When it comes to Sofia Vergara, what you see is what you get. What you see is someone unfathomably gorgeous, and what you get is someone who can make you laugh, even if you didn't quite understand what she just said. So it was of no real surprise that Saturday Night Live banked heavily on Vergara's stunning looks and broken accent for last night's episode. (Hey, if Modern Family can rely on it every week, why not SNL?)
After a too-long Mitt Romney cold open featuring (the-soon-to-be-departed?) Jason Sudeikis (though his botched "Hey New York, let's start the show" served as a funny alternative to the classic "Live from New York, it's Saturday night"), Vergara took the stage at Studio 8H for her first time as host. In a slinky black dress, Vergara talked about the town in Colombia she grew up in (it translated roughly to "Cleveland"), her son Manolo (who was in the audience), her stare-causing cleavage, and, of course, her ability to "make anything sexy," including "gonorrhea," "Rick Santorum," and "New Jersey." So, yeah, her looks and her accent. Watch it here:
This isn't to say that even if Vergara's brand of comedy is predictable, it's not enjoyable or funny. There's something infinitely likable about the actress (yes, fellas, we know what you like about her) and her willingness to have fun on camera. (Quick sidebar, did anyone else notice there were no less than five commercials featuring Vergara during the breaks, including a Three Stooges preview, which got nary a mention in the actual show?)
Following up a silly new pre-recorded bit with Sudeikis and fellow rumored exiting cast member Andy Samberg as "not gay" friends sporting "Not Gay" booty shorts and tank tops, SNL wisely opted to bring back Abby Elliott's "Quirky Girl with Zooey Deschanel." While the effort wasn't nearly as strong as when Deschanel herself appeared in the sketch when she hosted earlier this year, it was still hilarious to watch Elliott poke fun at her mannerisms ("I look like a guilty baby") and Taran Killam's delightfully squeaky Michael Cera impression. This time around, Kristen Wiig (who previously played Bjork) did a spot-on impression of Drew Barrymore, Samberg took a shot at "Jewish Strawberry Shortcake" Mayim Bialik, and Vergara got her first shot at a sketch by playing another amplified comedienne, Fran Drescher. Vergara knocked it out of the park, but if you were watching in a household where anyone was asleep, there's no question Vergara's imitation of Drescher's infamous laugh woke them up. If Vergara's comedy is one-note, that note is incredibly loud. Watch it below. Though, you may want to turn the volume on your computer down.
The other new pre-recorded segment of the night was a fake commercial for a food (?) product called Almost Pizza, in which the always-top notch Bill Hader and his family try to figure out the mystery product. It was a short, effective, funny bit peppered into an even with sketches that couldn't quite pull that off. Case in point: The groan-worthy sketch featuring Fred Armisen as a newscaster who can't figure out how to smile for the camera. Not only did SNL try out a sketch just like this already this season with SportsCenter broadcasters, but Armisen already realized the hard way that repeating an already ho-hum concept (remember when he kept getting hit by a car in the dreadful Lindsay Lohan ep?) doesn't make it funnier if you keep going. Although the sketch did accomplish the near-impossible: It made Vergara fade in the background. Aside from Vergara -- who, unsurprisingly, played a sexy sex ed teacher who mispronounced words in the Gilly sketch -- there were some other newbies to the SNL family last night. Kate McKinnon began her new gig as a cast member (more on that later) while wildly popular Brit import boy band One Direction made their SNL musical guest debut. Despite looking a little nervous (who could blame them?), the group sounded quite good as they crooned their hits "What Makes You Beautiful" and "One Thing," much to the delight of their hardcore fans. One Direction may look a little different from the boy bands of yore, but the vibe, and those ruthlessly catchy songs, are still very much the same. Seriously, between the return of the boy bands and the fact that both Titanic and the American Pie gang are back in theaters, it's pretty safe to say the '90s are back.
SNL decided not to waste the appearance of the young stars (there's no question there were some kids up far past their bedtime last night) and had the five singers appear in "The Manuel Ortiz Show." In fact, the members of One Direction managed to upstage a blonde Vergara and a mustached Hader for the predictable recurring sketch. (Yes, I realize I skipped right over the recycled "Lil Poundcake" commercial and "Weekend Update," but with the exception of a visit from Bobby Moynihan's consistently hilarious Drunk Uncle, not much else happened.) But, back to McKinnon. The newbie didn't get a chance to show her stuff until later in the show when she appeared as the testy Tabatha from Bravo's Tabatha Takes Over for Killam's funny send-up of Andy Cohen ("I'm like a shark, if I stop moving, I die") and Watch What Happens Live. While McKinnon may have been trumped by Killam's impression of the excitable, cute Cohen and Kenan Thompson playing Bishop Desmond Tutu (would anybody else totally watch Tutu Hot Tutu Handle?), she still made an impression. Watch her debut here:
McKinnon relied on doing an impression again for the next sketch, a send-up of Pantene commercials that featured Vergara as herself and McKinnon as Penelope Cruz. In it, Cruz appeared in a commercial with Vergara, who seems to be getting all the easy words to pronounce. Even though the sketch was predictably on-par with most of the night's bits that relied on the humor of Vergara's mangled accent, it was fascinating to watch and consider what's next for McKinnon. With Wiig possibly leaving, the show will be in dire need for a strong female performer than can pull off impressions as flawlessly as she does. McKinnon looks like she could be up for the task, but she could fall into the Jay Pharoah impressions-only trap. It's too soon to tell, but her brief introduction hinted at more of the former than the latter.
