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DID YOU READ

List: The Five Greatest Pratfalls of 2008

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12302008_walle3.jpgBy R. Emmet Sweeney

A pratfall can be a work of art, a study in disruptive motion, a klutz’s ballet. This choreography of humiliation is perhaps the least garlanded act in contemporary film, as no Oscars will ever be won for kicks to the groin or tumbles down the stairs, regardless of their originality. Only in retrospect have the golden slapstick silents gained credibility and the brilliant purveyors of today’s guffaws are suffering the same critical fate (although the hurt, it must be said, is not felt in their checkbooks). So here is my list of the top five pratfalls of 2008, some of the strongest and strangest feats from an otherwise lackluster year. Some are from masters of the form (Will Ferrell, Anna Faris), while others seamlessly blend the side-splitting spill into their respective and respectable narratives (Robert Downey Jr., Mathieu Amalric, Pixar). All show a clumsy physical grace (as do their stuntmen), a healthy respect for their audience and a blissful embrace of the stupid. (Click on the images below to see them full size.)

12302008_walle.jpg1. “WALL-E”
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Pratfall: Handholding Gone Wrong

“WALL-E” is packed with brilliantly conceived falls, but my favorite is perhaps the smallest, and its bittersweet tragedy is worthy of Chaplin. It occurs after our trash-compacting tramp’s beloved Eve begins hibernating, and he tries everything in his power to wake her up. After surviving lightning strikes and shopping cart attacks, he’s determined to get romantic with the fembot, conscious or not. He leashes her with Christmas lights and rows her through a river of sludge to a prime sunset viewing spot. With visions of “Hello Dolly”‘s handholding climax in his CPU, he pries open her arm slot and grabs for dear life. Then her arm snaps back, pinning his hand inside her body’s shell. As he tries to pull himself out, he tumbles off the bench and crashes into a neighboring garbage can. It’s a quick, painfully funny gag that effortlessly encapsulates WALL-E’s innocent, desperate loneliness.

12302008_stepbrothers.jpg2. “Step Brothers”
Directed by Adam McKay
Pratfall: Christmas Eve Sleepwalking

Sure to be the bane of sober-minded critics for decades to come, the works of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are unabashed odes to anarchy that have consistently been dismissed for their immaturity and childishness. “Step Brothers” literalizes this complaint, presenting Ferrell and John C. Reilly as man-children joined by their parents’ remarriage, and it’s by far their most surreal and senseless (in the best sense) work. In one of the film’s many improvised sequences, these already regressive brothers are shown sleepwalking on Christmas Eve, shouting gibberish and piling presents in their parents’ bedroom, before finally hoisting the tree and shoving it onto the bed. By this point, their increasingly aggrieved father, played with manic glee by Richard Jenkins, vows to wake them up out of their hysteria. Bad move. The two sons turn barbaric, screaming and clawing at their father until they aggressively toss him down the stairs. André Breton would approve.

12302008_christmastale.jpg3. “A Christmas Tale”
Directed by Arnaud Desplechin
Pratfall: Henri’s Curbside Face-plant

Mathieu Amalric creates a strange kind of alchemy with director Arnaud Desplechin, turning despicable characters into adorable eccentrics — a coup achieved in “Kings & Queen” and now “A Christmas Tale.” Amalric’s Henri Vuillard is a loudmouth drunk who’s been banished from his family by an uptight sister. At his lowest ebb, walking tipsily down an abandoned sidewalk and softly muttering to himself, he pauses at the edge of the curb, staring into his own private abyss. He slowly tips forward, until, in a long shot, he falls face first into the pavement, his back ramrod straight all the way down. He later learns to unload his bile with a smile on his face, like the rest of the Vuillards, but this wonderfully depressing acrobatic feat is an apt representation of the psychological hole he’s fallen into and can’t escape, but which he later cleverly redecorates.

12302008_housebunny.jpg4. “The House Bunny”
Directed by Fred Wolf
Pratfall: Header in Outdoor Café

In an attempt to look smart for her nice guy crush, Anna Faris’ ex-Playboy Bunny hits the books, dresses conservatively and dons Coke bottle glasses that bug her eyes out to Tex Avery proportions. Working off notecards, she dishes on nuclear proliferation before knocking tea onto her date’s lap. A little woozy from her non-prescription specs, she gets up for napkins but then takes a header over the nearest table and smacks her crown again while standing up, unexpectedly finding a thick rope of gum affixed to her head in the process. As she races shamefacedly away after apologizing for “all that gravity,” the gum snaps as the chew flails to the ground. It’s another fearless, hilarious performance from Faris, whose breathy, wide-eyed and aging ingénue provokes pity, fear and admiration, usually at the same time.

12302008_ironman.jpg5. “Iron Man”
Directed by Jon Favreau
Pratfall: Iron Man Armor Mishaps

Jon Favreau, emerging as an ace director-for-hire, wisely gave Robert Downey Jr. plenty of latitude to riff on his signature snarky motormouth persona in “Iron Man,” providing an oasis of comic invention in this otherwise rote superhero saga. The peak of this improvisation is a well-crafted, slow-burning series of pratfalls as Downey’s Tony Stark is testing his new and improved Iron Man armor. After instructing his robot-arm buddy to watch for a flameout, Stark’s first attempt at flight rockets him into the ceiling and then to the floor — and his robotic fire marshal is quick on the extinguisher trigger. After threatening his mechanical assistant with the prospect of community college, Stark’s second attempt is moderately successful aside from some light charring of his vintage car collection. With the final trial, he speeds outdoors in full regalia, a triumphant moment and a cue to expect an action extravaganza to begin. But upon returning home, he crash-lands in his spacious abode, destroying three floors, a grand piano, and a luxury car in his lab. And in the final humiliation, he’s pathetically blasted with the fire extinguisher by his downtrodden mechanical pal. With a tight structure (the callback of the cars and extinguisher), canny timing, and sneaky misdirection in the final section, the sequence could stand on its own as a slapstick sci-fi comedy short.

[Photos: “WALL-E,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2008; “Step Brothers,” Columbia Pictures, 2008; “A Christmas Tale,” IFC Films, 2008; “The House Bunny,” Columbia Pictures, 2008; “Iron Man,” Paramount Pictures, 2008]

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…