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Seven plus-sized actresses with big careers.

Seven plus-sized actresses with big careers. (photo)

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Last week, Howard Stern got ruder than usual on the topic of recent Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe. Overweight people, he said, can’t have acting careers: “She should have gotten the Best Actress award because she’s never going to have another shot. What movie is she gonna be in?” But, of course, obesity is not an automatic impediment to thespian success, male or female — one need only look at Sidibe’s “Precious” co-star Mo’Nique for an example of a full-figured actress who has collected a steady paycheck from the movie business. True, it’s rare to see an onscreen presence bigger than a size two, but a life on the character actor margins can be eked out at the very least. So here’s a list of seven actresses that prove Stern wrong:

03152010_grapes.jpgJane Darwell

Arguably the most famous person from Palmyra, Mo., Darwell is uncharitably described on Turner Classic Movies database is kinder: “A heavy-set character player with a hearty voice and a slightly worried expression.” Darwell worried herself into somewhere around 170 film parts, including the iconic turns as the Bird Lady in “Mary Poppins” and Ma Joad in John Ford’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” where the only thing that exceeded her presence was the film’s incredibly hyperbolic trailer:

03152010_eightandahalf.jpgEddra Gale

Little is known about the enigmatic Gale, except that she was an opera singer Fellini discovered on a trip to Milan and ultimately threw her weight around the in film world, racking up a string of supporting credits in American films through 1980, most notably as Peter Sellers’ wife in “What’s New Pussycat.” But she’ll always be best known for her debut in “8 ½” as La Saraghina, the monstrously voluptuous prostitute who warps Marcello Mastroianni’s childhood on the beach:

03152010_hairspray.jpg

Ricki Lake

Best remembered for playing the Hefty Hideaway-sponsored dance queen Tracy Turnblad in the original “Hairspray,” Lake went on to a successful career as a daytime talk show in the ’90s and slimmed down as a result, blaming child abuse for her one-time weight of 260 pounds. Frankly, some fans liked her heavier, such as Elizabeth Turnquist, who felt betrayed by the former plus-sized teen queen, writing on WeAreTheRealDeal.com, “I was 15 in 1989 when I watched the made-for-TV movie ‘Babycakes,'” she says. “It was the first time I was able to identify – as a fat girl – with an actress.” However, judging by how Lake stares off into the distance like patience on a particularly painful monument and the less-than-dignified song choice of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in “Babycakes”‘ opening scene, perhaps it was the actress who wasn’t able to identify with the fat girl:

03152010_bringing.jpgQueen Latifah

Speaking of “Hairspray,” Latifah stepped into the shoes of Motormouth Maybelle for the 2007 musical remake, capitalizing on the success of her Oscar-nominated turn in “Chicago” and her abilities as an acting/singing double threat. But if you think about it, there’s really no one physically resembling Latifah at the same level of prominence, which may be why she’s been so prolific in recent years, mostly in pretty dubious material like “Bringing Down the House” and “Mad Money,” and has also become a controversial figure in the eyes of Turnquist (see above), who sees the actress as a turncoat for endorsing Jenny Craig. Not that Latifah sees it that way: “[The fans] see that I’m doing this for the health reasons but also say, ‘She’s still representing for the big girls.'”

03152010_misery.jpgKathy Bates

Until she won an Oscar for “Misery,” the brash and always fun Bates had been known for her ability to seamlessly fuse acid sarcasm and barely concealed warmth for much of her career. Fortunately, she didn’t allow herself to be typecast as the fat psychopath in subsequent pictures, instead carving out memorable appearances as Molly Brown in “Titanic” and, of course, getting naked with Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt.” Upon her third Oscar nomination for the latter, Bates remarked, “I think the Academy gave me a nomination for that one so that I would never take off my clothes on camera again.” As if Jack looked any better.

