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Four Loko Cans and Several Loco Filmmakers at “The FP”

Four Loko Cans and Several Loco Filmmakers at “The FP” (photo)

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Last night’s screening of SXFantastic selection “The FP” at the Alamo Ritz began — as apparently all screenings of “The FP” begin — with a ceremonial Four Loko chug race: Crew members, including the brotherly directing team of Brandon and Jason Trost, versus audience members. It was a goofy mood-setter, and maybe a bit of a warning: to fully appreciate their movie you might need to be drunk and high.

“The FP” stands for Frazier Park, the area of California where the Brothers Trost hail from and which, if “The FP” is to believed, is perhaps the white trashiest place on earth. In the Trosts’ demented vision the FP is a post-apocalyptic wasteland where rival gangs from “The 245″ and “The 248″ battle for control of the area’s alcohol by playing Dance Dance Revolution. Whoever controls the booze controls the hobos, and whoever controls the hobos can keep the ducks in the park fed. And what is a town with ducks?

(Footage of the Four Loko races at “The FP”)

It’s that sort of movie, the kind that doesn’t make any sense and is damn proud of it. “The FP” looks like something high school kids make with their parents’ video camera on weekends, only in this case it was made by two professional filmmakers nearing their 30s — Brandon is a busy cinematographer whose next project is the “Ghost Rider” sequel — a fact that makes the film’s subterraneanly low-grade production values that much more charming. Though the film’s interiors are strewn with debris and broken tech, outdoor scenes show Frazier Park as a normal-looking American town with houses and cars and trees. It seems like the only people who realize society has collapsed and been replaced by a retro-futuristic hellhole are the main characters.

They include co-director Jason Trost as the none-too-coincidentally named J-Tro, an eyepatch-wearing Dance Dance master with his brother B-Tro. In a hysterical pre-credits sequence that plays like an avant-retarde version of the Drago-Apollo fight from “Rocky IV,” B-Tro falls at the hands of the evil L Dubba E (Lee Valmassy), prompting one of those classic shots where you hook a camera to a crane and shoot straight down at the actors as they look up and shout “NOOOOOO!” Some time later, J-Tro is walking the earth a la Rambo in “First Blood” when his old running buddy KCDC (Art Hsu) finds him and begs him to come back to The FP to save their turf from L Dubba E. When he returns, he finds his crush Stacy (Caitlyn Folley) in L Dubba E’s arms. What’s a one-eyed, mulletted, white boy dancer to do?

The joke is the sheer ludicrousness of it all, a world built on Dance Dance Revolution populated by redneck douches who talk in hip hop slang, fighting over the lamest turf ever for the sake of feeding some ducks. The whole point is that there is no point — just like most 80s action movies that take themselves far too seriously. And that joke works in the beginning, during the big DDR battle, but it begins to wear a bit thin during the middle act. I wasn’t surprised to hear to learn “The FP” started as a short film because that’s exactly what it feels like: a great one-joke short film expanded into an undercooked one-joke feature film. The Trosts expanded their running time, but not their repertoire of material.

It was around the halfway point of “The FP,” as the audience’s natural laughter began to die down, that I first noticed the forced laughs and loud comments from the filmmakers’ row of seats at the Alamo. The Trosts brought a bunch of their crew members out to South By Southwest to celebrate their premiere, and they were really into the movie. At times, they laughed at every line — even the ones that weren’t intended as jokes. One member of the group hooted and yelled and even heckled the film a few times, despite a constant rain of shushes from the folks around her. The longer that went on, the more “The FP” began to feel like a giant inside joke foisted on an unsuspecting audience and less like the inspired experimental film about macho stupidity it appeared to be in its early brilliant moments.

If the Trosts and their entourage wanted to disrupt their own movie, I suppose that’s their right. “The FP” is a confrontational film with intentionally crappy design; perhaps sabotaging their own debut is just another twist of their meta-meta filmmaking approach. The movie’s supposed to be crummy, so maybe we’re supposed to have a crummy time watching it too? In that case, they should have made everyone chug a can of Four Loko.

