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Memorable Moments in Lip Syncing

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Lip syncing gets a bad rap, but it’s not always deserved. Over the years, many directors, actors and comedians have used it as a device that amplifies the emotion of a particular character or scene. There’s no logical reason for it to work – but it does. Consider these examples of good (and bad) lip syncing, and see if you don’t agree.

ASHLEY SIMPSON ON “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”

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We’ll start with an infamous example from 2004. Simpson was the musical guest on SNL one night, and at the beginning of her second performance a vocal track of the previous song began to play loudly. Clearly flustered, Simpson did an odd little dance for a few seconds, then she fled the stage. She later said she used a vocal “guide” track to help her sing because she had severe acid reflux. That’s why I take Pepcid.

DEAN STOCKWELL IN “BLUE VELVET”

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Everything you need to know about “Blue Velvet” is right here in this scene, in which Dean Stockwell, cigarette holder and all, mouths the words to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.” It’s weird, mesmerizing, frightening and inviting.

JEAN HAGEN IN “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”

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Who can forget the climax of “Singin’ in the Rain,” where evil Lina Lamont (Hagen) forces Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) to sing for her from behind a curtain at the premiere of her new movie? It’s one of the great moments in movie history – especially when Lina gets caught.

THE CAST OF “THE COSBY SHOW”

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Everyone knows this scene and for good reason. It has an enduring sweetness that speaks volumes about those moments when family life is transcendent. The entire Huxtable clan gets together on a lip sync version of “Night Time is the Right Time,” by Ray Charles. Each person gets his or her moment in the spotlight and each one is happy to be part of the whole. And then, of course, you get Bill Cosby’s perfectly timed facial contortions. Well done!

MATTHEW BRODERICK IN “FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF”

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There is no better expression of self-aware, youthful cool, than this scene in which Ferris takes over a parade in downtown Chicago. Of course, a huge amount of credit also goes to the juxtaposition of the two songs, “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout.”

BEYONCE AT THE INAUGURATION

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Let me just say I’m a big admirer of Beyonce as a performing artist. However, I’m also something of a purist when it comes to the presidential inauguration. I’d rather have heard a sour note or two of the national anthem in a live performance than a lip sync rendition. But that’s me.

ANDY KAUFMAN ON “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”

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Kaufman was sort of the King of Comedic Absurdity in the 1970s and 1980s. A key, early example was his lip syncing take on the theme to “Mighty Mouse.” It was too strange for words, but it was funny, as well. Definitely one of the best moments of the early years of SNL.

JON CRYER IN “PRETTY IN PINK”

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You have to give the young Jon Cryer a lot of credit for absolutely putting it all out there in “Pretty in Pink.” His character, Duckie, is just trying to be noticed – leading him to a heartfelt, over-the-top rendition of “Try A Little Tenderness.” Lip synced, of course.

ALLISON JANNEY IN “THE WEST WING”

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If you’re not familiar with Janney’s lip sync version of “The Jackal,” then I suggest you click over to Netflix and toggle down to Season One of “The West Wing.” It comes out of left field, but anyone who spends a lot of time with co-workers understands that it’s just the sort of nutty thing that people do when they unwind.

Any more lip syncing highlights? Add them to The List!

And one more thing…

SNL’s Masters of Mimicry

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I’ve always felt that SNL is at its best when it has one or two top-notch mimics. That’s especially true during presidential election years, when millions of people tune in to get a weekly dose of political satire. Even beyond political sketches,  the show’s best casts tend to include at least one great impressionist. These are my favorites, through the years.

DAN AYKROYD

Aykroyd was the gold standard for SNL mimics during the show’s early years. He had a way of channeling the inner intensity of subjects, from Richard Nixon to Jimmy Carter. What made it even more impressive was that he did those impersonations while keeping his mustache! For my money, the best Aykroyd impression was TV host Tom Snyder.

EDDIE MURPHY

Murphy was a much different sort of mimic. He didn’t try to sound like a recording of his subjects. He picked out a couple of mannerisms and a hairstyle, then added his own bit of attitude. It made his Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Buckwheat incredibly memorable.

JOE PISCOPO

Here was a guy who lost himself inside his characters. I think fans forget how great Piscopo was, as Frank Sinatra and David Letterman. He combined voice skills with makeup and acting – all to wonderful effect. He should have stayed on the show a few more years before going solo.

PHIL HARTMAN

To me, Hartman was a genius. All of his characters, including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Ed McMahon, were infused with a comic insanity. Yet he kept them firmly in place, because his acting chops were so solid. And his crazy version of Ross Perot running mate James Stockdale in 1992 still makes me laugh.

