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Five underrated Woody Allen movies

Five underrated Woody Allen movies (photo)

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The two part Woody Allen documentary on PBS this week has got a lot of people thinking and talking about the prolific filmmaker again. Everyone agrees on his best work — “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters” — and just about everyone agrees on his worst stuff — “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” — but after that it gets a little trickier.

Picking five “underrated” Woody Allen movies isn’t an easy job. The man has made a lot of films, and everyone has their personal favorites; a Twitter poll on this subject yielded at least a dozen different responses and no clear consensus (though “Match Point” and “Broadway Danny Rose,” two fine films which are both absent from this list, were quite popular). So these are my five favorite underrated Woody Allen movies. You could very easily have five others you prefer. But if you haven’t seen these, I recommend that you do.


“Take the Money and Run” (1969)

Allen’s true directorial debut (after the Japanese redub “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”) was this early mockumentary. While Woody would refine his faux documentary technique in 1983’s “Zelig,” and he would make much “better” movies over the course of the next forty years, he arguably never made a funnier one. Admittedly, his visual style and command of narrative circa 1969 were crude. But to me “Take the Money and Run”‘s rough edges look like strengths, not weaknesses. Not knowing the “right” way to direct a movie meant he tried about fifty different ways — all in the same, frenetic picture about a bumbling career criminal (Allen) and his misadventures in the underworld. As Allen settled into a filmmaking routine, his movies began to look more and more similar; occasionally, they became downright predictable. Decades later, “Take the Money and Run” is still a shocker.


“Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)” (1972)

In Part 1 of the PBS documentary, Allen dismissed this movie the way you’d write off a meal at a highway rest stop. So why have I watched it more than any other Woody Allen movie? Probably because while its creator really only values his work as a tragedian, I love “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask)” as an uproariously funny sketch comedy movie. When it gets remembered at all, it’s usually for the final bit, which dramatizes the inner workings of the male reproductive organs from the perspective of one sarcastic sperm (played, of course, by Woody). But I love the sci-fi spoof in the middle that culminates with a mad scientist’s greatest experiment — a gigantic, disembodied, female breast — roaming the countryside like a monster movie villain (the heroes finally defeat it by trapping it in a giant bra). And we haven’t even mentioned the sequence where Gene Wilder falls for a sheep. Why is this not Woody’s most beloved comedy again?


“Shadows and Fog” (1992)

True, Woody Allen’s nebbish schtick and German expressionist cinematography make for a strange combination, the cinematic equivalent of a peanut butter and sushi sandwich. But somehow the goofy one-liners and atmospheric visuals work well together. “Shadows and Fog” has some of Allen’s best post-“Love and Death” comic premises, including two men commiserating over a beer about women, unaware they’re both kvetching about the same girl, and the moody, murky images are absolutely stunning. Woody Allen’s never made a real horror film, but “Shadows and Fog” comes closest, especially in the scene where Jodie Foster licks Woody’s nipples. “Shadows and Fog” isn’t quite a scary movie, more of a “scared movie;” even by the standards of Woody Allen’s filmography, it’s an incredibly paranoid picture. Made just before his relationship with Mia Farrow exploded into a tabloid nightmare, it pulses with anxiety and misery. Farrow’s character gets cheated on by her artist husband while Allen’s character is nearly killed by his ex-wife after she catches him sleeping with one of her relatives. Was Allen, who based the film on his 1975 one-act play “Death,” foreshadowing his problems or confessing to them before he got caught? Ironically, this atypical looking Woody movie feels like one of his most intensely personal statements.




“Deconstructing Harry” (1997)

Woody Allen is the author of his films, but is he also their subject? He has insisted for decades — even in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary — that his seemingly autobiographical movies have nothing to do with his real life. One of the things I love about “Deconstructing Harry” is the way it deconstructs that disagreement between filmmaker and viewer. In the film, Allen plays a novelist named Harry Block who must defend himself from charges by friends and (not so) loved ones that he airs their dirty laundry in his art. In “Woody Allen: A Documentary,” Allen insisted, not surprisingly, that Harry was nothing like him. But Harry breaks up a family with an affair and fights bitterly for custody of a child with his ex-wife, things Allen did very publicly in the years leading up to “Deconstructing Harry.” I’m not saying Allen is wrong, or that audiences are right. I’m saying that tension makes “Deconstructing Harry” — which is also bitterly funny, by the way — incredibly interesting.


“Melinda and Melinda” (2004)

This wouldn’t be the first (or tenth) movie I would show a Woody Allen neophyte, but as a cinematic experiment, it’s one of the director’s most fascinating. Allen is a master of weaving multiple stories together into one film (see “Crimes and Misdemeanors”) but in this case, he chose to tell one story multiple times. Over dinner, a group of writers debate whether life is inherently comic or tragic by alternating between funny and sad variations of the same basic premise: a woman named Melinda (Radha Mitchell, who’s wonderful in both halves of the film) interrupts a dinner party and comes to upset the lives of a married couple. While it is indeed an experiment, “Melinda and Melinda” still speaks directly to Woody Allen’s core philosophical beliefs. Is the world funny or sad? By dramatizing that question, and by showing how similar the two sides truly are, he argues that the only constant in life is absurdity. Whether we prefer to laugh or cry at it is up to us.


What do you think is Woody Allen’s most underrated movie? Tell us in the comments below or write to us 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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