DID YOU READ

Shelf Life: Jane Fonda’s “Barbarella”

Jane Fonda in Barbarella

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One of the great things about revisiting movies that you love – or even if you don’t – is seeing how your appreciation either converges or diverges from their technical merits. Moviewatching is a purely intuitive experience, no matter how much one knows about the technique required to actually create and assemble a film, and ultimately there are probably just as many expertly-constructed movies that are crap as there are clumsily-engineered ones that leave you devastated.

All of which brings me to “Barbarella.” For myriad reasons, including Roger Vadim’s legendary prowess with beautiful actresses, Jane Fonda’s effortless combination of sensuality and naivete and just the idea of a goofy sexed-up sci-fi movie, it’s always been one of my favorites. But is it well put-together? Perhaps not. But this week’s “Shelf Life” intends to bridge that divide between well-made and enjoyable and figure out if one trumps the other.


The Facts

Released October 18, 1968, “Barbarella” was a decidedly mixed success. Although it maintains a 74 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film earned a lot of pans from major publications such as Variety. Its grosses are unavailable but the film cost approximately $9 million, and ended up bringing in $5.5 million in rentals domestically. Although the film received few awards, Fonda was recognized with a nomination for Female Comedy Performance at the Laurel Awards.


What Still Works

It isn’t meant as a backhanded compliment or a pass of any kind, but “Barbarella” is about the best kind of brainless fun you can have as a moviegoer. From its iconic opening credits sequence to its finale, the film is a visual marvel, even when the technology used to achieve those visuals occasionally lacks the kind of authenticity we associate with great special effects. Vadim’s grasp on the material’s tongue-in-cheek tone is effortless and yet assured, and he allows those set pieces and the sets themselves to have a kind of camp that winks at the audience and then dares them not to embrace it anyway.

As Barbarella, Fonda is absolutely magical. There’s a perfect kind of innocence to her performance that makes the character never seem to be exploited or exploitable – she’s nude, she finds herself in sexual misadventures, but she is less a victim than simply naively complicit in the fun. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Fonda is fearless in her body and soul-baring, by which I mean she leaps with both feet into the role and never lets us know she’s in on the joke – which makes it that much funnier. But there are few actresses today who could pull off that kind of pure sensuality and absolute obliviousness to precisely how alluring they are, and Fonda consequently becomes a sort of iconic performer for what she pulls off here.

As Dildano, David Hemmings is the film’s MVP, mostly because he knows exactly how to play this campy material and just makes it work so beautifully. His “hand sex” scene with Barbarella is a comic marvel, augmented by some cinematic sleight of hand, but it’s his sleepy-eyed consummation that makes it genuinely hilarious. Meanwhile, John Philip Law is perfectly humorless as the statuesque Pygar, and while his performance isn’t “good” per se, he provides the right profile for his character and never lets up on trying to make him a pure and beautiful creature.

As indicated above, the sets and production design are all a little bit cheap, to say the least, and scarcely hold up today as solid examples of good special effects. But it’s that cardboard flimsiness that also sort of sells the universe as a whole, because there are few flourishes that transcend the technical or conceptual complexity of the inflated plastic bags or conspicuous miniatures that make up the majority of the production design.


What Doesn’t Work

Well, it’s just not a well-made or well-told movie. The plot is flimsy to say the least, and even though the set pieces are rich in entertainment value, they hold together with a clothesline’s sense of cohesion. As indicated above the special effects really skirt the line between cheap-charming and just cheap, and it’s entirely reasonable to be too distracted by how bad they are to be able to enjoy the movie. (It doesn’t help that so many of the designs are very indistinct, so there’s not even a sort of conceptual appeal that maybe wasn’t quite executed strongly.) Moreover, while Barbarella is an icon, she’s not much of an agent of her own destiny, and she frequently makes clumsy mistakes or otherwise gets herself into trouble that someone else has to get her out of – unfortunately, usually a man.


