is that there will probably be a lot of skits revolving around John playing the piano or singing.  He’s been funny in some of interviews, but that doesn’t always translate to performing well on SNL.  The trick is to see if, like Justin Timberlake, he has the ability to embody a character that is very different from him.  With a larger than life personality like Elton John, who is so famous for being himself, it might be a difficult task.

But let’s see if Sir Elton John pulls off the feat of host and musical guest on this week’s Saturday Night Live:

Cold Open – We’re starting with the Lawrence Welk show, which seems like a good way to get Elton John to sing.  And sure enough, he’s behind the piano as we do the usual “three pretty sisters and one ugly one” gag.  Even though I know Kristen Wiig’s baby-armed gross sister is coming, it still makes me chuckle every time.  Abby Elliott, Nasim Pedrad, and Vanessa Bayer play the normal sisters.  This time they have Wiig hiding out inside the piano.  I wonder if this will be Elton John’s role for the night: playing the straight man (no pun intended).  He’s doing a pretty decent job of it in this skit.  This isn’t exactly a landmark skit in the annals of SNL, but it does a decent job of causing some smiles and it’s better than the alternative for cold opens; usually, we’re force-fed some political-themed sketch and I don’t think that’s really SNL’s strong suit unless we’re in an election year.  They don’t have nuanced insights, so it’s hard to make that work in skit-form unless there’s a clear target.  Either way, not a bad way to open the show.  6.5/10

Monologue – First of all, Elton wears a wig, right?  Because otherwise I don’t really understand how he has more hair now than he had thirty-five years ago.  “The bitch is back!  I say that all the time, whether it’s appropriate or not.”  So far, pretty charming.  He talks about just having a baby:  “As you can see, I haven’t lost the baby weight.”  “He’s rejecting the breast.  And in that way, he takes after both of his fathers.”  This is actually one of the better monologues of the year, it seems like the writers really stepped up their game because they knew they had a host who wasn’t a comedian, but Elton John seems very comfortable up there and comfortable making lots of fun of himself (although at the end, he makes a passing reference to all the charity work he does…humble brag?).  So far, the show’s moving along nicely.  8/10

ESPN Classic – Will Forte is back!!!  This is not my favorite recurring sketch, but Forte is always reliably hilarious as commentator Greg Stink and Sudeikis is great as the straight man.  Seems like the audience doesn’t recognize that Will Forte isn’t on the show anymore, no ovation for him.  This time we’re watching the Lady’s Shot Put competition from 1986.  Kristen Wiig is one competitor, going up against an in-drag Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks…(Tangent: I’m an enormous Knicks fan.  I was not a fan of the Carmelo Anthony trade at the time we did and I’m even less of a fan now.  It’s not that Anthony’s not a good player, but that the one thing he does well – scoring – was something the Knicks already had in abundance.  We were a young team and we were getting better.  Now we’ve got a lot of pieces that don’t really fit together and we don’t play any defense.  And Carmelo Anthony’s isolation game isn’t appealing to me.  I was never a big fan of his game because he always holds the ball for at least a few seconds, stopping the flow of the offense.  And then he gives minimal effort on the defensive end.  It’s no coincidence that Amar’e Stoudemire’s MVP campaign was derailed the second Anthony came aboard.  If we’re going to play at a slower pace to fit to Carmelo’s game, then we need to play through Amar’e more and have more of an inside-out game instead of being a perimeter-based team.  Actually, we should be running the pick and roll with Carmelo and Amar’e every single time down the floor, with Billups and Fields and Shawne Williams as your three-point threats.  It would be unstoppable.  Of course, it would also require Carmelo to pass the goddamned ball once in a while.  Okay, enough basketball for now.)  I think we all know how this sketch is going to end.  The best part of this skit is Will Forte, who doesn’t even know what shot putting is and winds up talking about sex.  “How far should they aim for with the shot put?”  “49…70.”  “70 what?”  “I don’t know.”  And here’s an appearance from Tom Hanks!  He’s playing Forte’s brother.  Wow, I guess they really didn’t trust Elton John to carry the show by himself.  Speaking of which, he’s not in this skit at all.  Carmelo throws the shot-put and it hits Hanks.  This skit is going on for way too long.  5/10

Next Week – Helen Mirren and Foo Fighters.  I’m excited about both of them.  Foo Fighters have been on a bunch and not only are they a good band, but they have a good sense of humor and usually show up in a skit or two.  Mirren is just brilliant and I’ll forgive her for Red and Arthur as long as she keeps giving great performances in other movies.

