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Fantastic Fest 2011: “Clown,” reviewed

Fantastic Fest 2011: “Clown,” reviewed (photo)

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What’s the funniest movie of the year? “Bridesmaids?” “Horrible Bosses?” “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never?” No, the funniest movie of the year so far is a Danish comedy called “Clown.” The only problem with this movie is you can’t see it: it currently has no distribution and its content is so edgy, it might have trouble finding it without some significant cuts. So it’s the funniest movie you won’t see this year. It poses a sort of cinematic philosophical conundrum: if a movie is hysterical, and no one is around to laugh at it, is it really funny?

“Clown” is a big-screen adaptation of a TV series of the same name that I’d never even heard of before it screened at Fantastic Fest. Fortunately, you don’t need to know anything about the series to enjoy “Clown;” all that’s required is a love of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-style observational-slash-confrontational awkwardness and Farrelly Brothers-style gross-out sex humor. Smash those two together and drown them in Underberg bitters and you’ve got “Clown.”

The premise is very “Curb,” with two Danish actors, Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, playing loosely fictionalized versions of themselves, stand-up comedians with endlessly patient girlfriends. Frank is uptight, Casper is outrageous. The two plan a vacation away from their loved ones they secretly name “Tour De Fisse” — a.k.a. “Tour De Pussy” in English — a canoe trip to the greatest brothel in the world. The only problem is Frank’s girlfriend is newly pregnant, and she’s been giving him flack about hating kids and being unprepared for fatherhood. Determined to prove her wrong (even though she’s absolutely right) he drags a pre-pubescent boy named Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) that his girlfriend’s supposed to be babysitting along for the trip. The Tour De Pussy. You see the problem here.

The film wears its episodic roots on its sleeve: Tour De Pussy becomes a series of epic misadventures along the trio’s trip. The threads that connects it all together are the character dynamics: Casper devilishly egging on Frank, Frank struggling to connect with Bo, Bo trying to figure out what the hell he’s doing on this trip with these two weirdos. All three make wonderful traveling companions, even if their travels don’t always go so wonderfully. The final act of the film manages to pull off a combination of sentimentality and humor so simultaneously sweet and hilarious that it would make Judd Apatow super(bad) jealous. And while the jokes are utterly immature, the film actually offers a surprisingly mature portrait of masculinity in all its wondrous insecurities.

I know what you’re thinking: “Matt, this movie sounds fine, but you haven’t explained what makes it so funny.” That was by design. This sort of outrageous shock comedy works best as a surprise. I can tell you that the film has a sex scene so funny it made me cry, and a riff on the final punchline in “The Hangover” so outrageous it made me scream (and might also be illegal to show in the United States). Both of those moments are the biggest laughs in any movie this year, if only you could see them this year.

“Clown” does not have US distribution, but holy cow it deserves it. If you saw it at Fantastic Fest, or you’re a fan of the original series, tell us in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter..

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Shock and eww in “The Human Centipede II” trailer

Shock and eww in “The Human Centipede II” trailer (photo)

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“The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)” made a big splash — or maybe “made a big blood splatter” is more accurate — at its world premiere at Fantastic Fest last week. Some folks hated it. Some loved it. But everyone had something to say about it, and some of the best conversations I had at the festival were about it. You can read my report on the premiere here; for further reading, I also recommend Devin Faraci’s review on Badass Digest, which does a nice job of examining the film’s interesting subtext about fandom and horror audiences.

The movie opens in a little more than week on October 7, so to whet your appetite — or maybe “destroy your appetite for the rest of the day” is more accurate — here’s one final trailer from the film:

Having seen “HC2″ — as the shirts they handed out at the premiere called it — I can attest that this trailer’s pretty representative of the film itself. It is in black and white, unlike the first film which was in color. That’s both a stylistic choice and, I think, a way to make some of the truly revolting acts depicted onscreen a wee bit less revolting. Even with the reds desaturated out of the color palette, you still better prepare yourself for a grueling experience. Everything you glimpse in the trailer appears in graphic, lengthy detail on the film itself. If you were one of the people who complained that “The Human Centipede” wasn’t as gory or as disgusting as you expected or wanted it to be, this movie is for you. Maybe to punish you.

