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Getting Versed in Versus Movies

Getting Versed in Versus Movies (photo)

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There has to be no easier movie pitch than unveiling a “versus” in the title. Everyone, even studio heads, has at one time or another dwelt on the existential question of “who would win in a fight?” The conflict is clear, the characters are established, the action implied — all they have to do is sign on the bottom line. Sci-fi has especially benefited from the built-in allure of this most savage of titling decisions — from the endless “Godzilla” fight cards to the recent “Alien vs. Predator” franchise, mano y mano monster throwdowns have made a mint at the box office, especially when established geek properties square off. Often a sign that a character has run his or her course into camp (“Freddy vs. Jason” or “Dracula vs. Frankenstein”), the more resourceful of these films exceed their built-in limitations. DreamWorks is trying to milk that “versus” mojo for their animated 3D spectacle “Monsters vs. Aliens,” now in theater. The filmmakers can only hope it has a shelf life as long as most of the films listed below, a broad cross-section of showdowns both physical and emotional.

03242009_WifeVsSecretary2.jpg“Wife vs. Secretary” (1936)
Directed by Clarence Brown
Winner: Wife

In pre-code Hollywood, Jean Harlow’s secretary might have bedded Clark Gable’s dashing ad exec. But after the enforcement of the code started in 1934, Myrna Loy’s wife was destined to retain his many valuable services. More of a softball than screwball comedy, this breezily entertaining love triangle still maintains some charm. Most of it comes from its players acting against type, with the normally stoic Gable in happy-go-lucky mode and Harlow eschewing glamour for his-girl-Friday pluck. Only Loy maintains her usual screen persona as a cold aristocrat. The conflict is not a result of a full-on catfight for Gable’s favors, but rather one of slowly escalating jealousies that result in a cascade of misunderstandings.

Harlow never unloads her seductive charms, but her pert presence in the office gets the gossips squawking. After the co-workers close a business deal in a cozy Havana hotel, Astor believes the lies and sues for divorce. It is only then that Harlow senses her opportunity, eagerly tossing over her earnest traditionalist boyfriend (a young Jimmy Stewart) for the chance at the more progressive (and richer) Gable. Marriage prevails in a cleverly staged finale, however, when director Clarence Brown utilizes the off-screen sound of approaching high-heel footsteps as the overture to reunion. Harlow shrugs her way back into Stewart’s car, a disheartening future clouding her downcast eyes.

03312009_freddyvsjason.jpg“Freddy vs. Jason” (2003)
Directed by Ronny Yu
Winner: Freddy

Having long since been reduced by their respective franchises into comical parodies of their formerly frightening selves — a devolution that began sometime around 1985 — Freddy and Jason sparred off in “Freddy vs. Jason” with little reputation left to lose. And true to form, this face-off didn’t further sully their already tarnished legacies. In the final tally, it’s Freddy who emerges triumphant, despite the fact that the story’s climactic showdown ends with Jason decapitating his knife-gloved adversary. Though both indestructible — and thus incapable of definitively defeating the other — Freddy’s jokey, one-liner-spouting personality was far better suited for this lame-brained story, which eschews any serious attempts at generating tension in favor of tongue-in-cheek terror and cheesy gore. There’s no doubt that the “Friday the 13th” series was epitomized by corny inanity, but “Freddy vs. Jason” is goofy supernatural nonsense of a distinctly Elm St. strain (made, unsurprisingly, by that series’ studio, New Line), and thus offers up a battle inherently skewed in the charred child murderer’s favor.

03312009_kramervskramer2.jpg“Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979)
Directed by Robert Benton
Winner: Ted Kramer

Blessed with the autumnal glow of Néstor Almendros’ cinematography, the otherwise middling “Kramer vs. Kramer” pits hardworking ad-man Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) against his women’s libber ex-wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) in a child custody court battle. Joanna, in an attempt to “find herself”, had fled their marriage and their boy, only to return a year later to reclaim motherhood. Streep plays her with a childlike passivity, not wanting to cause harm but acting with unthinking narcisssim. Hoffman is excellent: jumpy, unraveled and raw after her departure, falling apart in a memorable breakfast scene in the kitchen, taking his rage out on an uncooperative oven. There’s a lot of talent on display here, but the central drama is so unbalanced, with Joanna such a flimsy, unlikeable cipher, that the film’s “realist” aesthetic collapses. The dramatic courtroom sequence, in which Hoffman gives an impassioned speech about fatherhood, is moving on its own merits, but in context seems like a scared patriarchy circling the wagons against a feminist takeover. The finale is even more absurd, a bizarre wish-fulfillment fantasy in which Joanna capitulates to Ted in giving up their son, despite her victory in the courtroom. Ted wins, women lose.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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