Showing posts with label Celebrities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Celebrities. Show all posts

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Did you know? 80s and 90s Pop Culture Connections

What exactly did we do before we had the Internet Movie Database to fact check our niggling sleep loss-inducing curiosity of in which movie or show we'd previously seen an actor or actress? It's tough to remember a time when we had to simply live with the mystery. Luckily these days a world is information is available at the click of a search button, so we never have live in doubt again that the guy from that show was in that one kids' movie. You know, that guy.

Even with these remarkable advances in media-connecting information technology, it's tough to remember to backtrack and revisit all of the questions we'd previously had before the inception of IMDB. Our brains can only store so much information, so after awhile we lose sight of the immense importance of placing each actor or actress that previously thwarted us with their multiple roles. As always, Children of the 90s is here to help: to dig up those lost and forgotten celebrity frustrations and enlighten you on some of the stranger star connections about which you may not have known. While these are a few of my personal favorites, feel free to use the comments section to rave about your own enlightening pre-IMDB celebrity realizations.

Voice of Older Kevin on Wonder Years=Robber from Home Alone

So many children of the 80s and 90s grew up with both The Wonder Years and Home Alone without ever making the connection that Joe Pesci's robber sidekick's voice sounded suspiciously similar to a voiceover recording deliberating over a first kiss with Winnie.

Michael Carrington from Grease 2=Rex Manning from Empire Records

If you've ever seen the horrifically corny Grease 2, it's pretty clear it can't live up to the original. You also know, however, that star Maxwell Caulfield is dreamy by all objective standards. Whether as a nerdy Brit who's vaguely related to Frenchie or as a Cool Rider, he's got it all. Even ten odd years later, he's still fairly dreamy as washed-up Brit pop star Rex Manning in quintessential 90s movie Empire Records. He even looks good as a cardboard cutout.

Charlene Sinclair and Fran Sinclair of Dinosaurs=Sally Struthers of "Get Your Degree at Home" fame and Lucille Bluth of Arrested Development

I admit I'm probably not being completely fair to Sally Struthers with this one. She's had a career that fan outspans her college-at-home hawking gig, but as children of the 90s that's the Struthers we're most likely to remember. I also saw her in a Broadway version of Grease, and truthfully I would have been far more pumped about her performance if I'd known I was watching Charlene from Dinosaurs.

Perhaps more interesting is that Dinosaurs matriarch Fran Sinclair is voiced by the matriarch of the Arrested Development Bluth clan. That's some serious range, to be able to flit seamlessly from a young prehistoric mother to a spoiled raging alcoholic plotting against Liza Minnelli.

Darryl from Adventures in Babysitting=Mark from Rent

If you were never into pinnacle 90s' musical RENT, this information may not be particularly intriguing, but if you saw the original Broadway show lightbulbs should be appearing at all angles above your head right now. Anthony Rapp who played Brad's friend Darryl in Babysitting went on to achieve astounding musical fame as Mark Cohen in RENT. What's stranger still is that Chris Columbus directed Rapp in both Adventures in Babysitting and RENT. Columbus is clearly not much of a niche artist, or at least not based on this strange work sample.

Janie from Girls Just Want to Have Fun=Carrie from Sex and the City

I know, I know, I also could have cited Parker for her early roles in Square Pegs and Footloose, but this film was such a major part of my childhood I couldn't resist making it my example. As a kid I was absolutely certain Girls Just Want to Have Fun was the most realistic and credible depiction of high school, so imagine my surprise upon watching it a few weeks ago to find that it is possibly the cheesiest movie ever made. Regardless, it does offer some nice foreshadowing when the DTV director commends Janie for her Catholic School uniform "fashion risk"--clearly an omen of Carrie craziness to come.

That Girl from RAD=Aunt Becky from Full House

This one might be a long shot because its interestingness hinges on the notion that you've seen RAD, which in itself is incredibly unlikely. In case you have not, I highly recommend you check it out. Not because it's good by any stretch of the imagination, but because it's so horrible it warrants a good mocking with friends. Plus, Aunt Becky is in it! What's not to like? Besides the movie, of course.

King Koopa from Super Mario Bros=Villain from Speed

Yes, Dennis Hopper was in Super Mario Bros. Who knew? He definitely rocked the villainous roles, but he probably was not especially proud of this entry on his long resume.

The Manager of The Golden Palace=The Manager of Hotel Rwanda

Talk about a promotion. In just a few years, you too can go from managing the underrated but unnecessary Golden Girls spinoff hotel establishment to managing a heart wrenchingly heroic hotel for genocide refugees.

The Kids from Freaks and Geeks=The Stars of Judd Apatow Films

This one is sort of a no-brainer considering Apatow was the driving force behind Freaks and Geeks, but it seems worth mentioning on the basis that the show suffered from incredibly low ratings. Considering Apatow's recent box office success, it's odd to consider he once was hawking one of the greatest unwatched shows of the late 90s. At this point, though, I'm sure Freaks and Geeks' more recent cult status and undoubtedly astronomical DVD sales haven't hurt his already bulging bank account. It sounds like a win-win. Well, if you're Apatow. Us original Freaks fans can't cash in on our early adopter comedy status in anything other than smug self-satisfaction.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The OJ Simpson Trial

Few court cases are public enough or on a large enough scale to be readily remembered over a decade and a half later. To achieve a title like “Trial of the Century” requires a variety of salacious elements including but not limited to a handsome star athlete, a tragically murdered beautiful ex-wife, and a charismatic lawyer with a penchant for coining easily quotable rhyming phrases. If you throw in enough memorable rhyming one-liners like, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” a trial becomes an event even the least litigiously-minded child can get into.

