DID YOU READ

10 great documentaries about comedians

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The life of a stand-up comedian is an interesting one. On the surface, it seems like a hell of a good time, getting up on stage and making people laugh, but dig a little deeper, and you find out that there’s a lot of hard work, repetitive toil and frustrating failures behind every comic who makes it to the television screen. Dig even further, and you start to see some of the psychological issues that drive people to dedicate their professional lives to drawing attention to themselves and fighting for the approval of strangers. It’s such a visceral, validating experience to tell a room full of strangers things you came up with and make them all laugh, and that’s the foundation of every great comic’s story. There are plenty of funny movies, and plenty of stand-up concert films, but here’s a list of 10 documentaries that went about the difficult task of trying to get a real sense of what it’s like to be a professional comedian – be they profiles of legends of the industry or examinations of the process of jokesmithing.


1. “Looking for Lenny”

Lenny Bruce is universally regarded as the man who opened the door for every stand-up comedian you’ve ever heard of. In fact, he’s a pioneer of the entire art form, and he paid the price for it. He came up in the 1950s, and his disregard for censorship and hypocrisy made him a target for the cultural crusaders who wanted to brand his act obscene and constantly arrest him for performing at all. The result was groundbreaking, pushing the social boundaries of a closed-off era, but also a personal descent into self-destructive behavior, paranoia and an eventual early death.


Watch “Looking for Lenny” on Netflix


2. “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project”

Speaking of legendary performers who trucked in social taboos, there isn’t really another comic like Rickles. He hung out with the Rat Pack and charges people money to insult them in some of the most offensive ways he can think of, and ethnicity is never off-limits. In fact, you can bet that’ll be the first thing he brings up. John Landis directed this look at the long career of the man known as “Mr. Warmth,” and it’s chock full of wild stories from a revered age of show business.

Watch “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project” on Netflix


3. “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”

She wasn’t always that woman tearing apart people’s clothing choices – Joan Rivers was a trailblazer for female comedians everywhere, and this Sundance award-winning doc is an unflinching look at her long career, her relationship with Johnny Carson and how hard she’s still driven to work, insisting that she’ll never turn an job down. It’s a tribute to her longevity as much as it is a heartbreaking depiction of how show business really works, and it’s not really all that glamorous.

Watch “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” on Netflix


4. “Why We Laugh”

Robert Townsend’s 1987 comedy “Hollywood Shuffle” was a biting satire of the Hollywood experience for black actors, but he’s always been one to strive for positivity over despair. Thus, this Sundance documentary about the history and necessity of black comedy accentuates the positive when too much media attention can get focused on the negative. Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and many more are examined within their cultural context as well as their lasting legacies.

Watch “Why We Laugh” on Netflix


5. “American: The Bill Hicks Story”

The brightness of this counterculture comic burned out far too early due to his death from pancreatic cancer in 1994, but Bill Hicks’ ferocious brand of heated satirical rage definitely made its mark – just ask Denis Leary. One could easily call him the Lenny Bruce of his time, and his on-stage monologues would often veer off into uncharted audience-challenging territory. This doc offers some slick animation and a lot of archival footage to craft a powerful tribute to a very volatile voice which gave us uncomfortable truths about the world at large, as well as perspectives on drugs we might never have considered before.

Watch “American: The Bill Hicks Story” on Netflix

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Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

10 reasons to love Michael Keaton

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Why isn’t Michael Keaton in everything? That’s the question I often ask myself whenever I do manage to catch a glimpse of one of the most amusing and talented actors of this or any generation. That guy makes everything better. His sheer presence is a delight that spreads joy and good feelings to all who have the good fortune to experience it. He’s funny, he’s charming, he’s weird, and he’s not nearly in enough stuff these days. So here, for public record, are 10 reasons to love Michael Keaton and to start putting him in more movies again.


