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DID YOU READ

When Major Leaguers Play Themselves: “Headin’ Home”

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03312008_headinhome.jpgBy Matt Singer

Baseball players and movie stars aren’t all that different, really. They both entertain people for a living. They both make obscene amounts of money. Fans want autographs from both. And certainly, many movie stars have wanted to be baseball players — just last month, Billy Crystal risked potential humiliation by playing in a spring training game for his beloved New York Yankees.

In his one at bat, Crystal struck out, which is kind of fitting considering that in the few times that big-time major leaguers have ventured onto the silver screen, the results have generally been equally unsuccessful — despite the fact that these men have often played themselves, roles they really should have had more than a passing familiarity with. Then again, Hollywood has so often mangled the truths of these guys’ stories, who’s to blame them for looking so lost in their own lives?

In honor of the start of the 2008 baseball season, IFC News will be paying tribute to the national pastime’s long relationship with the movies every day this week by giving you everything you’d ever want to know about these odd little quasi-autobiographical ditties. Peanuts and crackerjacks not included.

03312008_headinhome2.jpg“Headin’ Home” (1920)
Directed by Lawrence C. Windom
As Himself: Babe Ruth

Game Summary: An old codger from George Herman Ruth Jr.’s hometown of Haverlock reminisces about the Babe’s rise to stardom from the right field stands of the Polo Grounds. Through flashbacks, we see Babe, a town misfit who towers over everyone he meets, help his foster sister, Pigtails (Frances Victory), out of a few mild scrapes. Eventually, a traveling baseball squad comes to town to challenge Haverlock’s best. Babe isn’t permitted to play, but an illness on the opposing team forces him into the their lineup, a development upon which he wins the game with a prodigious home run. Unfortunately for Babe, that drives a wedge between him and the rest of the community (as in they chase him through the streets with pitchforks). Ultimately, Babe’s heart and his newfound baseball stardom endear him to the townspeople.

On-Field Achievements: Do they even need mentioning? Look at it this way: A lifetime .342 hitter, Babe Ruth remains the only guy in history who could hit .393, win the Most Valuable Player Award and consider it an off year. Two seasons earlier, Ruth hit for a lower average (a paltry .378) while knocking in 59 home runs and a staggering 171 RBIs. By the way, he also had 16 triples. That’s four more than Jose Reyes had last season.

On-Screen Achievements: As if he’s Paul Bunyan or something, Babe actually chops down a tree and spends half the movie whittling it down into a workable, if impressively massive, bat. He also tosses one character he doesn’t like into a lake with such nonchalance, it’s flabbergasting. Those old newsreels of Ruth show him hitting the ball, but you never get to see where they land, so watching him just manhandle his co-stars like they were made of cardboard really gives a good sense of how this guy could routinely launch balls 450 feet into the air.

Errors Committed: Practically too many to mention. Though the film purports to be the true story of the Great Bambino’s formative years, it bears almost no resemblance to his real life. If there is a real Haverlock, Ruth isn’t from there; he was born in Baltimore, and grew up mostly in a reformatory. He didn’t have any foster sisters, and I’m guessing he got his bats from Louisville Slugger just like everybody else. It’s also worth noting that while “Headin’ Home” was made after Ruth had spent just one year with the Yanks, no mention is made of his time with the Boston Red Sox. Interestingly, the film is produced by an entity called the “Yankee Photo Corporation.” Hmm…coincidence?

Discoveries: Growing up in Little League, the one thing you never wanted the other kids on the team to see you do (other than kissing your mom goodbye when she dropped you off at practice) was choking up on your bat. This was a sign of great, unforgivable weakness; you were better off using your little brother’s T-ball bat than choking up on the one the coach gave you. What, then, to make of Ruth at the plate in “Headin’ Home” where he visibly chokes up every time he gets his hands on a piece of lumber? If only I knew about this movie when I was 11 — a lot of mockery could have been avoided.

Substitutions: Though the Babe’s popped up in small roles here and there (Ruth even played himself again in the Lou Gehrig biopic “The Pride of the Yankees”), he only took center stage in two other films, where he was played by other actors: 1948’s “The Babe Ruth Story,” in which he’s portrayed by William Bendix, and 1992’s “The Babe,” featuring John Goodman and a gelatinous layer of flop sweat as the Sultan of Swat.

Final Score: As biography, “Headin’ Home” is just about worthless. As a silent comedy, it’s not terrible, and the always charismatic Ruth manages just fine in his role; the fact that he didn’t need to worry about dialogue doesn’t hurt him either. The picture ends with a beautifully edited Ruth at bat. As the pitcher looks in, there’s a flurry of close-ups: Ruth’s feet in the batter’s box, his meaty hands gripping the bat, and a shot focused on his eyes peering intensely into the camera, with the rest of the frame blacked out. Cut back to the pitcher as he winds up and with an effortless swing, the ball is launched and the game and movie is over.

[Photos: Babe Ruth in “Headin’ Home,” 1920; Poster for “Headin’ Home]

Part 2: Joe DiMaggio in “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round”
Part 3: Lou Gehrig in “Rawhide”
Part 4: Jackie Robinson in “The Jackie Robinson Story”
Part 5: Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in “Safe at Home!”; Keith Hernandez on “Seinfeld”

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.