The episode wrapped with a suprisingly weak Hunger Games sketch (though Hader as Caeser Flickerman could give Stanley Tucci a run for his money) in which Vergara played a newscaster thrust into the middle of the murderous action. Sorry, but The Hunger Games Puppy Bowl would have been much better. While last night wasn't the strongest outing of the season (no one has trumped Jimmy Fallon or Maya Rudolph yet), credit has to be given to a game Sofia Vergara and a squeal-inducing One Direction. Next week Josh Brolin and musical guest Gotye will have their shot at getting the last few episodes of the season to end on a high note.
What did you think of last night's SNL? What did you think of Sofia Vergara as host? Anyone else notice Bill Hader sweetly congratulating McKinnon during the closing credits? Would you agree One Direction stole the whole show? More importantly, what was louder, Vergara's screams or the screams One Direction's fans?
[Photo credit: NBC]
Sofia Vergara's Saturday Night Live Promo: Watch!
Sofia Vergara on Saturday Night Live: Do Bombshells Make Bad Hosts?
One Direction Turns Down Invitation to The White House
Vantage Point gives us just that--a birds-eyed view of an assassination/terrorist attack on the U.S. president. In Spain at a landmark outdoor summit on the global war on terror President Ashton (William Hurt) is shot and a bomb explodes killing hundreds of people. For the rest of the film we see the same 15 minutes over and over but from different points of view: There’s a CNN-like news producer (Sigourney Weaver) who is the first to witness the events; the Secret Service agents (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) assigned to protect the president; an American tourist (Forest Whitaker) videotaping the historic event; a Spanish cop (Eduardo Noriega) who suspects what’s going down by the surreptitious actions of his girlfriend (Ayelet Zurer) at the rally; and most importantly the head terrorist (Said Taghmaoui) who orchestrates it all. Through each of these individual perspectives we learn the truth behind the assassination attempt--and as far-fetched as it is it still isn’t pretty. This is an all-out action thriller folks--quiet subtle performances are not required. Quaid goes full blast as the veteran Secret Service agent who has already taken a bullet for the president once before and is still a bit skittish about it. But his loyalty to the president never wavers and it’s through his determination to find out what happened that propels the story forward. Fox also plays it to the hilt much like he does as Jack on TV’s Lost but the actor has a certain movie-star quality to him; he could easily transition from TV to film. Whitaker unfortunately has to play the big schlub with a heart--which at this point seems a tad beneath the Oscar-winner--but he still gives it his all. Hurt’s Head of State is another one of those dream presidents we wish we had. Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner) and Zurer (28 Weeks Later) are adequately cold-hearted as the terrorists while Edgar Ramirez (Domino) effectively emotes as a reluctant member of the terrorist cell forced to do their bidding while his brother is being held captive. Did we mention that the terrorists were cold-hearted? Right. Vantage Point’s trio of film editors (Stuart Baird Sigvaldi J. Karason Valdis Oskarsdottir) must have either thought they’d died and gone to heaven or hell depending on how much of a pain it was to cut the film. Whatever the scenario together with newbie director Peter Travis they keep the action taut and suspenseful. Each character’s POV lends itself to more information as the plot unfolds piece by piece culminating with a whopper of a car-chase scene that should leave you clenching your teeth. The use of electronic devices in the attack is also noteworthy as the main terrorist basically accesses his PDA to 1) shoot the president 2) explode bombs and 3) send the pictures of the destruction to all his friends. OK he actually doesn’t do that last part but he certainly could with that handy device of his. The only drawback to the whole scenario is the implausibility of it all--and the lack of back story. Suspending disbelief we can do but in Vantage Point’s case a little explaining would have helped.
