SNL Review April 14, 2018: John Mulaney/Jack White

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2018.

News Cult Entertainment Editor Jeffrey Malone watches every new episode of Saturday Night Live and then organizes the sketches into the following categories: “Love It” (potentially Best of the Season-worthy), “Keep It” (perfectly adequate), or “Leave It” (in need of a rewrite, to say the least). Then he concludes with assessments of the host and musical guest.

Love It

Hollywood Update – Mulaney finds brilliant inspiration from his very own “Family Flix” (aka “Rocket Dog”), one of the greatest sketches he ever wrote during his SNL tenure. This time around, the objectionable material for supposedly family-friendly entertainment is squarely present both in front of and behind the camera. Simply mentioning the uncomfortable sexual ramifications of a parent-child body switch premise would have been enough to make this sketch a winner, but the disturbing details just keep on coming.

Horn Removal – The second sketch of the night to take obvious and winning inspiration from a previous SNL bit hearkens back to a pre-Mulaney time, namely the Will Ferrell-starring Bad Doctor. This time around, it is the patients who are more the crazy people, although the biggest laughs come from Mulaney’s plastic surgeon calmly explaining to the horned fellow and his fetishistic girlfriend just how idiotic they are.

It always bodes well for the Monologue when you have a stand-up comedian hosting, and I furthermore appreciate that Mulaney delivered jokes I had never heard from him before. Maybe this was material that he had used on stage previously, but it was new to me…I have to give it up to Big Nick’s Greek Diner, or any comedy sketch past or present, that turns into a full-blown Les Miserables homage.

Keep It

Robert Mueller/Michael Cohen Lie DetectorMeet the Parents came out 18 years ago, which was around the time that my SNL fandom was really starting to bloom. So this Mueller investigation homage to the Fockers is like if Steven Spielberg and Drew Barrymore had cameoed in 2000 for an ET-centric parody about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Anyway, we certainly don’t need Ben Stiller and Robert de Niro to rehash their “you can milk anything with nipples” routine in 2018, but it is a unique enough entryway into the current scandal du jour.

The Drag Brunch is what we can refer to as precision comedy, and the target is hit…Mulaney’s student leader attempts to hide a boner on National School Walkout Day, and we should all know from Big Mouth how masterful he is at humorizing awkward bodily functions…Ah, a parody of Wild Wild Country, that new Netflix documentary series about a cult that a lot of people are obsessing over but that I have not watched (yet?); this isn’t the first time a sketch has revolved around Kenan’s insatiable appetite for booty, nor is it the best, but it is still fairly amusing (and props to the audience for cheering Nasim Pedrad’s cameo without prompting)…Michael and Colin’s most memorable bits this time around involve bringing the Cleveland Browns’ futility into all this and a zinging follow-up about cream soda…I have never subjected myself to Laura Ingraham, so I have no idea how accurate Kate McKinnon’s impression is, but the list of all her disreputable new sponsors is on-point…Kenan’s Lavar Ball routine is a steady, unwavering formula, but damn if I don’t lose it when he claims that his son Lonzo is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes or that he has a long-lost Mexican son named “La Biblioteca.” And “You say ‘tomato,’ I say ‘this tomato costs $500’” might just be the quote of the season…The Real Intros of Reality Hills zeros in on what that genre is all about, doesn’t it?

Leave It

No terrible sketches on John Mulaney’s watch!

John Mulaney

How many former SNL writers who were not also cast members have returned to host? The only other one besides John Mulaney that I can think of is Larry David. Mulaney is certainly well-known enough among comedy nerds to justify booking him as host, but is he famous enough among the general public? The correct answer is: who cares? The episode he is in charge of runs smoothly, and it appears that he had a powerful effect on the writers’ room, what with the plethora of concept-driven sketches. Also, Darrell Hammond twice refers to him (on purpose?) as John “Mulvaney.”

Jack White

On a scale of “absolutely essential” to “playing the hits,” this is hardly a landmark performance from Jack White, but of course his chops are as strong as ever. Are “Over and Over and Over” and “Connected by Love” future classics in his oeuvre? I’m not banking on that legacy, as they do not sound terribly different from his typical garage rock numbers, but maybe after a few more listens, I’ll notice some peculiarities.

Letter Grades

Mueller/Cohen Lie Detector – B-

John Mulaney’s Monologue – B+

Drag Brunch – B

National School Walkout Day – B-

Wild Wild Country – B

Big Nick’s Greek Diner – B+

Jack White performs “Over and Over and Over” – B+

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B-
Laura Ingraham – B-
LaVar Ball – B

Hollywood Update (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – A-

Horn Removal – B+

Jack White performs “Connected by Love” – B+

The Real Intros of Reality Hills – B

This Is a Movie Review: Noah Baumbach and Adam Sandler’s Sensibilities Align Perfectly in ‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’

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CREDIT: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Grace van Patten, Judd Hirsch

Director: Noah Baumbach

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But It Would Probably Be (a Soft) R for Intrafamily Yelling and Artistic Nudity

Release Date: October 13, 2017 (Limited Theatrically and Streaming on Netflix)

It’s tempting to say that The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is Noah Baumbach’s version of an Adam Sandler comedy. That’s a good starting point, though it isn’t exactly right. It is most accurate to say that Baumbach happened to write a character that just happened to perfectly align with Sandler’s sensibilities. The same can also be said to a certain degree for Dustin Hoffman and Ben Stiller, two of the other Meyerowitzes with distinct styles, but it is Sandler’s shtick that leaves the most telling impression. This film could hardly be mistaken for a Happy Madison production, but it is a sort of cinematic half-sibling.