I love that “The Human Centipede II” opens on Yom Kippur, too. It’s really the perfect time for it. It’s not a great movie to see on a full stomach.

Are you excited for “The Human Centipede II” or terrified? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Will the “Twilight” stars ever find success outside of the franchise?

Will the “Twilight” stars ever find success outside of the franchise? (photo)

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Did you see “Twilight” star Taylor Lautner in “Abduction” last weekend? According to the box office numbers, odds are probably not. Box Office Mojo reports the film grossed below industry projections, earning just $10.9 million at over 3100 screens. That barely covers what it costs to hire Lautner these days. His fee ballooned to $7.5 million last year, making him the highest paid teenage actor in Hollywood at the time. So we have to wonder: is he worth it? Audiences — or at least one particular and very devoted audience — will come see him in “Twilight.” Are they going to come see him in anything else?

They didn’t come out in force for “Abduction,” though there are certainly some mitigating circumstances that could account for the film’s low grosses. It opened opposite another action movie, “Killer Elite,” which didn’t perform well at the box office either. It’s feasible that the two films split their collective audience and stole admissions from one another. Box Office Mojo says “the audience breakdown was 68 percent female and 56 percent under the age of 25,” a good indicator of Lautner’s audience: young women. Typically, that’s not the core action movie crowd.

Is that Lautner’s fault? Maybe; maybe it’s the fault of the people who cast the female-leaning Lautner in a male-leaning genre. Either way, “Abduction” is not an isolated incident. Ever since Lautner and co-stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson launched “Twilight” in 2008, the franchise has earned $789.8 million in the United States. In that same stretch of time, that trio has appeared in 9 other movies. Their total gross? $219.3 million. If we take out “Valentine’s Day”‘s $110.4 million, in which Lautner was just one of many stars, that’s $108.9 over 8 movies, a paltry average of $13.6 million per movie.

Again, we can find extenuation if we want to. A lot of these movies were little indies with littler marketing budgets. Others had adult subjects and themes that might not appeal to the “Twilight” crowd. A few had both, like “Little Ashes,” a gay romance in which Pattinson played famed surrealist Salvador Dalí. That one grossed just $480,000, but that’s not the biggest flop from the “Twilight” cast. Stewart has two flicks that failed to reach seven figure grosses: “The Yellow Handkerchief” ($318,000) and “Welcome to the Rileys” ($158,898).

There are reasonable excuses why Stewart, Pattinson, and Lautner haven’t had success outside “Twilight.” But there are also arguments to be made that say those excuses shouldn’t matter. The whole point of casting a movie star is to help bring people to the theater without spending money on marketing. Brad Pitt is his own marketing as the star of “Moneyball” — no coincidence then that the film’s poster just a simple, beautiful close-up of Pitt flashing that million dollar smile. The poster for “Abduction” was a picture of Lautner surfing down the side of a skyscraper (or something). That was all his die-hard female fans needed to know, but it was also all other folks needed to know to convince them to stay away.

That’s one of the curious aspects of the “Twilight” phenomenon: it’s one of the most widely disliked massively successful movie franchises in history. Each movie’s made more than the one before it, and each has drawn more derision from film writers than the one before it. The series is popular but divisive, and that could be a major problem for its stars as they move forward with their careers.

They could have larger problems that have nothing to do with “Twilight” too; this could be the twilight of movie stardom in general. We live in an age in which the films that get produced are dictated more by properties than movie stars. It’s a phenomenon we first identified and discussed on the old IFC News podcast about two years ago. Audiences are drawn to material and not necessarily to the actors appearing in that material. When the actors get too expensive, they’re just replaced; see Andrew Garfield subbing for Tobey Maguire in the upcoming “The Amazing Spider-Man.” There are still a few franchises rooted in star power — it’s impossible to imagine a “Pirates of the Caribbean” without Johnny Depp — but not many. Would “Transformers” crater without Shia LaBeouf? It certainly didn’t crater without Megan Fox; she was replaced for this summer’s “Dark of the Moon,” which went on to gross $351.9 domestically without her. That’s the second best total of 2011 behind only “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.”

Speaking of “Harry Potter,” we could be having this same conversation about that cast really soon.

Does a “Twilight” cast member’s name on a poster make you more or less likely to see the film? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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