And now we move on to the movies; SNL has had many movie parodies over the years, some good, some bad, some “huh?” and we’re going to take a look at a few of them this week in lieu of the Oscars on Sunday. Let’s get to the rules…
*Parodies have to be based on ACTUAL movies, or different enough that you can still think “Oh yeah, I get what they’re referencing!”, but are still based on actual movies.
*The parody has to be sketch length. If a random reference pops up in a sketch, that’s great, but it doesn’t exactly make it a “Full” movie parody—This means things like Phil Hartman telling us “Soylent (INSERT ITEM HERE) is People”, or that French dancing sketch that turns into an homage to “The Artist” will not count. I WILL make an exception to Movie parodies that either have introductory or narrative framing devices wrapped around them—These are sketches like the various “Turner Classic Movies” pieces that came on during the latter years of Sudeikis & Hader; all they were doing was introducing the pieces anyway.
*I’ll count Some trailers, but (once again) ONLY if they’re based on ACTUAL movies, this is to weed out the recent rash of “Parody Trailers” the show has put on in recent years—as much as some of us want “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black” to be an actual movie, it’s just not gonna happen here.
*”Screen Test” sketches will not count—those are less “Movie Parodies”, and more “Impression showcases” that are barely plot driven…a shame, because those sketches are funny as hell sometimes.
*The Non-recurring rule is in effect with ONE minor exception further down on the list; but I have to at least mention that if it weren’t for Chevy’s “Land Shark”/”Jaws II & III”, movie parodies on the show would not be possible. Same goes for when the Church Lady met “Misery”, Toonces became “The Tooncenator” and so forth.
- TCM: THE WIZARD OF OZ (11/20/2010) – I think I may have mentioned a time or two that Fred Armisen gets on my nerves sometimes; but every once in a while, he turned in a performance that was nuanced, subtle and not 100% overbearing. This is one of those performances as he plays a weather vane who was cut out of the movie for reasons that you will see once you watch the sketch. His performance here seems to take elements of Woody Allen, Rick Moranis (hell, any famous nerd) and even a little Louis Nye, blends them in a Cuisinart, and gives us a performance that is both droll and dry at the same time. I especially liked it when the rest of the Oz gang are trying to get on with their scene while Fred goes on a long droning spree, only for Fred to interject with a subtle but stern “I’m Talking!” I don’t know why, but that always made me laugh.
- THE GROUP HOPPER (10/10/2014) – I thought it was a Spot-on Parody of every single YA Movie EVER (even the ones that have yet to be released). This was one of those parodies that had so many different elements surrounding it that you had to watch it several times in order to appreciate it. Every convoluted plot line/plothole, every contrived romance, Hader as an over-the-top villain, that Random Asian guy; Trust me, they NAILED the YA genre down to the ground. To those who hated this one, I’d say you’d have to watch this one again and again (or at the very least, start watching some “Hunger Games” trailers) in order to truly appreciate it.
- THE OintMENt (10/30/1976) – I mentioned this before on the Halloween list; but I do want to add one thing. It’s worth mentioning again not just because it was a twisted take on a horror classic, but it was also Chevy’s last show as a cast member, thus marking the last time the whole original cast was together. I especially want to mention Chevy because despite a few negative barbs thrown at him over the months, he did have one really funny moment here. It happens when Aykroyd’s priest character is impaled by a floor lamp; after he passes out, Chevy & Buck Henry are trying to look at pictures about the possessed Damien (Belushi). The lights are dim, so Chevy says “It’s a bit dark in here, let’s turn on the priest.” I don’t know if it was the way he delivered the line or the fact that they were caught up in the moment, but that line led to a very sustained laugh—which is hard to do these days without breaking down on camera.