1. Stand Up Comedy

Before you ever heard of him, Michael Keaton was working the stand-up circuit, and if you pay attention to this excerpt of his act (which includes an amusing dramatic reading of Bazooka Joe comics), you can definitely hear the vocal stylings that would eventually form the core of the title character of a gangster move he’d do – you know, that guy whose last name is an adverb.


2. “Night Shift”

Keaton’s first big movie role came with this 1982 Ron Howard comedy. The former Richie Cunningham cast the former Fonz, Henry Winkler, as a put-upon mortician who Keaton convinces to start running a brothel out of the morgue, with the help of hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Shelley Long. Much like our equally beloved national treasure Tom Hanks, Keaton started as a manic comedy machine before settling down into future dramatic roles, and that early energy is on full display in this hilarious film. Observe his stunning powers of bullshit here.


3. “Johnny Dangerously”

Yes, his last name is an adverb. Keaton shined in this ridiculous Amy Heckerling gangster farce that may also be the best thing Joe Piscopo ever accomplished. Using a lot of that James Cagney movie charm in service of a lot of zany slapstick schtick, Keaton’s Johnny is the coolest, smoothest and friendliest gangster in town, never tryin’ to hurt nobody, torn over the fact that his brother (Griffin Dunne) is a straight-laced anti-crime crusader.


4. “Mr. Mom”

In 1983, the concept of the stay-at-home dad was still pretty novel, and thus Keaton was able to make great hay out of a playing a guy who got laid off trying to make a go of it as the househusband and being constantly frazzled at every turn in his John Hughes-scripted comedy. With every mundane task seeming like a huge ordeal, Jack Butler was inevitably driven crazy by the pressure of it all, and nobody makes crazy as fun as Michael Keaton does.


5. “Beetlejuice”

Speaking of crazy – teaming Keaton up with Tim Burton for this story about a completely bonkers ghost named Betelgeuse showcases him at his absolute craziest – not to mention the perviest, too. Summoned by a pair of nice ghosts (Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis) to get rid of some annoying living people in their home, the maniac becomes an even bigger problem than young Winona Ryder’s family ever could’ve been. Keaton’s a tour-de-force in this one, showing us the frayed edges of sanity that he’s so good at harnessing – and he’s doing it at a mile a minute.

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Top 10 awkward high school moments (in movies and TV)

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There’s nothing like the high school years when it comes to building character (or something) through a little (or, in most cases, a lot of) humility. Here are the Top 10 moments in movies and television where the hapless teenagers on display probably wanted to just crawl into a corner and die — but you know what they say about what doesn’t kill ya …


10. “Bring It On” (2000)

This somewhat ahead-of-its-time meta-comedy opens with an impressively choreographed cheerleader routine that introduces the film’s main characters (well, half of them, anyway — there’s a whole other cheerleader team that shows up later on) via a series of leaps, flips and self-deprecating wink-wink lyrics (“I’m major, I roar / I swear I’m not a whore!”). Just when the whole thing’s about to become a bit too self-congratulatory and indulgent for its own good, BAM! It turns into a dream sequence, one in which our dreamer, Torrance (Kirsten Dunst), suddenly appears buck naked in front of the entire student body. Inexplicable nightmare-laughter ensues (we’re sure the sight of a naked Kirsten Dunst inspires a lot of things but laughter probably isn’t one of them) with at least one audience member showing his appreciation with an exclamation of “Nice rack!” We could only dream as well until Kirsten finally let us see for ourselves 11 years later in Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia.”


9. “Carrie” (1976)

Suddenly getting your period in the shower is bad enough. But suddenly getting your period in the shower in a Stephen King movie is even worse, as the horror scribe is known for portraying humanity (or what passes for it) at its most cruel … and, really, there may be nothing more cruel than high school students when the dark mood strikes them. Poor Carrie ends up cowering in the corner, the water pouring down her naked body as her classmates bombard her with tampons: “Plug it up! Plug it up! Plug it up!” It’s a miracle that our troubled heroine didn’t just unleash her fiery powers right there, ’cause we this kind of humiliation is way more emotionally damaging than having your prom dress ruined by pig’s blood.


