DID YOU READ

David Duchovny would like to be your Warren Beatty.

David Duchovny would like to be your Warren Beatty. (photo)

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Every summer since “Star Wars,” pundits have complained about The Death of Adult Film. Sunday, it was the Washington Post‘s Ann Hornaday’s turn to speculate on why “movies for grown-ups are in the cross-hairs,” or, in her formulation: “Hello, ‘Paul Blart.’ Sayonara, ‘Frost/Nixon.'”

Oh, c’mon.

The article’s assumption is that anything that isn’t explicitly blockbuster schlock or a kiddy flick qualifies as “adult.” That means that Liam Neeson’s kick-some-terrorist-ass fantasia “Taken” is “adult”; “Angels & Demons” is “adult” because it involves the Vatican. Being “adult” doesn’t equal the confronting of unpleasant truths about how people interact, subtlety in characterization or delays in instant gratification; it’s just another marketing problem for anything that isn’t Sundance quirk (Hornaday calls “(500) Days Of Summer” a “poverty-row striver”) or CGI bombast.

Same as it ever was. I’m more bemused by David Duchovny’s take on the issue. In a Random Roles interview with the AV Club‘s Noel Murray, the former Fox Mulder gets especially hung up on 1975’s “Shampoo” as an exemplar of the “adult anti-hero.”

Far be it from me to speculate on why a high profile sex addict (who also plays one on TV!) would be longing for a return to Warren Beatty’s sexually aggressive anti-hero days. Nor do I think that there is something inherently adult about the idea of the “anti-hero.” But Duchovny does touch on something that is indeed “adult”: movies that center on one individual’s experience without throwing up much of a plot to market it around.

Duchovny seems to be overly concerned with sex-addled males, but he’s not wrong. “Adult” isn’t a question of, say, starchy Oscar-bait dramas that congratulate you for showing up to sit through them; it’s a willingness to come to an experience without knowing in advance exactly what you’re getting. Score one for Spooky.

[Photo: David Duchovny in “Californication,” Showtime, 2007]

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

ikea heights

IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Metaphorical Aliens

Metaphorical Aliens (photo)

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“District 9″‘s alien race is segregated into its own neighborhood — in South Africa. Which makes its metaphorical value pretty obvious. But race isn’t the only thematic burden extraterrestrials have borne in films. This week on the IFC News podcast, we look at some of the other things aliens have stood for.

Download: MP3, 34:41 minutes, 31.8 MB

Subscribe to the podcast: [iTunes] [XML]

Vacillating Voiceovers: A History of Unreliable Narrators

Vacillating Voiceovers: A History of Unreliable Narrators (photo)

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We trust the movies. We have to. Most of them only work if we look up at the images changing 24-times-a-second in front of us and believe that they reflect some sort of objective reality where a man can fly his house to South America or alien robots can transform into cars. Even when a movie is told entirely from a character’s perspective, we assume that the intimacy cinema provides to hear a person’s thoughts or see things the way they do affords us some safety from deception. We are wrong. People lie; the movies can too.

Some movies take that trust and exploit it, or prey on it, or play with it. In “(500) Days of Summer,” a man named Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls in love with a woman named Summer (Zooey Deschanel). The film begins with Tom’s friends sitting him down and asking him to explain what happened in his relationship with Summer, then pinballs through his memories as he relates the 500 day affair via stream of consciousness. Tom’s perception of what happened colors what we see: his elation after his first night with Summer turns the scene into an elaborate Stanley Donen-Gene Kelly dance number. These sorts of moments begin to clue us in that Tom isn’t the most reliable narrator, that we’re only really getting one side of this story. Then again, incomplete as it is, Tom’s perspective has value too. Even if we doubt the reality of Tom’s account, we never doubt the film’s convincing (if biased) representation of a lovelorn soul’s troubled psyche.

On that (subjective) note, here’s a list of 12 more films that have been controlled, manipulated, and sometimes illuminated by unreliable narrators. But be warned: if you haven’t put your trust in these films yet, reading about them now could spoil their surprises for you in the future.

07162009_AmericanPsycho.jpg”American Psycho” (2000)

Mary Harron’s 2000 adaptation of Bret Easton’s Ellis’ novel retained key pieces of the book’s essential first-person narration via voiceover. Much of the novel’s success depends on the strength of its unreliable voice, and Harron translates that strangely constricted, untrustworthy perspective to film. At first, we see Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) as a pristine specimen, albeit one with a definite skin care fetish. “I believe in taking care of myself,” he says in his clipped, nasal diction, as we watch his perfect body curl through its morning exercises. Sounds reasonable. But then, after listing off several steps in his skin care regimen and peeling a transparent mask off his face, he says, “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there’s no real me, only an entity, something illusory.” Those are words of warning, as clear a declaration of unreliability that a narrator can make, and from that point on, the story of a Wall Street wunderkind’s descent into murder and madness becomes as abstract and illusory as its protagonist.