Fancy a Jar, Do You? – A send-up of British sitcoms that was actually killing it (I always enjoy the no-joke jokes) before being cut to a BBC News breaking news report about a dragon attacking Britain (ironically enough, Paul Brittain played the news anchor) and how the Knights of the Realm (celebrities that have been knighted) were going to figure out how to stop it.  Cut-to the Knights of the Realm.  It took me way too long to explain what the sketch was about, but it’s a pretty funny idea.  Elton John is playing himself, Bill Hader is Richard Branson, Andy Samberg is Bono, Tom Hanks is Michael Caine (circa 1968 apparently), Taran Killam as Ian McKellen (as Gandalf), and Kenan Thompson as Sir Mix-A-Lot.  And then Fred Armisen is Ringo Starr.  Most of the sketch seems to revolve around the idea that Michael Caine speaks very slowly, which is not a quality I really attribute to him.  Elton John makes a couple of strong jokes about Bono’s Spider-man musical and reminds everyone that Elton’s Lion King musical is still in theaters.  The dragon was stopped by Sting, who “jizzed all over it until it died.”  That’s pretty funny.  The rest of the skit, not so much.  5.5/10

Digital Short – Holy shit, is Tom Hanks hosting tonight?  He’s been in more skits than Elton already.  Either way, Hanks goes to Lorne to pitch an idea and it’ll probably be yet another installment of Laser Cats, which stopped being funny about the third or fourth time they did.  And yep, more Laser Cats.  This time, the musical version.  I like that Hanks is only pitching the idea because Samberg and Hader stole Wilson (the volleyball from Cast Away, not his wife Rita Wilson).  I’m not going to bother explaining this skit, it’s just like the other versions except in musical form because of Elton John as the villain.  It’s absurd and silly and sometimes funny.  Hey, another Carmelo Anthony appearance.  Lorne Michael’s reaction shots are pretty much how I feel, despite some oddly enjoyable moments.  5/10

Elton John and Leon Russell – Tom Hanks introduced Elton John.  Jeez, why didn’t they just say tonight was hosted by Elton John and Tom Hanks?  The song is called “Hey Ahab” from John and Russell’s album.  It’s a pretty good song.  One thing that people always forget is how versatile Elton John is and this song is a good reminder that he can do honkey-tonk blues as good as anybody.  Probably wouldn’t be the first thing I’d put on a playlist, but really nice performance.  7/10

Weekend Update – Will we get a Stefon appearance tonight?  Probably not, but a boy can dream.  “Let this be a lesson to you Moammar Gaddafi.  If you don’t relinquish power, we will bomb you.  For two weeks.  Every 27 years.  Like clockwork.”  “Look, if Donald Trump wants to talk about Obama’s birth certificate, what do I care.  But if he loves America so much, why does he keep outsourcing the job of…his wife.”  Seth Meyers then goes on a run of amazing jokes about Donald Trump’s ridiculous run for the presidency and uses that as a lead-in to systematically destroy all of the GOP candidates and compares them to castmembers of Celebrity Apprentice.  That was pretty brilliant and only Meyers can deliver it the way he did, with that charming yet devilish grin.  Armisen comes on as Gaddafi, which was funny the first few times, but it’s gotten a little bit stale.  Wow, he was on for a while, making references to everything from In Living Color to CSI: Miami.  And now Kenan Thompson comes out as Barry Lewis, the man who caught the missing cobra from the Bronx Zoo.  I don’t really understand how this is going to be a joke worthy of having Kenan on for three or four minutes, there’s gotta be more to this, right?  He tries to bring out the snake and of course, it’s gone missing.  And of course, it’s not funny.  Feel free to fast forward right past it.  “According to a new study, the Bronx is the unhealthiest place in New York State, partly due to the Bronx restaurant ‘Fat Mike’s Fried Chicken and Punching.'”  Andy Samberg comes out as “Nicolas Cage” and Jake Gyllenhaal comes out as…himself.  Hey, another guest!  They might as well hang up a banner that says, “We don’t have faith in your hosting abilities, Elton John!”  ‘Nicolas Cage’ wonders how he isn’t in Source Code since it involves “time travel and screaming” and “the actors got paid.”  “I’m never too busy to turn down another blockduster!”  “Am I a genius or a madman?  The answer is, I’m a madman.”  Samberg looks like he’s on the verge of losing it.  Jake Gyllenhaal calls him “the white Samuel L. Jackson.”  That probably should have been funnier than it was.  The update ends on a pretty good joke that the audience didn’t laugh at and Meyers looked a little confused by the reaction and waited a few seconds before signing off.  The Donald Trump part was the best, the rest was a little weak.  6/10