03152010_margo.jpgMargo Martindale

Like Bates, Martindale fit the bill when Alexander Payne was looking for a hefty middle-aged Midwesterner and gets the full seven minutes to herself in “14th Arrondissement,” Payne’s contribution to “Paris je t’aime,” in which she plays Carol, the real American in Paris who wants badly to connect with another culture but doesn’t know how. Charges of condescension were leveled against Payne as they always are, but this is a great empathetic showcase for the longtime character actress who is probably known to most as the woman behind the dry cleaning counter in that ubiquitous Yoplait commercial:

03152010_fat.jpgKirstie Alley

What can we say about Kirstie Alley that she hasn’t said herself? After sailing past the 200-pound mark in 2005, Alley hope to reboot her flagging career with the meta Showtime series “Fat Actress” after her last shot at a movie career peaked with “Drop Dead Gorgeous” in 1999. Lasting all of seven episodes, Alley took the Charlie Kaufman approach to the half-hour comedy, playing herself and pluckily confronting the struggle with weight that made her catnip for the tabloids, but with none of the awkwardness. So what’s a fat actress to do when her show’s cancelled? Jenny Craig, of course. Those are the breaks.

[Photos: “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,” Lionsgate, 2009; “The Grapes of Wrath,” 20th Century Fox, 1940; “8 1/2,” The Criterion Collection, 1963; “Hairspray,” New Line Cinema, 1988; “Bringing Down The House,” Buena Vista, 2003; “Misery,” Columbia Pictures, 1990; “Paris, je t’aime,” First Look International, 2006; “Fat Actress,” Showtime, 2005.]

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Rocky IV Paulie Robot

Mr. Roboto

5 Reasons Rocky IV Is Too Rotten to Miss

Catch Rocky IV Friday at 8P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: MGM/UA/YouTube

When Rocky IV was released in 1985, the critics were not kind. (While it wasn’t around back then, the film’s 39% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself.) Less of a movie than a jingoistic music video starring a robot and a steroid-addled, monosyllabic Russian baddie, Rocky IV is a far cry from the Italian Stallion’s humble origins.

Still, more than any movie ever made, it exemplifies the whole “so bad its good” genre. This movie was made for us, the great-unwashed masses of the 1980s, who loved the band Survivor and hated those Commie bastards. Before you catch Rocky IV on IFC’s Rotten Fridays, let’s take a look at some moments that make this flick a “too rotten to miss” classic.

5. That Opening Shot

Rocky IV
United Artists

It takes all of 30 seconds for the audience to know they’re in for one ridiculous rollercoaster ride through a Cold War conniption fit of good vs. evil. Gone is the subtle tone and grounded reality of the first Rocky. In its place we see two gloves, one emblazoned with the American flag, the other with the Soviets’, hurtling toward each other. When they collide, sparks fly, and we witness an explosion decades in the making.

In case the symbolism is too subtle for you, director/writer/star Sylvester Stallone is trying to hint that this movie will be the clash of civilizations we’d all been waiting for, but instead of nuclear bombs, a humble palooka from the streets would be duking it out in the ring with the ultimate representation of coldhearted Communism. If it were up to us, this opening shot would’ve won Best Picture all by itself.


4. So Many Montages

Rocky IV has a running time of 91 minutes and 20 seconds. Its eight montages (yes, EIGHT) run a total of 29 minutes and 10 seconds. That is one third of the movie solely dedicated to montages. (Considering Stallone’s contempt for all things Soviet, we have to wonder if he knows it was a dirty Ruskie who invented the montage.)

During one of the many, many montages, director Stallone actually flashes back to a scene that had happened a minute and half prior, creating the impression that he might actually flashback to the montage we were just watching in the same montage. Stallone clearly loves a good montage set to an inspirational ’80s song, and so do we. Which brings us to…


3. A Soundtrack Full of Pumped Up ’80s Jams

Speaking of montages, they are set to the score of some of the cheesiest hits from the mid-’80s. For once, we’re spared tracks from Frank Stallone, with Stallone replacing his rocker brother with synth-y singles from Survivor, John Cafferty and Kenny Loggins. And of course, Robert Tepper, possessor of an ’80s mullet that could topple empires, crooning “No Easy Way Out.” The music in this movie is one step away from being a parody of the music in this movie. If you ever want to know what cocaine can do to the human mind, just listen to this soundtrack.


2. Rocky Ends the Cold War

Rocky IV speech
United Artists

In one of the most misguided, self-congratulatory, and immediately dated moments in cinema history, good ol’ galoot Rocky Balboa single-handedly ended the Cold War four years before the Berlin Wall came down.