07162009_Detour.jpg”Detour” (1945)

Al Roberts blames his sordid story on fate. He crumples into a diner seat and reflects on the deaths that haunt him: “Did you ever want to cut away a piece of your memory and blot it out?” The question is whether his voiceover is doing the blotting. His tale is an improbable succession of morbid accidents (a forerunner to ”Final Destination”?) that leaves Roberts as the sole witness. On the surface of this waking nightmare, there’s no alternative to his POV: “That’s life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.” There are subtle gaps between his words and director Edgar G. Ulmer’s images, however, that have led many writers (most of all Andrew Britton) to conclude that Roberts’ story is an elaborate cover-up. His dancehall girl ditches him for L.A. when he says their relationship was “the most wonderful thing in the world.” Then he picks up Vera (Ann Savage) for no good reason, and she immediately pegs him as a murderer: “What’d you do, kiss him with a wrench?” There are cracks in his constructed reality, and his entreaties to fate could also be looked at as the desperate rationalizations of a guilty man.

07192009_mad_detective.jpg”Mad Detective” (2007)

In the opening sequence of this Johnnie To-Wai Ka-Fai thriller, Inspector Bun (Lau Ching-Wan) stabs a pig carcass, zips himself into a suitcase and has his partner toss it down the stairs. This kind of psychic-psychotic method is effective (the ice cream shop owner did it!), but there’s no doubt he has multiple screws loose. So when Bun says that he can visualize people’s inner personalities (portrayed by an array of idiosyncratic character actors), it’s never clear whether it’s an example of his madness or a legit supernatural power. His wife and pals think he’s nuts, but To films this gift from Bun’s POV, introducing a kernel of doubt as to the reality of his hallucinations (when To’s lyrical camerawork captures something, you want to believe it). You have to watch the film with a double vision, balancing faith and skepticism throughout, navigating each cut as a clue to Bun’s ultimate reality. It’s impossible to make a definitive statement about a film premised on narrative ambiguity, but just between you and me, I believe in Bun.

07152009_Fightclub.jpg“Fight Club” (1999)

“Fight Club”‘s twist wouldn’t work if director David Fincher didn’t first thoroughly establish Edward Norton’s downtrodden, aimless protagonist as relatable and, therefore, reliable. Stuck in a dull middle-class job with little compassionate human contact, buffeted by modern society’s non-stop advertising onslaughts, Norton’s narrator is an empathetic proxy for early 21st century disaffection with consumer culture. And because of it, no suspicions about his untrustworthiness arise even after he enters into a friendship with traveling soap salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and begins attending underground fight clubs with his new pal. Setting up his narrator as a glum everyman and then interjecting homoerotic suggestions into the character’s central relationship with Durden, Fincher cannily diverts attention away from the reality-altering denouement lying in wait, in which Durden turns out to exist only in the narrator’s mind, the muscled fight clubber merely one side of Norton’s split personality. Thanks to Fincher’s expertly orchestrated manipulations, the revelation is a stunner of epic proportions, making Norton’s character one of the most successfully (self-)deceptive narrators in cinema history.

07152009_WernerHerzog.jpg“My Best Fiend” (1999)

Thanks to their five combative collaborations on classics like “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo,” director Werner Herzog’s relationship with actor Klaus Kinski had, by the time of this 1999 Herzog-helmed documentary, become part of cinematic lore. Kinski was a madman and Herzog was his behind-the-camera equal, the pair’s rapport so combustible that, as recounted in Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams,” Herzog reportedly plotted to have his star assassinated by locals during “Fitzcarraldo”‘s production. Many such anecdotes are addressed in “My Best Fiend,” Herzog’s nonfiction portrait-cum-tribute to Kinski (who died in 1991), which is undeniably driven, first and foremost, by the director’s affection for his colleague. Yet Herzog’s tendency toward grandiloquent exaggeration — as well as, crucially, the absence of Kinski to verify or rebut the claims made — results in a frequently lopsided portrait of a creative partnership, one whose truths are so deeply colored by Herzog’s slanted perspective that it’s nigh impossible to get a complete handle on which of these two titanic artists was the real fiend.

07162009_caligari.jpgThe Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

With its devious twist ending, Robert Wiene’s expressionist landmark throws its entire narrative into question. The meek schoolboy Francis had told the whole infernal tale, of the wild-haired Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his somnambulist assassin Cesare (a mournful Conrad Veidt), and of the death of his dear friend Alan at the latter’s unconscious hand. But as the last sequence reveals, the story might all be the result of his diseased, and very imaginative, mind (a quality possessed by the expressionists themselves). In his bravado ending, Francis reveals that Caligari was actually the head of the psychiatric hospital, and thanks to his heroics, was locked up ranting madly in a cell. But in a great gutpunch final act (imposed by skittish producers eager for a slightly happier conclusion), Francis wanders into the asylum and recognizes Cesare fondling a bouquet of flowers, his gal Jane playacting as a queen, and, alas, Caligari himself as the director, very much free, and very sane. They were the characters in his fantasy, and Francis’ fate is the same as his fictional Caligari’s, alone with nothing more than his paranoia and fear to comfort him.

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