The Verdict

Cheesy but charming, “Barbarella” holds up – albeit primarily if you already love the film and have enough of a sweet tooth to appreciate its empty calories. There’s nothing especially unique or original here, but the characters are all fun and interesting, whether or not the film utilizes them well, and what happens manages to be mostly engaging if again it’s not especially cohesive. Ultimately, Fonda’s so great as Barbarella that most of those shortcomings become irrelevant. But it’s certainly a film whose appeal is linked to a personal connection with the performers or the material rather than the way in which it’s been executed. Regardless, however, the new Blu-ray looks absolutely gorgeous – Fonda’s naughty bits have never been clearer – so love it or hate it, there’s never been a better reason to watch it.

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Janet Varney -Photo Credit: Kim Simms/IFC

Jan Against Evil

10 Things You Need to Know About Janet Varney

Catch Janet Varney on Stan Against Evil premiering November 2nd at 10P with back-to-back episodes.

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Janet Varney is about to go big time. She’s been on our radar for years, always popping up on that show, Web series or podcast we couldn’t get enough of. Now, Janet’s about to star on Stan Against Evil, the new IFC horror comedy series from the folks behind The Simpsons and The Walking Dead. As a little homework, we thought we’d dig into this talented performer’s past, and see what’s helped make her such a star on the rise.

Bone up on all things Janet Varney below, and be sure to stay tuned to IFC.com for more Stan Against Evil news before the big premiere on November 2nd at 10P.

10. She’s an Animation Voice Acting Superstar.

Korra
Nickelodeon Animation Studio

While Janet might be a new face to some folks, animation fans know she’s been the voice behind some beloved animated characters. Probably best known for bringing the heroic Korra to life on The Legend of Korra, she’s also provided her talents to shows and movies like Norm of the North, Sanjay and Craig and Dante’s Inferno.


9. The San Francisco Sketchfest? She co-founded it.

SF Sketchfest
SF Sketchfest

Now entering its 15th year, the SF Sketchfest started as an excuse by Varney, and friends David Owen and Cole Stratton, to give Bay Area comedians a place to perform. Over the years it has transformed into a comedy hotbed, with everyone from Zach Galifianakis to the original cast members of SNL taking part.


8. She’s Been Known to Perform Old Time Radio Plays.

Shawn Robinson / The Daily Quirk

Shawn Robinson / The Daily Quirk

The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a stage show and podcast that performs in the style of the radio plays of yore. Varney began as a guest, popping up in numerous productions, until she finally just went ahead and joined the troupe. Some of the show’s more notable regulars include Nathan Fillion, Comedy Bang! Bang! favorite Paul F. Tompkins and Linda Cardellini.


7. She Nailed a Classic Key & Peele Sketch.

Key & Peele was always at its best when deconstructing race in America. In this classic sketch, Janet Varney and comedian Natasha Leggero starred as two women who vacillated between the good and the bad of having preconceived notions about black people. Are stereotypes always racist? Can you use people’s ignorance to your own advantage? Is it wrong to have sex with a racist girl? No, seriously, is it? Because Key and Peele would like to know.


6. She’s Riffed Movies with the MST3K gang.

Footloose Rifftrax
ColeStratton.com/Rifftrax

From the warped minds behind Mystery Science Theater 3000RiffTrax Presents is a series where comedians are set loose on lousy movies, taking them down one sarcastic comment at a time. Varney, along with longtime collaborator Cole Stratton, are frequent guests on the show.


5. She claims June Diane Raphael is an Amazing Kisser.

Burning Love
Yahoo! Studios

While doing an AMA on Reddit, Janet coughed up some juicy gossip. Varney was one of the stars of the Yahoo! series Burning Love, making it all the way to the end of the parody dating series. At one point, she was fortunate to lock lips with Mrs. Raphael, and gives the experience a big thumbs up.


4. Her Podcast The JV Club Perfectly Captures Our Awkward Years.

The JV Club
Nerdist

A renaissance woman if there ever was one, Varney curates her own art exhibition called Fleeting Immersion, writes music, and hosts her own podcast, The JV Club, on the Nerdist Network. A weekly look back at all of our awkward years, the show is consistently featured in The Onion’s AV Club “Best Podcasts” lists. Guests from all areas of entertainment have stopped by to dish about their formative years, including Portlandia‘s own Carrie Brownstein.


