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The Five Best Films Based on Comedy Sketches

The Five Best Films Based on Comedy Sketches (photo)

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Stretching a brief comedy sketch into an 80-plus minute feature is not a task for the timid, as the process of fleshing out quick, self-contained bits is rife with inherent risks — the two main ones being that such an endeavor usually makes little sense and can spoil the original joke. Yet despite these pitfalls, a select few have succeeded where so many others fail, managing to retain the core aspects of their source material while creating developed narratives that expand upon their original conceits in ways that are smart and silly. While only two of the below five might actually qualify as “classic” (though feel free to argue otherwise), our choices for the five best films born from TV sketches all show a willingness to push boundaries and indulge in random flights of fancy in the service of goofy humor, a daring that can be attributed to inspired comedians recognizing, and cannily playing to, the strengths of their signature characters. [The five worst films based on comedy sketches can be found here.]

“Wayne’s World” (1992)

The most profitable “SNL” spin-off to date (a title that the forthcoming “MacGruber” film should find difficult to wrestle away unless its title character can create $121 million from whole cloth), “Wayne’s World” can credit much of its success to the film’s canny scripting, which stays true to its characters’ slacker-catchphrase essence via a conventional fame-corrupts-rock ‘n’ roll narrative. Following the improbable rise to stardom of cable access TV doofuses Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey), the film – helmed by rock expert Penelope Spheeris, she of “The Decline of Western Civilization I” and “II” – delivers the duo’s every trademark quip but, more crucially, couches its familiar elements in a story of selling out that, given Wayne and Garth’s fondness for all things loud and metal-y, makes ideal sense. Some of its familiar jokes have aged better than others – on the negative side, “Shwing!”; on the positive side, “That’s what she said” – but the “anything goes” energy of “Wayne’s World” remains endearing, and helped pave the way for both Myers’ subsequent “Austin Powers” larks as well as the absurdist works of Will Ferrell.

“The Blues Brothers” (1980)

The finest “Saturday Night Live” sketch yet to hit the silver screen, “The Blues Brothers” has a hook that few other sketches did — music. By being both comedic characters and actual, semi-serious performers, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Jake and Elwood Blues are conceived in two dimensions rather than sketch comedy characters’ typical one, though the success of their big-screen venture also has much to do with the fact that the Blues aren’t simply built around a single, oft-repeated punchline. Further aiding their cinematic cause is John Landis, whose staging of numerous, full-throttle car chases strikes the right balance between thrilling and ridiculous, as well as a gaggle of cameos from R&B stars (James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin) that both legitimize the protagonists’ musical reputations and imbue the proceedings with actual soul. While some might argue that Carrie Fisher is far less funny than she believes herself to be, “The Blues Brothers” otherwise holds up smashingly, serving as the model by which all other sketch comedy films should be judged.

09012009_OfficeSpace.jpg“Office Space” (1999)

Few think of Mike Judge’s cult classic as a film based on a sketch, but that’s likely because they – along with many, many others – stopped watching “Saturday Night Live” during its weak mid-’90s period. Nonetheless, the origins of Judge’s scathingly pinpoint workplace comedy are a series of “SNL” cartoons based around Milton, the weird, anti-social cubicle jockey played in the film by Stephen Root, and his insufferable slow-talking boss Bill Lumbergh, iconically embodied in the film by Gary Cole. In giving his cartoon the feature treatment, Judge takes the unconventional route by placing his central character on the periphery and focusing the action around new characters, though the real subject of his film aren’t the people, but the office itself – the rows of identical walled-off desks, the frustrating communal fax and copiers, the unbalanced and tense employer/employee dynamics. As its continued relevance and popularity proves, it’s a petty, enervating, soul-crushing setting about which Judge knows plenty.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

Drowning in Work

Drowning in Work (photo)

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If Labor Day’s coming up, that must mean there’s a new Mike Judge movie on the way. It’s also that time of year when a few distributors dust off some well-traveled festival films as the summer winds down and the start of the school year is underway.

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“American Casino”
A disaster for ordinary citizens, the financial crisis has naturally become catnip for politically minded documentary filmmakers. With “the most feared filmmaker in America” preparing to offer his take a few weeks from now, we can bide our time with Leslie Cockburn’s no-frills exploration of the nuts and bolts of subprime mortgages and the greed of predatory lenders that contributed to the tanking American economy. Probing everyone from buck-passing politicians to financial analysts, lawyers, and lenders, journalist-turned-director Cockburn exposes the shady side of the mortgage boom and those who profited from others’ financial hardship.
Opens in New York.

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What to Watch on IFC in September

What to Watch on IFC in September (photo)

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This Labor Day, as you kick back on a well-deserved day off, tune in for films featuring people who are actually doing some work. Beginning at 7am, catch “Pizza,” featuring a delivery boy who takes on the extra task of making an unpopular girl’s birthday worthwhile. Then, check out “Shattered Glass,” a true story about the dirty side of journalism, and “Rogue Trader,” with Ewan McGregor as a banker who tries to move up the ladder but ends up taking it down with him. You’ll never look at fast food the same after glimpsing what goes on behind the counter in “Fast Food Nation.” For a lesson in workplace etiquette, don’t miss “Office Space” or “Secretary,” which is about the kind of relationship you really shouldn’t have with your boss.

We’ve re-named the month of September “Sketchtember” here at IFC to help you get over the official end of summer. Every Saturday at midnight, check out some of the funniest, laugh-til-you-puke sketch comedy shows, including the “Whitest Kids U’Know,” “The Wrong Door,” “Modern Toss” and “The Jon Dore Television Show.”

Not to mention, “Ideal” continues in the Automat with a brand new season beginning September 29th. Get more Moz as he continues to grow and sell, er, special plants out of his flat, while trying to manage his quirky customers and even quirkier friends.

PREMIERES THIS MONTH:

  • GANGS OF NEW YORK Martin Scorsese directs this period gangster film about a man who returns to New York City seeking revenge on his father’s killer. Cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz. Premieres Wednesday, September 2nd @ 8pm.
  • SORRY, HATERS A reality television producer (Robin Wright Penn) befriends a cab driver after promising to help him free his captured brother from the Syrian government. Premieres Thursday, September 3rd @ 9am.
  • AMERICAN GUN Donald Sutherland and Forest Whitaker star in this film about how a group of people’s lives are woven together by the impact that guns have had on each of them. Premieres Friday, September 4th @ 7:35pm.
  • CABIN FEVER A flesh eating virus begins to overrun a cabin inhabited by a group of college kids in the directorial debut of “Hostel”‘s Eli Roth. Premieres Friday, September 4th @ midnight.

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