The OJ Simpson trial had a little something for everyone: sports, beauty, crimes of passion, Bronco chases, and bloody gloves. TV networks quickly realized they could capitalize on the trial for cheap footage that required no writing or casting, sustainable with just an obvious interjection or two from a blandly attractive pundit. In an age before reality TV, the OJ Simpson trial satisfied our basest instinct to watch others’ horrifying real lives unfold before us as we quietly chomped popcorn on the sofa.

With the publicity surrounding the trial, suddenly the most mundane individuals had the potential to become stars. Lawyers, judges, and even Nicole Brown’s murder-alerting pet Akita quickly morphed into overnight celebrities. While ordinarily we may not view lawyers as the most exciting of paparazzi targets, during the OJ Simpson trial they achieved a level of fame that eventually afforded their widowed wives and children to become an E! network television spectacle. I’m looking at you, Kardashians.

It’s astounding that many of us can not remember what we ate for breakfast, but we can readily retrieve years-old information about Robert Shapiro, Judge Ito, and Johnnie Cochran. With the duration of the trial stretching out over nine long months, these everyday professionals were cast as heroes and villains in a live courtroom drama. With the combination of the most heavily publicized and longest running trial-by-jury in the state of California, all its players ascended to astronomical fame throughout its run.

In June of 1994, a series of events occurred that we soon grew to know with familiarity akin to events that befell our own friends and families. Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ron Goldman were stabbed outside Brown’s apartment in Los Angeles. With Brown’s ex-husband OJ Simpson emerging as the lead suspect, the LAPD called for his arrest. In one of the most bizarre car chases ever televised, the police tailed Simpson’s white Ford Bronco driven by his friend Al Cowlings at a whopping 35 miles per hour. 35 miles per hour. What kind of driving training are our police officers getting? Even at nine years old, I found it a bit troubling that Simpson could have been leading the cops around the interstate on a tractor and still maintain a sizable lead.

This single event led to months of legal proceedings, with witnesses emerging from the woodwork to sell their stories for impressive sums to disreputable tabloid publications or cheesy television talk shows. Throughout the course of the trial, it seemed the public had an insatiable appetite for information and live coverage of the case. Following Simpson’s plea of not guilty, the trial quickly erupted into a nine month long media circus complete with televised coverage of courtroom testimony.

In the end, the jury found Simpson not guilty. Children and adults alike interrupted their daily school or work schedules to hear the eventual verdict on the radio. Late night talk show hosts ran low on jokes, Court TV ran low on material, and those of us rapt with attention at the details of the case returned to our normal, OJ-free lives.

Simpson’s acquittal was not the end of the story, of course. In 2006, Simpson released a completely absurd book clearly free of damage control publicist intervention entitled If I Did It. Everyone knows that if you didn’t commit a crime, the greatest way to uphold your legally cleared name is to publish a detailed account of how you might have gotten the job done.

In a maelstrom of public criticism and controversy, publication of If I Did It was called off. In typical post-90s technology age fashion, the content found its way onto the internet, resulting in a siege of outrage against Simpson’s tactless and thoughtless attempt to stir up self destructive publicity. If you’re interested, simply do an online search for the book and decide for yourself. The glove that did not fit may have prompted the jury to acquit, but Simpson’s self-induced media frenzy more likely led to a public indictment.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Don't Call it a Comeback...Okay, Fine, Call it a Comeback: 80s and 90s Stars who Made it Big the Second Time Around

Many celebrities--or at least their skillful publicists--have the uncanny knack for reinventing themselves many times over. Just when we've grown to accept the notion that they're washed up and irrelevant, they manage to claw their way back to the top again.

It's enough to give hope to currently disgraced public figures like Tiger Woods. Many of these celebrities also dealt with the influx of late night monologue jokes and Saturday Night Live digs at their poor life choices. Generally, there are a few ways to stage an effective comeback after either fading into relative obscurity or committing some heinous act that serves as an affront for even the most lenient rungs on the moral ladder. These means include but are not limited to:

1. Lay low for some period of time and allow your tarnished or dwindling fame public image to fade into the background. As soon as you no longer qualify as legitimate fodder for juicy tabloid stories, stage a comeback in a role completely disparate from your former typecast image. For example, if you were a serious dramatic actor, consider a starkly contrasted comedic cameo or sitcom role. If you were a comic actor, try your hand at a villainous role.

2. Variation: Lay low for some period time and allow your public image to fade into the background. Make a comeback in the exact same role that made you famous. This method works best for reconvening pop music acts.

3. Completely reinvent yourself with little to no grace period between your former "bad" self and the new "good" one. See Spears, Britney. This one requires an especially adept personal management team and potential surrender of your rights.