8. “She’s All That” (1999)

This modern-day retelling of “Pygmalion” (or “My Fair Lady” for you musical fans) is pretty mediocre even by the subgrade standards of Freddie Prinze Jr. movies, though it definitely scores a few points for indulging in some pretty subversive flourishes … some of which make for gross-out gags that, despite the film’s (highly questionable) PG-13 rating, rival any semen-drinking “American Pie” shenanigans. “Eating” and “stuff that springs from male loins” again make a dangerous mix here, though we have to admit we might prefer the “Pie” beverage of choice over “Hoovering” (as Freddie puts it) someone’s pubic hair … and as a pizza topping, no less. Kudos to director Robert Iscove for remembering to have everyone in the cafeteria react accordingly — this outrageousness ain’t happening in a vacuum, after all.


7. “Sixteen Candles” (1984)

No on can hit the complicated, confusing and often ugly emotional truths of the trials and tribulations of being a teenager quite like the late, great John Hughes. His characters — and character insights — are pretty much timeless; indeed, all “The Breakfast Club” (1985) would need to be updated for the 21st century is having the principal tell the detention attendees that cell phones must be turned off for the duration of the day. However, Hughes was also quite the notorious goof, not afraid to indulge the broad strokes of slapstick and absurdity … sometimes in a scene that just a few frames earlier was rather dramatic and realistic. Take, for instance, this almost unbearably embarrassing (and admittedly very silly) moment from “Sixteen Candles” — we hope no one on the planet has grandparents like the tactless, bad-joke-telling, molesting freaks on display here.

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10 great “Lethal Weapon” movie moments

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Oh, Mel Gibson. How much do we miss the days when we could like you without reservation? These days, the anger/drink/evil issues make it hard to care about what you do anymore, but in the halcyon days of yore, you were a blast to watch. Sure, “Mad Max” made you famous, but it was Richard Donner’s high-octane “Lethal Weapon” series that made us love you. Since it was before you went crazy, we’re still allowed to like watching you just playing crazy as Martin Riggs, the suicidal cop on the edge who makes “too old for this shit” cop Roger Murtaugh’s life a lot more dangerous. While IFC is showing all four of the “Lethal Weapon” movies in February, here are 10 funny moments from the whole franchise to remind you why you should watch them.


1. THE DRUG BUST

Riggs is nuts. How do we know he’s nuts? Because he tries to pay for a massive truckload of cocaine with a hundred dollars, and then begs all his brothers in blue to fire at will even though he’s sure to be caught in the crossfire. This fairly well establishes the aforementioned nutsness of Martin Riggs in the first and most intense “Lethal Weapon.”


2. MURTAUGH MEETS RIGGS

Roger Murtaugh is a veteran cop dealing with burnout and feeling like he’s aging out of the job. Plus, he’s dealing with the strange case of Amanda Hunsaker (and on a personal note, this is one of the very few films to actually use my last name, and I dig that about it) and he really doesn’t want to have to break in a new partner. When that partner turns out to be the scruffy ruffian Riggs, it does the opposite of making his day.


3. THE JUMP

How do you talk a guy off the ledge? Well, you sure as hell don’t sent Martin Riggs to do it, even if he does get the job done with a disturbing efficiency. Of course, he doesn’t really do it by talking. He joins the guy in the jump. Because that’s how he rolls.


4. GARY BUSEY HATES CHRISTMAS

Oh yeah, that’s right, perhaps the only guy crazier than Mel Gibson is also in this movie – Mr. Busey himself plays Mr. Joshua, the right hand man of Mitchell Ryan’s creepy bad guy. When Mr. Joshua stalks Murtaugh’s home and finds a television playing a Christmas special, the outburst is pure Busey.


5. THE TOILET BOMB

In “Lethal Weapon 2,” we get perhaps the most intense scene that can be created around a guy taking a crap. It turns out somebody had bombed Murtaugh’s toilet, and thus he’s in the extremely humiliating position of dealing with the bomb squad with his pants around his ankles. This is the kind of thing nobody would ever live down.