DANA CARVEY

A good case can be made that Carvey was the best mimic SNL has ever had. George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Stewart, Ross Perot, Regis Philbin, Johnny Carson. Carvey absolutely nailed those impressions, and you could tell he loved every minute of them. He was like a heat-seeking missile of mimicry. If the audience reacted to a particular gesture or word, Carvey would refine it and build on it. Perfection.

WILL FERRELL

Ferrell reminded me of Eddie Murphy, in the sense that his impressions were great without necessarily sounding like the person. His George W. Bush, Harry Caray and James Lifton capitalized on very insightful study by Ferrell. He got at the inconsistencies and oddities of each subject, then took it to the extreme.

DARRELL HAMMOND

For quite a while, Hammond was the show’s go-to impressionist. He could do Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Donald Trump – and of course Bill Clinton. The line, “I. Am. Bulletproof,” is as good a description of Clinton’s last two years in office as any I’ve heard. Same with Al Gore and “Lockbox.”

AMY POEHLER

Amy Poehler was so talented that her mimicry skills were sort of secondary. But remember how funny she was as Nancy Grace? Or Hillary Clinton? To me, one of her best moments was when she did a pitch-perfect Christopher Walken, in front of Christopher Walken.

BILL HADER

I consider Hader a stealth-mimic. For some reason, he goes in for obscure characters who take you by surprise. He does a fantastic Alan Alda, Al Pacino and James Carville. Hader is a craftsman with those impressions, copying the voices with care and giving them demonic grins. His Keith Morrison from “Dateline NBC” is a masterpiece.

KRISTEN WIIG

Wiig was smart to downplay her mimicry on SNL, since her stock characters were so strong. Still, she was amazing when she did Kathie Lee Gifford, Suze Ormond, Megan Mullally and Tanning Mom.

JAY PHAROAH

Jay Pharoah has a ton of talent, but I’m waiting for him to fulfill that potential. He does a devastating Denzel Washington and Will Smith, and his Barack Obama is coming along. If he can bolster his acting ability, he’ll be an SNL mainstay.

I guess a few more great mimics on the show is too much to ask. Wouldn’t be prudent.

Great Swimming Pool Scenes

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Let’s celebrate the first official weekend of summer The Jimbo List way – with a slate of great swimming pool scenes from movies and television. Go ahead. Dive in!

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

The technological wonders of 1946 are on full display in this delightful scene, in which Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are dancing in a high school gymnasium. Someone flips a switch and – wouldn’t you know it – the gym floor opens up to reveal a swimming pool!

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION (1983)

Christie Brinkley will be forever known for her sexy pool scene with Chevy Chase in this 1980s comedy classic. Oh, the things that happen on the way to Walley World.

MEET THE PARENTS (2000)

Of course, there’s plenty of adventure to be found in the pool right at your own home. One of the many humiliations that Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) endured at the hands of his in-laws, including Robert DeNiro, was a brutal game of pool volleyball. Hilarious.

SNL’S “SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING” (1984)

This filmed bit from “Saturday Night Live” is absolute brilliance. Harry Shearer and the great Martin Short play a couple of guys hoping to make the summer Olympics as male synchronized swimmers.

THE SWIMMER (1968)

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve always found this movie compelling. Burt Lancaster stars as a Connecticut suburbanite who decides to swim home via all the backyard swimming pools in his path. Because this is an adaptation of a John Cheever story, you know there’s going to be plenty of alienation and dysfunction along the way.

CADDYSHACK (1980)

On a much less serious note, we have that masterpiece of attitude and snarky charm, “Caddyshack.” You’ll never look at a candy bar the same way again, thanks to a particular scene featuring a stray Baby Ruth.

RUSHMORE (1998)

Bill Murray gets a back-to-back visit to The List. This is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, “Rushmore.” No one rocks Budweiser trunks like our man Murray.

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

“Sunset Boulevard” takes the swimming pool scene into the realm of film noir. Poor William Holden plays a Hollywood screenwriter who winds up in the deep end of things.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)

Bueller’s buddy, played by Alan Ruck, tries to distance himself from his youthful fears and hurt by sinking to the bottom of the family pool.

WILD THINGS (1998)

Although it was not a great film, “Wild Things” did make waves due to a steamy pool scene with Neve Campbell and Denise Richards.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE’S THE BEWITCHIN’ POOL (1964)

In this episode, two unhappy children discover, at the bottom of their parents’ pool, a doorway to a special place where mom and dad don’t fight. Bad acting, but a bracing concept.