Robert Downey Jr

You may Remember Him as: Member of Brat Pack, star of films like Less than Zero, Weird Science, The Pick-Up Artist and Johnny Be Good. Also recipient of some cushy industry ins via famous father, Robert Downey, Sr.
And then:
Several brushes with law in re: drugs
And then:
Brief stint on Ally McBeal as lead male romantic interest. Generates buzz; nominated for numerous awards.
And then:
Gets axe in the wake of multiple highly public drug arrests and resultant court-ordered treatment
Now: Rolling in offers and acclaim after monumental success of Iron Man, Tropic Thunder, Sherlock Holmes, and forthcoming Iron Man 2

Britney Spears
You May Remember Her as: Mouseketeer, racy jailbait schoolgirl who hit it big with single "Hit me Baby One More Time," smokin' hot ab-baring performer with python
And then: Quickie marriage/annulment of marriage to high school sweetheart
And then: Chaotic reality show with trashy husband; children ensue
And then: Head-shaving, can't-keep-legs-crossed-while-exiting-car trainwreck stage
Now: Under lock and key by conservator father and stellar management team; hit CD and sold-out tour, MTV "documentary" re: sanity, all rejoice

Patrick Dempsey

You May Remember Him as: Teen comedy hearthrob in cheesy late-80s films like Can't Buy Me Love and Loverboy
Now: Iconic McDreamy on Grey's Anatomy. Co-stars in a few questionable chick flicks (Sweet Home Alabama, Made of Honor) but I'm willing to excuse it because I love Enchanted so much. Kind of a wash.

Teri Hatcher
You May Remember Her as: Lois from Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies, and that chick in the sauna with disputably real boobs on Seinfeld
And then: A few less than notable bit parts. I mean, Spy Kids? Really?
Now: Cast in 2004 as Susan Mayer on the hit show Desperate Housewives; makes bags and bags of money. Can only assume said bags are delivered to her residence marked inconspicuously like a big dollar sign. You know, like in the cartoons.

Ed O'Neill

You May Remember Him as: Al Bundy on envelope-pushing anti-Cosby-style family sitcom Married with Children
Now: Hilariously misguided patriarch Jay on Modern Family

Rob Lowe

You May Remember Him as:
Member of 80s Brat Pack, rises to fame with movies like St. Elmo's Fire and The Outsiders.
And Then: Reputation-incinerating sex tape leaks. Tape stars incriminatingly underage girl. Yikes.
And Then: Rehab. Before it was cool.
Now: Cements legitimate comeback with roles in The West Wing and Brothers and Sisters

Mickey Rourke

You May Remember Him as:
Sex icon from 9 1/2 Weeks
And then: Boxes. Messes up face. A lot.
And then: Several smaller roles; Films Another 9 1/2 Weeks, several direct-to-video movies. Cries.
And then: Randomly appears as bad guy in Enrique Iglesias "Hero" music video
Now: Stages major comeback with impressive performance in The Wrestler. Plays villain in Iron Man 2. How much do you bet they saw that "Hero" video and thought, "Hey, we should get us some of that"?

The Spice Girls

You May Remember Them as:
Grrrl Power-promoting, Union Jack-wearing girl pop act from the 90s. Stars of Spiceworld. Proceed to spice up our lives.
Now(ish): Play sold-out reunion tour in 2007. Promote selves to proponents of wommmmen-power as fans age considerably.

Kiefer Sutherland

Before he was born:
Grandfather brings universal health care to Canada. Wait, what? It's in Wikipedia. It must be true.
You May Remember Him as: That guy from Stand by Me and The Lost Boys, among others.
And then: Also those guys from A Time to Kill and A Few Good Men respectively
Now: Incredibly famous for role as world-saver Jack Bauer on 24
Oh Yeah: Serves brief jail time for DUI; head-butts one of the designers of Prouenza Schouler. Yep. Head-butts. Public image miraculously pulls through.

Neil Patrick Harris

You May Remember Him as: Doogie Howser, MD. Boy Genius and retro-computer diarist extraordinaire
And Then: The star of many made for TV movies
And Then: Made us laugh with his comeback-grade unexpected cameo in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
Now: Generally hilarious on How I Met Your Mother and in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along. Comes out publicly as a gay celebrity in 2006; conveniently already Broadway star. Opens 2010 Oscars because he can.

New Kids on the Block

You May Remember Them as: Having a bunch of hits. At least that's what I hear from LFO.
Now: Stage epic comeback tour in the summa-summa-summertime of 2008. Yours truly failed to procure tickets. Much crying occurrs. Suspect ticket brokers didn't believe I had the "Right Stuff." Proceed to cry much, much more

Alec Baldwin

You May Remember Him as: That guy from Beetlejuice and The Hunt for Red October. Gives stellar performance in Glengary Glen Ross. Marries Kim Basinger.
And then: Divorces Kim Basinger. Raging custody battle ensues.
And then: Narrator of Thomas and Friends? Okay. If George Carlin can do it, why can't Baldwin?
And then: Smaller roles in major films like Pearl Harbor and The Aviator
Actually: You know what? Turns out he's been famous all along. It just took us awhile to realize he's so funny. Call it a comedic comeback. Yeah, we'll go with that.
Now: Comc actor on sitcom 30 Rock with beyond brilliant timing and delivery. Gains some weight and morphs into a significantly cuddlier version of his former self.
Oh Yeah: Threatens aforementioned cuddly reputation with leaked voicemail to his daughter. Uses word "pig" repeatedly. Remarkably manages to retain popularity.

John Cryer

You May Remember Him as:
Irritating nerd and frequent dorky hat-wearer Duckie from Pretty in Pink
Now: Alan Harper on equally irritating CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. Wears significantly fewer hats. Still Dorky.

Friday, April 23, 2010


For many actors, the craft is all about range. Being able to assume and fully inhabit another character showcases their true talents. Not all actors, of course, have this magnitude of expertise. There's a reason some guys are always the action hero and some guys are always the off-the-wall one-line spouting goofball--that's just what they're good at.

