By Jen Cutts - Friday, November 23, 2012 - 0 Comments
Some questions are inherently annoying: are we there yet? Is that seat taken? Are…
Some questions are inherently annoying: are we there yet? Is that seat taken? Are women funny? But is it better to ignore or engage with the children/moviegoers/magazine columnists who ask them? Marie Claire’s Kohen could not resist the urge to take on that last one, infamously explored by Christopher Hitchens in a 2007 Vanity Fair essay. Or rather, Kohen lets the women (and their male colleagues) answer.
We Killed, billed as a “very oral history,” stitches together interviews with comedians like Phyllis Diller (among the first funny ladies who wasn’t expected to also sing and dance) and closes with comics like Sarah Silverman (whose pretty-faced dirty talk has inspired a glut of copycats), and documents the highs and lows of the 60-odd years in between. When Saturday Night Live debuted in 1975, it created some of the earliest spots for female performers and writers on a sketch comedy program, but was considered an incorrigible boys’ club for decades (Molly Shannon’s armpit-smelling Mary Katherine Gallagher character was the beginning of the end of that). Merrill Markoe was one of the first female head writers on a late-night show, inventing the “Stupid Pet Tricks” segment for David Letterman. After their romantic relationship ended in the friction of working together, she left the show. And so on. Continue…
By Rosemary Counter - Friday, November 16, 2012 at 3:37 PM - 0 Comments
TV’s funny gal gets serious about adolescent angst in the online series Ask Amy
Amy Poehler, the Saturday Night Live alumni often seen dressed to the nines on red carpets, reclines on her bed. Dressed down in capris and cotton, she introduces herself: “Hi there! You’re watching Ask Amy, and I’m answering the questions you sent in.” She flashes her iPhone to the camera.
Today’s question is almost quaint: “My dad won’t let me wear makeup because he says 14 is too young. How am I supposed to feel as pretty as my friends?”
“Well, this is a tough one,” says Poehler. “I understand you want to wear makeup like your friends—and, by the way, I can tell by your email that you’re so pretty that you don’t even need it.
“But if you want to wear it,” she continues, “maybe you could talk to your dad and say, ‘Okay, maybe I’ll just wear, I don’t know, a little eyeliner?’ ” Between tangible tips, some heart: “You’re turning into a young woman and it’s hard for him. So he might need you to go one step at a time.” Continue…
By macleans.ca - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Glenn Beck’s new shill, a star turn for a senator’s spouse, and an MP stands up for shark fin soup
Time to move on
Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair has “no regrets” about venting to Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen about two dubious calls she made during the Olympic team’s controversial loss to the U.S.A. this August. “I don’t regret what I said,” Sinclair said in her first comments since being slapped with a four-game suspension and fined $3,500 by FIFA for “unsporting behaviour.” We may never know what Sinclair told the ref, but she backed down on suggestions that Pedersen wanted a U.S. victory: “No, I don’t ultimately believe she went into the match hoping the U.S. would win.” It was a face-saver for both sides. FIFA defended itself against match-fixing allegations, and Sinclair stood up for her team against two lousy penalties. Soccer Canada will pay her fine, and the suspensions will be in meaningless friendly games.
There may be truth to the theory that the flap of a butterfly’s wings can eventually generate a hurricane. British artist Damien Hirst is weathering a storm after news that 9,000 butterflies died during a summer-long retrospective of his work at the Tate Modern gallery in London. The free-flying insects, an installation he called In and Out of Love, were part of a retrospective including his famous dead pickled shark and other iconic works. Some butterflies were killed when visitors stepped on them or brushed them off their clothing, but most lived out their life cycle in the gallery, a Tate spokesman said. Hirst said a butterfly expert was hired “at considerable cost” to ensure conditions were perfect. Many enjoyed longer lives than in the wild, he said, “due to the high quality of the environment and food provided.” The flap didn’t stop almost 500,000 visitors from touring the exhibit—among the Tate’s most popular ever.
A giant leap for mankind
On Oct. 14, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner stood perched on a tiny shelf the size of a skateboard, ﬁxed to a capsule he’d ridden to the edge of space. Then he jumped. Baumgartner plunged over 39 km—more than three times the cruising height of a jetliner—reaching a maximum speed of 1,342 km/h and landing safely with a parachute in the New Mexico desert. Sponsored by Red Bull, Baumgartner’s mission was more than a publicity stunt; it was a testament to how the human body can cope with the extreme conditions of space, and made him the first human ever to break the sound barrier in a skydive (one of several records broken that day). But Baumgartner wasn’t thinking about that as he jumped. Before stepping off his perch, he radioed to mission control: “I’m coming home.”
