DID YOU READ

Our 10 favorite reviews from Siskel, Ebert, Roeper, and “At the Movies”

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After more than 35 years on the air and hundreds of episodes, “At the Movies” — formerly “Ebert & Roeper,” formerly “Roger Ebert & The Movies,” formerly “Siskel & Ebert,” formerly “At the Movies” again, formerly “Sneak Previews” — shot its final episode earlier this week for broadcast this weekend. In humble admiration for decades of outstanding work, we present our ten favorite reviews from the history of the show in no particular order.

“Cop and a Half” (1993)

Possibly one of the most infamous reviews of the Siskel & Ebert era, “Cop and a Half” was one of those delightful cases where the two not only profoundly disagreed about a film, but did so by speaking about it with far more intelligence and sincerity than its filmmakers ever likely intended. A lesser critic than Ebert would’ve been undermined by the images of precocious Norman D. Golden II firing a water pistol at Burt Reynolds’ crotch flashing across the screen for this comedy about a kid joining the police force, but by the time Ebert surmises, “‘Cop and a Half’ is not any kind of masterpiece, but it’s not dumb and it’s not boring either,” one is more willing to suspend their disbelief.

However, not Siskel, who waits patiently until Ebert finishes to deliver a perfectly contemptuous “Wow, where’s your big red suit and beard, Santa?” Ebert wrote years later that Siskel never could get over the review, saying “One day the mail brought an autographed photo of Norman D. Golden II, the eight-year-old co-star of “Cop and a Half,” thanking me for helping his career. I thought that was nice of the kid, until I recognized something familiar about his handwriting.” (Ebert would get Siskel back in 1996 when he convinced Siskel to “twist his thumb” for the only time when Siskel rescinded his endorsement of “Broken Arrow.”) [SS]

http://youtu.be/rzCVriUbVOk

“Hoop Dreams” (1994)

When you cover the Sundance Film Festival for television, your mandate goes something like this: stars, stars, stars. Stars bring in advertising dollars, stars headline the majority of the movies that find national distribution, and thus stars have the most relevance to a national audience. Highlighting a three-hour documentary with no name talent before it had even premiered at Sundance breaks every rule in the entertainment news book, which is why this very early review of Steve James’ “Hoop Dreams” shows Siskel and Ebert at their advocate best. They were confident that “Hoop Dreams” was one of the best documentaries either of them had ever seen, and that was all that mattered. These men took their jobs as tastemakers very seriously, and when they felt strongly about a movie they didn’t hesitate to say so. [MS]

“Kingpin” (1996)

Siskel and Ebert’s early advocacy of “Do the Right Thing” and “Hoop Dreams,” and later with Ebert’s later efforts on behalf of films like “Monster,” proved invaluable to their success, but they didn’t limit themselves to championing “important” films. The Farrelly brothers found no bigger backers during the early part of their career than the “At the Movies” duo, who could barely contain their giddiness during a review of “Kingpin.”

Although their professionalism prevented them from being completely reduced to trading punchlines like a couple of awestruck teenagers who had seen their favorite comedy for the 25th time, Siskel and Ebert come perilously close, with Siskel speaking directly in camera to the Farrellys to “thank them personally” for making him laugh so hard. “Kingpin,” ultimately, wasn’t a hit at the box office, but Siskel and Ebert’s embrace of the film not only turned it into a cult hit, but has been said to have influenced the Farrellys to push the boundaries of taste even further with their next film, “There’s Something About Mary.” [SS]

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“Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood” (1996)

As demonstrated by “Kingpin,” Siskel and Ebert didn’t just take “important” movies seriously; literally any film could provide them the jumping off point for a serious discussion. This terrific review of a not-so-terrific Wayans Bros. movie addresses issues of race, stereotyping, and guilt and explores the very nature of comedy and satire in cinema, all in just four minutes. Also admirable is the fact that Ebert’s honest enough here to admit that he’s unsure how he feels about the film. In the world of television, where authority on a subject is based less on actual knowledge than the appearance of confidence in one’s own intellectual certitude, that’s not easy to do. [MS]

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“Frozen Assets” (1992)

However, there were some things Siskel and Ebert could be sure of. Siskel would admit four years later to walking out of “Black Sheep” after he could no longer stand the sight of Chris Farley, but yet he stayed for the entirety of what he and Ebert agreed was “the worst comedy ever made.” Or at least that was before Siskel feared the filmmakers might actually use that line for marketing purposes and amended it to “the second worst comedy ever made,” setting off one of the show’s funniest discussions ever about what kind of reparations could be made in the afterlife to atone for such a film — Ebert suggests “months and months and months in a beautiful valley, with honey, and nectar, and zephyr-like breezes.” The Corbin Bernsen-Shelley Long sperm bank comedy was never released to DVD, and I’d like to think this review is why. [SS]

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The Nutty Professor Eddie Murphy 1996

Weird Science

10 Weird Movie Substances That Had Hilarious Consequences

Catch The Nutty Professor this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures/Everett Collection

If you’ve ever opened your refrigerator to find some seriously gnarly days-old potato salad, then you know that sometimes the most harmless-seeming things can turn freaky. Movies have conjured up some truly bizarre stuff, often the work of crazed scientists. Before you catch The Nutty Professor on IFC, check out some of the icky-est, gooey-ist and just plain weird substances on the big screen.