In some of these cases, an actor manages to transition from one type to another seamlessly, effortlessly demonstrating their breadth of skill as an actor. For others...not so much. As a career move, accepting a role against type can significantly boost an actor's credibility and garner them major industry respect. If done well, it can mean an outpouring of positive critical response and a shot at a prestigious award.
On the other hand, audiences aren't always quick to warm to watching an action hero play an allegedly comically out-of-character housekeeper/nanny; sometimes it's just not enough if the premise itself is the film's strongest punchline. As a general rule, lighthearted actor taking on a serious role, good. Serious actor taking on a lighthearted role, bad.

Robin Williams: Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, etc

While now we have seen Williams in a wide range of roles, his road to fame was paved with comedic roles stemming from the goofiness of his breakthrough Mork television character. Williams has proven himself several times over as a serious actor with depth, particularly for his Academy Award winning role as a psychologist in Good Will Hunting and as a teacher in Dead Poets Society. He broke free from his typecast slapstick persona with some distinctly emotional performances. He may have once been pigeonholed as a goofball comedian, but he has since assumed a number of roles that established him as an actor of range. Truthfully, though, more recent films like Old Dogs aren't helping maintain his reputation.

Jim Carrey: The Truman Show, Man in the Moon

Like Williams, Jim Carrey's breakthrough roles came mainly in the form of slapstick comedic characters. After rising to stardom with leads in comedies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber and Liar, Liar, Carrey explored his subtler side with some decidedly more serious parts. He showed us his range in The Truman Show as an unknowing reality star in a makeshift reality. A year later, he cemented his more serious actor status with the title role in the Andy Kaufman biopic Man in the Moon. Despite critical speculation about potential Academy Award nominations, he was snubbed for both. Either way, he established himself as a more credible, multi-faceted actor.

Betty White and Rue McClanahan on Golden Girls

The original casting preference for The Golden Girls was Rue McClanahan as Rose and Betty White as Blanche, a parallel to the previous roles they had held on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Maude respectively. Bea Arthur initially was not interested in the role of Dorothy, fearing that the new show would come off as Maude and Vivian meet Sue Ann Nivens. Once they switched the roles, though, the dynamic changed entirely. The casting feels so spot-on that it's hard to even imagine the women in roles others than the ones they accepted.

Fred Savage in the Lifetime Movie No One Would Tell

Kevin Arnold abusing and murdering DJ Tanner? It sounds like a stretch, but that's the way this Lifetime Movie of the Week played out. The made-for-TV movie is pretty cheesy, but it's since developed a cult following in reruns. Undoubtedly the unlikely casting choices accounts for the bulk for its appeal, but it's still a bit unnerving to watch the whole sordid ordeal unfold.

Elizabeth Berkley: Showgirls

Here is an ultimate case of seeking to play against type. In an effort to move away from her squeaky clean family-friendly image as Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell, Elizabeth Berkley sought to break out of the typecasting box in a very major way. Berkley took on the role of Nomi Malone in the controversial NC-17 rated nudity-filled film Showgirls. The first movie to ever garner the NC-17 rating, Showgirls outlined Nomi's aspiration to rise from a stripper to showgirl on the Vegas dance scene. The movie is comically bad, belying its alleged dramatic themes with tragically poor performances and gratuitous amounts of nudity. The film was nearly universally panned by critics, failing to give Berkley the image boost she craved.

Sylvester Stallone in Stop! Or My Mom will Shoot!

This is one Sly probably wants to strike from his resume--er, IMDB page. It's just plain embarrassing. This comedy debacle costars Stallone and Golden Girls' Estelle Getty as a son and mother duo. Stallone still plays the tough guy cop, but one who the writers intended to be humorously undermined by his bumbling interfering mother. Somewhere along the way, this attempt at humor goes horribly, terribly wrong, leaving us with a remarkably unfunny comedy. The critical response was overwhelmingly poor as well, leaving the film with a notably low 5% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins, Junior, Kindergarten Cop, and Jingle All the Way

Before Schwarzenegger transitioned from action hero/bodybuilder to California governor, he made a few lighthearted comedies. This man has a real knack for reinventing himself, transitioning easily from Austrian bodybuilder to action film star to comedy actor to politician. It's almost not fair to say he's acting against type; Arnold dictates his own type. Still, there's something uniquely comical about seeing the governor of California saying, "It is not a tumor!"

While not every actor can successfully make the transition from one type to another, it's nice to see him give it his best try. Whether he ends up with an Oscar nomination or is panned by critics for his abysmal out-of-character performance, it's nice to see the change of pace. In some cases, we end up with strong serious performance from actors with a reputation for silliness. In others, an embarrassing foray into the absurd.To be fair, it's much more fun to watch things crash and burn the second way. If you don't believe me, watch ten minutes of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! You'll become a believer.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

90s Teen Idols: Hunks Edition...Yes, I Said It..."Hunks"

It may seem easy these days to pick on the dog-whistle declibly screechy screaming hordes of Justin Bieber fans, but mainly because many of us girls have selectively blocked out memories of our own embarrassing teen idol worship. Back in our adolescent years, we did more than our fair share of shrieking over tame pin-up celebrity teen centerfolds ripped from BOP! or J17 magazine. Embarrassing? Yes. Escapable? No. Nostalgic? Absolutely.

