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“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” reviewed

“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” reviewed (photo)

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With its third entry, the documentary series “Paradise Lost” earns its title: these films now constitute an epic tragedy of American injustice. The first film, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” premiered in 1996; the second, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations,” debuted in 2000. Now “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” returns to the aftermath of the same horrific crime fifteen years later. Characters from all sides of the case — investigators and prosecutors, victims and the accused — reflect on who they were then and who they are now. Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky cut back and forth between the past and the present. The addition of time adds scope, insight and poignancy to everything we see.

Berlinger and Sinofsky have been chronicling the case against Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley — collectively known as the West Memphis Three — since they were first arrested for the murders of three young Arkansas boys back in 1993. From the very beginning, the filmmakers were skeptical of the official version of events put forth by police, who claimed that Echols was the ringleader of a local Satanic cult, and that he, Baldwin, and Misskelley committed the crime as a sort of religious sacrifice. Their skepticism was well-founded since there was no evidence that the West Memphis 3 were involved in any way, except for a confession by Misskelley procured under questionable circumstances.

You might expect the fact that the West Memphis Three were released from prison in August to blunt “Paradise Lost 3″‘s impact. It doesn’t. Berlinger and Sinofsky do an outstanding job of contextualizing this summer’s surprising turn of events, and of explaining the reasons why they happened. They also explain why the State of Arkansas would release the West Memphis Three for pleading guilty (via an obscure legal technicality called an Alford plea) after they spent decades futilely protesting their innocence (the short answer: to avoid admitting their own guilt and risking a civil suit). The scene where the Three are released after they plead guilty plays like a something out of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” only this isn’t a glimpse into a dystopian fantasy of society’s dark future, it’s a glimpse of our actual society’s dark present.

The filmmakers also do a remarkable job of updating us on the lives of all their characters. The most interesting one might by John Mark Byers, the stepfather of one of the victims who Berlinger and Sinofsky incorrectly fingered as a possible suspect in “Paradise Lost 2″ (whoops). After years of Bible-thumping and fire-and-brimstone preaching against Echols, Byers seems to have found peace and a certain amount of clarity. “What’s right and what’s wrong are two different things,” he says. “And the right thing is these boys are innocent.” Byers even has a “Free the West Memphis Three” bumper sticker on his truck. Whodathunkit?

Over their nearly twenty year journey with the West Memphis Three, Berlinger and Sinofsky have become more than storytellers; they’re now a fundamental part of the story itself. The first film led directly to the rise of a nationwide grassroots movement to free the West Memphis Three which led directly to the outside funding that led directly to new avenues in their defense. When Byers presented the directors with a blood-flecked knife as a gift, they handed the knife over to police and helped spur an investigation into his possible role in the murders. Berlinger and Sinofsky’s actions throughout the “Paradise Lost” saga may raise ethical questions about the appropriate behavior of documentarians, but those are dwarfed by the ethical questions raised about the American legal system, which is revealed in these films to be deeply damaged if not irreparably broken. So thank goodness Berlinger and Sinofsky were there to watch this all happen, and to encourage people to stand up against injustice. It’s good when a film moves people to tears. It’s better when it moves them to action.

“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” screens tonight at the New York Film Festival. If you see it, tell us what you think; leave us a comment below or write to us 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.

Dane Cook finds “Answers to Nothing” in new trailer

Dane Cook finds “Answers to Nothing” in new trailer (photo)

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Why do all comedians want to be dramatic actors? Does drama pay better than comedy? Is getting an Oscar that insanely awesome? Does working the comedy club circuit make you so dead inside that you become incapable of feeling or even portraying human joy? Whatever the reason, Dane Cook has been far too successful a comedian not to try his hand at dramatic acting. And here comes that try: “Answers to Nothing” from “Dead and Breakfast” director Matthew Leutwyler. The trailer:

I know the title and all, but I hope the movie has answers to something, because the trailer left me with a lot of questions, namely what exactly this movie is about besides Cook’s crossover to quote-unquote “real” acting, which actually looks promising. The answer (to nothing) follows, courtesy the official plot synopsis from the trailer’s press release:

“Dane Cook leads a stellar cast, including Elizabeth Mitchell (‘Lost’), Julie Benz (‘Dexter’), Zach Gilford (‘Friday Night Lights’), and Barbara Hershey (‘Black Swan’), as a man struggling with his own infidelity in ‘Answers to Nothing.’ Set against the backdrop of a missing girl case, the film tells interweaving stories of several Los Angelenos trying to do the right thing.”

That’s a little, but not much, more to go on. All we be revealed (and, presumably, be revealed to provide solution to not very much at all) when Roadside Attractions releases the film on December 2.

What do you think of Dane Cook’s acting chops? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Five more directors who should act more

Five more directors who should act more (photo)

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We were delighted to hear the news that Werner Herzog is going to appear as the villain in Tom Cruise’s next movie, “One Shot.” Herzog’s a great director, but he’s an equally great screen presence. We’ve dug his serious movies with Harmony Korine and his silly movies with Zak Penn. We have no doubt he will prove a magnificent onscreen adversary (or topless beach volleyball teammate) for Maverick.

And while there are some directors who could stand to do more directing and less acting — M. Night Shyamalan, Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino between the years 1994-1996 — Herzog is not the only auteur with as many gifts in front of the camera as behind it. Here are our picks for the five (living and working) directors ready to take the leap from occasional cameos to working thespians. In no particular order they are:

Martin Scorsese
Director of: “Mean Streets” (1973); “Taxi Driver” (1976); “The Departed” (2006).
Notable Performances: Martin Rittenhower in “Quiz Show,” Passenger in “Taxi Driver” (see below).
Ideal Casting: A fast-talking newspaper editor in a period screwball comedy.


Spike Jonze
Director of: “Being John Malkovich” (1999); “Adaptation,” (2002); “Where the Wild Things Are” (2009).
Notable Performances: Various Old Men and Ladies in “Jackass,” Vig in “Three Kings” (see below).
Ideal Casting: The charming owner of a vintage bookstore in a romantic drama.


Mel Brooks
Director of: “The Producers” (1968); “Young Frankenstein” (1974); “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” (1993).
Notable Performances: Yogurt in “Spaceballs,” Governor Lepetomane in “Blazing Saddles” (see below).
Ideal Casting: Ben Stiller’s dad.


Michael Bay
Director of: “The Rock” (1996); “Armageddon” (1998); “Transformers” (2007).
Notable Performances: Car Driver in “Bad Boys II;” Michael Bay in Verizon Commercial (see below)
Ideal Casting: The jock who used to torture the hero of a high school reunion comedy (we also would have accepted “Any role that keeps Michael Bay from directing more”)


Adam McKay
Director of: “Anchorman” (2004); “Talladega Nights” (2006); “Step Brothers” (2008).
Notable Performances: Erin Gossamer in “Green Team,” “Dirty Mike in “The Other Guys” (see below)
Ideal Casting: As Will Ferrell’s onscreen partner in a buddy comedy.


What director do you want to see acting more? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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