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Cliff Robertson (1923-2011)

Cliff Robertson (1923-2011) (photo)

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Various outlets report that Cliff Robertson, the versatile actor and star of six decades of films and television shows, passed away on Saturday. He was 88 years old.

Robertson won an Academy Award in 1969 for his lead performance in “Charly,” the big-screen adaptation of Daniel Keyes’ novel “Flowers for Algernon.” But to people of my generation and younger, he’s best known as Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi‘s “Spider-Man” trilogy. And with good reason: Robertson was amazing in the role, making a huge impression in a small amount of screen time.

In the original Stan Lee – Steve Ditko “Spider-Man” comic books, Uncle Ben dies off-panel. Peter Parker, newly imbued with the proportionate powers of a spider, is so wrapped up in himself and his newfound stardom, that he can’t be bothered to stop a thief who’s stealing money from a wrestling promoter. By the time he returns home that night, the same thief has broken into his aunt and uncle’s house and killed Ben. In Raimi’s version, the thief carjacks Ben outside the wrestling venue while he’s waiting to pick up Peter. Peter arrives on the scene just in time to hold Ben in his arms as he passes away. This isn’t one of those touching, beatific movie deaths where the victim has time to reconcile with his loved one and send him off with some inspirational words. Ben, clearly in agony, barely has time to cry out Peter’s name before he’s gone.

It’s such a moving scene, and it’s a very important one to the success of the movie. That’s the moment when Raimi makes it clear this is not a “Biff! Zap! Pow!” kind of comic book picture. There are real stakes and these are real people. It’s pretty dark beat for a comic book movie, but I have always loved the way Raimi refused to soft-peddle that moment, and the fact that he moved me with a version of a scene I had literally read hundreds of times. To his credit, Robertson played it perfectly. It’s the reason why we become so invested in Peter as a character, and it still gets me choked up every time I watch it.

No question: Robertson will always be remembered as Uncle Ben. But younger fans of Robertson’s performance in “Spider-Man” are missing out if that’s all they’ve seen of his work. Obviously, they should go back and check out “Charly,” with Robertson as a mentally handicapped man who undergoes an experimental procedure to boost his intelligence. They should also look for him in “Obsession,” which is director Brian De Palma and screenwriter Paul Schrader’s moody riff on Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

He’s also terrific in my favorite 1970s paranoid thriller, “Three Days of the Condor.” At the end of the movie, Robertson has this verbal showdown with Robert Redford, the star of the picture. Essentially, Redford is telling Robertson that he knows about his massive conspiracy and that he’s going to bring the truth to the press. Robertson had the near-impossible task of making us hate this guy while also recognizing that he might be right about everything. He pulled it off. You can watch the scene on YouTube, but be wary of spoilers. And if you’ve never seen Robertson as the guy who begins to believe his ventriloquist dummy is coming to life in a great episode of “The Twilight Zone” and you’ve got Netflix, you can watch that right now here. It’s Season 3, Episode 33, “The Dummy.”

I got to meet Robertson one time, when I worked the red carpet for “Spider-Man 3” at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. Robertson walked the press line and when I spotted him I practically leapt over the barricade to interview him. Generally speaking, I don’t typically get starstruck. I never ask for autographs or photographs. But this was Uncle Ben! Ignoring every journalistic instinct, I humbly requested that he recite Uncle Ben’s iconic line — “With great power, comes great responsibility,” — for a lifelong Spider-Man fan. With a huge grin, he obliged, and gave a nerd-turned-professional-nerd one of the biggest thrills of his professional life.

For more on Robertson’s life and career, be sure to read his obituary in The New York Times, which includes details on a period of his life that I’d never read about before. In the late 1970s, Robertson discovered that the head of Columbia Pictures was embezzling money from the studio using a check forgery scheme. Rather than follow the advice of friends and advisers and keep quiet, Robertson publicized the incident, and helped bring charges against the executive. For his honesty, Robertson was blacklisted from Hollywood for years.

No wonder he was so good at saying “with great power comes great responsibility.” It was an ethos Robertson clearly understood.

What is your favorite memory of Cliff Robertson? Tell us in the feedback below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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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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