Teen stars usually have a capable team of managers and industry experts who specialize in issuing their clients as a palatable brand: The Bad Boy, The Sensitive One, The Free Spirit. The 90s boy band boom specialized in this sort of one-dimensional projection of celebrity personality, condensing full people into an exclamation mark-laden photo caption in a teen magazine fluff piece. These brief blurbs were practically irrelevant to young girls, though--we were far more interested in collecting the tear-out posters and plastering our walls with their dreamy likenesses.

All you heterosexual male children of the 90s may just have to hold your tongues on this one--or rather, your impulsively commenting typing fingers. Yes, this is admittedly incredibly girly fare, but it was in its own way a thriving industry throughout the decade. Some of us spent inordinate quantities of time and resources collecting airbrushed publicity photos and devouring carefully managed and processed information about these young male celebrities. As a female child of the 90s, it's still a little tough to repress my swooning reflex at these photos. That said, I'm open to taking bids from male blogging volunteers to detail the other side of the teen idol coin. Oh, and by bids I mean just send me an email and we'll talk. Thanks.

Until that point, here is our squealing, giddy side of the teen idol story:

Jonathan Taylor Thomas

Best known for his role as Randy Taylor from the TV show Home Improvement, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was a major young commodity in the 90s. He cemented his young appeal with family-friendly roles in films like Tom and Huck, Man of the House, I'll Be Home for Christmas,
and The Lion King. Plus, he had that hair. My god, that hair. 90s teen idols really knew how to lay on the mousse.

Devon Sawa

One glance at Sawa in Little Giants or as the human version of the animated ghost Casper and we fell hard. Add to that the glimpse of his butt during the naked-boys-running-through-the-woods segment of Now and Then and you've got yourself a serious celebrity crush.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Now here's a child star with staying power. Leonardo DiCaprio has maintained respectable and relatively incident-free fame since his breakthrough role on Growing Pains. Following his roles in Romeo + Juliet and especially Titanic, teen girls worldwide broke out in contagious fits of floppy hair-induced Leo-Mania.
In atypical teen idol form, though, DiCaprio shunned his "Tiger Beat" image and sought credit as a legitimate actor. A 2000 Time article explains:

"...DiCaprio still thinks of himself as an edgy indie actor, not the Tiger Beat cover boy. "I have no connection with me during that whole Titanic phenomenon and what my face became around the world...Although it's got to hurt deep inside, DiCaprio says he's at peace with being usurped by the Backstreet Boys. 'I'll never reach that state of popularity again, and I don't expect to,' he says. 'It's not something I'm going to try to achieve either.' Instead, he has spent his post-Titanic life avoiding interviews."

It certainly didn't hurt him any; DiCaprio has since achieved an impressive acting resume, boasts numerous award nominations and wins, and has dated scores of supermodels. All in all, I'd say he came out of teen stardom pretty well.

Jared Leto

I don't care if you are on Team Brian Krakow--you have to admit Leto as the rebellious and near-illiterate Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life was worthier of our swooning affections. Leto went on to appear in films such as Requiem for a Dream and achieved musical fame as lead singer/songwriter/guitarist for the band 30 Seconds to Mars. It's hard to believe that this former teen star is now 38 years old. Really. 38. I'd always sort of thought I had a chance with him, so I'm shocked to learn that when I was idolizing him at age 10, he was already in his mid-20s.


Take heed, Jonas Brothers: you're next. Brothers? Check. Religious? Check. Endearingly floppy hair? Check. It's like looking into the future. Truthfully, the Hanson brothers weren't nearly as persistently chart-topping, but their hit "MMMBop" established them as serious contenders for teen idoldom.

Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC

These two groups deserve far more than a fleeting mention, but as this is a compilation post that's the best they can expect to get. These rival harmony-rich tightly managed boy bands dominated the pop music scene in the 90s, both catering to the same general screaming young girl fan base. The record companies and teen magazines portrayed each band member as a specific and easily definable "type," featuring characters like The Sensitive Guy and The Baby of the Group. Incidentally, these characters were actually real people, but for years they resided pretty comfortably in a describable space of 100-200 words.

Rider Strong

I'll say it again: teen stars in the 90s had the best hair. It wasn't too featherily androgynous like in the 70s or bat-poop crazy a la Flock of Seagulls in the 80s. Rider Strong had great 90s hair, though he and Will Friedle probably could have duked it out for the title of most attractive Boy Meets World cast member while hair is blowing gently in the breeze.

Andrew Keegan

We met Keegan as a camper in the Home Alone-esque summer flick Camp Nowhere, after which he made the rounds on the requisite teen-dream guest part circuit in shows like Full House, 7th Heaven, and Party of Five. Add a dash of satirical modeldom in 10 Things I Hate about You and you've got yourself a teen star. His acting career may not be accelerating at the rate it did in his younger days, but his fame will undoubtedly live on through the ceaseless rerunning of 10 Things on television.

Luke Perry and Jason Priestley

These two were both beloved by teens for their respective roles on Beverly Hills, 90210. At the time they seemed the epitome of the cool teenager, which is somewhat ironic considering they were both in their 20s at the time. Yes, these two former heartthrobs are currently in their 40s. How old does that make you feel? Don't fight it, it will only hurt more. Embrace your aging teen dreamboats.

