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Sidney Lumet: A YouTube Primer

Sidney Lumet: A YouTube Primer (photo)

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When I was in in grad school, getting a degree in cinema studies, Sidney Lumet was a tough director to love. If I brought his name up in conversations about great filmmakers, I was shouted down by my colleagues. They’d say his best movies were adapted from plays, or that that he often sublimated his own artistic impulses to great writers who became the true authors of their collaborations.

Maybe they were right. But there’s no shame in turning a good play into a better movie, or allowing a marvelous screenplay to take center stage. Lumet’s unfussy, economical approach was born from years cutting his teeth in the fast-paced world of early television production. His apprenticeship in television taught him that the flashiest way was not always the best way to tell a story. There doesn’t appear to be a lot going on visually in a film like “12 Angry Men,” a movie adapted from a play and set entirely inside a jury deliberation room. But you watch closely and you see how Lumet subtly raises the tension by shooting with shorter and shorter lenses, shrinking the room, increasing the sense of claustrophobia.

Lumet’s work illustrates the difference between good direction and big direction. Any filmmaker would love to have a movie as good as “Network” or “Dog Day Afternoon” or “The Verdict” or “12 Angry Men” on their resume. Lumet had them all. A filmography as long and impressive as his doesn’t just happen by accident. Neither do the performances that actors like Al Pacino, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, John Cazale, and Faye Dunaway gave in his movies.

Thinking about Lumet over the weekend I found myself repeatedly heading to YouTube to watch my favorite scenes from his work. If you don’t know these movies, this post is no replacement for actually watching them. But if these samples give you the desire to go out and see them in their entirety, it will have done its job.

Let’s start with maybe the most famous scene from his most famous movie, “Network.” As I wrote just a few weeks ago, during the height of the Charlie Sheen madness, the film, about the media consolidation and degradation, is as timely now as it was back in 1976. Just listen to Howard Beale (Peter Finch) here. Beale has been fired from his broadcast news show for low ratings. It’s driven him completely insane. But in insane times, an insane man sees things more clearly. And the speech he gives, written by Paddy Chayefsky, about how bad things are getting in society (“It’s a depression! Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job…banks are going bust…”) could have been penned last month.

By the way, incredible as that rant is, my favorite scene from “Network,” isn’t Beale’s “mad as hell” speech; it’s Ned Beatty explaining to Beale how he has “meddled with the primal forces of nature” in corporate controlled America. That scene is viewable on YouTube, but not embeddable.

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” wasn’t the only time a moment from one of Lumet’s films became larger than the movie itself. It’s a pretty safe bet that anyone who knows the word “Attica!” today knows it as something Al Pacino yells in Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon” and not as a notorious prison riot, which is why Pacino yells it in the first place. Here is that riveting scene:

Two years before “Dog Day Afternoon,” Lumet directed Pacino in another classic, the undercover cop drama “Serpico.” People often note that Pacino’s acting has gotten bigger and bigger (and worse and worse) over the years, and put all the blame on Pacino himself. But maybe the fact that Pacino worked less and less with great directors like Lumet played a big part. Here’s a scene from “Serpico” where Pacino goes big, but not over the top. With Lumet, he knew exactly the right note to hit.

Lumet made all sorts of films, but many of his most well-known movies are set in the American legal system. Here Lumet himself shares his thoughts on what makes a good courtroom drama:

And here are some of those theories in action, in Paul Newman’s closing argument from “The Verdict.” Note the similar camera movement from Howard Beale’s big speech in “Network,” the high, wide angle slowly moving tighter and tighter, a Lumet signature. Though there aren’t any specifics of “The Verdict”‘s plot in Newman’s speech, it is the big emotional climax of the movie. So consider this your SPOILER WARNING.

Last and definitely not least, more legal thrills from my favorite Lumet film — and of my all-time favorite movies, period — “12 Angry Men.” In this scene, Fonda’s character, the one voice of reason(able doubt) in a deliberation room ready to send a boy to his death, begins to chip away at the certainty of his fellow jurors. Because Lumet’s direction is so controlled, even small moments of action have a huge impact, like someone slamming a knife down into a table.

Again, if you don’t know the movies of Sidney Lumet, you are missing out on some of the greatest films ever made in and about this country. Seek his work out.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.