10. Flubber

Flubber
Walt Disney Studios

Professor Brainard’s “flying rubber” increases its speed every time it bounces, and increases the chaos, destruction and unlikely basketball-dunkage of anyone who uses it. Thankfully the movie ends before its thermodynamic impossibility cause the incineration of the entire universe.


9. Quantonium, Monsters Vs. Aliens

Monsters Vs Aliens
DreamWorks

In Monsters vs. Aliens, both action-packed parties are battling over Quantonium, an exotic material which massively empowers anyone who holds it. Literally in the case of Susan Murphy, whose exposure turns her into Ginormica and enables her to fight against Gallaxhar’s invasion force.


8. Sustengo, Little Fockers

Sustengo
Universal Pictures

After finally finding favor with his hard-bitten father-in-law, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) finds himself strapped for cash and starts promoting Sustengo, an erectile dysfunction drug. Which means leaving boxes of ED drugs lying around a family who can’t even use a toilet without triggering a series of hilarious misunderstandings.


7. Iocane, Princess Bride

Iocane
20th Century Fox

Iocane is a deadly poison with no odor or taste that dissolves instantly in any liquid. The perfect tool for murder isn’t usually hilarious, but The Princess Bride makes everything funny. Hero Westley (Cary Elwes) tricks cunning Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) into drinking the poison in a game of wits. Vizzini lost, not knowing that the answer is “Don’t drink anything offered by someone who just talked about how awesome their poison is.”


6. PX-41, Despicable Me 2

PX41
Universal Pictures

The mutation compound engineered by PX-Labs turns anything into a purple, fluffy, indestructible killing machine. And when Despicable Me‘s famous Minions are dosed with it, look out. Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) crafts an antidote, PX-41 Antidote, proving he’s much better with chemicals than he is with names.


5. Mood Slime, Ghostbusters II

Mood Slime
Columbia Pictures

When the Ghostbusters came back for their 1989 sequel, the slime they encountered was sillier and scarier. The “Mood Slime” was a special form of ectoplasm utterly saturated in the emotions of everyone and everything around it. And while our heroes energize some positive vibes with Aretha Franklin tunes, the entire city of New York’s psychic outpourings are filling the sewers with something distinctly less positive.


4. The Stuff

The Stuff
New World Pictures

A science fiction soft-serve satire, The Stuff is about an oddly organic treat which is utterly delicious and zero calories. In fact it’s negative calories, because if you eat enough it’ll take over your brain and hollow you out from the inside.


3. Miracle Weight Loss Serum, The Nutty Professor

Buddy Love
Universal Pictures

The core component of The Nutty Professor‘s plot is a miraculous weight loss serum, a simple fluid which re-engineers human DNA all by itself. This allows sweet but sizable Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy) to transform into the tight, toned and turbocharged Buddy Love (Murphy again). The serum is revealed to be fatally dangerous, but anything which allows Eddie Murphy to play himself cranked up to the max is pure comedy gold.


2. Cobalt Thorium G, Dr. Strangelove

Dr Strangelove
Columbia Pictures

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb is about a bomb built with Cobalt Thorium G. It’s a doomsday device designed to annihilate all human civilization and is, slightly worryingly, based on the least fictional materials on this list. Cobalt and thorium both have applications in nuclear weapon design. Luckily we haven’t got them up to G yet.


1. Ectoplasm, Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters
Columbia Pictures

The Ghostbusters live in a world where ghosts are real but physics is still in charge. So while the ghouls are flung around with proton packs, they get the boys in grey back with their appalling ectoplasm, or slime, trail. As Venkman says, getting covered in the stuff will make you feel all funky.

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Fast Times Jennifer Jason Leigh

Retro Grades

The 11 Best Movie Comedies of the ’80s

Catch Fast Times at Ridgemont High during IFC's '80s Weekend.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

The ’80s gave us so many great things (Tab, anyone?), but when it comes to movie comedies, the Reagan years were a golden age of funny. In honor of IFC’s ’80s Weekend, we’ve selected the best big screen comedies from the decade that gave us Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy and other comedy greats. And like one of the movies featured below, this list goes to 11.

