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The cranky charisma of Harrison Ford.

The cranky charisma of Harrison Ford. (photo)

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Harrison Ford has a reputation for disliking interviews — so much so that, talking with the star ahead of Friday’s “Extraordinary Measures” at the AV Club, Tasha Robinson gets it out of the way first thing.

“You have a reputation for hating doing publicity interviews. Does having that out front help?” she asks. Ford responds, a bit disingenuously: “I didn’t know that I had that reputation.” (No way.) But: “I don’t mind answering thoughtful questions. But I’m not thrilled about answering questions like ‘If you were being mugged, and you had a lightsaber in one pocket and a whip in the other, which would you use?'”

Put that way, I don’t blame him one bit.

The interesting thing about Ford’s cantankerousness — justifiable or not — is how it juxtaposes with the persona that made him famous. In his breakout part in “American Graffiti,” Ford was hilariously cocksure of himself; as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, he defined laconic confidence.

Yet despite the roles that made him a box-office supernova — roles that led, inevitably, to a series of critically/commercially disappointing duds (“K-19: The Widowmaker,” “Hollywood Homicide,” “Firewall” et al.) — there can be something pinched and constricted about many of Ford’s roles. The famous ones, sure (“Blade Runner,” “Witness”) but there’s more where that came from (TV Guide‘s formidable review database compares his performance in “Presumed Innocent” to “a tightly balled-up fist”).

01202010_sabrina.jpgCharming man of action though Ford was, there was something oddly appropriate about him taking the Humphrey Bogart part in 1995’s ill-fated “Sabrina” remake. For all his easy charisma as Solo/Jones, he wasn’t exactly going to turn out to be the new, action-oriented David Niven or something; that’d be George Clooney, who never lets the gap between off- and on-screen personas grow too large. Ford really is more like a hangdog, dour Bogart successor with a prettier face and who can run faster.

As an actor, Ford takes himself very seriously indeed (read that interview if you don’t believe me), which suggests the intensity it took to make himself that seemingly effortlessly likable onscreen. And that makes him an anomaly: the charming leading man who may not have much natural charm of his own — the same way David Byrne isn’t a real weirdo; he just plays one on-stage.

[Photos: “Extraordinary Measures,” CBS Films, 2010; “Sabrina,” Paramount, 1995]

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

invitation

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.

The film critic versus the news anchor.

The film critic versus the news anchor. (photo)

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New York Film Critics Circle chairman and everyone’s favorite contrarian Armond White is no stranger to feuds, but his latest deserves special mention. Yes, we’ve now all lived long enough to see a spat between White and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, which seems as even a match as ever was.

The New York Film Critics Circle awards took place Monday night, and all press eyes were, natch, on George Clooney, in attendance with current girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis. Clooney gave an excellent acceptance speech for his Best Actor honor (for both “Up In The Air” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) which eventually descended into a long, richly deserved harangue against Rex Reed (“”It is a high-water mark for me tonight, because of all the films that I have starred in, this is the first film that your colleague, Rex Reed, hasn’t said that I suck. Where is he?”)

Funny, but not as awesome as Jeffrey Wells’ scoop Hollywood Elsewhere. Wells reports that Olbermann was originally slated to present the Best Original Screenplay award for “In The Loop” (a decidedly left-wing satire totally up Olbermann’s alley), only to have Chairman White decide all awards should be presented by past honorees. Olbermann was out and offended, though he refrained from deeming White his “Worst Person In The World” for the day.

Given White’s neocon leanings and Olbermann’s being essentially a caricature of the opposite end of the political scale, it’s hard not to speculate that White simply didn’t want Olbermann at his show. And even if that’s totally ill-informed, it’s still fun to dream of a world in which Armond briefly breaks into the cast of characters kicked around by the political blogosphere, his profile elevated by this dust-up.

[Photo: Ben Affleck as “Keith Olbermann” on “Saturday Night Live,” Nov. 1 2008, NBC Universal Television]

Seven lessons from 2009.