3. She Had Puppet Dreams with Neil Patrick Harris.

Neil's Puppet Dreams
Nerdist

Varney helped bring Neil and his partner David Burtka’s puppet fantasies to life with the Web series Neil’s Puppet Dreams. She raved about working on the Jim Henson Company series, telling Nerdist that “[Neil’s Puppet Dreams is] my baby. I had a baby with two gay men and that’s what came out.”


2. Remember Dinner and a Movie? She Cohosted it!

Dinner and a Movie
TBS

What better way to enjoy a movie than with a delicious dinner inspired by a pun? From “Snow Coens” to “The Hippocratic Loaf” to “The Beets Go On,” if there was an adorably corny food-related joke to mine, the good people behind Dinner and a Movie found it. Thankfully, that was far from the only reason to tune in. From 2005 to 2011, Janet got to stuff her face and flaunt her film knowledge as the host of the late night dinner party. Unfortunately, the show was canceled, but Varney says she’s still extremely close with cohosts Paul Gilmartin and Claud Mann.


1. She Plays Becca on You’re The Worst.

Janet Varney You're the Worst
FX

Prior to signing on to fight demons in Stan Against Evil, Janet was channeling inner demons on the FX dysfunction-com You’re the Worst. Her role as Becca, sister to Lindsay and Jimmy’s ex, is both integral to the show (her wedding is where Jimmy meets Gretchen) and earned Varney rave reviews.

Check out Janet in a clip from Stan Against Evil below.

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The Wicker Man Nic Cage Bees

Great Moments in Rotten History

10 Classic Rotten Movie Moments

Catch "Too Rotten to Miss" movies Fridays at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

Sometimes you don’t need to watch an entire movie to know how bad it is. Sometimes, just knowing about infamous scenes is enough to know why some movies have entered the cultural lexicon of badness. As we kick off a new month of “Too Rotten to Miss” movies on IFC, here are ten of the most infamous rotten movie moments — notorious even if you haven’t seen the movie from which they spawned.

1. “Not the bees!,” The Wicker Man

Nic Cage bees
Warner Bros.

There could be an entire list of these moments starring just Nicolas Cage. But despite a wealth of moments to choose from, the actor’s most infamous rotten moment comes from The Wicker Man, in which a fragile masculine fever dream in the form of a neo-pagan cult dumps a bucket of bees on Nic’s head.

This one is particularly beloved in bad movie circles — it was even made into a techno remix.


2. “I was being trained…to conquer GALAXIES!,” Battlefield Earth

Though I’m partial to all of the scenes on this list, this one has a special place in my heart. Battlefield Earth‘s badness is mostly stylistic, a film that positions itself as epic and badass but is really just…well, it’s something.

In this scene, John Travolta’s alien character Terl is getting drunk to drown his woes, so his line read is exceptionally ridiculous in a film full of already ridiculous line reads. And while you can’t say the failure of Battlefield Earth is entirely Travolta’s fault, he’s not blameless, either.


3. “Man, everybody got AIDS and shit!,” Showgirls

Showgirls hand wave
United Artists

Picking only one scene from this fruit salad of wonderful, terrible ideas was a challenge — what could possibly outdo “Different PLACES!“? Or Nomi’s empowering beating of her friend’s rapist while topless with lipstick on her nipples? Or any scene between Elizabeth Berkley and Gina Gershon?

Showgirls whorey
United Artists

But really, one must go with that exercise in David Lynchian surrealism where Nomi is warned off by her friend/mentor(?) James against…unsafe sex? Metaphorical promiscuity? Actual promiscuity? Because everybody got AIDS. AND shit. #90s.


4. “Daddy would you like some sausage?,” Freddy got Fingered

Like with Showgirls, Freddy Got Fingered is also a stacked deck — do I choose, for instance, the scene in which Gord (Tom Green) manually stimulates a horse while merrily shrieking, “Look at me, daddy! I’m a farmer!”? Or, perhaps I could go with the one where he shoots elephant semen at Rip Torn out of an ejaculating elephant like an anti-aircraft missile? But no, perhaps because it’s more absurd than disgusting, Gord trying to tap into his creativity by chanting a monotone “Daddy, would you like some sausage?” has probably become the most infamous scene from an already infamously terrible movie.


