Shelf Life: “54”


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By the time I graduated from college in 1997, I had become fully obsessed with the 1970s. Certainly film was the primary conduit for my interest, but the music and fashion of that decade began to play an increasingly important part in all aspects of my life. Released in October of ’97, “Boogie Nights” became sort of the embodiment of everything that inspired me, and I ended up seeing it probably ten or more times just while it was in theaters. And when Miramax announced that they were releasing “54” in 1998, it seemed like my cinematic celebration of ‘70s hedonism would have a second chapter.

Superficially speaking, it possessed as many or more of the 1970s pop-culture hallmarks than Paul Thomas Anderson’s film did – music, clothes, and a story about the decade’s imploding decadence that was actually true. But it ultimately kind of came and went without much fanfare, not the least of which because notorious meddlers Bob and Harvey Weinstein decided to chop out some 45 minutes of original footage and then add 25 more that changed details from the plot and otherwise altered it from writer-director Marc Christopher’s original vision.

This week, Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray in a director’s edition which doesn’t restore the original cut Christopher produced, but at least gets a little closer to what he intended. (It’s the same as previous DVD versions, but with cleaned-up picture and sound.) Does the film deserve to go down as heir apparent to “Boogie Nights” and an overlooked gem that chronicles ‘70s culture? This week’s “Shelf Life” investigates to find out.

The Facts

Released August 28, 1998, “54” was Christopher’s first feature-length film, and as indicated above, the Weinsteins took it away from him and put together a 98-minute cut that was less controversial and (intended to be) more commercial, excising details that the main character Shane (Ryan Philippe) was bisexual, and that he, Greg (Breckin Meyer) and Anita (Salma Hayek) apparently reached a happy ending all together. In any form, however, audiences responded halfheartedly, and it opened at number Four at the box office before generating a total theatrical revenue that was just shy of $18 million.

Although it was nominated for two ALMA awards, one for Salma Hayek and one for the three performers of “If You Could Read My Mind,” it also received two Razzie nominations, for Worst Actor (Ryan Philippe) and Worst Supporting Actress (Ellen Albertini Dow, who played Disco Dottie). The film currently hovers at 13 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

What Still Works

Sadly, not a whole lot. Having never seen Christopher’s original cut, which is sort of legendary but all but unavailable, it’s impossible to attest to what might have been. But this version is brisk and superficial, showcasing three actors who were coming into their own at that time without giving them enough to do, while simultaneously offering comedian Mike Myers a chance to expand his repertoire in a more serious role. Myers is actually pretty great at Steve Rubell, the proprietor of Studio 54, but the film scarcely allows him to give Rubell (as a character or actual person) much real substance; he’s a charmer and a hedonist, but he’s also a sociopathic manipulator and mercurial drug addict.

The best part of the film unquestionably is the soundtrack, which was released in two volumes and features few of the obvious staples of the era, instead choosing deep-cut disco tracks that are more authentic to the New York scene, such as Gary’s Gang’s “Keep On Dancin’.” So at the very least, if you’re uninterested in the performances or storyline, there’s still something to enjoy throughout most of the movie.

What Doesn’t Work

“54” is a backstage drama where what’s interesting is on stage. While seeing 54 through the eyes of a young bartender is a promising idea, the theatrical version of this film does almost nothing interesting with it. If Christopher had gone full-out focusing on the hedonistic abandon of the club, or shown its descent via the legal troubles Rubell faced, then there might be something worth holding onto throughout its 100-minute running time. But Shane is a vapid, uninteresting, superficially-ambitious protagonist who does nothing except experience the same big-city revelations any other smalltown rube might if he threw himself into a world of celebrity, drugs and glamor.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Greg and Anita is not just cliched, but poorly-developed: during the first half of the film, they’re adorably lovey-dovey, always telling one another they love the other and talking about the success they’re going to have once she gets her singing career underway. But inexplicably, halfway through the film, Anita becomes inescapably attracted to Shane, and then her attraction to him becomes a larger issue in which she “needs her freedom” and inspires violent jealousy from Greg. But even then, that jealousy is only explored dramatically in one scene in the entire movie, and after that nothing ever becomes of Shane and Anita’s attraction; in fact, it’s literally never even mentioned again.

Finally, there’s a subplot involving Shane and an actress on “All My Children” played by Neve Campbell. It didn’t occur to me until this time that she is absent from almost all but the last 30 minutes of the film, when Shane teaches her a lesson about whoring herself out for work – which is exactly what he’s done for almost literally the entire running time but the film seems to consider that “ambition” or otherwise excuse it. In fact, most of the gender dynamics in the film are pretty despicable; in the guise of empowerment, women characters are mostly sexual predators, but in the case of Anita or Campbell’s character, they’re well-meaning sluts whose philandering is judged much more harshly than the hookups of their male counterparts. But in terms of Campbell’s character, she’s supposed to be instrumental in Shane’s evolution as a person and a character, and she is in the film so infrequently that she leaves almost no impact at all, although to Christopher’s credit, he just makes them friends at the end rather than having them become lovers. But that doesn’t feel satisfying either.

The Verdict

“54” is a pretty terrible movie. There’s so much interesting stuff to explore about Studio 54 that this feels like a catastrophic failure, which I, like many others, gave a pass at the time of its release because it felt like the morning-after follow-up to “Boogie Nights.” That said, I would absolutely give Christopher’s original cut another shot, since apparently it includes more details about Shane’s bisexuality and offers a more substantial exploration of the world. But ultimately its “peripheral character commenting on a larger context” approach just feels all wrong, because there’s simply too much of real interest – the music, the culture, the celebrities, and time period – to waste so much screen time on a himbo and a doofus married couple, especially when you have Myers there playing Steve Rubell, whose life, experiences, obliviousness, and ultimate downfall would have – and quite frankly still could – make for an amazing film.

Does “54” still hold up for you? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook or 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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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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