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A Film of One’s Own: 11.5 Cinematic Spin-offs

A Film of One’s Own: 11.5 Cinematic Spin-offs  (photo)

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As we sat down to write the introduction to our list of notable film spin-offs, someone forwarded along a link to the big movie news story of the day: Tom Cruise announcing his plan to reprise his role as ultra-profane movie producer Les Grossman from the 2008 film “Tropic Thunder” in an as-yet-untitled comedy. Tom Cruise, in other words, is getting into the spin-off game.

So even though we’re a week late in finishing this list inspired by “Get Him to the Greek” (more on that film in a bit), it’s still plenty timely, and will continue to be as long as Hollywood exploits successful properties even after their original stars have moved on. Here’s the elite company Mr. Grossman will be joining:

06102010_EvanAlmighty.jpg“Evan Almighty” (2007)

Original movie: “Bruce Almighty” (2003)

Spin-off character: Evan Baxter (Steve Carell)

When a spin-off brings along two original characters and the actors that played them — in this case, pompous newscaster Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) and a jovial God (Morgan Freeman) — plus the original director, Tom Shadyac, and one of the original screenwriters, Steve Oedekerk, you expect a certain amount of continuity. But somewhere between “Evan Almighty” and its 2003 predecessor, “Bruce Almighty,” everyone seems to have forgotten the rules of their own franchise. In the first film, God bestowed his power upon Bruce (Jim Carrey) to teach him about goodness and self-worth. God’s one caveat: Bruce couldn’t do anything that impinged upon free will because, at least within the theoretical universe of the film, God can’t affect man’s free will.

But since we doubt newly elected Congressman Evan Baxter would willingly choose to attend a committee meeting in a Robinson Crusoe beard and biblical robes, apparently God has changed the rules. Poor Steve Carell spends the entire movie as God’s physical and emotional punching bag, all to learn a valuable lesson about the importance of environmental conservation and good carpentry. God doesn’t just force Evan to build an ark, he makes him look and dress like a hobo, and in the process turns him into a laughing stock and kills his career in the U.S. government. Sure, the Lord works in mysterious ways, but does he have to work in such dickish ones? As a result, sitting through this movie in one uninterrupted period is as much of a test as anything God puts Evan through, though if you want to see a film about how the forces of religious fanaticism have ridden a powerful wave of faith onto Capitol Hill, “Evan Almighty” does it in the most literal way possible.

06102010_Elektra.jpg“Elektra” (2005)

Original movie: “Daredevil” (2003)

Spin-off character: Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner)

“Evan Almighty” may have played fast and loose with its own franchise rules, but few spin-offs raise as many questions as “Elektra,” in which the titular love interest (played by Jennifer Garner in warrior lingerie) from the middling Ben Affleck superhero attempt “Daredevil” is resurrected in order to be given a middling superhero attempt of her own. For instance: Wasn’t Elektra introduced as the daughter of a billionaire in the first film? Does she really need this new gig as a highly paid assassin? Also: Nary a mention of Daredevil? Despite that whole framed-for-murder-he-didn’t-commit revenge misunderstanding, it really seemed like those two crazy kids could make it, and yet “Elektra” finds Garner happily canoodling with a presumably more affordably salaried Goran Visnjic.

Finally, how’d we get from the recognizable urban world of “Daredevil” to the magical ninja battles of “Elektra”? The shift from stylized but still at least vaguely realistic — Daredevil may have superhuman senses to compensate for his blindness, but they’re given a pseudo-scientific explanation — to folks coming back from the dead, tattoos that turn into real animals, preternaturally gifted martial arts prodigies and toxic goth girls is jarring. Just as much so is the film’s general sense of amnesia, the capper to which is the pair of different actors playing Elektra’s controlling daddy: Erick Avari in the earlier movie, Kurt Max Runte, in flashbacks, in the later. Sure, these storylines are drawn from the comic book source material, but it’s only the overall sense of second runness that unites the two films. “Daredevil” seems a poor man’s “Batman,” and “Elektra” a knock-off of “Ninja Scroll.”

06102010_QueenLatifahBeautyShop.jpg“Beauty Shop” (2005)

Original movie: “Barbershop 2: Back in Business” (2004)

Spin-off character: Gina Norris (Queen Latifah)

With such a big ensemble cast, there were plenty of characters to choose from when it came time to make a “Barbershop” spinoff. Instead, “Barbershop 2: Back in Business” was basically the cinematic equivalent of a backdoor television pilot, where an episode of an existing series is turned over to a new batch of characters who, if popular, then get their own show. Queen Latifah’s appearance in the film as Gina, a hairdresser who once dated the guy (Ice Cube) who owns the titular shop, doesn’t factor into the story in a single meaningful way. She exists only to establish herself as a character who can then lead her own film, “Beauty Shop,” where she moves to Atlanta and opens a salon.