With his outsized salary, me-first attitude and admitted steroid use, New York Yankees third-baseman and three-time league MVP Alex Rodriguez has never been an easy guy to like. But his popularity is now plunging to unheard-of lows after his bat fell silent in the post-season, which resulted in him being demoted in the line-up and benched. A-Rod’s meltdown came as the sporting world watched another implosion of a former star: seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, whose career is now officially in tatters after details about the official investigation into his team’s massive doping scheme became public.
Tea Party denim
Conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck has apparently identiﬁed an underserved fashion market in America: libertarian hipster dads. This week he became the latest celebrity to roll out his own line of selvage jeans under the label 1791 Supply & Co. (named for the year the Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution). After berating Levi’s for outsourcing manufacturing overseas, Beck is promising $129 pants in “straight” and “classic” cuts (no youthful skinny jeans here) that are “100 per cent made in the U.S.A.” The pitch comes complete with a bizarre, Americana-laden commercial showing a bearded man wielding a hobby rocket, lighting its fuse, and then running away full tilt. Perhaps because he suspects it’s a dud?
A Google homage
Google’s homepage art on Oct. 15 may have single-handedly revived the reputation of Winsor McCay, creator of the 1905 fantasy comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. Gerald Lynch of Tech Digest was so impressed by the animated recreation of McCay’s style, where Little Nemo falls into “Google Land” and has surreal adventures, that he pronounced it “the best Google Doodle ever” despite never having heard of the strip before. McCay-mania spread so far on the Internet that the National Post published an article on the controversy over whether or not he was born while his mother was visiting Canada. You know someone’s famous again when Canadians want to take credit for him.
A bowlful of controversy
At Jade Restaurant in Richmond, B.C., Conservative MP Alice Wong recently enjoyed a controversial meal: a bowl of shark fin soup. The dish is banned in Toronto and North Vancouver, while other communities—including Richmond—are considering following suit. Several shark species are endangered, and the techniques used to fish them are notorious; but Wong, who reportedly only invited Chinese media to witness her meal, insists municipalities should butt out and let Ottawa decide whether to enact a ban. Restaurant owner David Chung went further, calling a ban “culturally insensitive.”
Back on the market
The standards by which we, as a society, judge the possibility of monogamy—that is, the marriages of Hollywood stars—continue to crumble. First, after 30 years together, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman decided they were no longer interested in mutually diminutive matrimony. According to Radaronline, DeVito’s flirtatious ways were to blame and now the short, bald 67-year-old is “embracing the single life” (step one: shopping around for a new sports car). Meanwhile, Hollywood hunk and celebrated phone-thrower Russell Crowe is back on the market after nine years of marriage to Danielle Spencer. Her partner on the Australian version of Dancing With The Stars is rumoured to be the problem. DeVito will no doubt be calling Crowe soon in the hopes of procuring a wing man.
A few weeks removed from pleading guilty to a mid-air disturbance, Maygan Sensenberger took to the runway in Ottawa as a model citizen, or at least a model. The 23-year-old wife of 69-year-old Sen. Rod Zimmer took her turn on the catwalk as part of Ottawa Fashion Week, modelling the work of Canadian designer Gwen Madiba. “She may be shorter than all the other models, but she’s beautiful and glowing,” Zimmer told the Ottawa Citizen. Sensenberger, who was sentenced to probation after her mid-flight squabble with Zimmer became a minor media sensation, is also apparently taking acting lessons and, according to Zimmer, is up for a role in an upcoming movie to be filmed in Ottawa.
It’s a checkpoint there, Charlie
Mauritania is a dangerous place, even if you’re the president. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was shot by one of his own soldiers at a military checkpoint. The shooting immediately set off alarm bells in the strife-torn country, whose most recent military coup brought Aziz to power. But the recovering leader announced from his hospital that his injuries weren’t due to terrorism or another coup, but rather, mistaken identity: he was driving home alone after a relaxing weekend trip, and didn’t bother to stop at the checkpoint even after warning shots were fired. Mauritanians can rest easy knowing the only danger they face is from their own trigger-happy soldiers.
Air Canada to the rescue
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were named hosts of the 70th annual Golden Globe awards this week. The announcement that the 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation stars will team up has fans anticipating all kinds of funny for the Jan. 13 show, particularly after Fey was skipped over as an Academy Awards host in favour of comedian Seth MacFarlane. The duo replace the merciless Ricky Gervais, who hosted the Golden Globes for the past three years—and made the once marginal awards show a must-watch event. The Golden Globe gig won’t be the first time Fey and Poehler have teamed up, and fans are hoping their hosting duties might resemble something like their Saturday Night Live classic, with Fey as Sarah Palin and Poehler as Katie Couric.