Some remain famous and others have faded into obscurity, but they're forever ingrained in our memories as teen idols. In some cases, their likenesses are still attached to the walls of our childhood rooms, cementing their stardom for posterity. Believe me, if I could plaster my current walls with old foldouts of Andrew Keegan and Luke Perry, I would. Really. I wonder if eBay is a viable marketplace for Tiger Beat magazine circa 1996...

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Simpsons

At this point, The Simpsons has been on the air so long it's difficult to remember it was once a fledgling enterprise; at this point its presence has become so ubiquitous it's pretty much just one long unending stretch of syndication and reruns. While now the show holds court as the longest-running sitcom, at the time of its debut in 1989 the notion of a adult-targeted animated television series had many critics scoffing. After all, cartoons are for kids. If you're going to make a show for grown-ups, why not cast it as a live-action series with real actors? It just didn't add up.

Matt Groening and friends were clearly onto something, though, based on not only the incomparable longevity of the series but also judging from the innumerable grown-up animated shows that spawned in its wake. Although the show's main target audience was adults, many family-focused groups took issue with the allegedly poor behavioral example the show espoused. Bart became an easy target for outrage as critics spoke out against his irreverence and misbehavior met with little to no discipline. For those of us out there relying on television to parent our children, this was bad news indeed.

The Simpson family made their television debut as a short on the Tracy Ullman show in 1987, featuring parents Homer and Marge, children Bart and Lisa, and baby Maggie. The animation was crude and the voices were rough around the edges, but the show's initial concept has remained largely untouched since its premiere. Groening named the characters after his own family members, replacing his own name with Bart, an anagram for "brat." Aside from some tinkering with the Lisa character, the characters America met in these late-80s shorts remain largely frozen in time.

Their audience, of course, has aged considerably, but there's something reassuring about the sameness and reset-button quality of unchanging television. Aside from the quality of the writing, that is. You can't stay hip and irreverent forever, though The Simpsons held onto their satirical credibility for an impressive run. Quantity and quality are always difficult factors to balance, and quantity usually emerges victorious in the end. Regardless, the show deserves credit for its incredible perseverance in the face of lagging ratings. As long as Dan Castellanetta is still there interpreting the scripts' "annoyed grunt" as "D'oh!", there will be a considerable group of people willing to to tune in.

In an amazing feat of faithfulness, the original 1987 cast still provides voices for today's shows. After 21 seasons, these voice actors have established some pretty cushy job security.We can't chalk it all up to rah-rah solidarity and deep commitment to art, though; the almighty dollar played a pretty major role in their extensive retention. At $400,000 an episode for reading off of a script in the comfort of a sound studio, it's seems like a tough offer to refuse. In defense of their exorbitant paychecks, the voice actors employed by The Simpsons are indeed talented and multifaceted. Observe, a clip from the cast's appearance on Behind the Actor's Studio:

Like any good merchandising machine, the show introduced a number of catch phrases into the modern vernacular. They could hardly print the slogan-emblazoned t-shirts fast enough. Bart's signature "Ay Caramba!" "Don't Have a Cow, Man" and the ever-popular "Eat my Shorts" caught on quickly. Some American schools banned Simpsons apparel on the basis of its rebelliousness and in-your-face anti-authority attitude. There's nothing like tv-driven neologisms to really bring out the censor in our humorless figures of minor authority.

The Simpsons established a number of well-known and easily recognizable hallmarks throughout its run. The show's writers specifically chose the town name of Springfield as the basis of a long-running gag, concealing the city's location and giving vague misleading clues about the Simpsons' home state. The opening sequence also features Bart in full old-school punishment mode, forced to write "I will not ______________" or some such reprimand 100 times over on the classroom blackboard.

The show was no stranger to controversy, embracing its role from an early date as a source of social commentary and tongue-in-cheek satirical digs. The Simpsons has caught flack from a variety of sources, including the Rio de Janeiro tourism board for an episode which they claim depicted Brazil as a crime-ridden, pest-infested hellhole. The elder Bush president also stirred things up in 1992, declaring in an address to the National Religious Broadcasters convention that "This nation needs to be closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons." In typical Simpsons fashion, creator Matt Groening shot back, "Hey, the Simpsons are just like the Waltons. Both families are praying for an end of the Depression." Burn.

Perhaps no contemporary show has embraced the celebrity cameo and guest star role to the gratuitous extent of The Simpsons. Some celebrities had ongoing gigs with The Simpsons playing recurring fictional characters, such as Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, and Kelsey Grammar. Others, like Michael Jackson and Mel Brooks, made memorable one-time appearances. The show actually holds the Guiness Book of World Records title for "Most Celebrities Featured on an Animated Series." Who knew such a thing existed, but it's apparently a valid claim to fame. It just goes to show, if you get specific enough with your criteria, we can all be bragging-rights worthy record holders someday. Someday.

It's far from high art, but The Simpsons has had more than its fair share of influence over the last 20-odd years. It doesn't hold quite the level of impact on social commentary as it did during its popularity heyday, but the show's persistence in the media marketplace is admirable. So long as Bart is still out there serving as a bad role model for children and imploring us to eat his shorts, The Simpsons will remain a pervasive element of pop culture in our society. in And hey, when that's over and done with, there's always syndicated reruns. So many, many reruns.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Did you know? 90s Disney Voice-Over Edition

Voice acting is a great gig. Compared to having a major role in a live-action feature film, working as a voice actor allows a far more relaxed and simple commitment. In other words? It's an easy gig. You provide the vocals, and some artsy animator types provide all the rest. Not too shabby.