COCOON (1985)

For those who thought they’d never want to see Wilford Brimley topless, I offer “Cocoon.” A key scene has Brimley and a cadre of duffers taking a VERY rejuvenating swim.

TOWER HEIST (2011)

“Tower Heist” didn’t get great reviews, but it really wasn’t bad. It also happened to include one of the coolest pools in movie history.

BATHING BEAUTY (1944)

This film gives us one of the true wonders of cinema – Esther Williams and a phalanx of swimmers, turning a pool into a Technicolor playground. The cast of this odd musical featured the unlikely duo of Red Skelton and Basil Rathbone.

SPECIES (1995)

The sci-fi/horror movie genre takes a memorable dip in “Species.” Natasha Henstridge plays a gorgeous woman looking for love, but she isn’t exactly what she appears to be.

TOMORROWLAND EPISODE OF MAD MEN (2010)

“Mad Men” fans will remember how important it was when Don Draper saw his kids playing in the hotel pool with his secretary, Megan. The watery frolic showed him the possibility of a young, fun, fresh new start.

THE GRADUATE (1967)

Rarely has there been such a perfect blend of acting, directing and zeitgeist. This scene makes a swimming pool the focal point for a larger statement about youthful anxiety and discontent.

So that’s my List. What would you add?

The Uptight Ladies Brigade of Movies & TV

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They may not be the most sympathetic characters in the world, but pop culture would be awfully boring without its uptight ladies. They provide a little tension, a little contrast, sometimes even a little comic relief. Here are some of my personal favorites.

GLADYS KRAVITZ (ALICE PEARCE & SANDRA GOULD)

What a great, great character name: Gladys Kravitz! From the old “Bewitched” TV show, Mrs. Kravitz is the ranking member of the Uptight Ladies Brigade’s Nosy Neighbor Division. Two actresses did duty as Gladys, and both were excellent. First was Alice Pearce, whose photo graces the introduction to this List. She was the mistress of window surveillance. Then you had Sandra Gould, shown here. Gould had a more direct approach, with a voice that could launch a thousand migraines.

TESS HARPER

A wonderful actress in any type of role, Harper for a time in the 1980s excelled at playing uptight Southern ladies. “Crimes of the Heart” from 1986 was one of her best, earning her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

MARGARET DUMONT

Nobody did a better uptight society lady better than Dumont. She appeared prominently in many of the Marx Brothers’ best films, including “Duck Soup,” and she was the perfect foil for Groucho. He would hurl blistering verbal assaults at her; she would huff and puff, then continue on gamely with the rickety plotline.

BEBE NEUWIRTH

Neuwirth’s Lilith character on “Cheers” heads up our Uptight Ladies Intellectual Division. She was rigid, unrelentingly severe and hysterically funny.

BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD

With last year’s “The Help,” and to a lesser extent “50/50,” Howard solidified her standing as a gifted, uptight young lady onscreen. Her strong acting in those parts gave Viola Davis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt something to play against.

THE CHURCH LADY

Who said every great Uptight Lady had to be female? Dana Carvey’s peerless powers of comic inventiveness on “Saturday Night Live” gave us a character who was outlandish yet utterly recognizable. We all know people like this, but rarely do we get to laugh at them openly.

MARGARET HAMILTON

Here’s how magnificent Margaret Hamilton was. As iconic and scary as her Wicked Witch of the West was in “The Wizard of Oz,” her Miss Gulch at the beginning of the film was even scarier. She made an uptight lady on a bicycle seem as menacing as Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator.” Bravo.

Those are my favorites, but I’m sure you have a few of your own. Add to The List!

Great Movie & TV Monkeys

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The recent death of Cheetah, who may (or may not) have been the chimp from the old Tarzan movies, has me thinking about some of the more memorable simians from TV and films. My only rule here is that these are real, live animals – so no King Kong or Curious George.

EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE

The great Clint Eastwood was only too happy to let Clyde, a scrappy orangutan, steal the show in this 1983 comedy about a trucker who indulges in the occasional fist fight for cash. It was a big hit for Clint, in the period after his spaghetti westerns and before his big Oscar winners.

THE TODAY SHOW – J. FRED MUGGS

Believe it or not, the early days of NBC’s “The Today Show” included appearances by the esteemed J. Fred Muggs.  This chimp actually may have helped the show’s ratings, because he appeared regularly from 1953 to 1957. One can only imagine how tough it was for host Dave Garroway to play nice with Muggs, who was by all accounts a bit of a biter.