We are all Malala
The entire world, it seems, is praying for Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old gunned down by the Taliban for speaking out against them, and promoting education for girls. She was flown to Britain this week, where doctors say she is making good progress.
By Rebecca Eckler - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 11:23 AM - 0 Comments
How a Harvard grad parented a rebellious dropout who wanted to act
Actor Will Arnett, who grew up in Toronto, wasn’t that funny as a kid. Not according to his father, James “Jim” Arnett. “Looking back, he was quite serious. But by the time he was a teenager he was funny and amused his family. He was always a quick wit.”
Whether or not it’s hereditary, Jim’s hedging his bets. “I wouldn’t say I’m funny. I have no idea what others would say. Wait . . . my wife says that I have a wicked sense of humour.”
What she meant, Will says in an email, is that his dad’s humour “is derived mainly from witchcraft.”
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 8:40 AM - 24 Comments
Can’t the new female star of ‘Saturday Night Live’ come up with a likeable character or two?
Have you seen the Saturday Night Live sketch where Kristen Wiig plays a horrible person who gets on our nerves? Oh, wait, that’s all of them. Since Tina Fey and Amy Poehler left to do sitcoms, and SNL fired two of its other female comedians, Wiig has become the unchallenged leading lady of the show, carrying many sketches in every episode. She’s also building a movie career, which includes several Judd Apatow films and a supporting part in the new SNL spinoff film MacGruber (opening May 21). But she hasn’t created many characters who are likeably funny, like Will Forte’s MacGruber or Bill Hader’s Italian talk-show host. Instead, Wiig specializes in playing people who are absurdly unpleasant to be around, like a Target clerk who irritates customers by pumping her hands in the air and screaming things like “you’re buying a big bag of feces!” Not everyone would go as far as David Medsker at premiumhollywood.com, who wrote earlier this season that Wiig has “become wildly unfunny, and must be stopped.” But given enough horrible characters, they might.
Like most comedians, Wiig wants to have a lot of range; she told Vanity Fair she doesn’t have a style of comedy because “I’m always trying to change it. I don’t always just want to do the same thing.” But not only does she manage to use some of the same physical mannerisms in most sketches—tilting her head a lot—she seems to make most characters equally hateful. Among Wiig’s recurring sketches, the deﬁnitive one may be her impersonation of Kathie Lee Gifford, co-host of the fourth hour of the Today Show, whom she portrays as a talentless drunk with a penchant for bad jokes and shameless mugging. Judging from Gifford’s reaction—“Everyone seems to enjoy it,” she said on Today, “but I don’t think it’s that funny”—the sketch hit its mark. But it’s completely malicious comedy; even Tina Fey made Sarah Palin a more sympathetic character, with her cheerful, almost innocent stupidity. Wiig seems to want her audience to feel pain at even watching her characters in action.
That’s because Wiig usually plays what Charlie Toft at film.com called “variations on the same character: a neurotic who is either overly talkative and/or inappropriately exuberant,” and who is sheer hell to be around. Take Penelope, a fast-talking woman who is always trying to one-up other people—she arrives at a wedding and says that on her honeymoon, “we went to the moon! Actually, it’s made of honey!” Wiig plays her as a borderline insane person who, in the words of another character, is “ruining” life for everyone else. Another Wiig character who ruins everything is Gilly, a frizzy-haired little girl who commits arson and murder and smirks about it. Then there’s the Lawrence Welk Show parody sketch she co-wrote, where a female singing group is wrecked by one member: a woman with deformed hands who won’t stop singing lyrics about how she ate a dead cat or put a squirrel in her bed. That member, of course, is played by Wiig. Her characters are always out to make things rotten for the rest of us.
Still, however nasty Wiig’s sketches can be, at least they’re relatable: these evil characters mostly seem like people we’ve known in real life. The Target Lady, a character Wiig created before she joined SNL, is the loud-mouthed retailer who keeps you waiting in line. Even Penelope, Wiig told Women’s Health Magazine, is based on real people she knew who tried to one-up her: “I’d say I was going to get a massage and they’d say, ‘Oh, I’m getting a massage this week.’ ” Viewers might like Wiig because she uses comedy to take down the people we already know and hate; she’s like a sketch comedy counterpart to TV characters like Michael Scott on The Office.