(An excerpt from the post-film Q&A)

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

“Win Win,” Reviewed

“Win Win,” Reviewed (photo)

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We’ve seen “The Bad News Bears” formula trotted out so many times but never quite like “Win Win.” Director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”) gives us all the cliches from the down-on-his-luck coach to the troubled-but-talented star — but buries them deep in the background of a touching and relevant story of a family man struggling to balance his books and his ethics amidst our current recession. It’s sort of “The Bad Financial News Bears” and it is outstanding.

Paul Giamatti stars, in one of his best performances in years, as Mike, a small town New Jersey lawyer whose meager earnings from his almost exclusively elderly clientele aren’t enough to keep his practice afloat. The bills are piling up; Mike can’t afford to fix the office boiler that clangs all day long and keep food on the table for his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and 2 kids. With insolvency a real possibility, Mike compromises his morals. When he learns that the estate of one of his senile clients, Leo Poplar (Burt Young), pays its guardian $1500 bucks a month, he has the court assign him Leo’s guardian, stashes him in a nursing home against his wishes, and pockets the $1500 all for himself.

There’s just one problem: Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), who’s been sent by his deadbeat mom to live with his grandfather and whose surprise appearance threatens to expose Mike’s entire scheme. While he tries to ship Kyle back to his mother, though, Mike discovers something: his new charge is a former champion high school wrestler, so good he might be able to prop up the local high school wrestling team, which Mike just happens to coach.

As you can see, the plot is complicated and littered with coincidence. But McCarthy is less concerned with the story than its moral implications for his characters, who are uniformly fascinating. McCarthy’s story is small — we’re talking about a whole lot to do about a couple thousands dollars — but its stakes are huge. And so are the questions it raises: what should a man be willing to do to support his family? How should we care for our society’s elderly? How do we determine who is the most qualified parent for a troubled child? But rather than than drown us in speeches about what’s right and wrong, McCarthy’s witty, nuanced screenplay, written with his friend and New Jersey lawyer Joe Tiboni, reveals all of the answers through the frequently difficult choices his characters make.

“Win Win” is one of those movies about good people with bad luck who make worse decisions. When their luck begins to improve, we cheer; when their worse decisions come back to bite them on their ass, we care. Giamatti and Ryan are one of the most believable married couples I’ve seen onscreen in a while, and I was particularly impressed by the subdued but utterly believable performance of Shaffer, a non-professional actor and former New Jersey state wrestling champion, as lost soul and wrestling phenom Kyle. His growth under Mike’s coaching, and the team’s growth under Kyle’s influence, has some fun with inspirational sports team cliches without completely abandoning the things we love about the genre either.

“Win Win” isn’t the most visually stimulating 90 minutes you could spend at arthouses this spring, but it might just be the most emotionally stimulating. The characters are so rich and their bland New Jersey world is so real, that I found myself completely caught up in their struggles and successes. As Mike’s busted boiler kept clanging away — as the pressure literally rises before our eyes — I found myself leaning foward in my chair, gripping my armrests in a way I don’t do often in movies. It was like I was watching a spy thriller, not a movie about a crummy, ethically-challenged lawyer from New Jersey. Pretty good for a “Bad News Bears”-style inspirational sports film.

Pegg, Frost, Mottola, and “Paul”

Pegg, Frost, Mottola, and “Paul” (photo)

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Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are basically the most entertaining interview subjects on the planet. They make my job very easy: no matter what I ask, their answers are always funny. Pegg and Frost stopped by the Crossroads House at SXSW 2011 with Greg Mottola, no slouch in the comedy department either, the director of their latest collaboration, the upcoming alien road trip comedy “Paul.” As usual, they did not disappoint. Our conversation touched on their inspirations for the film, why they wanted Mottola to fill in for their usual collaborator Edgar Wright, and whether or not “Paul” represents the end of a trilogy along with their previous films, “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.”

Part 1:

Part 2:

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