5. “They’re eating her…,” Troll 2

Troll 2 is so terrible it even has a documentary (Best Worst Movie) chronicling its terrible-ness. But the truth about Troll 2 (which happens not to really be a sequel to Troll, or have much at all to do with it, really) is that, unlike Freddy Got Fingered and Showgirls, Troll 2 doesn’t have a litany of delightfully terrible sequences to choose from, and is comparatively forgettable. But the scene in which Arnold (Darren Ewing) witnesses a girl turn into plant matter, and reacts…accordingly(?) is definitely one for the books.

This one also has a dubstep remix!


6. Basketball scene, Catwoman

Catwoman is cited by many as the film that single-handedly killed superhero movies starring women, a genre which has been basically non-existent until next year’s Wonder Woman film (finger’s crossed, everyone). Here, a newly powered Catwoman (Halle Berry) goes one-on-one with her love interest, played by Eric Roberts. I think what they were going for is light-hearted and sexy, but the result defies not only logic, but spatial relativity, from a point-of-view shot where Berry is awkwardly shaking her booty to the confusing rapid fire cuts. Why, God why, are there so many cuts?


7. “Hi doggy!,” The Room

The Room is more a collection of surreal one-liners than scenes with intent or purpose. With that in mind, which do I go with as the most rotten moment? The “I definitely have breast cancer” scene? Or perhaps, even more memorable, “Everyone betray me!” (Watch it above.)

But I have to go with “Hi doggy!” for being the scene that wholly embodies the strangeness of The Room. Aside from the fact that the scene doesn’t really need to be in the movie, it looks like the crew only had this flower shop available to shoot in for ten minutes, and the rushed, surreal nature of the clipped dialogue just puts it over the edge.


8. “Turkey Time,” Gigli

And thank you, Jennifer Lopez, for basically ensuring that the boyfriends of an entire generation of women would never, ever go down on them. Alternately, if you’re not a fan of oral sex and want to make sure he never tries, this line is guaranteed to kill any mood, possibly forever.


9. Peter Parker dance, Spider-Man 3

When people want to explain why Spider-man 3 was the worst of the Spider-Man movies, perhaps the worst of any movie, this is the go-to example for why. People generally enjoyed Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man run for its ability to straddle a line between dramatic realism and comic book-y chicanery, but this scene alone brought the whole franchise dangerously close to Batman & Robin territory.


10. “Stop lubricating the man,” Transformers

Personally, I don’t think this one gets enough credit for the awful moment it is. Beloved character actor John Turturro gets pissed on by a precocious mute giant space robot named Bumblebee.

Oh, there are many terrible moments in later Transformers films, and yes, most of them do involve John Turturro…

But the first time I saw the Bumblebee golden shower scene, I legitimately thought I had dreamed it until a friend reminded me of its existence days later, including the little “byooiing!” as his…lubricant cap pops off? Truly, this was a landmark of badness.

Kick back with The Matrix Revolutions this Friday at 8P on IFC!

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John C. McGinley -Photo Credit Kim Simms/IFC

Necessary Evil

Get Freaky With New Stan Against Evil Photos

Stan Against Evil haunts IFC starting November 2nd at 10P with back-to-back episodes.

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From the warped minds behind The Simpsons and The Walking Dead comes your next horror comedy obsession.

Stan Against Evil employs ghoulish horror and pitch-black comedy that’ll both tingle the spine and tickle the ribs. And before the demon-possessed festivities kick off Wednesday, November 2nd at 10P ET with back-to-back episodes, we’ve got a glimpse at stars John C. McGinley and Janet Varney as mismatched small New England town sheriffs Stan Miller and Evie Barret who find themselves pitted against witches, demonic goats and other bizarre horrors.

Check out the Stan Against Evil stars — both living and undead — in the brand new photos below. Follow Stan on Facebook and Twitter for more updates as we approach the scarifiying November 2nd premiere.

Janet Varney Stan Against Evil

Witch Stan Against Evil

Book Stan Against Evil

Demon Stan Against Evil

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