- GOD IS A BOOB MAN (4/16/2016) – In the words of comedian Demitri Martin, I’m “Not Gay, but Supportive”, and if Anybody out there is offended Either by the sketch or what I’m about to say regarding the sketch, feel free to skip ahead. With that out of the way, I Totally get what they were going for here. Mainstream Religious Movies (such as “God’s Not Dead”) seem to be all the rage these days, So I can’t exactly fault them for a bad/inaccurate parody when it clearly wasn’t—quality wise, I get it. Content wise though, I can see a lot of thin-skinned people out there getting the wrong idea when they watch it…The question is, Which thin skins will be affected, The Pro-Religious side for their beliefs clearly being mocked or the Pro-Gay side who probably don’t realize that this is actually a Pro-Gay sketch? It’s difficult to say because political correctness these days is as fickle as the wind. Then again, if you were forced to see any of the “God’s Not Dead” movies because every other movie at the multiplex was sold out, not only was this a Solid take down of them, but also a gigantic middle finger towards the genre. Granted, there were a few dated jokes (Seriously, should Kim Davis even be relevant anymore?), but For all the times that we all think SNL has become “Too Safe”, it’s nice to know that they’re willing to step over the line once in a great while.
- CITIZEN KANE II (1/16/1976) – The “Land Shark”/”Jaws” parodies laid the framework for movie parodies to take place, Exorcist II was a step in the right direction, but Citizen Kane II might’ve been the first time they actually got it 100% right—of course, adding a Black & White filter helps add to its atmosphere, but that’s just a small part of why this worked. The rest of it hinges on a slow build-up to a big payoff which I won’t spoil here, but in the meantime, the cast turns in great performances all around as they do a spot-on homage to (at the very least) the first half of the source material where Charles Foster Kane (Aykroyd) rises to power running his newspapers. He does so by making his own news—shooting people on the street, then asking his editors to print out an extra about it. Rosebud once again plays a role here, but again I’m not spoiling anything. I also have to throw in some bonus points for subtlety at the end; in the sketch, Belushi plays a reporter named “Bernstein”—when the sketch’s credits roll, we find out that particular Bernstein’s name was “Carl”. Watching this as a kid, I didn’t quite notice the coincidence—but then years later, I realized “Oh yeah, The Watergate guy!” Little Easter eggs like that are always a plus.
- IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE LOST ENDING (12/20/1986) – Another one I previously mentioned (see: 7/30/2016), but I wanted to mention it again not just for the fact that this was something we all Wish actually happened in the movie, but also because this was one of SNL’s “Everything’s gonna be OK” moments after coming off the heels of a previously painful season. That, and how could you not laugh at William Shatner’s over-the-top-introduction–makes me miss “Futurama”.
- LA DOLCE GILDA (4/15/1978) – Well…yeah. Who else but a filmmaker can pay loving tribute to another filmmaker (Just ask Spielberg when he took over production of A.I. when Stanley Kubrick died)? If you’re wondering why I didn’t cover this film during last summer’s “Tom Time”, part of the reason is because I wanted this piece to stand alone not just as one of Schiller’s best, but also to show that there are parodies, there are loving homages, and then there are full-blown tributes. Schiller not only captured the style of Federico Fellini’s cinematography to a T, but even Fellini himself enjoyed watching this when Schiller paid him a visit one time in Italy. In any walk of life, one of the most rewarded things that could happen to you is when you are validated either by your peers or your heroes…Schiller must’ve felt like he was elevated to sainthood when he heard Fellini enjoyed the film. Then again, unless you’ve never seen an Italian/Arthouse movie in your lifetime, how could you Not enjoy it? For those who don’t know, this is pretty much a spoof of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” in its most concentrated form. Gilda Radner is in the title role, as well as probably one of her most powerful (and at times heartbreaking) performances as a version of herself who gets caught up in the high-powered spotlight of fame, only to get caught up among various freaks and hangers-on while she’s looking for a little escape from it all. From there, we get to a sweetly devastating monologue where Gilda pretty much says that it’s nice to be a fan of hers; but at the end of the day, stars are people too, and sometimes they want their privacy—a sentiment that might actually be biographical; because in her book “It’s Always Something”, she mentions how she had a hard time dealing with sudden fame once the show got big. Perhaps this film was a way to vent without paying therapist fees. Either way, it’s always a sight to see when some of the cast gets to show off their vulnerable side—something that Tom Schiller was an expert at harnessing; just ask Belushi, Murray & Farley.
