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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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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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