Hoffman is Harold Meyerowitz, a sculptor and retired art professor whose lack of greater commercial success is constantly referenced and bemoaned. His adult children Danny (Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and Matthew (Stiller) are all sorts of messed up. Danny and Jean are still recovering from all the time they didn’t have with their dad while growing up after he divorced their mother, while their half-sibling Matthew is still recovering from all the time that he did spend with Dad.

Each Meyerowtiz actor is aces in pulling off their own unique form of neuroticism, but this is primarily Sandler’s forte. It plays into his pet interests of fraught but tender father-son relationships and lovable man-children. Danny is probably talented enough to have been a professional musician, but instead he is terminally unemployed, though he occasionally crafts goofy piano-based tunes with his teenage daughter Eliza (Grace van Patten). But this is not really a matter of arrested development, as Danny tracks as a genuine adult, just one who never had to accept professional responsibility, especially because he could still manage to be a great father while retaining a childlike disposition. And I haven’t even mentioned all the moments of that patented Sandler yelling put to good use. In fact, the film opens with Danny and Eliza attempting to find a parking spot in Manhattan, a premiere situation for Sandler frustration if ever there was one.

The main narrative thrust involves the Meyerowitz siblings dealing with Harold’s extended critical hospital stay. Considering all the tension in these relationships, this could be a recipe for disaster. And while a few scuffles do break out, Danny, Jean, and Matthew instead mostly bond over their shared screwed-up natures and resolve to embrace forgiveness and gratitude. Plus, they also all get to gather around and watch Eliza’s work as a film student at Bard College, which consists of the surreal sexcapades of “Pagina Man.” It features a fair bit more nudity than you might think an 18-year-old would be comfortable sharing with her family, but despite any discomfort, they all agree she has talent. And since she comes from a family that is so naturally entertaining, how could she not?

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is Recommended If You Like: Noah Baumbach’s New York, Big Daddy, Goofy student films

Grade: 4 out of 5 Ex-Wives

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Brad’s Status’ is: Intensely Narcissistic

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CREDIT: Jonathan Wenk/Amazon Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Shazi Raja, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson

Director: Mike White

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: R for A Few Disconcertingly Random F-Bombs

Release Date: September 15, 2017 (Limited)

Generally when writing a review, I avoid discussing issues of representation. That is not to say that that topic should not be avoided entirely, just that a review is not the ideal place for it. I believe that all stories are worth telling and need to be accepted on their own terms to truly understand them. But occasionally, representation is a focal theme in the stories that make it to the big screen, and in those cases, it would be imprudent to ignore it. Brad’s Status is one such movie.

In the most compelling possible interpretation, Brad’s Status is a horror film about extreme middle class neurosis. The score is filled with foreboding strings and heavy piano that contrast but also simultaneously complement the reliably blue skies. Brad Sloan’s (Ben Stiller) life probably should not be as intensely overwhelming as it is, but the status-conscious brain is a universe unto itself.

Brad’s existential crisis coincides with a college tour for his son Troy (Austin Abrams), who is smart enough to potentially get into Harvard but is uncertain enough about his future such that he doesn’t remember the correct date for his admissions interview. Staying on top of your kids during the college search is stressful enough, but on top of all that, Brad is deeply burdened by questions of how his success measures up with the rest of the world. When he thinks of his own college buddies he has lost touch with, he inevitably frets over how they have all exceeded him in terms of material wealth and influence. He remembers his own young adult idealism, and how his plans to change the world have not really borne fruit, even though he now runs his own nonprofit.

If this all sounds like White Straight Cisgender Male First World Problems: The Movie to you, it is worth noting that Brad’s privilege to complain as much as he does is called out quite searingly and clear-headedly by a female POC character. This is crucial, and effective. Those who are looking for more diverse representation in their films might reasonably say, “Sure, Brad’s Status takes white male bullshit to task, but it’s still about the white male bullshitter.” To which I would respond, I’m pretty sure this movie agrees with your sentiment and might in a weird way want you to dismiss it.

Regardless of how it works in terms of representation, Brad’s Status is an enlightening dramatization of the dangers of assumption, especially when you assume the best AND the worst. Chances are that your successful friends’ lives are not as picture-perfect as they seem. And chances are that they are not completely the opposite either. But you’ll never know either way unless you reach out and listen. Unfortunately for Brad, even when he does reach out, living inside his own head remains impossible to escape.

Brad’s Status is Recommended If You Like: Mad Men, Enlightened, White Male Navel Gazing, Criticism of White Male Navel Gazing

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Silver Flyer Cards

SNL Recap October 8, 2011: Ben Stiller/Foster the People

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Cold Opening – Mitt Romney Press Conference
The last couple of seasons, SNL has insisted on almost always opening with politicial material, whether or not they writers had anything worthwhile to say.  But with this sketch, they showed that they knew exactly what was going on, and it has been a while since that has been the case.  The fact that the impressions weren’t all that great is forgivable, considering that neither Romney nor Christie have particularly distinct voices.  God help the comedy world if Romney is elected.  There will have to be a lot of sketches like this one if he is, I guess. B+

Ben Stiller’s Monologue
A few good cracks (“the Jewish Willy Wonka” “so, Gene Wilder?”) stuck within an overly broad and unsatisfyingly random premise. C+

Lincoln Financial Group I
They’re on to something.  This reminded me of a video starring my brother. B

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