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DID YOU READ

Eight movie characters who show off their video game skills.

Eight movie characters who show off their video game skills. (photo)

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Recently, Roger Ebert re-entered the “can video games be art?” fray with a resounding “no!”: “Why aren’t gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves? They have my blessing, not that they care.” He’s kicked off the usual counter-responses and angry passions.

A less loaded question might be: can the act of playing video games on screen be art? Looking through the examples below, the answer seems to be apparently not — most of the time, the experience of engaging with game-playing culture in a movie turns out to be nothing memorable. But there have been exceptions. Here are eight highlights, for better or worse, of fictional movie characters flaunting their expertise in various video games:

04262010_midnightmadness2.jpgScott Larson (Michael J. Fox) in “Midnight Madness” (1980)

Remembered as a movie that got Disney in some mild hot water with parents — the PG rating didn’t account for a college kid diving into a vat of beer — “Midnight Madness” was the brainchild of twin film school whiz kids, UCLA’s Michael Mankin and USC’s David Wechter, whose student shorts were so impressive Disney gave them carte blanche. The result was this comedy about an all night-scavenger hunt across the city which, while long-forgotten by most, has spawned some real-life imitators. At the point in the film of the clip below, our heroes are stuck in a video game trying to get the next clue by beating “Star Fire,” but not even all the quarters arcade proprietor Paul Reubens gave them can help them beat it. Enter video game whiz kid Michael J. Fox.

04262010_joysticks.jpgDorfus (Jim Greenleaf) in “Joysticks” (1983)

“Midnight Madness” cashed in on the growing arcade craze, but only in passing. For full-on exploitation, there’s “Joysticks,” a post-“Porky’s” hybrid of video games, farting and T&A. It’s centered on an arcade full of degenerates, with pratfalls including hot dogs falling down girls’ shirts — which naturally arouses the ire of local businessman Joe Don Baker, less formidable without his big stick from “Walking Tall.” Below you’ll find the climactic faceoff between Dorfus (Jim Greenleaf) — the local obese champion — and King Vidiot (Jon Gries), who appears to have come straight from the Siouxsie Sioux show, make-up and blue hair intact. The climactic challenge? “Satan’s Hollow.”

04262010_wizard.jpgJimmy (Luke Edwards) in “The Wizard” (1989)

This ’80s relic is a semi-incomprehensible combination of “Rain Man” and an extended Nintendo commercial. Traumatized young Jimmy (Luke Edwards) — silent since his sister’s death — hits the road and winds up at “Video Armageddon,” a tournament play-off with a $50,000 cash prize. We’re supposed to believe that Jimmy is related to both Fred Savage and Christian Slater, which is pushing it. No less an authority than Roger Ebert objected to the portrait of underage kids wandering through Reno gambling casinos without ever getting into real danger. The finale is an extended trek through “Super Mario Bros. 3” — at the time, available only in Japan. Of course it’s all on YouTube (someone has helpfully appended a real and very creepy commercial for the game at the end) — and, of course, someone else helpfully put up what it would look like if a professional played it, realism being important in these kinds of situations.

04262010_freddy.jpgFreddy Krueger (Robert Englund) in “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” (1991)

It was inevitable that Freddy Krueger would finally get around to killing a kid through a video game — it took the franchise six goes round to get to it, but it was well worth the wait. Before Breckin Meyer solidified a kind of fame and fortune as the live-action Jon Arbuckle of the “Garfield” movies, he was just some stoned kid on a couch, watching Johnny Depp (credited as “Oprah Noodlemantra”) in one of those horrendous “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs” commercials. Freddy wacks Depp in the face with a frying pan and invites the stoned youth to step into the video game — and when he can’t beat him in the game, he just plays him instead. That’s what the Power Glove is for.

04262010_swingers2.jpgTrent (Vince Vaughn) in “Swingers” (1996)

“Swingers” holds up remarkably well for a hot-topic ’90s indie about LA douchebags. If you’ve ever dealt with the type of drama student who can dream of nothing better than acting like a Sam Shepherd character when they’re not actually acting in a Sam Shepherd play, the film’s patterns of competitive behavior and jokey violence erupting over nothing will ring particularly true. But “Swingers” also contains one of the more famous video game-playing scenes out there, a good chance to reminiscent about what video game hockey looked back in the mid-90s. It’s also a reminder of what a freakishly good-looking, thin guy Vince Vaughn was before he realized he could get away with anything.

04262010_elephant2.jpgEric (Eric Deulen) in “Elephant” (2003)

“Elephant,” Gus Van Sant’s exploration of Columbine, tries to evade all responsibility for getting its aesthetic kicks out of the slaughtering of the innocents by throwing every possible explanation at the screen. Were the kids picked upon geeks? Did they have repressed gay tendencies? Or — perhaps — was it those darn violent video games? Skip to the four-minute mark in the clip below, where Eric (Eric Deulen) plays a first-person shooter — not just any first-person shooter, but on in which he’s just walking around the desert, shooting unarmed and unaware people in the back of the head. In other words, he’s playing “Gerry,” Van Sant’s previous film, which also consisted largely of guys (played by Casey Affleck and Matt Damon) walking through the desert. It may be the only fake video-game ever concocted to mock an arthouse film.

04262010_grandmasby.jpgJeff (Nick Swardson) in “Grandma’s Boy” (2006)

Lest we forget that not all video games are solely a matter of using one’s hand: sometimes the feet and those funky dance instincts get involved too. “Dance Dance Revolution” has never had much appeal to me, turning something that requires some kind of rhythmic sense (not to mention self-confidence) into what’s basically jacked-up aerobics for nerds. “Grandma’s Boy,” which stars Allen Covert as a 35-year-old video game tester forced to move in with his grandmother, features a DDR dance-off, just one of the many reasons it’s fundamentally unwatchable. The fact that there’s a scene where the man character accidentally ejaculates on his friend Jeff’s (Nick Swardson) mom is another.

04262010_thebreakup3.jpgGary Grobowski (Vince Vaughn, again) in “The Break-Up” (2006)

These days, of course, gaming is no longer just for the arcade (a vanishing breed of business) or for living room fun with your buddies. Thanks to innovations like Xbox Live, some of the most sophisticated technology known to man can be utilized to enable Vince Vaughn to taunt little kids while playing Madden. “The Break-Up” is a strange, rancid little movie that doesn’t fulfill the expectations of the traditional romantic comedy. Rather than being funny, charming or even just pandering, it’s abrasive, realistic and unpleasant in an unenlightening way. Then again, it does have Vaughn back in front of the console, unleashing some “Wedding Crashers”-worthy taunts at his unseen, underage opponent before distracting Jennifer Aniston’s date. Welcome to 21st century technology’s wonders: traumatizing kids and ruining Aniston’s romantic life.

[Photos: “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!,” UAV Entertainment, 1989; “Midnight Madness,” Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 1980; “Joysticks,” Liberation Entertainment, 1983; “The Wizard,” Universal, 1989; “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” New Line Cinema, 1991; “Swingers,” Miramax, 1996; “Elephant,” HBO Films, 2003; “Grandma’s Boy,” 20th Century Fox, 2006; “The Break-Up,” Universal, 2006]

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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.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.