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DID YOU READ

When Major Leaguers Play Themselves: “The Jackie Robinson Story”

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By Matt Singer

In honor of the start of the 2008 baseball season, IFC.com 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 the odd little quasi-autobiographical ditties in which baseball players have played themselves. Peanuts and crackerjacks not included.

04032008_thejackierobinsonstory.jpg“The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950)
Directed by Alfred E. Green
As Himself: Jackie Robinson

Game Story: “This is the story of a boy and his dream, but more than that, it is the story of an American boy and a dream that is truly American,” an off-screen narrator says as we watch a young African-American boy walk down a suburban street. The boy grows up to be Jackie Robinson and the film shares his struggle to reach — and later be accepted as an equal by — Major League Baseball. That opening narration, as well as many of the conversations between Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Minor Watson) couch Robinson’s efforts in patriotic terms. “We’re dealing with rights here,” Rickey tells one of his advisors. “The right of any American to play baseball, the American game.”

On-Field Achievements: In his ten major league seasons, Robinson would play in six All-Star games, win one Most Valuable Player award, the first-ever Rookie of the Year Award, and help Brooklyn win its only World Series in 1955. Most importantly, of course, on April 15, 1947, he broke baseball’s color barrier in a game against the Boston Braves. On the 50th anniversary of that day, Robinson became the first player to have his number retired league-wide in recognition of his contributions to the game.

On-Screen Achievements: Look, no one would ever mistake Jackie Robinson for Laurence Olivier. But Robinson’s presence in his own life’s story adds an incalculable sense of authenticity, particularly when he steps out on the diamond, where “The Jackie Robinson Story” gives as good a display of his remarkable physical abilities as I’ve ever seen. Unlike a lot of the movies that we’re looking at this week, this one features lots of baseball footage and plenty of opportunities to see its star in action. Robinson was a notorious base-stealer and I particularly appreciated the opportunity to see him show off his patented hook slide.

Errors Committed: Rickey discovers Robinson while he’s playing for a team named the Black Panthers. In fact, that was the nickname of Robinson’s tank battalion during World War II. (Interestingly, Robinson never saw any combat during the war after he was court-martialed and honorably discharged after refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus). Robinson spent his Negro League career with the Kansas City Monarchs.

Discoveries: It’s somewhat astonishing to see such a powerful and direct movie about race from the year 1950; you’d expect this sort of film to come out least a decade later, when the political climate would be more receptive to this story. But having the courage to make a movie like this one — one that does not shy away from its subject’s beliefs — was exactly what made Robinson so special. The film’s stirring finale gives Robinson the chance to speak directly to the American people. He says “I know that life in these United States can be tough for people who are a little different from the majority. I’m not fooled because I’ve had a chance open to very few Negro-Americans. But I do know that democracy works for those who are willing to fight for it, and I’m sure it’s worth defending. I can’t speak for any 50 million people; no one person can. But I’m certain that I and other Americans of many races and faiths have too much invested in our country’s welfare to throw it away, or let it be taken from us.”

Substitutions: This autobiographical pic remains the definitive cinematic version of Jackie’s life, but Robinson was played later by Blair Underwood (in a nice physical match) as a member of the ensemble of the 1996 HBO movie “Soul of the Game,” a docudrama about how Robinson’s exodus to the majors impacted Negro League stars like Satchel Paige (Delroy Lindo) and Josh Gibson (Mykelti Williamson).

Final Score: Like a fastball high and inside, “The Jackie Robinson Story” is blunt but effective. It would make an ideal film to show to school children learning about civil rights — they’d get excited by the baseball (and the idea that they’re watching the real Jackie Robinson), which would make them receptive to the film’s lessons, which are delivered clearly and passionately, and in just the right tone for a kid audience.

[Photo: Poster for “The Jackie Robinson Story,” Eagle-Lion Films, 1950]

Part 1: Babe Ruth in “Headin’ Home”
Part 2: Joe DiMaggio in “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round”
Part 3: Lou Gehrig in “Rawhide”
Part 5: Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in “Safe at Home!”; Keith Hernandez on “Seinfeld”

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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.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.