Seven lessons from 2009. (photo)

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Stars matter. Sort of.
This one’s kind of up in the air (heh). On the one hand, it’s possible to launch and/or sustain a franchise these days with players who wouldn’t have the ghost of a prayer in opening a movie on their own (take Shia LaBeouf’s non-success-causing hand in the “Transformers” series, or the mostly low-rent “Star Trek” crew). But it decidedly helps if you have some kind of “star” to anchor your Indiewood movie, whether directly on-screen (George Clooney in “Up In The Air”) or in some other important association (Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey’s double-team on “Precious”). It gives the impression your film’s something special enough to encourage someone famous to take a pay cut.

Theory: a star like Clooney may have trouble launching his own studio product on a regular basis, but is nothing but an asset to the lower-budgeted fare. In the future, as “stars” decline, all it’ll take is a couple of solid hits where you’re not the main draw all on your lonesome (as in Clooney in the “Ocean’s” movies) to give you enough cred to launch low-/mid-budget fare. So don’t count the name value of marquee names out yet; your local Sundance aspirant needs them.

3D is here forever and ever.
It’s a truism that blockbusters are just old-fashioned B-movies with A-movie budgets (and that, nowadays, it’s the A-movies that get the B-movie budgets, but never mind). So what’s different about the new wave of 3D movies is that they aren’t the cheapie novelties of yesteryear (except for maybe “Battle For Terra”); they have real budgets and muscle behind them. No longer is 3D just for the third installment in some godforsaken franchise, and the equipment being installed is permanent. After two false starts in the ’50s and ’80s, looks like it’s here to stay.

People really, really like “Mulholland Dr.”
David Lynch’s final dispatch from the world of real film has been topping decade polls with surprising regularity. The reason’s obvious: “Mulholland Dr.” (frequently accompanied by “In The Mood For Love” and “Yi Yi”) came out at the beginning of the decade and has had more time to sink in than, say, “There Will Be Blood.” I have to admit I never though I’d be living in a time where one of Lynch’s more inscrutable exercises is a consensus pick. We live in a beautiful world, etc, etc.

Mumblecore’s been around long enough to be backlashed, dead and reborn.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost seven years since I first saw “Funny Ha Ha” projected in an ad hoc theater at the back of a coffee house in Austin, but sure enough the “mumblecore” movies (apologize to all those who automatically wince at this still-useful catchphrase) have been with us so long that “Team Picture” director Kentucker Audley could claim “Mutual Appreciation” as an influence.

In 2009, Andrew Bujalski’s third feature “Beeswax” was received at the Berlinale with mixed reviews, as if mumblecore rearing its head on the international premieres circuit was too much to bear. Meanwhile, Mark Duplass joined an FX show about fantasy football and mumblecore It Girl Greta Gerwig is working opposite Ben Stiller. (If you want to go back even further and accept the argument that David Gordon Green’s “George Washington” was the first m-core movie, it’s actually been a decade and “Bright Star”‘s Paul Schneider could well get an Oscar nomination.) However these movies age or are remembered, they’re the work of a group of filmmakers who stuck around longer than expected and left traces all over in ways that are still working themselves out.

01012010_allaboutsteve3.jpgWe live in a golden age for supporting comic players.
Having had the professional task of watching weak comedies like “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard,” “Imagine That” and “All About Steve,” I can say with a fair degree of confidence that it’s hard to make a totally unredeeming studio comedy these days. Even your average mediocrity has turns worth treasuring from a newly ubiquitous group of second bananas — Ken Jeong, Thomas Haden Church, Romany Malco and so on. These guys deserve to be in the lead parts, really, but they make most everything go down a little easier.

Less movies are a good thing for everyone.
In the middle of a conspicuously underpopulated winter release schedule, everyone’s prospering as Hollywood completes another record box office year. A diminished release calendar (which looks to be the case for next year as well) doesn’t just help everyone make money; it frees up theater screens, maybe allowing some smaller films more space to play, and letting word-of-mouth hits to have time to stick around and build crowds. Everyone wins.

China is more important than you.
The PRC keeps popping up in all kinds of unexpected ways in film news, whether it’s creating an entirely internally-self-sustaining industry or becoming a huge new source of income for Hollywood product (something that’s only going to expand in 2010 as China is forced to take steps towards opening up the market even further).

[Photos: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” Paramount/Dreamworks, 2009; “All About Steve,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2009]

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