DID YOU READ

“Arthur,” Reviewed

“Arthur,” Reviewed (photo)

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Want to know the difference between the two versions of “Arthur?” Just compare their first scenes. The 1981 original introduced Dudley Moore’s Arthur Bach cruising for hookers. The 2011 remake has Russell Brand’s Arthur dress up as Batman and crash an authentic “Batman Forever” Batmobile into Charging Bull and make fun of its testicles. I’m not a huge fan of the original “Arthur,” but as a film about a drunken, whoremongering hero, at least it took some chances. Moore’s Arthur was a lecherous sleaze. Brand’s Arthur is a cutesy cartoon goof.

So is his movie. Everything messy and ugly (and therefore interesting) about the old Arthur has been smoothed out in this shrewdly calculated remake. With those hints of darkness gone, Arthur becomes an overgrown boy with his toys, a lost innocent looking for the love and respect he’s never gotten from his distant mother. He doesn’t need a drink; he needs a hug. The changes make Arthur the character way more likable and “Arthur” the movie way less likable.

Here’s why. In both films we watch Arthur get drunk and act out, while his butler or nanny Hobson (John Gielgud in 1981, Helen Mirren in 2011) dryly mocks his antics. Moore’s Arthur was an asshole, so it was fun to watch him get put in his place. Brand’s Arthur is a sweeter soul, so Hobson’s insults come off as more mean-spirited. Moore’s Arthur drinks because he’s bored; Brand’s, although he doesn’t drink or act drunk nearly as often, is much more clearly an addict. Maybe it’s wasn’t exactly P.C. to have an impenitent lush as a protagonist, but it was certainly a whole lot edgier. This “Arthur” feels aimed at families and kids, right down to the title character’s love of children’s books.

Part of the problem may be Brand himself. His charm in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was rooted in the effortlessness of his performance. In “Arthur” he tries really hard to be funny, manically tossing out pratfall after dirty joke after crazy voice. A strained Russell Brand is not a funny Russell Brand, especially when he’s playing a guy like Arthur who’s three sheets to the wind and should probably be a bit more chill.

As before, Arthur’s story entails his efforts to resist an arranged marriage that will be financially advantageous for his wealthy family. Since refusing his assigned mate would mean forfeiting hundreds of millions of dollars, he’s initially willing to go along. But when he happens to meet an unlicensed New York City tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig) he has to decide whether he wants to spend the rest of his life with his money or his true love.

Despite the dangerous levels of quirk foisted upon her by the screenplay — she couldn’t be a licensed tour guide? — Gerwig provides an endearing note of cutesiness as Naomi. And she has some nice chemistry with Brand, who only seems to relax when he’s on screen with her. Together they share what’s easily this “Arthur”‘s best scene: a truly romantic first date inside an empty Grand Central Station. I’m not sure how a woman who’s supposedly as poor as Naomi affords such an expensive looking wardrobe, but whatever.

Her opposite number is Jennifer Garner, who narrowly beats Luis Guzmán for the title of Actor Whose Presence in This Movie Depresses Me The Most. As Susan, the woman Arthur’s mother has chosen for him, all she has to play is pure, comic book super-villain-level evil. There’s no suspense over Arthur and Susan’s relationship; of course he doesn’t want to marry a woman who treats their marriage like a hostile takeover. As anyone who’s ever watched “Alias” can tell you, Garner is capable of so much more than this. (For the record Guzmán plays Arthur’s chauffeur and he, too, deserves a lot better.) For her part, Mirren doesn’t add much to the role of Hobson that wasn’t already there in John Gielgud’s Oscar-winning performance, but at least she looks like she’s having some fun with the material.

One curiosity of the new “Arthur” is the expanded role of women in its title character’s life. In the original movie, Arthur’s marriage was arranged by his dad, and his faithful manservant was, well, a man. Now Arthur’s fate is determined by an unfeeling mother and the manipulative Susan, not to mention a gender-flipped Hobson. Suddenly Arthur has become this pure beacon of goodness trying to break free of the conniving, money-grubbing women who control his life. Which is a little strange.

Like I said, I’m no “Arthur” fanatic, so the changes made by director Jason Winer and writer Peter Baynham to Steve Gordon’s version don’t bug me as a fan; they bug me as a moviegoer. Aside from some screwy gender politics, the new “Arthur” is bland and tired. Without Gordon’s unconventional details, the material has aged as well as an uncorked bottle of champagne.

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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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