To draw in audiences, animation studios will often seek out big-name actors whose names they can shamelessly splash across promotional posters. In the case of Disney, this sometimes meant they had to cast a second actor for the singing parts, but all in all, it was worth it to boast the headliner.

Early in animation history, voice actors were typically low-profile highly specialized individuals without existing careers in live action film or television. These skilled voice actors were capable of producing a range of voices, so studios often cut down on costs by hiring few actors to play several roles. As time went on, however, animation studios were eager to replace these multitalented no-names with a bunch of expensive live action actors who could only speak in their own street voices. Sounds like a good deal, right?

Love it or hate it, celebrity voice actors certainly help put butts in the theater seats. In the 90s, Disney pulled in a wealth of big-name stars to offer the voice tracks to their animated features. The quantity of celebrities who lent their voices to Disney films is far too abundant to fully catalog here, so let's take a look at a selected few of the most famous and/or surprising voice actor selections:

Timon: Nathan Lane

My favorite part of this clip is the line, "What do you want me to do? Dress in drag and do the hula?" As if Nathan Lane dressing up in drag was a shocking revelation. I think we've all seen that before in The Birdcage...and, if we can be candid here, he looks way more like Margaret Thatcher than a hula aficionado.

Simba: Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick

Disney offered us a great one-two punch with the child and adult versions of The Lion King's Simba: Randy from Home Improvement and Ferris Bueller. As a child, I was really excited about the prospect of JTT, but in retrospect Broderick is likely the bigger name. Neither actually provided the singing voices for the character, but they both lent their voices to create a believably lovable lion.

Aladdin: Scott Weinger

You know, Steve from Full House? DJ's endlessly food-consuming letter jacket-wearing boyfriend? He's not necessarily a huge name celebrity, but most of us children of the 90s are more than familiar with him.

Oliver: Joey Lawrence

Whoa! Who knew? Joey from Blossom is Oliver. I certainly had no idea. Now that I think of it, though, it's completely adorable.

Lumiere: Jerry Orbach

That's right, the man also known as Detective Briscoe from Law and Order and Baby's father from Dirty Dancing is the voice of our smooth-talking French candelabra. I may be being a bit facetious; Jerry Orbach has a long resume of stage, film, and television credentials that I'm totally overlooking here. That said, I'll always think of him as Dorothy's boyfriend Glen from Golden Girls.

Genie: Robin Williams

Ladies and gentlemen, Robin Williams as...Robin Williams. In fact, in most 90s movies Robin Williams played some version of himself, but possibly none quite as pronounced as this one.

Mrs Potts: Angela Lansbury

Jessica Lansbury from Murder, She Wrote as a singing teapot? No wonder old people love this song so much.

Esmerelda: Demi Moore

They sort of look alike, don't they? Demi Moore and Esmerelda have a certain resemblance, though their choice of mate varies pretty significantly. As far as I know, Quasimodo never punk'd anyone.

Mufasa: James Earl Jones

That's right, Mufasa is Darth Vader. They're not that different really; one's a masked intergalactic hero-fathering villain and the other's a pride-leading Lion who dies prematurely. Wait, where was I going with this? They're pretty damn different,

John Smith: Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson, wary of cultures other than his own? Never! It's a bit of a stretch, don't you think?

Thomas: Christian Bale

Yes, Batman is John Smith's settler friend. For some reason, even though all of these settlers are supposed to be English, only some of them actually sound British; Bale and Gibson have American accents. I guess they adapted quickly to life in the New World.

Woody and Buzz Lightyear: Tom Hanks and Tim Allen

In 1995, Toy Story impressed us with more than just its innovative computer animation technology; it also boasted two very big-name celebrity voice actors for its principal roles. Tom Hanks plays Woody, a displaced favorite cowboy whose moment in the toybox sun is waning. Tim Allen is Buzz Lightyear, a new and flashier astronaut action figure who is completely unaware that he's a toy and not an actual intergalactic voyager. The two actors play well off of one another, sparring convincingly with strong comedic energy.

Hanks and Allen returned in 1999 for a sequel and again in the upcoming summer 2010 Toy Story 3. It's a rare event when a Disney film produces a theatrical sequel instead of a subpar straight-to-video installment, and even rarer to see a third theatrical feature. The return of the celebrity voice actors--Hanks, Allen, and the rest of the gang--is a testament to their faith in the quality of the film; in a lot of these sequels, the original actors want nothing to do with the sinking ship of a straight-to-DVD franchise. We've got high hopes for the final film in the trilogy. Hopefully our veteran voice actors will not disappoint.

Professional voice actors may have multifaceted skills that far exceed the capability of celebrity voice actors, but there is a certain appeal to attaching big name voices to your animated feature. If nothing else, it's fun to spend the movie trying to figure out where you've heard that voice before. These actors may not have the range of specialized cartoon voice actors, but they do have the power to amuse and entertain us. Plus, it makes for some entertaining behind-the-scenes with the voice actors DVD special features. Isn't that really what it's all about?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Some of our Favorite Stars' Unlikely 80s and 90s Horror Roles

Sometimes we forget that it takes years of careful publicist-managed grooming to create a respectable public persona for an actor. Strange as it may seem now, many celebrities who we respect and admire for their legitimate talent were once groveling for B-movie parts. Hey, everyone's got to start somewhere. The bottom seems like as good a first step as any.