But obnoxious characters, even true-to-life ones, are easier to take in small doses. After Wiig was chosen to host SNL’s Christmas special in character as the unspeakably awful Gilly, there were murmurs of online revolt against her overexposure, and earlier this season, in a list of ways to fix the show, Entertainment Weekly argued that Wiig needs to appear less often: “How can we appreciate the woman if she never leaves the screen?” Even the writer of a Wiig fan blog (kristen-wiig.blogspot.com) admitted she was doing too many solo sketches and that the producers “need to mix it up more.” If they don’t—or if Wiig doesn’t come up with a likeable character or two—there may be more people echoing the sage words of Kathie Lee Gifford: “Can’t she get another job? Go off and do something else?”
Mid-life moms, misconceived babies and stoner misfits: ‘Baby Mama,’ ‘Then She Found Me,’ ‘Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.’
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, April 25, 2008 at 11:07 AM - 184 Comments
This weekend offers three comedy options, each occupying a different spot on the sliding scale between credible and preposterous. At the silly end of spectrum, there’s Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, starring multi-culturalism’s answer to Cheech and Chong. It’s a stoner movie/homeland security satire designed for adolescent boys of all ages. The other two pictures are both romantic comedies from the viewpoint of smart, single, thirtysomething women who are rapidly losing their patience. Then She Found Me is the more mature of the two, and it’s really more of a dramedy, reflecting the angst and edge of its star and progenitor, Helen Hunt, who’s making her directorial debut. Baby Mama, hatched from the ever-percolating talent pool of Saturday Night Live, is a high-concept piece—a test-tube comedy that has its share of laugh-out-loud moments but never escapes the limitations of its sketch-comedy roots. In fact, none of these movies, live up to the talents of the actors involved.
Then She Found Me
When you know that a sexy, intelligent, Oscar-winning actress has worked her hyphenated butt off to direct, co-write, co-produce and star in a labour of love like Then She Found Me, it’s a downright shame to be sitting there watching the final product, worrying that Helen Hunt looks alarmingly gaunt. Considering that she directed the movie, you would expect she would frame herself in a more flattering light. (Hey, if it were Warren Beatty directing himself, you’d never see a bad angle.) But there’s a bravery in Hunt’s evident lack of narcissism. Also her character is meant to be at the end of her rope, more stressed-out from one moment to the next, so it works for the role—up to a point. Still, I kept thinking I was watching an actress suffering from the sleep-deprived strain of directing a movie. When her character’s suitor, played by Colin Firth, kept going on about how beautiful she is, I wanted to shout, “No! Helen, you look exhausted! When did you last take the time to eat a decent meal?”
Hunt plays April, a 39-year-old primary school teacher fretting about her ticking biological clock. She is adopted, and feels unloved, which is enough to convince her that adoption is not an option. In the opening scene, April gets dumped by her new husband, Ben (Matthew Broderick), a boyish, immature wimp with a classic fear of commitment. He’s the kind of passive-aggressive weasel who bursts into tears as he tells his wife their marriage was a mistake, then gets her to comfort him. It makes you wonder what a smart cookie like Hunt would be doing with him in the first place. Must have been the sex.
Events converge on April at a hectic rate. Mere hours after Peter Pan has slinked out of their marriage, she is being rigorously courted by Frank (Colin Firth), a single father whose daughter is one of her pupils. Frank is a Harlequin romance prototype of the perfect male: a dashing, self-deprecating Englishman with a deft wit, and a grown-up passion for amorous commitment. Mr. Darcy as a playgroup dad.
We’re still in the first act when April’s mother dies and another stranger hurtles into her life. Bernice, played with larger-than-life panache by Bette Midler, is a local TV talk show host with an exaggerated sense of her own celebrity. She’s like a poor woman’s white-bread Oprah. And she claims to be April’s birth mother. Then, completing the set-up of this elaborate scenario, April discovers she’s pregnant, which she happens through a quickie bout of break-up sex with her ex. (In case you’re worried, I’m not giving away more plot than you would find in the trailer.)
Speaking of the plot, it’s all too neatly contrived. And speaking of contrived, what in Allah’s name is Salman Rushdie doing distracting us with a cameo as April’s gynecologist? Isn’t the dude supposed to be in hiding? Also, as a self-respecting guy, I don’t see why movies geared to women have to employ the kind of the facile male stereotypes played by Broderick and Firth—just as women tend to resent the mother-whore extremes in movies geared to men.