Royal Wedding – This is always a pretty good skit, where Queen Elizabeth (played by Armisen) and Prince Philip (played by Bill Hader) are kind and regal in the presence of Prince William (Samberg), but the moment William leaves the room, they Queen and Prince Philip become cockney gangsters out of a Guy Ritchie movie.  This time, Elton John comes in and sure enough, as soon as William leaves, Elton John is accosted by the Queen and her husband, who don’t want him to play his “crap” songs.  Elton John says that she “must be the only Queen that wears Ann Taylor.”  The Queen talks about lighting her farts.  Elton finally asks what he should play, then the Queen and Prince Philip get on the drums and guitar and start playing some punk music and going crazy.  The music was the best part of the skit.  The rest was not so hot.  5/10

The Silver Screen – Taran Killam and Elton John play stereotypical gay men who are the hosts of a movie show.  I’m surprised that Elton John would agree to be in a sketch like this, which is so much about cliches of gay men as swishy and feminine.  Nasim Pedrad comes out as Vanessa Hudgens and shows a clip from Sucker Punch, which outrages the hosts of the show.  The hosts kiss each other a lot and get in fights and then make-up.  The one thing that’s nice about the skit is that it proves Elton John can actually act and embody a character, albeit one that isn’t very funny.  Yeah, I didn’t really enjoy this skit at all.  It seemed fairly directionless.  I don’t really understand why the “Vanessa Hudgens” character is even necessary.  It was kind of a mess.  3/10

Bruce – A sketch with Elton John as a gay cowboy in the Old West.  He rides in on an unicorn and wears flashy duds.  Bill Hader is the bartender, Jason Sudeikis is the “bad guy” who doesn’t pick up on the gay cowboy’s innuendo and Kristen Wiig is the town whore who is trying to get Elton John into bed, but he keeps turning her down.  Everyone was confused at first, but then the entire bar loves him.  It winds up being a skit about getting to know people and enjoying their company despite their differences.  It’s actually a skit with a nice message.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t very funny.  Good idea, but it didn’t go anywhere.  Although, it gets extra points for the “twist” ending, which made me chuckle.  5/10

Elton John and Leon Russell Again – Carmelo Anthony does the honor of doing the introductions, which means he was up until at least 1am last night when there’s a 6PM game today.  If he comes out sluggish against the Cavs, I think we’ll know he stayed out too late at the after-party.  Another solid song and performance by Elton John and Leon Russell.  7/10

Final Grades:

Elton John – It’s hard to give him a grade at all as a host, since it was hard to tell who the host was tonight, with Tom Hanks appearing in half the skits.  He was a little awkward in the sketches, sometimes spending so much time looking at the cue cards that he didn’t react to his fellow performers.  He did his best work during the monologue and in his musical performances, where he seemed most at ease.  But between Tom Hanks, Jake Gyllenhaal, Carmelo Anthony, and Will Forte, I feel like Elton John didn’t really get enough time to shine (or falter).  As a result, his turn as host was merely mediocre, while his musical turns were enjoyable (although he didn’t play any of his classic songs, which was disappointing).  Overall, I give him a 5.5/10.

The guests – Tom Hanks was pretty good in all of his skits.  He’s one of the best SNL hosts out there and there’s a reason why he’s hosted so many times.  He gives it his all and isn’t afraid to look like a fool (like when he’s holding Wilson).  Carmelo Anthony performed well enough for an athlete, but I worry about his game being affected.  Gyllenhaal had no real reason to be there, aside from promoting his new movie.  And Forte is always a welcome presence and I wish he would re-join the cast again.

The rest of the cast – Hard to say because there were so many guests.  I suppose Armisen, Hader, and Sudeikis were the most frequently used.  There was no Jay Pharoah whatsoever tonight, which is pretty ridiculous.  At least there was a Paul Brittain sighting.

The writing – Hit or miss.  But mostly, it was a pretty good show.  I thought the concepts of a lot of skits worked really well, but sometimes the execution wasn’t there.  I thought Elton John’s monologue was good, but there was an over-reliance on bringing back past skits (Lawrence Welk, ESPN Classics, Laser Cats, the King and Queen, Moammar Gaddafi) without really doing anything to tweak them in an interesting way.  Also, there was no Stefon, which is just inexcusable.  It’s been months!  6/10

I give myself a 8/10.  I’ll see you all next week for Helen Mirren and Foo Fighters.

4 Comments »

Quote Unquotesee all »

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