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George Hickenlooper, 1963-2010

George Hickenlooper, 1963-2010 (photo)

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Besides the initial shock that comes with the news that writer/director George Hickenlooper died in the midst of a whirlwind festival run for his latest film “Casino Jack” at the far too young age of 47 is the great irony that he reportedly passed away quietly of natural causes. For anyone who has followed Hickenlooper’s career, the latter fact may come as an even greater surprise since even more so than his films themselves, he may be best known for the struggles he endured in getting them made, the product of a indefatigable love of film, and as his cousin, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper said in a statement to The Denver Post, “his unquenchable curiosity.”

As the late Hickenlooper recounted in the foreword to his invaluable 1991 collection of interviews with directors and film critics, “Reel Conversations,” such passion for the medium was evident from an early age when he arrived in Hollywood at 17 from St. Louis over the summer and snuck onto the set of “Poltergeist” only to be escorted out by security guards in tears. Showing the same toughness he was defined by as a filmmaker, he hopped on the next bus to American Zoetrope studios across the city where he made it into the office of Francis Ford Coppola unscathed, charmed him with a sketch he drew on the bus and got invited to lunch by the director.

Incidentally, Coppola would be the subject of arguably Hickenlooper’s most famous film, “Hearts of Darkness,” that shaped the hundreds of hours of footage shot by Eleanor Coppola on the set of “Apocalypse Now” into one of the most engrossing behind-the-scenes documentaries ever made. (The film that got him the gig, “Picture This: The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City,” which detailed the tumultuous making of “The Last Picture Show,” is equally compelling.)

10292010_Hickenlooper.jpgA student of medium who had the arts running in his blood (“Fantasia” composer Leopold Stokowski was his great uncle), Hickenlooper was unusually connected to greatness, moving on from documentaries about celebrated filmmakers to making dramas that would become important stepping stones for one reason or another. In 1994, he directed the short “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade,” which would later lead to star Billy Bob Thornton’s award-winning feature (though a falling out between the director and star would prevent Hickenlooper from returning to “Sling Blade.”)

Likewise, his gritty dramas during the ’90s about life in Los Angeles would introduce or reintroduce some of the city’s finest talent to audiences in films such as “The Low Life,” featuring Kyra Sedgwick, Ron Livingston and Renee Zellweger, and “Dogtown,” starring Jon Favreau and Rory Cochrane, not to mention his 1996 thriller “Persons Unknown” with a then-unknown Naomi Watts starring alongside Kelly Lynch and Joe Mantegna. Hickenlooper even dared to take on Orson Welles by directing the unproduced screenplay for the political thriller “The Big Brass Ring” and cast Mick Jagger in one of his most successful onscreen performances in the writer’s block drama “The Man From Elysian Fields.”

Hickenlooper acknowledged to Bright Lights Film Journal in an extensive interview in February that his passion for film history actually may have handicapped him in his early days of making narratives, telling Steve Johnson, “I was making serious and intelligent documentaries, but my interest in making them inherently came from this love. And so as a consequence of that, I made a lot of films where I was evoking the sensibilities of a lot of other directors.”

However, one could argue that it was a documentary that allowed Hickenlooper to really find his groove as a storyteller in 2003 when he helmed “The Mayor of Sunset Strip,” an alternately joyous and heartbreaking portrait of Los Angeles radio legend Rodney Bingenheimer. Since the film’s subject was a Zelig-like presence in the ’70s music scene, Hickenlooper’s ability to appreciate pop culture and celebrity without being in awe of it made for a particularly poignant and understanding look at a man who craved fame.

Hickenlooper’s next two narrative features, the Edie Sedgwick biopic “Factory Girl” and “Casino Jack,” the blow-by-blow account of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, would explore similar themes and though each ran into complications outside their actual production – “Factory Girl” was rushed into release by The Weinstein Company and “Casino Jack” survived a change in distributors — they are distinctly the brand of fiercely independently films that Hickenlooper at first admired and then became a purveyor of.

While there will be great sadness at the Starz Denver Film Festival on Thursday night when Hickenlooper was scheduled to present “Casino Jack” in his cousin’s city (two days after John could potentially become the state’s next governor), it will likely be the premiere of “Casino Jack” in his hometown of St. Louis on November 11th that will prove to be the most emotional. (Tributes on his Facebook wall are already flooding in.) “Casino Jack” is currently scheduled to open nationally on Christmas, a day when Hickenlooper’s gifts to the artform he loved can be properly celebrated, though that’s no reason not to start now. (As Moisés Chiullan notes in his warm personal remembrance of Hickenlooper, many of his earlier films are on Netflix Instant.)

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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