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!
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One Direction Turns Down Invitation to The White House
More than The Cotton Club, more than The Godfather Part III, and more even than One from the Heart, the Francis Ford Coppola movie that I was most afraid of seeing for the first time was Jack. I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find something of value in the movie, a late 90s message-movie about Jack, a boy with Werner syndrome, which means Jack ages at four times the normal rate. Robin Williams plays Jack. And, well, guess what the message is.
I’ve spent a lot of this retrospective on Coppola’s career both defending his lesser known work and trying to wrap my mind around his sometime megalomania. The thing that I love the most about Coppola is that no matter what is at stake, he will eventually attempt to turn anything he’s working on into art. By art I mean he works on his films by developing a singular, original vision, bringing to bear all the techniques and tools of filmmaking to achieve that vision. Even when he claims he’s making something “just for money” like the aforementioned One from the Heart, The Cotton Club or The Godfather Part III, he can’t help but at least try to make something that has some level of originality and vision.
That isn’t quite true with Jack. Jack is a hack job. It’s awful. It’s so singularly awful that it’s making me wonder just what it is I consider good to be. I mean, what sin does Jack commit that makes it almost nearly unwatchable? Sure, Robin Williams gives a performance that in its own way goes “full 'tard.” The screen character he creates in Jack is so thoughtfully done, so layered and well-wrought that he does indeed feel like what he is: an emotionally stunted ten year old in a 40 year old’s body. Like Sean Penn in I Am Sam, William’s performance is perfect, and therefore unwatchable.
But that’s not it.
There’s also the other elementary school kids, who are all written so badly they make Saved by the Bell look like Lil’ Chekhov. Their expository introduction in the first few minutes offers us not a single believable character. Goonies this is not.
But that’s not it.
One might also point to the beginning of the film, where Coppola gives us a “birth canal-cam,” or to Bill Cosby’s “wise black man,” or to Fran Drescher making out with a ten year old, or any number of other things about the movie that fall flat, feel creepy, or bring the cliché when they could have offered the shock of the new.
But those features of the film only make it bad, and bad is not god-awful boring.
Harold Bloom is fond of the famous Oscar Wilde quote “All bad poetry is sincere,” except Oscar Wilde didn’t say that. What Oscar Wilde said was this: “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic.” That’s from The Critic as Artist, which I haven’t read since I was an undergrad and probably didn’t understand it even then. But I’m pretty sure it has something to do with why Jack is such a boring a film that it put me into a metabolic coma.
Here’s the thing. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, you know everything Jack has to say about everything it’s going to talk about. You know the version of America Coppola’s chosen for the story. You know what kids are like, what adults are like, what childhood is like, what school is like, what women and men and life and death and aging and education and love and fear and hope are like. And if I know what a movie thinks of all of those things in the first fifteen minutes, it’s an abject failure, because it completely lacks vision and is, by definition, inartistic.
Which isn’t to say that a movie must have artistic merit in order to be worthwhile, but if it’s not going to have artistic merit it better be entertaining, and as you must know, Jack isn’t even a little entertaining. Of course, what we all want is a little art in our entertainment, or a little entertainment in our art. Jack provides neither.
Let’s contrast Jack with Apocalypse Now. It may be an unfair comparison, but let’s get specific about why it’s an unfair comparison. The entire meaning of Apocalypse Now cannot be understood until we find out what Martin Sheen’s Willard is going to do when he catches up with Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz. At first we think he might kill Kurtz outright, but immediately when Willard sets out on his epic trip into the heart of Vietnam, what Vietnam means and what Kurtz means begins to shift. Thirty minutes in the nature of Willard’s journey is so wrapped up with the nature of the Vietnam War that we feel as if the final fate of Kurtz will somehow shed light on the war, the United States, the Cold War, the sixties, and the spirit of humanity itself. We’re put into this sense of tension until the last moment of the movie, and it’s a tension based on meaning.
Everything Jack has to say can be gleaned from the first fifteen minutes of the film. Or the trailer. Or the poster. Honestly, the poster pretty much does it. The poster, in fact, is the most fun part of the whole movie. Who’s to blame? Who cares. It’s not a movie you want to watch, even if you’re the biggest Coppola fan on the planet. Believe me.
Next week: Coppola proves he can do mercenary filmmaking well.
Bobby G. (played by John-Luke Montias) is a petty coke dealer who lives and peddles his merchandise in New York City's Hell's Kitchen the area between 34th and 59th Streets from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. Although he's sort of a punk who gets beat up on what seems like a regular basis Bobby G. is well liked by the locals including a blind man named Popeet and a shifty figure called Dollar Bill. His girlfriend Lucy (played by Susan Mitchell) turns tricks for a living but dreams of moving to what she believes to be an idyllic Puerto Rico to escape her miserable existence in the city. When a kid looking to score a kilo of cocaine approaches Bobby G. he brokers a deal with a high-level drug dealer and hopes to make a big enough profit to leave this crummy profession for good. But the deal goes terribly awry and before he knows it Bobby G.is involved in a murder with his life spiraling out of control. After a series of bizarre twists Bobby G. finds redemption--or just the opposite.
As a small-budget independent film Bobby G. Can't Swim can't impress with high-priced special effects so much of the film's appeal rests on the actors and their performances. Although some of the acting is slightly below par Montias who also wrote and directed the pic is able to carry most of the film on his own abilities. He completely emerges himself in the role of Bobby G. and delivers an impressive performance as the small-time coke dealer. Bobby G.'s character however is a bit underdeveloped: The most personal piece of information we find out about him is that his last name is Grace. As his girlfriend Lucy Mitchell is decent enough but her character is a little grating; she looks and sounds too much like a cross between Debi Mazar and Fran Drescher. In the role of Bobby G.'s drug supplier Coco Vincent Vega is more memorable especially in the scene where he finds out that Bobby G. may have put him and his family in danger. Also impressive is Norman Middleton in the role of a blind peddler named Popeet especially considering he has never acted before.
If you've ever thought that your ludicrous life would make an interesting film then you will understand where writer/director Montias is coming from. According to the production notes the film--and its cast of characters--is based on Montias' real-life experiences while working as a bartender in Hell's Kitchen. However the concept of that one final hit going wrong is not a new one--think Nine Queens or The Score--and Bobby G. Can't Swim's theme of redemption is handled in a similar fashion. In a movie that takes the protagonist through a series of life-altering events before eventually seeing the error of his ways Montias does it with a unique band of characters that gives this otherwise tired plot a refreshing spin. And while many independent films tend to be self-centered and too often about the director's vision and less about the viewer's enjoyment of the film Bobby G. Can't Swim actually does both successfully.