- THE PEPSI SYNDROME (4/16/1979) – I’ll be honest; even though this was inherently funnier than “La Dolce Gilda”, I still had to flip a coin—I didn’t want to cop out and end with a tie this time. Which is just as well because By the 4th season, not only was the show & the cast at the top of their game, but they also had to catch up to their own hype by constantly raising (or in some cases, lowering) the bar when it came to their sketches. This meant that sometimes a sketch has to be fleshed out a little extra in order for the maximum impact to be made—and with this sketch clocking in at nearly 11 minutes long, that impact was all but a certainty. When this sketch aired; a movie called “The China Syndrome” was in theaters—check it out sometime, it’s great. At the same time, a little nuclear accident took place at a plant called “Three Mile Island”. With both of these events taking place, it was only a matter of time until SNL struck while the iron & the nuclear material was hot. What follows is a collection of 70s pop culture (“I Could’ve had a V8!”), politics (Aykroyd’s Jimmy Carter growing 50 ft. tall), a surprise cameo (Rodney!), a BRIEF appearance by a recurring character (Baba Wawa only appears for about 20 seconds, so it’s not overbearing), and one hell of a twist ending that I won’t spoil for you if you haven’t seen it yet. All of these elements come together in such a way that if the sketch was standard length, it would look like a slapped together rush job that no one would remember. But because of the extra time; there was more to get invested in, more to absorb, more depth & atmosphere that ultimately paid off in the end. And with all the talk of SNL reducing its commercial breaks for the sake of product integration, they should seriously consider using that extra time to do epic mini-movie sketches once again just to see if they can still “Strut their stuff” satirically. With all of these elements and more put together, this makes “The Pepsi Syndrome” the Perfect SNL movie parody.
THE COMPETITION (1981) – Before you go thinking I’ve gone nuts including a Doumanian sketch on the list, I want you to watch the trailer to the Actual movie of the same name, and then watch the parody. With the exception of the punchline on the parody, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the two…except maybe Piscopo’s Richard Dreyfus could’ve used a little fine tuning. Otherwise, this barely makes the list because of style over actual humor content. That, and it was a little too short…even for a commercial parody.
BACK TO THE FUTURE (1986) – Not unlike “Pepsi Syndrome”, this too benefited somewhat from a long running time (12 minutes, I believe). Unfortunately, this one falls off the list not just because it takes forever for the story to get going, but also because of the constant text flashes to the audience pretty much telegraphing “ATTENTION: Plot Point!”—give the audience a little credit, I’m certain they saw the source material by that point. At least Lovitz’s Doc Brown was slightly insane enough to enjoy.
RIDICULOUS BULL (1990) – Say what you will about Andrew Dice Clay and the episode he infiltrated; at the end of the day, at least he was still willing to be a good sport about things. As proof, we have this “Raging Bull” homage where Clay plays Jake LaMotta while Lovitz is in the Joe Pesci role, and Clay keeps imploring Lovitz to beat the Crap out of him—I’m guessing this was written as a form of self-punishment for causing all that controversy in the first place.
THE WASHING MACHINE (1994) – Not gonna lie, the first I even Heard of this sketch was when I saw a clip of it on Phil Hartman’s dress rehearsal blooper reel. Sure, I’ve heard of “The Piano” (of which this sketch is based on), but I didn’t think it was spoofable at first glance. Lo & behold, they did it…and with probably one of the most unlikely things to replace a piano with.
TCM: THIS YOU CALL A WONDERFUL LIFE? (2010) – The 1986 parody may be miles better than this. But I still wanted to include it anyway because sometimes it’s important to “make it your own” even though comparisons will be inevitable…even if it means invoking stereotypes about Hassidim.
GIULIANI/BIRDMAN (2015) – At the very beginning of the sketch, I was just about ready to write this off as yet another lame “news show” opening; but then we dive right in to the “Birdman” spoof, and at first glance, it was a somewhat faithful adaptation. This doesn’t make up for the fact that “Boyhood” should’ve won for Best Picture that year, but at least it’s something.
COMING IN MARCH:
First, I’m taking a week off to recharge, but after that…
*A List of Game Show sketches
*Another “Retro Review” from the time where I didn’t know how to write right.
And 2 weeks from Today; a look at the lesser known works of John Belushi.
And for the record, I think “Hidden Figures” will steal best Picture from “La La Land”, even though Hollywood seems to like movies about itself. I also think Denzel Washington will steal Casey Affleck’s thunder, and Emma Stone will get what she deserves…if Isabelle Hupert doesn’t get to it first (C’mon, Natalie, you already have one; let the others play).
There’s Hockey tonight on NBC, so no “Vintage”–See ‘ya in 2 weeks.