To quote the Italian Stallion himself: “In here…there were two guys… killing each other. But I guess that’s better than millions. What I’m trying to say is… if I can change… and you can change…everybody can change!” And just like that the Soviet public, generals and even the Premier himself rose to their feet in applause, realizing what fools they’d been. This guy beat Mr. T for Heaven’s sake. He knows what he’s talking about!


1. Paulie’s Robot

Okay, let’s all take a deep breath and really consider this for a moment. Rocky IV has a robot butler in it. A movie franchise that began back in 1976 exploring the gritty reality of a bum fighter trying to prove himself somehow limped along long enough to turn into a weak Short Circuit rip-off in which an alcoholic mooch with a history of domestic abuse now gets his coffee served to him by a robot. A robot that he has programmed with a “sultry” lady voice!

Stallone was inspired to include the real life robot Sico in Rocky IV because of the work it did to help autistic children like his son Seargeoh. That’s all very moving, but doesn’t explain why he decided to write a scene where Paulie dubs poor Sico “the love of my life.” It’s a testament to Rocky IV‘s “too rotten to miss” status that Paulie’s robot girlfriend/personal servant isn’t even the craziest thing that happens to Rock and the gang.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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Swimming To Cambodia Spalding Gray

Gray's Anatomy

Everything You Need to Know About the Movie That Inspired “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”

Brand new Documentary Now! airs Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom Pictures

This week Documentary Now! spotlights a master monologist with “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything.” Before you tune in at 10P this Wednesday on IFC, check out our guide to Swimming to Cambodia, the 1987 film that captured writer/performer Spalding Gray’s acclaimed one-person show.

Spalding Gray 101

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures

Actor and renowned monologist Spalding Gray spent two years on stage perfecting his Obie Award-winning “Swimming to Cambodia” monologue. In it, Gray tells the story of his eight weeks in Southeast Asia while shooting the 1984 Academy Award-winning movie The Killing Fields. He had a small role, but the experience gave him several anecdotes about hanging out with the film crew and experiencing the local culture, all while searching for “the perfect moment.”

Directed by the Silence of the Lambs Guy

Hannibal Lecter
Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

Acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Demme took Gray’s two-night, four hour performance and crafted it down to 85 minutes. His use of dramatic lighting, stylish camerawork and a score by performance artist Laurie Anderson was praised by critics and earned the film a cult following. No stranger to groundbreaking docs, Demme also directed the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which Documentary Now! pays tribute to in this season’s episode “Final Transmission.”

All about the Voices

While it may have been a one-man show, Gray created a repertoire of characters all with distinctive accents. (He portrayed conversations between himself and others just by turning his head.) Our favorite impressions are of his demanding girlfriend Renee and Ivan Strasberg, the South African director of photography on The Killing Fields who, as depicted by Gray, sounds a bit like a Jamaican surfer.

The Original Cranky New Yorker

In one memorable scene, Gray rants about how his noisy upstairs artist neighbors are driving him and Renee crazy. Even in the mid-’80s, there were New Yorkers complaining that the city wasn’t what it used to be.

Show and Tell

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures/YouTube

A big fan of visual aids, Gray used pull-down maps to illustrate his travels. This helped to bring Swimming to Cambodia to life, since he’s basically sitting at a desk the entire time.

Inspired One-Person Shows

Gray’s groundbreaking performances in Swimming and other documentaries like Monster in a Box and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Gray’s Anatomy (about Gray’s struggle with a rare eye condition) paved the way for future one-person shows. (We wouldn’t have everything from Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” to Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” without him.) Even Doc Now! star Fred Armisen got into the one-person show act for his recent SNL monologue.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Spalding Gray when “Parker Gail: Location Is Everything” premieres Wednesday, September 28th at 10P on IFC. 

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Rocky IV Stallone Lundgren

Burning Heart

10 Reasons Why Rocky IV Is the Ultimate Rocky Movie

Catch an all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC.

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Photo Credit: United Artists/Everett Collection

Sure, most people love the first Rocky for its heart, gripping boxing scenes and the classic training montage. Or, you might love Creed for being both a return-to-form and a new exploration of the Rocky mythology. Maybe the thrill of seeing Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in the same movie makes Rocky III your top pick. Well, sorry, you’re wrong: Rocky IV is the greatest of all the “Italian Stallion”‘s movies.