Naturally, everyone who works at Gina’s place is a gender-swapped doppelganger of someone who worked at the original barbershop: cantankerous Cedric the Entertainer becomes cantankerous Alfre Woodard, the barbershop’s lone white employee Troy Garity becomes the lone white employee Alicia Silverstone, and so on. It’s like “Barbershop” in an alternate universe where women reign supreme. Which is fine, though “Barbershop”‘s message about the importance of small business ownership loses something when it’s used by a studio to franchise one of their movies’ successful business model.

06102010_onceacop1.jpg“Once a Cop” (1993)

Original movie: “Police Story 3” (1992)

Spin-off character: Inspector Jessica Yang (Michelle Yeoh)

Trimmed down, dubbed into English, renamed “Supercop” and dropped into U.S. theaters in 1996 to capitalize on Jackie Chan’s popularity post “Rumble in the Bronx,” “Police Story 3” is actually the third in an immensely successful Hong Kong franchise that began with 1985’s “Police Story.” It was the first to team Chan up with Michelle Yeoh, who by the time the film hit the States has already established herself as Asia’s top female action star — the year after, she’d make her Hollywood debut in “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Yeoh acts as the straight (wo)man to Chan’s typical lovable goofball in “Police Story 3,” playing a Chinese Interpol director assigned to help Chan’s Hong Kong inspector bust a drug ring, but it’s her willingness to go toe-to-toe with Chan when it comes to insane stunts that makes you see why giving her character her own movie seemed a given.

“Once a Cop” (released here as “Supercop 2”) is a minor letdown, an action film that seems light on action — though what is there is is well-choreographed and impressive. Yeoh’s no comedian, and the film thankfully doesn’t really try to maintain the jokier tone of the “Police Story” movies, with the exception of Chan’s bizarro cameo in which his character appears undercover in drag. But it does seem like the kind of movie you get when you separate out the straightlaced half of a buddy cop pairing, and dumping Yeoh in dialogue-heavy exchanges, car chases and shoot outs seems like a terrible waste of such a physically gifted performer — the film’s most enjoyable moment doesn’t come until it’s almost over, when Yeoh fights a looming white guy who looks at least twice her size. And don’t get us started on the abrupt downer of an ending.

06102010_GetHimtotheGreek.jpg“Get Him to the Greek” (2010)

Original movie: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008)

Spin-off character: Aldous Snow (Russell Brand)

Though Jonah Hill plays a borderline creepy fan of Russell Brand’s mega rock star Aldous Snow in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and its Snow-centric spinoff “Get Him to the Greek,” he’s not the same borderline creepy fan. In “Sarah Marshall,” Hill played Matthew, a waiter who enjoys making fun of the recently dumped Peter (Jason Segel) and tries desperately to impress Snow, the frontman for the fictional band Infant Sorrow.

In “Greek,” Peter’s gone and Hill’s top-billed as Aaron Green, a lowly record label employee charged with getting Snow from London to Los Angeles in 72 hours. Along the way, we learn that beneath Snow’s cocksure exterior is a lonely guy still trying to get over his longtime girlfriend Jackie Q (Rose Byrne). That discovery brings “Get Him to the Greek” much closer to “Sarah Marshall”: despite their differences, they’re both movies about how guys cope with the pain of a bad breakup. No explanation’s provided given for how two dudes in this universe look exactly like Jonah Hill, which is probably a good thing. Otherwise, we’d be forced to suffer through a scene where Matthew and Aaron talk on the phone and we’d learn they’re twins or something.

06102010_VanWilderRiseofTaj.jpg“National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj” (2006)

Original movie: “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder” (2002)

Spin-off character: Taj Mahal Badalandabad (Kal Penn)

If not for Kal Penn’s breakout role in “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” in 2004, it seems likely “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj” would have been exiled to the direct-to-DVD kingdom of forking paths, in which any film can yield infinite barely related spin-offs or sequels or prequels that go largely unwatched (see “S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale” — though we don’t suggest you actually see it). But Penn had turned into, if not a major movie star, at least someone who might look vaguely familiar to larger swaths of the country, and so “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj” belly flopped onto an astounding 1,979 screens in late 2006.

At the beginning of “Harold & Kumar,” the film makes a clever dig at the side roles and ethnic caricatures to which its lead actors have so often usually consigned, tracking past typical gross-out comedy bros (played by Ethan Embry and Robert Tinkler) as they ready for a wild weekend, and settling on Harold, the guy who’s staying behind, and who they’ve just dumped a project on because “those Asian guys love crunching numbers.” That type of part was exactly what Penn was stuck with in the original “Van Wilder,” as Ryan Reynolds’ hopeless Indian exchange student assistant, doting on the slacker king in exchange for words of wisdom on how to lose his virginity and speaking in what we’ve heard classified as “the Peter Sellers accent.” Given a movie of his own — despite the title, Reynolds doesn’t appear in “Rise of Taj” at all — Penn is left to rehash the first film’s gross-out jokes and the slobs vs. snobs storyline, which isn’t exactly an improvement.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.