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List: The Five Greatest Pratfalls of 2008

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12302008_walle3.jpgBy R. Emmet Sweeney

A pratfall can be a work of art, a study in disruptive motion, a klutz’s ballet. This choreography of humiliation is perhaps the least garlanded act in contemporary film, as no Oscars will ever be won for kicks to the groin or tumbles down the stairs, regardless of their originality. Only in retrospect have the golden slapstick silents gained credibility and the brilliant purveyors of today’s guffaws are suffering the same critical fate (although the hurt, it must be said, is not felt in their checkbooks). So here is my list of the top five pratfalls of 2008, some of the strongest and strangest feats from an otherwise lackluster year. Some are from masters of the form (Will Ferrell, Anna Faris), while others seamlessly blend the side-splitting spill into their respective and respectable narratives (Robert Downey Jr., Mathieu Amalric, Pixar). All show a clumsy physical grace (as do their stuntmen), a healthy respect for their audience and a blissful embrace of the stupid. (Click on the images below to see them full size.)

12302008_walle.jpg1. “WALL-E”
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Pratfall: Handholding Gone Wrong

“WALL-E” is packed with brilliantly conceived falls, but my favorite is perhaps the smallest, and its bittersweet tragedy is worthy of Chaplin. It occurs after our trash-compacting tramp’s beloved Eve begins hibernating, and he tries everything in his power to wake her up. After surviving lightning strikes and shopping cart attacks, he’s determined to get romantic with the fembot, conscious or not. He leashes her with Christmas lights and rows her through a river of sludge to a prime sunset viewing spot. With visions of “Hello Dolly”‘s handholding climax in his CPU, he pries open her arm slot and grabs for dear life. Then her arm snaps back, pinning his hand inside her body’s shell. As he tries to pull himself out, he tumbles off the bench and crashes into a neighboring garbage can. It’s a quick, painfully funny gag that effortlessly encapsulates WALL-E’s innocent, desperate loneliness.

12302008_stepbrothers.jpg2. “Step Brothers”
Directed by Adam McKay
Pratfall: Christmas Eve Sleepwalking

Sure to be the bane of sober-minded critics for decades to come, the works of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are unabashed odes to anarchy that have consistently been dismissed for their immaturity and childishness. “Step Brothers” literalizes this complaint, presenting Ferrell and John C. Reilly as man-children joined by their parents’ remarriage, and it’s by far their most surreal and senseless (in the best sense) work. In one of the film’s many improvised sequences, these already regressive brothers are shown sleepwalking on Christmas Eve, shouting gibberish and piling presents in their parents’ bedroom, before finally hoisting the tree and shoving it onto the bed. By this point, their increasingly aggrieved father, played with manic glee by Richard Jenkins, vows to wake them up out of their hysteria. Bad move. The two sons turn barbaric, screaming and clawing at their father until they aggressively toss him down the stairs. André Breton would approve.

12302008_christmastale.jpg3. “A Christmas Tale”
Directed by Arnaud Desplechin
Pratfall: Henri’s Curbside Face-plant

Mathieu Amalric creates a strange kind of alchemy with director Arnaud Desplechin, turning despicable characters into adorable eccentrics — a coup achieved in “Kings & Queen” and now “A Christmas Tale.” Amalric’s Henri Vuillard is a loudmouth drunk who’s been banished from his family by an uptight sister. At his lowest ebb, walking tipsily down an abandoned sidewalk and softly muttering to himself, he pauses at the edge of the curb, staring into his own private abyss. He slowly tips forward, until, in a long shot, he falls face first into the pavement, his back ramrod straight all the way down. He later learns to unload his bile with a smile on his face, like the rest of the Vuillards, but this wonderfully depressing acrobatic feat is an apt representation of the psychological hole he’s fallen into and can’t escape, but which he later cleverly redecorates.

12302008_housebunny.jpg4. “The House Bunny”
Directed by Fred Wolf
Pratfall: Header in Outdoor Café

In an attempt to look smart for her nice guy crush, Anna Faris’ ex-Playboy Bunny hits the books, dresses conservatively and dons Coke bottle glasses that bug her eyes out to Tex Avery proportions. Working off notecards, she dishes on nuclear proliferation before knocking tea onto her date’s lap. A little woozy from her non-prescription specs, she gets up for napkins but then takes a header over the nearest table and smacks her crown again while standing up, unexpectedly finding a thick rope of gum affixed to her head in the process. As she races shamefacedly away after apologizing for “all that gravity,” the gum snaps as the chew flails to the ground. It’s another fearless, hilarious performance from Faris, whose breathy, wide-eyed and aging ingénue provokes pity, fear and admiration, usually at the same time.

12302008_ironman.jpg5. “Iron Man”
Directed by Jon Favreau
Pratfall: Iron Man Armor Mishaps

Jon Favreau, emerging as an ace director-for-hire, wisely gave Robert Downey Jr. plenty of latitude to riff on his signature snarky motormouth persona in “Iron Man,” providing an oasis of comic invention in this otherwise rote superhero saga. The peak of this improvisation is a well-crafted, slow-burning series of pratfalls as Downey’s Tony Stark is testing his new and improved Iron Man armor. After instructing his robot-arm buddy to watch for a flameout, Stark’s first attempt at flight rockets him into the ceiling and then to the floor — and his robotic fire marshal is quick on the extinguisher trigger. After threatening his mechanical assistant with the prospect of community college, Stark’s second attempt is moderately successful aside from some light charring of his vintage car collection. With the final trial, he speeds outdoors in full regalia, a triumphant moment and a cue to expect an action extravaganza to begin. But upon returning home, he crash-lands in his spacious abode, destroying three floors, a grand piano, and a luxury car in his lab. And in the final humiliation, he’s pathetically blasted with the fire extinguisher by his downtrodden mechanical pal. With a tight structure (the callback of the cars and extinguisher), canny timing, and sneaky misdirection in the final section, the sequence could stand on its own as a slapstick sci-fi comedy short.

[Photos: “WALL-E,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2008; “Step Brothers,” Columbia Pictures, 2008; “A Christmas Tale,” IFC Films, 2008; “The House Bunny,” Columbia Pictures, 2008; “Iron Man,” Paramount Pictures, 2008]



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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