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The Sneak Song-and-Dance: Musical Scenes in Non-Musicals

The Sneak Song-and-Dance: Musical Scenes in Non-Musicals (photo)

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As anyone who sat through this year’s Oscars knows, according to Hugh Jackman, Beyoncé, and, well, that chick from “Mamma Mia!”, musicals are back. It’s a somewhat desperate refrain we’ve been hearing for almost a decade now, one that began with the success of “Moulin Rouge” in 2000. Since then, we’ve had “Chicago,” “Dancer in the Dark,” the “High School Musical” trilogy (going on tetralogy? — is anyone keeping count?), and “Nine,” the “8 1/2”-inspired musical due out this year starring Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Day-Lewis and Marion Cotillard and directed by “Chicago”‘s Rob Marshall. Still, Wolverine’s claim is a bit disingenuous — look closely and you’ll find that the urge in actors to break into song never really went away. Whether employed to inject life, fantasy, madness, movie-ness, or silliness, musical numbers have been showing up in non-musical films consistently over the years. Below are a few memorable examples, for those in need of a singing break.

“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”

If it’s true that “The 40 Year Old Virgin” could have easily shaved off 20 minutes from its 116-minute running time (it’s true), it is also true that not one second of those cuts should come from the seemingly superfluous finale, a dance sequence set to The Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” Something of a release, if you will, following almost two hours of build-up and then the inevitably anticlimactic act itself, Steve Carell and co. don silky scarves and radiant smiles and cavort like hairy nymphs across a verdant hillside, loosely inspired by the song’s first cinematic appearance in “Hair.” With full-blown musicals — and the pleasure they were designed to express and give — mostly lying dormant in cinema’s generic basement, musical numbers are often inserted in modern films for a hit of that pure visual and aural entertainment gilded by a post-modern veneer of irony; in this way we can acknowledge the effect these types of numbers are designed to have while being reassured that we are not the kind of people who would take unabashed, ingenuous delight in something as intellectually unchallenging and low-down hokey as a song-and-dance number. Judd Apatow’s comedy, however, uses the musical’s aesthetic as shorthand for innocence and exhilaration to sweet, hilarious, post-ironic effect; we are encouraged to engage with it fully, purely and without shame. (HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” tends to use musical sequences in the same way.) The entire cast channels their inner swirly hippies for the song with Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen making particularly fine, ebullient, endorphin-charged asses of themselves.

“Slumdog Millionaire”

The close to Danny Boyle’s fantastical film that borrowed from any number of Holly- and Bollywood traditions is a dance sequence that runs over the credits. It takes place in a train station, where the reunited hero and heroine lead a crowd of dancers that includes at least one person the film killed off only moments before. The choreography is pure Bollywood, anyone-can-do-it kitsch, and also picks up on some of the moves busted by the young actors earlier in the film, who are themselves imitating their Bollywood heroes. The song it is set to A.R. Rahman’s “Jai Ho” (which means “hail” or “hallelujah”) — which, as it happens, won the Oscar for best song. It isn’t the first time the two film industry cultures clashed — Indian director Mira Nair managed to insert a similarly exuberant Bollywood sequence into her 2004 adaptation of Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair,” in which Becky Sharpe (Reese Witherspoon) twitches and flirts for the appreciative Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne), a scene that might as well have been a corseted extension of the looser and more fun dance scene found in her previous film, “Monsoon Wedding.”

“A Life Less Ordinary”

Danny Boyle strikes again, this time in his 1997 film starring Ewan McGregor as a working-class barkeep named Robert and Cameron Diaz as a rich heiress named Celine; an unlikely couple, they’re united by two angels played by Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo. Widely considered a disappointing follow-up to Boyle’s 1996 cultural steamroller “Trainspotting,” the highlight of the mostly dreary film is a karaoke number that segues into a full-blown musical sequence. Robert, a dreamer whose frequent ruminations we are privy to, gets up in a bar to do a karaoke version of Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” for Celine, who soon joins in. The duo test out a few remedial steps before moving into the crowd, and as the song builds to the bridge where Boyle cuts to Robert, now slicked back and sleek in a black suit, and Celine, resplendent in a short, shiny blue frock. The two jump on the bar and kick out the rest of the jam: McGregor can actually hit his notes, something Baz Luhrmann surely took note of before casting him in “Moulin Rouge”; Diaz cannot — at all — but she moves like a dream, a gift that probably inspired her anomalous dance sequences in each of the “Charlie’s Angels” films.

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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.