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The five-albums test for movies

The five-albums test for movies (photo)

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At The AV Club, Steven Hyden wrote a really interesting piece today calling for a new measurement of excellence in the world of popular music. In addition to judging a band’s “popularity” and “critical respectibility” he suggests you apply “the five-album test” to determine musical greatness. If an artist puts out five great albums in a row, they pass.

“Lots of artists have five or more classic albums (not including EPs or live records), but the ability to string them together back-to-back means being in the kind of zone that’s normally associated with dominant college women’s basketball dynasties.”

It’s a really fun test to apply to music — The Replacements make the cut but The Rolling Stones don’t — which made me think that it would be equally fun to apply it to film. The five-movies test, though, is arguably even harder to pass than the five-albums test.

Many of the usual suspects for title of greatest director in historydon’t even rate. Alfred Hitchcock has four classics back-to-back: “Veritgo,” “North by Northwest,” “Psycho,” and “The Birds,” but unless you’re about to go all Robin Wood on me and hail “Marnie” as a film the equal of those other masterpieces, that’s as close as he gets. Steven Spielberg never does better than two in a row: “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” are bookended by “Hook” and “The Lost World;” “Raiders” and “E.T.” are surrounded by “1941” and “The Twilight Zone: The Movie.” Then again that last one is an anthology which might not count — anthology films or TV work are probably the directorial equivalent of EPs or live records for musicians. But even if we bypass “Twilight Zone” Spielberg’s next movie is “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Not as bad as its reputation, but a great film? No way.

So who does pass the five-movies test? The first guy I thought of was Stanley Kubrick, who not only passes the test, he aces it: “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Barry Lyndon,” “The Shining,” “Full Metal Jacket,” and “Eyes Wide Shut” make seven great films in a row. Some might disagree on “Barry Lyndon,” though I’d bet a lot of that some have never even seen it. What might be a better argument against Kubrick being the champion of the five-movies test is the fact that he did it over the course of thirty-five years. He never made a dud, but he also spent an inordinate amount of time crafting each movie. If every filmmaker had that luxury, they might make the cut too.

In my opinion, there are a few other guys who pass. Martin Scorsese, definitely (for “The Last Waltz,” “Raging Bull,” “The King of Comedy,” “After Hours,” and “The Color of Money”); Godard as well (“Alphaville,” “Pierrot le Fou,” “Masculin Feminin,” “Made in USA,” “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her”). Tarantino’s in too, if you give him a pass for his part in “Four Rooms” (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown,” “Kill Bill Vols. I and II”) and so is Carpenter, if “Elvis” gets ignored because it’s a TV movie (“Assault on Precinct 13,” “Halloween,” “The Fog,” “Escape From New York,” “The Thing”). James Cameron and the Coen Brothers are really close, but you’d have to elevate “True Lies” and “The Hudsucker Proxy” from very good status to great status to pass them, and, as much as I like both those films, I’m not sure that we really can in the interest of absolute fairness.

Other than that, I’m hard pressed to find too many more directors up to the challenge. Francis Ford Coppola has maybe the best four movies in a row of any director ever — “The Godfather,” “The Conversation,” “The Godfather Part II,” and “Apocalypse Now” — but “The Rain People” and “One From the Heart” are never going to be mistaken for masterpieces. I’ve never seen “Home Movies” or “Wise Guys” but I have a feeling they’re not up to the level of craftsmanship on display in the four movies Brian De Palma made in between: “Dressed to Kill,” “Blow Out,” “Scarface,” and “Body Double.” Sergio Leone has the “Dollars” trilogy and “Once Upon a Time in the West” and then “Duck You Sucker.” Peter Bogdanovich has “Targets,” “The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up Doc?” “Paper Moon” and then “Daisy Miller.” Clint Eastwood has “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” two great World War II films and then “Changeling.” Five great movies in a row is really, really hard.

It’s also expensive. If there’s one difference between musicians and directors in this regard it’s that no pop star makes an album for a paycheck. Okay, yes, every album is made for a paycheck. But directors do work-for-hire, and rock bands, for the most part, do not. They may sell a song to a beer commercial, they might appear on an episode of “90210,” but — with the exception of, say, corporately engineered boy bands who wouldn’t factor into this discussion anyway — they don’t make albums without a hefty amount of creative imput. Directors, on the other hand, might, and frequently do; a lot follow the model of “one for me, one for them” because they can’t supplement their income by touring and selling t-shirts. Today indie-minded filmmakers ike Steven Soderbergh take high profile gigs like “Ocean’s Eleven” to off-set the costs of more personal projects like “Bubble.” In the Golden Age, guys like John Ford and Howard Hawks had multipicture contracts with studios, and they couldn’t always control what they were assigned. Doing five great movies in a row requires a certain amount of financial freedom along with creative inspiration.

Of course, I’m sure there are directors I didn’t think of that pass the test, and others I considered but couldn’t let through because I haven’t seen enough of their films (I’ll give you two in particular: Preston Sturges and Yasujiro Ozu. But that’s why this sort of thing is so much fun. It’s the start of the discussion, not the end of it.

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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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