Admittedly, not all of the actors on this list are Oscar contenders, but no matter their current position on the fame totem pole, they've certainly come a long way since these early parts. The sheer number of actors who got their start slumming in campy horror flicks are too many to list in a single post, so I present to you a small entertaining slice of now-famous actors' early horror roles. Extra credit has been awarded for worst titles, least necessary sequels, best punny tagline, and cheesiest poster art*.

Jennifer Aniston: Leprechaun

It's a tale as old as time: someone steals an ornery leprechaun's gold coins, they lock him up, the new homeowners release him, and he wreaks havoc by going on a homicidal spree. Same old story. Well, it should be, at least, considering they made 5 follow-up sequels. The most recent (2003) is Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood. I can't believe I missed it.

Jennifer Aniston plays the new homeowner terrorized by the deviant little green guy. Lucky for her, she got her big break with Friends later that year. Without the Rachel role, who knows? She could have been starring in Leprechaun: Back 3 tha Hood.

Leonardo DiCaprio: Critters 3
In case you missed the first two installments, let me fill you in. There are these critters, see. And...that's it. The whole thing. A franchise is born.

Critters 3 is the first clip in this montage. DiCaprio's adorable. Almost as cute as the critters.

This is DiCaprio's first film, a breakthrough role in which he deftly maneuvers the role of the evil landlord's stepson. Spooky, right? This stepdad landlord is so evil that he gets comeuppance in the manner of being locked by DiCaprio in the basement with the critters. And you thought your family was dysfunctional.

Eva Mendes: Children of the Corn V: Field of Terror

I'll bet you never realized this film warranted so many sequels, but apparently these Children of the Corn have a lot of stories to tell. Eva Mendes had a major-ish role in this installment, playing a teenager who surrenders to the cult. She can't quite measure up to Alexis Arquette in the lead male role, but she has her moments.

Mariska Hargitay: Ghoulies

Really? Ghoulies? That' a movie? You know it's a top shelf kind of film when the cover has a low-budget monster popping out of a toilet. And the tagline "They'll get you in the end." Get it? Unfortunately. Really, that was the best they could do.

This. Is. Hilarious. If you're a Hargitay fan, I implore you to watch this. You won't be sorry.

Mariska Hargitay may have won us over as tough-on-sex-crimes officer Olivia Benson on Law and Order SVU, but back in 1985 she was accepting roles like "Donna in Ghoulies." You'd think having Jayne Mansfield for a mom would give you an in. You would be wrong.

Jim Carrey: Once Bitten

Aren't vampires hilarious? That was the central thesis of this 1985 vampire horror comedy starring Jim Carrey in his first major role. The plot is almost too ridiculous to warrant an in-depth study, but suffice it to say it was pretty terrible. At least it was a comedy: that's it's primary redeeming feature.

George Clooney: Return of the Killer Tomatoes and Return to Horror High

Clooney's lucky that he's got his good looks to fall back on: not all actors can achieve such monumental fame after starring in such humiliating horror sequels. I don't want to confuse you with too many clever plot details, so suffice it to say both movies involved an unnecessary revisiting of the first films' respectively ridiculous storylines. Things return.

Brad Pitt: Cutting Class

Get it? Cutting? These movie people are just too punny for words. This was Pitt's first major screen role, with his role as hunky high school basketball Dwight Ingalls establishing him as an up-and-comin hearthrob. Dwight Ingalls in possibly the most prototypical late 80s/early 90s movie character name: cheesy yet unlikely. I wonder if they have a mechanism where you can insert a normal-sounding name and then a corny 80s name like "Dash Harrington" or "Kassandra Kellogg" pops out.

Hilary Swank: Sometimes They Come Back Again

How's that for a sequel title? Sometimes They Come Back... Again. Someone on the writing team could use a refresher course on redundancy. Didn't they already come back? Is it really necessary to add that "again?" Especially when you've already got the "sometimes" in there to imply it happens periodically. It just highlights the fact that this movie is totally unnecessary. Well done.

Whatever my qualms with the title, it does have one redeeming quality: a future Oscar winner. Hilary Swank plays the main character's teenage daughter. I'd offer some more useful details, but to be honest I couldn't even make it through the synopsis. It's just that bad.

Katherine Heigl: Bug Buster and Bride of Chucky

I was going to put the Bug Buster trailer but it was so disgusting I thought it better to spare you. YouTube it at your own risk. If you are terrified of bugs like me, it may be traumatizing. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Another two-for-one deal here for former B-movie stardom. Heigl may have caught our attention with her young role in 1994's My Fatehr the Hero opposite Gerard Depardieu, but it was a good 10 years before she caught her big break with Grey's Anatomy**. During this time she did a few stints on the horror circuit, most memorably as sassy teenager Jade Bride of Chucky, the fourth film in the Child's Play series. By this time they weren't even trying anymore; the series was teetering on the edge of self-referential parody.

That same year (1998) Heigl also appeared in Bug Buster, a film about massive mutant underwater cockroaches. Take a second, it's exactly as stupid as it sounds. To the film's credit, Scotty and Sulu from Star Trek are in it. Other than that, it's pretty much a Bug Buster. Right.

Somewhere along the way these stars caught their lucky break, but not before paying their dues with some pretty embarrassing horror flick gigs. It may not be their best work, but it'll be a part of their acting canon for life. Or at least they will stick around to forever haunt them in their readily fan-accessible IMDB pages. Spooky.

*The term "art" here has been used loosely
**To be fair, I also liked her on Roswell

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