I MARRIED A MONKEY (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE)

I loved this series of sketches on SNL in the early 1980s featuring Tim Kazurinsky as a guy married to a monkey. Tim just played it straight, trying to work out fictitious marital problems and reacting to whatever the animal did at that moment. Sometimes they let  hosts such as Don Rickles and James Coburn join the sketch, which was often priceless.

BEDTIME FOR BONZO

Can you imagine how the blogosphere and cable news stations would react today if one of the presidential candidates had made a Hollywood movie with a chimp? Long before he became president, Ronald Reagan starred in this 1951 comedy about a guy who tries to win over his girlfriend’s father by stealing a chimp and proving that environment is more important than heredity in … oh, never mind. It would be easier to explain the Iran-Contra hearings.

MARCEL – FRIENDS

There was nothing complicated about the appeal of Marcel, a capuchin monkey who appeared in early episodes of “Friends.” He was funny and cute. On the show, Marcel ran off and became a movie star. In real life, he was somewhat unruly and didn’t make it to season two.

LANCELOT LINK, SECRET CHIMP

Far out. Lance Link and an assortment of chimps starred in a crazy Saturday morning show circa 1970. The chimps all wore spy outfits and disguises, with dubbed comedy dialogue about various plots to destroy the world.

CHEETAH

Of course, Cheetah has to make the List. There is some controversy as to whether the chimp who died recently in Florida was the real co-star of the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan films of the 1930s. All I know is, Cheetah was iconic – the King of the Jungle wouldn’t have been the same without him.

So, which ones did I forget? Add to the List!

Live from New York – SNL’s Best Hosts

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Hard to believe, but this weekend marks the start of the 37th season of “Saturday Night Live.” It’s seen good casts and bad casts, times of national relevance and times when it seemed out of sync. Through it all, the key ingredient that elevated an episode to brilliance was the host. Here’s a look at the best ones.

STEVE MARTIN

I’m not sure SNL would have survived beyond the first few years without Steve Martin as a frequent host, great as that early cast was. Martin’s popularity was phenomenal, and his appearances on the show were electric. He was one of the Wild and Crazy guys, Theodoric of York and, of course, King Tut.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

NBC would do well to pay this guy whatever it takes to keep him hosting an episode every season. He’s that good. Here’s a recording and film star who’s willing to dress like a cup of soup and an omelette and then just nail a sketch. That’s when he’s not doing a spot-on Robin Gibb impersonation, filling in as the musical guest and starring in digital shorts such as  “D**K in a Box.”

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN

Walken is sublime when he hosts. In some sketches, such as “The Continental,” all you have to do is point the camera directly at him and let him work. My goodness – “Cowbell,” “The Census Taker,” “The Walken Family Reunion” – just amazing.

CANDICE BERGEN

Bergen set the perfect tone for the 1970s version of SNL. She was comfortable in her own skin, yet more than willing to be controversial. Most viewers remember her as the intrepid host of “Consumer Probe” opposite Dan Aykroyd’s Irwin Mainway, and for the endearing way she dissolved into laughter during a sketch with Gilda Radner.

TOM HANKS

He actually could have been a cast member of the show, judging by the way he consistently commits to his characters in sketches. On SNL he’s gone from “Mr. Short Term Memory,” to parodies of stand-up comedians and nerds to doing a hilariously dumb version of himself in a “Jeopardy” sketch.

DANE COOK

Speaking of stand-up comics, the much maligned Dane Cook has given SNL a couple of jolts of needed energy in recent years. Cook’s absolute exuberance, plus his ability to turn the opening monologue into a comedy gem, earn him a spot on the List.

JOHN GOODMAN

Kind of an unsung hero of the show. Goodman was the perfect team player when he hosted, as well as when he appeared in cameo bits on other episodes. My favorite Goodman SNL sketches? His impersonations of Linda Tripp (during the 1990s Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal), of course, and his obnoxious businessman from the “Bill Brasky” sketches.

BUCK HENRY

Buck Henry was this absurd, intense, subversive force packaged in the body of a little guy with glasses. He didn’t have to do funny voices when he hosted SNL; he just delivered cutting, intelligent lines amid the craziness of skits such as John Belushi’s “Samurai” epics. For a while, it was customary for Henry to host the last show of the season. As for the last person on this List, it’s…

ALEC BALDWIN

He’s the King of All Hosts. Baldwin has headlined the show more than anyone else (this weekend’s opener is his 16th appearance as host), and he clearly loves it. His work in the “Canteen Boy” and “Schweddy Balls” sketches is classic, but I think I laughed just as hard at Baldwin’s crazy impression of Charles Nelson Reilly. Bravo, sir.

Enjoy the new season, everyone.