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10 “Saturday Night Live” stars who aren’t famous from “Saturday Night Live”

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“Saturday Night Live” has been around for nearly 40 years, and it’s known as a career maker. In the 1970s, the cast included such luminaries as Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Chevy Chase. The ‘80s brought us Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers, the ‘90s gave us Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Jimmy Fallon and Will Ferrell – and the ‘00s hit us with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler Kristen Wiig… the list is long and full of amusing people we like. Hell, we even got Senator Al Franken out of that show.

However, “SNL” isn’t an automatic guarantee of success – it just feels like it is most of the time. There are plenty of people that have been on the show that never really broke out until after their time on the show – or, in the case of a couple of tumultuous years in the show’s tenure, were already famous before they came on. So here’s a rundown of some celebrities who were on “SNL,” but had to find other ways to actually forge successful careers. Take a look at these famous people we tend to forget were ever on the most enduring comedy launchpad of our time.


1. Gilbert Gottfried

It was the year of “SNL” that nobody likes to talk about – the 1980-81 season, when all of the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players left, including Lorne Michaels, and the show had to recast from scratch under new honcho Jean Doumanian. It was supposed to be Al Franken, but Al’s never been one to hold his tongue, so when he mocked NBC’s president on a Weekend Update sketch, he lost the gig. Sure, this is the year Eddie Murphy joined the cast at 19, but it was also the year where everything went to hell and the show was constantly on the edge of cancellation and nobody liked it – heck, it even had Laurie Metcalf, later of “Roseanne” only long enough for one episode. There was a lot of turmoil However, it’s an opportunity to see Gilbert doing comedy that’s not in his squinty-eyed scream-joke manner that he’s famous for today. You can also see that “SNL” used to do a lot more long-form comedy.


2. Julia Louis-Dreyfus

She made her way into our national consciousness as Elaine Benes from “Seinfeld,” and she endures to this day on the critically acclaimed show “Veep,” but from 1982 to 1985, she was on “SNL” at just 21 years of age. Interestingly, her future husband, Brad Hall, was the anchor on the “Weekend Update” spot during that era, too. The early ‘80s made for the most tense and tricky era of the show, as it was going through myriad creative changes from the top down, and there were a lot of frustrations behind the scenes with writers and producers in the age-old battle between creativity and marketability.


3. Billy Crystal

You know him, you love him, you tend to want him to host the Oscars. In 1984, Eddie Murphy left the show, and with him went the whole Joe Piscopo era, as new showrunner Dick Ebersol tried to make up for losing his star by bringing on a bunch of other established stars. Along with “SCTV” star Martin Short and some folks from HBO’s comedy hit “Not Necessarily The News” (not to mention Larry David being a writer who quit mid-season), Crystal came on board already known for his stand-up work and starring on the hit show “Soap.” This was only for one year, but he certainly made his mark with characters like Fernando Lamas – he even got a hit novelty song out of “You Look Marvelous.” Thanks to this.


4. Christopher Guest

Along with fellow “Spinal Tap” star and Credibility Gap collaborator Harry Shearer (who had also been a cast member in 1979), Guest was on board with the Crystal year as well, even working as the Weekend Update anchor. He’s much more renowned now for his improve-based films like “Best In Show,” “A Mighty Wind,” and “Waiting For Guffman,” but one thing we loved back in his “SNL” year were the Frankie & Willie sketches he did with Crystal. Also, Michael McKean would complete the “Spinal Tap” trifecta when he came on board for an attempted redux of this all-star idea in 1994. It didn’t work so well.


5. Randy Quaid

The 1985 season got rid of most of the previous cast as Lorne Michaels came back into the fold, but also featured a number of one-year only players you often forget ever played there. Quaid was already nominated for an Academy Award at this point for “The Last Detail,” and his profile was big with “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” On this season, though, he was the guy playing President Reagan and various other weird roles. And of course, these days we think of him as some kind of paranoid crazy guy.

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