On the plus side, the script navigates a minefield of sexual and parental politics with aplomb. The wit is disarming and the charm oblique, which is more than you can say about most four-square romantic comedies. You get the sense that Hunt is portraying a character we haven’t quite seen before, a hard-headed heroine who has come a long way from the Meg Ryan cutie-pies, the Diane Keaton klutzes, and even the Helen Hunt helpmate who scored an Oscar for lending credence to Mel Gibson’s antics in What Women Want. An actress who’s willing to risk appearing desperate, needy and unattractive in a movie of her own making at least seems to be coming from somewhere real. But the poor woman deserves a better movie.
Juno seems to have launched a baby boom of movies about misplaced motherhood. Baby Mama is another story of a high-strung professional woman who replies on a working-class girl to have her baby. But while Juno was a simple, faux naïf tale of a pregnant teen who surrenders her kid for adoption, Baby Mama is a cynical tale of an infertile businesswoman (Tina Fey), who hires a coarse white-trash grifter (SNL’s Amy Poehler) to serve as a surrogate mother. Fey’s character has a doctor who says “I don’t like your uterus,” which is described as a T-shaped anomaly deformed by fertility drugs her mother took in the ’60s and ’70s. (Ah, more ecological fallout from blind boomer greed). With just a one-in-a-million chance of conceiving, the girl goes shopping—picking out a prime batch of donor sperm, which she proudly carries home like a Fendi handbag.
When Baby Mama is funny, it’s funny. At times, the comedy crackles along like a well-honed gymnastic routine, mixing sharp one-liners and satirical broadsides. This feature debut was godfathered by SNL producer Lorne Michaels, and written and directed by Michael McCullers, whose screenplay credits include Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. But his over-torqued script is too clever by half and not credible for a second. Which might be fine if it sustained its screwball pitch throughout. But by the time Baby Mama puts on the brakes and makes a bid for some credible emotion, it’s too late.
Fey and Poehler seem stuck in their scripted stereotypes, especially Poehler who’s cast as an ignorant white-trash bitch. Later, when Fey’s character gets angry and calls her exactly that, we’re supposed to feel she has stepped unfairly over the line—but really she is just spelled out the unfortunate stereotype embedded in the script.
Some of the comedy’s best moments come from cameos by more established movie stars. In a startling return to form, Sigourney Weaver, cast as the smarmy executive of the surrogate mother agency, upstages the leads with her comic timing. And Steve Martin casually pulls off a priceless turn as Fey’s boss, a health food mogul expanding his chain of “Round Earth Foods.” As a CEO/guru with a gray ponytail, he says things like, “I was swimming with dolphins this morning in Costa Rica,” and “I’ve toasted pine nuts at the mouth of an active volcano.” Cradling a tiny spiral seashell, he says, “I found this while running barefoot through the Toronto airport,” then instructs his baffled minions to design his new Round Earth store in its spitting image. The script improves so much when Martin opens his mouth that you have to wonder if he upgraded his role with some uncredited writing. Both Martin and Weaver make you realize there’s a difference between movie stars and TV stars. Fey and Poehler don’t quite cut it. Their personalities seem pinched on the big screen. And they’re performances, which aren’t generous enough to go beyond parody, seem no more than the sum of their gags.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Seven years after Sept. 11 made a certain kind of political humour off limits, it’s now open season on Homeland Security. I’ve yet to see War, Inc., John Cusack’s spoof about American warmongering, which is also out this week. But one the most remarkable things about Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is that it busts previous taboos with such blithe abandon. It also offers an odd fusion that we haven’t seen before, grafting the poop-dick-’n'-bong genre of gross-out slacker comedy with a light satire of racial profiling and the war on terrorism. That said, this is a pretty dumb movie.
Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Pen) are Americans of East Indian and Korean descent who land on the wrong side of U.S. intelligence while on a flight to Amsterdam. Kumar, who just can’t wait to get to the city’s marijuana cafes, breaks out an allegedly smokeless bong in the plane’s washroom, which soon fills with pot smoke. Soon enough, our heroes are in the clutches of a maniacal intelligence chief (Rob Corddry of The Daily Show), who ships them off to Guantanamo Bay, where the horrors of prison life include the dreaded “cock sandwich.” Enough plot. Let’s just say, the boys get the escape part over with quickly and spend most of the movie back in the good old U.S.A. being chased by the loony feds. In the final act, a George Bush impersonator shows up to drive home the comedy with some good gags.
It’s hard to dislike this film, even though it’s so patently lame. Cho and Pen have great chemistry. And they’re so amiable and endearing on screen—so effortless in their roles—that you can’t help wondering what they might be capable of in a better movie.