DID YOU READ

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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.