Set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1940s—a favorite area of exploration for writer-director Guillermo del Toro—the story follows dreamy 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she’s uprooted and relocated to a remote military outpost when her sickly mother (Ariadna Gil) marries the wantonly cruel camp commander Captain Vidal (Sergei Lopez). With the compassionate but secretive housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) as the closest thing to a friend she has in the oppressive environment Ofelia escapes into a richly textured fantasy world. She follows a dragonfly she believes is a fairy into a landscaped but neglected garden maze she recasts as the lair of the goatish godling Pan (Doug Jones). He tells her she’s the last heir to a magical otherworldly kingdom and charges her with several tasks to help her reclaim her birthright. As her personal world grows more and more grim—the impending birth of her half-brother threatens her mother’s health her step-father grows colder and colder in his bid to crush the resistance and Mercedes’ hidden agenda places her in jeopardy as well—Ofelia soon finds herself tangling with hideous monsters both imagined and all too real often having difficulty distinguishing which is the more dangerous. The astonishingly real performance of the amazing young Spanish actress Baquero as Ofelia anchors the film firmly in both its real world and fantasy environments as only the convincing imagination of a child could. Lopez is an equally compelling discovery as the callous Vidal pitiless vicious and malevolent while still remaining believably human throughout. He’s unblinking in his depiction of a thoroughly vile and cruel man but avoids any aspect of cartoonish evil. And Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as Mercedes is a wonder as well with her remarkably expressive face unlimited by the film’s Spanish language barriers. Kudos too to Doug Jones a whisper-thin actor who specializes in “creature” roles (he’s played Abe Sapien in del Toro’s Hellboy and will be the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel) who somehow magically delivers fully-formed performances as both the faun Pan and the freakish Pale Man through layers and layers of latex. Pan's Labyrinth is unquestionably Guillermo del Toro’s finest film work to date as pure an artistic vision as is likely to be committed to celluloid. He wisely worked outside the Hollywood system in his native Spain to bring his dark tale to life. The story exists in that shadowy netherworld between childhood and adulthood innocence and awareness of the world’s more sinister nature and its characters and themes are explored in ways that no mainstream film would ever allow. On the surface the trappings are Tim Burton-esque but the dark corners Pan's Labyrinth peers into are grim and gloomy indeed; del Toro is never afraid to delve into the murkiest of directions that to audiences used to more conventional movies are heart-wrenching even gut-churning but ultimately emotionally honest and in unexpected ways as immensely satisfying as they are haunting. The film is the announcement of the complete arrival of a major filmmaker and we can only hope that the qualities del Toro brings to this work do not get lost in the maze of Hollywood for future films.
Innocent Voices depicts the brutal reality of El Salvador’s 1980 civil war as seen through eyes of an 11 year-old boy who may soon get drafted by the army despite not understanding what the war is about. Though both sides were soldiered with young boys it was the government that actively recruited all 12-year-olds and forced them to fight. Eleven year-old Chava (Carlos Padilla) is about to turn but that doesn’t stop him from trying to enjoy life. Since he’s the man of the house--his father left to earn money in America and never returned--Chava wants a job so he can help his overworked mom (Leonor Varela) who quit her restaurant job to stay home and shield her three children from stray bullets. His first job comes when he stumbles upon an old bus owned by a jovial but careless bus driver (Jesus Ochoa). The two become instant friends as Chava rides the railing and calls out the stops. Meanwhile he discovers love after summoning the courage to ask the teacher’s daughter to fly paper fireflies with his friends. All the while the moment he has dreaded--his 12th birthday--looms large over his days. His Uncle Beto (José María Yazpik) a guerilla fighter on the run tries to convince his mother to let Chava live with him in the hills where it’s safe but she can’t let him go. Once he turns Chava must hide with the other boys when the soldiers come around to recruit. But he grows tired of hiding and takes matters into his own hands running off to join the guerillas where he discovers a fate worse than fighting--that of never seeing his family again. Perhaps the strongest element in the film is the surprisingly mature Padilla. Getting a child actor to perform on any level can sometimes be an exercise in futility but director Luis Mandoki manages to get Padilla able to run the gamut of emotions--joy fear the awkwardness of new love--in a very real and convincing way. While most directors would shy away from placing so young an actor into difficult situations particularly the climactic scene where Chava faces execution and watches his two best friends get shot in the back of the head Mandoki defies conventional wisdom and challenges Padilla who is most worthy of the call. As Kella Varela exudes strength despite her constant worry over her children particularly Chava whose arrival home after curfew causes her to feel rage worry forgiveness and joy in a matter of seconds. Legendary Mexican actress Ofelia Medina has a small but important supporting role as Kella’s mother--she provides her daughter’s family with their last peaceful refuge before their lives are destroyed by the army. Minor characters such as Uncle Beto the Bus Driver and Chava’s classmates all serve their purpose though Xuna Primus the classmate Chava falls in love with handles emotional scenes with Padilla with similar maturity. Innocent Voices marks the first Spanish-language film for Mandoki since the international success of Gaby-A True Story--and he’s back true to form. With Innocent Voices he has crafted a powerful and emotionally gripping film that never shies from the ugly realities of how war destroys families and makes men of boys well before their time. Sharing screenwriting credit with actor Oscar Torres on whom the story is based Mandoki benefits from his strong cast particularly Padilla; a wrong choice in casting Chava could have sunk the film. Mandoki masterfully lulls us into thinking that Chava might have some hope of living a normal life in El Salvador--he plays with friends just like any other kid. But every time it looks as though Chava is experiencing life as he should bombs explode machine guns erupt and soldiers come storming in to remind us that he’s living in the middle of a civil war. Ultimately Chava’s only escape is to America but he must leave behind his family much like his father in the beginning. It’s a nice bookend to Chava’s development: Despite the chaos around him his position as head of the family and the specter of being recruited into the army his real transformation into manhood comes when he finds the courage to strike out on his own.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.