Before you watch the all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC (with Rocky IV airing at 8P as part of Rotten Fridays), check out a few reasons to appreciate the fourth installment as the king of the series.

1. The Greatest Opening Ever

How many openings are able to sum up the entire conflict of the film in less than a minute and without a single line of dialogue? And how many of those movies have exploding boxing gloves? Just try to watch the opening sequence above and not be completely psyched for the pumped-up flick to come.


2. Montages!

We all know that the best part of any sports movie is the montage, and Rocky IV doesn’t give you one measly montage. There’s a recap of the previous films montage, a getting to Russia Montage, two training montages and an ending fight montage. That’s five montages! There’s probably a montage of montages snuck in there, too.


3. There’s a Full James Brown Musical Number

This movie is so packed with memorable moments, it’s easy to forget one of the first things that happens in the film: Apollo comes out to fight Drago dressed as a shirtless Uncle Sam, while James Brown and a full band play “Living in America.” To drive home the number’s patriotism, there are dancers in tuxedos and top hats, weird unitards and bowler caps, and bedazzled showgirls with headpieces for miles. Oh, and don’t forget the giant tentacled dragon statue on the stage. This is how every boxing match should start. Heck, this is how we always want to enter a room.


4. The Soundtrack

The Rocky IV soundtrack doesn’t just feature James Brown — it has rock anthems galore, all of which make you immediately want to hit the gym. From “Heart’s on Fire” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band to “Sweetest Victory” by Touch to multiple Survivor jams, you’ll get pumped and stay pumped. Even the instrumental score rocks! Sure, sometimes it sounds like it was made on a kids Casio, but this soundtrack never quits and — to quote Robert Tepper — never takes the easy way out.


5. Abs!

Rocky IV weights

Every Rocky movie shows off Stallone’s incredible physique, but Rocky IV really ups the game. Not only do we get Dolph Lundgren mostly shirtless looking like a man machine, but we get a wide variety of scenes of Stallone doing impossible tasks. Stallone’s crazy dragon fly crunches, aka a thing no human should be able to do, automatically take this movie to the top.


6. Two words: Ivan Drago

Ivan Drago
United Artists

Not only does Rocky IV explore the global conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, but it encapsulates all of our fears of the Cold War in one perfect villain. Ivan Drago only trains with machines and science and looks like he stepped out of an Aryan Nations recruitment poster. He also only responds in short, cold phrases like “If he dies, he dies,” or “I must break you.” There’s never been a villain who we so clearly want to get the crap beat out of than Ivan Drago.


7. Rocky Makes Chores Look Badass

Rocky saw
United Artists

Rocky doesn’t need to be hooked up to machines to become the perfect fighter. All he needs are huge tires and some outdoor chores to do. No one’s ever looked cooler chopping wood and using tractor parts. Half of his training is lifting an old wagon, probably to fix a broken axle. If anything, this film inspires us to take care of that gardening work we’ve been neglecting.


8. Rocky’s Beard

Rocky IV Beard

Stallone’s beard game is truly on point in Rocky IV. And this isn’t some “I forgot to shave, here’s a little stubble” look. No, we get full out, lumberjack-style beard action. Does any other Rocky movie have our hero looking like an old Russian aristocrat? Another point for Rocky IV.


9. There’s a robot!

Again, there’s so much to Rocky IV, you probably forgot about the robot. Well, Rocky has some money now and he’s not going to spend it on frivolous things for himself. He’s going to buy Paulie a robot! The best part of this scene is how truly disturbed Paulie is by this new technology until he gives it a sexy lady voice.


10. Rocky Ends the Cold War

If you’re still not convinced that Rocky IV is the greatest, answer this question: Does any other Rocky movie bring peace between the US and Russia?

By the end of the film, Rocky rises up to beat the seemingly undefeatable Drago. He fights so well, that even the Russians begin to appreciate his skills. Then, instead of using his victory to prove America’s superiority, he gives a rousing speech of “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change!” The whole crowd goes wild, including all of the Russian government, who we assume give up Communism immediately based solely on Rocky’s words. Stallone’s call for international reconciliation through brutal fighting and a variety of montages makes this if not one of the greatest films of all time, certainly the greatest Rocky of them all.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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