DID YOU READ

A Transmission From The Lost Planet Hollywood

A Transmission From The Lost Planet Hollywood (photo)

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When its first movie-themed restaurant opened in New York on October 22, 1991, the name Planet Hollywood was just a cute moniker. Twenty years later, a visit to Planet Hollywood really does feel like a trip to an alternate Earth, where the 1990s never ended, digital effects never reshaped mainstream movies, and Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are still the biggest movie stars in the world.

I was at the Planet Hollywood in Times Square yesterday for a press junket; it was my first time inside any Planet Hollywood in at least a dozen years. But back in the day, I was a regular PH customer. All through the 1990s, I probably ate at at least half a dozen different Planet Hollywoods on two continents. I don’t remember much about the food — which is probably for the best — I just loved the point in any meal when my parents would let me and my brother walk around and look at all the props and costumes from movies. It was a big deal at the time; my “Planet Hollywood Disneyland Paris” T-shirt was one the prized possessions of my teenage years. Can you believe I didn’t have a girlfriend until after I graduated high school? Me neither.

I fully acknowledge that I was a pathetic dweeb, worthy of all the wedgies and book checks I received as a kid. But you have to remember that Planet Hollywood was born of a era before DVDs special features and Internet video. Nowadays, we have access to “movie magic” at our fingertips. Every great movie has its own comprehensive making-of documentary and commentary tracks. If I’m too lazy to walk over to my DVD shelf to pick one out, I can probably find what I’m looking for in the web with a few keystrokes. But back in the ’90s, going to places like Planet Hollywood or the old Universal Studios theme park were some of the only ways to see and learn about this stuff.

Planet Hollywood was just one member of a whole fraternity of weirdly themed restaurants in the 1990s inspired by the success of the Hard Rock Cafe. The apparent goal of these establishments was to see who could find the least appetizing ambience for tourists to eat popcorn shrimp in. During the height of the theme restaurant craze in New York City you could go chow in a oil-soaked racetrack pit (The NASCAR Cafe) or a mad scientist’s torture lab (The Jekyll and Hyde Club) or even in a sweat-soaked locker room (The All-Star Cafe). “Honey, your chicken fajita sandwich smells so good, it totally drowns out the odor of Dennis Rodman’s game used Reebok Pumps!” Deeeeelish.

Most of the theme restaurants are gone, but Planet Hollywood endures. The branch in New York City — one of only 14 left in the world out of dozens during its heyday — is actually housed in the old All-Star Cafe location (PH’s parent company owned both chains). Walking into it was like walking back into my childhood, and not just for all the nostalgic connections I had with the place. No, the restaurant looks almost exactly as it did back then, with most of the same memorabilia. Apart from a couple costumes from the recent movie “Beastly,” and Jason Statham’s jacket from “The Mechanic,” I didn’t see a single item on display from anything made after 1998. The juxtapositions were jarring, with legitimate pieces of movie history (like Jimmy Stewart’s camera and telephoto lens from “Rear Window”) sitting right next to head-scratching footnotes (like Salma Hayek’s spangly hat from “54”). In a dark corner upstairs, a Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers jersey hung next to Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen’s power suits from the original “Wall Street.” All the pieces I remembered from my childhood were still there. Schwarzenegger’s T-800 costume and makeup from “Terminator 2” still greeted you at the entrance. Sylvester Stallone’s cryogenically frozen body from “Demolition Man” still hung, nakedly and unappetizingly, from the main dining room ceiling.

In other words, you don’t take a trip to Planet Hollywood anymore; you embark on an archaeological dig. And the restaurant seems to encourage that vibe with dark, dingy lighting, even on some of the props — I felt like I should be wearing one of those flashlight pith helmets as I walked up the dim staircase to the main dining room, past the giant piano from “Big” and a phaser from “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.” When Planet Hollywood opened, these weren’t relics; they were representations of cutting-edge filmmaking technology. Now they’re souvenirs not just from a bygone era in the restaurant business, but in the movie business as well.

The owners of Planet Hollywood surely made some missteps along the way to two different bankruptcies, but they’ve also been laid low by forces beyond their control. In the pre-DVD age, Planet Hollywood was a magical place. Where else were you going to see a giant model of the Death Star from “Return of the Jedi?” Now documentaries about the making of “Star Wars” air on basic cable four nights a week. They’ve been hurt even more badly by the rise of CGI, which have by now totally replaced the kinds of analog special effects that Planet Hollywood fetishized. Sure, Planet Hollywood celebrated the sometimes crass and comercial world of mainstream filmmaking. But the stuff they displayed represented the remarkable work of skilled artists and craftsmen who rarely got the recognition they deserved while they toiled away in model shops and effects studios.

Today’s blockbuster don’t leave behind as many trinkets to commemorate their creation. Everything’s made with computers; there’s nothing tangible to hang on to. What are they supposed to hang from the ceiling from “Revenge of the Sith?” A giant green screen? One of the hard drives that rendered Yoda? No wonder there’s so few post-1998 SFX props on display. They just don’t exist in Hollywood anymore, let alone in Planet Hollywood.

Dated though they may be, there are some truly impressive pieces at Planet Hollywood if you’re a big enough movie dork to appreciate them: Redford and Newman’s costumes from “The Sting,” a Slimer from “Ghostbusters,” Matthew Broderick’s hideous leopard print vest from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” At first I felt like they deserved a better fate, maybe hanging in a museum somewhere. But then I thought, what better testament to the faded glory of movies past than a Planet Hollywood? I didn’t eat anything — which is probably for the best — but I’m going to recommend people go and check it out for themselves. Yesterday was the first time in my life I actually felt like I was time travelling.

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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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