1. Back to the Future

“A high school slacker goes back in time, takes his mother to a dance, and gets dangerously close to becoming his own father.” The elevator pitch for Back to the Future doesn’t sound so charming, but the 1985 flick starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover is declared by many as being the perfect movie. (Though we can’t officially say if the Eric Stoltz version would’ve been better.)


2. Ghostbusters

The sheer number of childhoods that were professed to be ruined by the recent reboot should tell you how beloved the original film is. A perfect blend of comedy, horror and fantasy, Ghostbusters has an indelible cast at the top of its game and a heap of one-liners worthy of countless casual references. They have the tools, and they have the talent.


3. Airplane!

Speaking of one-liners, it doesn’t get much more quotable than the 1980 Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker classic Airplane!. Almost a one-to-one parody of the 1957 disaster film Zero Hour!, Airplane! works so well because of how straight faced the zaniness is played — which is something its many imitators fail to notice.


4. This Is Spinal Tap

Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer created the de facto mockumentary film with the hilarious 1984 rock diary This Is Spinal Tap. Heralded as one of the most accurate depictions of backstage life by actual real-life bands, the movie showcases an aging glam metal band struggling for the spotlight while keeping the group intact (especially the spontaneously combustible drummers).


5. National Lampoon’s Vacation

While Caddyshack and Fletch are quintessential Chevy Chase films, nothing beats the bumbling patriarch of the Griswold clan losing his mind en route to Wally World, America’s favorite family fun park. Yes, the sequels saw diminishing returns (aside from Christmas Vacation), but the one that started them all is endlessly watchable. Amen, let’s go!


6. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Director Amy Heckerling and writer Cameron Crowe managed to capture exactly what high school life was like in the early-’80s. The awkwardness, the frustrations, the scares, the search for purpose and gratification, Fast Times presents its young characters as fully fleshed-out individuals (even the designated stoner shows nuance) and doesn’t talk down to its audience like many teen movies do. (Click here to see all airings of Fast Times at Ridgemont High on IFC.)


7. Beverly Hills Cop

A reminder of the days when Eddie Murphy was the edgiest comedian in showbiz, the one-two punch of Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs. set the template for modern action comedies. We wouldn’t have the Rush Hour franchise and every Kevin Hart film without Axel Foley.


8. Trading Places

A treatise on the Nature vs. Nurture argument at the height of Reagan-era excess, Trading Places depicts the lives that are held in the balance when the mega-rich make friendly $1 wagers and just how joyous the retribution can be. Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Lee Curtis are terrific as the leads, the Duke Brothers are delightfully evil, and in all seriousness, that is a nice purse.


9. Better Off Dead

This 1985 Savage Steve Holland movie is teen angst at its most surreal and affably goofy. John Cusack stars as Lane Meyer, a high schooler still reeling from the loss of his girlfriend to a cocky champion skier. (Is there any other kind in an ’80s movie?) With bloodthirsty paperboys, foreign-exchange street races and stop-motion hamburger interludes, Better Off Dead doesn’t let realism get in the way of accurately portraying pure teen heartbreak.


10. Midnight Run

Of all the critically acclaimed pairings that actor Robert De Niro has had through the years, few are as entertaining as his reluctant team-up with a persnickety Charles Grodin in 1988’s Midnight Run. Perfect foils, the bounty hunter and mob accountant race against time, the Feds and mafia hits until mutual Stockholm Syndrome kicks in and the partnership stops becoming merely professional. (The counterfeit bill scene alone is worth the watch.)


11. Heathers

Heathers is the kind of pitch-black comedy that would never get a major release in 2016. Unflinching in its satire of school shootings, teen suicide and the tragedies that come with the need to fit in, the movie remains relevant to the kids currently growing up in a cruel and judgmental world. And the fact that it’s laugh-out-loud funny while also making a sharp point about youth culture is a testament to how great the movie really is.

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Bill Hader in Conan Star Wars Audition Sketch

Acts of Wars

Watch Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy and More Audition to Play Young Han Solo

The Documentary Now! star shows off his best Han and Chewie.

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Photo Credit: TBS/YouTube

Thanks in large part to The Force Awakens not sucking, the Star Wars universe is about to get a lot more expansive. Sequels, spin-offs, TV shows, and more are underway — which means a helluva lotta casting calls. Fortunately, Conan O’Brien got his hands on a few audition tapes of celebrities trying out for a role as a young Han Solo.

Check out Documentary Now!’s Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy, Portlandia favorite Jeff Goldblum, Todd Margaret star Will Arnett and other funny folks offering their takes on what that younger, brasher space swashbuckler would be like.

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