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Jon Voight’s Long-Lost Hal Ashby Comedy

Jon Voight’s Long-Lost Hal Ashby Comedy (photo)

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While journalist Nick Dawson was researching his new biography, “Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel,” his interviews with Jon Voight (who won an Oscar for Ashby’s “Coming Home”) revealed that a director’s cut of a long-lost Ashby/Voight collaboration still existed under everybody’s noses. 1982’s “Lookin’ to Get Out,” which had its world premiere last week at the Sarasota Film Festival as part of an Ashby retrospective tied to Dawson’s book, will finally be available to audiences when it hits DVD on June 30th. Voight and Burt Young co-star as Alex and Jerry, a couple of small-time New York gamblers — lovable losers, both — who escape to Vegas when their debts come knocking at their door. Pretending to be a casino owner’s close friends while he’s out of town, the two foolishly exploit their free comps to try to win back their losses, much to the chagrin of the returning tycoon, the thugs on their trail, and a former prostitute (Ann-Margret) who’s the mother of the child Alex never knew he had (six-year-old Angelina Jolie, in her screen debut).

Voight, who also co-produced and co-wrote the film, has mixed a wildly hilarious cocktail that’s three parts “California Split” and one part “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” The day after its premiere, I sat down with the legendary actor during Dawson’s book signing to discuss the long, strange road leading up to this definitive version of “Lookin’ To Get Out,” the sexiness of Hal Ashby, Angelina Jolie’s unexpected debut — and because I enjoy speaking with people of strong opinions, the provocative political op-ed he wrote last summer.

What makes this long-lost director’s cut of “Lookin’ to Get Out” so special?

When the film was first released, there was some difficulty in the final process. The studio and Hal were having problems, Hal left the picture at one point, and the editing suffered greatly. They wanted 15 minutes taken out, we tried to patch it up, but you can’t just do that with a film. So it came out in a crippled state, and never really had a proper showing. All of us were very deeply hurt by it, and hurt for Hal. But you find a way to go on, lick your wounds and keep going, right?

Shortly after that, in ’88, Hal passed away. He was sick for the last year and a half of his life, and in the last seven months, Al Schwartz, the primary writer of the film, wound up being his nurse, his best friend. During that time, Al was trying to keep him distracted from the suffering. At one point, they were watching a film, and out of the blue, Hal turned to Al and said, “You know, ‘Lookin’ To Get Out’ is a better film than you think it is.” Al had told me about it at that time, and it was some clue. It was a mysterious statement. What did it mean?

04102009_LookingToGetOut3.jpgA year and a half ago, I get a call from this young man from Scotland, Nick Dawson. He’s writing a book about Hal Ashby, and would love to interview me. He calls me a couple months later and says, “I’m coming down next week. I’d like to bring Hal Ashby’s daughter [Leigh McManus] with me.” I said, “Really? He had a daughter?” I didn’t know that. They never got together in his life. Hal made arrangements at different times, but never followed through. Hal’s dad committed suicide when he was 12, so fatherhood was a big trauma to him, and I can understand him at those times when he almost knocked on her door and turned away. It’s not much different than when you see in “Lookin’ to Get Out.” It’s the story of Hal and his daughter, in that sense. This only became clear at that time when I put two and two together.

They came down, and it was like being with [Hal] again — surrounded by his memories, telling jokes and stories about him. And both of them, Leigh and Nick, said to me, “‘Lookin’ to Get Out’ is our favorite film.” Leigh saw it in the first version, and it was okay for her: “I feel I’m the daughter, Angelina Jolie. I’m that child that Angie played.” I said, “That makes sense. That’s probably true.” I remember we were thinking about casting a boy, and Hal said, “No, it should be a girl.”

I asked Nick, “Where’d you see it?” He said, “I saw the version that Hal left to UCLA. It’s a version that he did quietly before he died.” The first thing I said was, “Describe the opening.” He described it, and I knew it was a cut I hadn’t seen, because I knew all the cuts. So I got Al Schwartz, and we went down to see it. We put the first reel up, and it was indeed another cut, and it was terrific. I said, “Let’s put up another reel.” We put up one more reel, and that, too, was perfect. Then I was like, “Before we damage this film at all, let’s have a showing of it in a theater. Let’s call my friends at Warner Home Video,” who were the best at releasing this, because they had done “Superman” and “Deliverance” and Fred Astaire’s stuff. It just happened — it was a bit of a miracle — that Warner Bros. now owned the film! It was a wonderful cut, and you could tell it was Hal’s. When Hal first did it, he had other people cutting it. This one he edited. Hal was an editor. He got into directing through his editing, and he won an Academy Award for “In the Heat of the Night,” and now we had the great editor doing his work. It was so satisfying. They decided on that day that they were going to release it.


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.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

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:


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.


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!


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.


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.



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.