Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

7 Badass Comedians Who Refused to Sell Out

Editor's note: This article was first published in 2011.

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The 10 Top Films in Which Humanity Gets Its Comeuppance

Humankind’s intelligence combined with our unrelenting desire to live longer and dominate the planet is, ironically, our fatal flaw. Pop culture forever reminds us that we are disgusting creatures with deplorable habits that will ultimately be the end of us, and fortunately for fans of the apocalypse, cinema in particular loves to depict our agonizing deaths in vivid, epic color.

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Why Do We Pressure Sexy Women to Lose Weight? 8 Beautiful Stars Who Still Get Called Fat

The type of woman’s physique that is popular in the media varies over time—recall the way healthy, toned ‘90s supermodels like Cindy Crawford gave way to the “heroin chic” of emaciated Kate Moss—but in the last decade, the demand for a hyper-emaciated frame has reached a fever pitch. High-end fashion models, plagued by the constant fear of being called too fat for a job, throw themselves into starvation mode, some to the point of death: Ana Carolina Reston, Isabell Caro, sisters Luisel and Eliana Ramos. And it’s not just fashion models—the end of the aughties brought weight-obsessed stylist Rachel Zoe’s anorexic clients into vogue, including Nicole Ritchie and Mary Kate Olsen.

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The 8 Best Time-Travel Flicks

Film critics and the social media grapevine are gushing about recent cinematic release Looper. I won't be quoting any of these reviews thanks to a tweet by the New York Times Magazine's Adam Sternbergh, which warns us off of them: "I'm generally not super-spoiler-averse but Looper is worth going into as blind as possible (beyond what's in the trailer). It pays off."

I am spoiler-averse, so instead, the barest summation of the trailer: time travel is illegal in the future, but a mafia-esque organization hires a hitman (Joseph Gordon Levitt) in 2078 to eliminate all the foes they send back in time. All goes swimmingly until one day the kneeling man who materializes before him is...himself, older, in the form of a weathered Bruce Willis. What does it mean? Who sent him? What did he do? The shit hits the fan, or at least the future collides with the past, and it looks like at some point a bullet might hit a body, too. Check it out:
 

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9 Movies With Evil Corporations That Want to Destroy Humanity

A terrible virus is unleashed by an evil corporation that turns humans and animals into voracious zombies: it's a plot point so popular with Americans that the Resident Evil franchise has released a fifth movie based on the premise, in theaters now. It's already leading at the box office ($21 million this weekend) and will likely remain wildly popular (it's made upwards of $100 million worldwide, per film), thanks to its star, Milla Jovovich, and its ability to crossover into horror, sci-fi, gaming, and Maxim audiences.

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9 Great TV Shows That Subvert the Right-Wing Worldview

Culture is a flashpoint for social change, both a mirror and a catalyst for our world, and primetime network television is the medium with the greatest reach. Over 290 million people own a television in the United States (that's over twice as many people as those who voted in the 2008 presidential election) and as a primary source of entertainment for most Americans, any sort of progressive politics on the major stations is going to have an impact. Not to mention the over 140 million Americans who watch television on the internet, whether through providers like Hulu, YouTube, and Netflix, or through good old fashioned video platforms on websites with domain names registered in unregulated countries. The average American tends to watch television about 35 hours a week total on both platforms—that's close to a full-time job. You could see why anybody would want to get into the TV racket, but if you're a showrunner with a political point of view, nudging in on primetime is particularly advantageous for spreading your ideals.

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5 Things "The Office" Taught Us

"The Office" is closing. Last week it was announced that the forthcoming season will be the last for the beloved sitcom, which for almost a decade has regaled audiences with tongue-in-cheek, knowing-dumb humor and has changed the face of comedic television. Greg Daniels, executive producer, told Variety,"This year feels like the last chance to really go out together and make an artistic ending of the show.”

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8 Killer Dance Movies With Great Politics

Step Up Revolution is the fourth film in the Step Up franchise, and its screenwriters clearly wrote what they knew. Other than a few plot points and various subtle character developments, its basic narrative barely diverges from that of its predecessors—rich dancer and poor dancer meet and fall in love, overcoming class differences along the way. This version follows protagonist Emily, an aspiring dancer who moves to Miami with her wealthy father and falls in love with fellow dancer Sean, whose choreography is fully of the impoverished streets where he grew up. (Also, flash-mobbing?) But there's an element straight from the headlines of gentrification: Emily's greedy father wants to plop a luxury hotel in Sean's lower-income community, so they must dance in protest in order to keep the neighborhood intact.

Contemporary dance movies are almost across-the-board steeped in class and race issues, even if the plot is cardboard-thin, for various reasons. West Side Story set a precedent: everyone loves a star-crossed love story; everyone loves a redemption story. Plus, class-and-race distinctions provide opportunities to show various styles of dancing in one film, like ballet and breakdancing. Some reviews have noted Step Up Revolution's distinctly political bent and thought it was a first; as a connoisseur of the contemporary dance film over the past few decades, I'm here to tell you: they've long been silent vehicles for politics, delivering revolutionary morals to unsuspecting dance fans for years. Here are eight of the best, but trust: almost every single dance movie since at least 1983 is based on the premise of race-and-class strife.

1. Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985). Long before Sarah Jessica Parker transformed into Carrie, she played 17-year-old Janey, a plucky army brat new to Chicago who has a passion for dance and gymnastics. She dreams of appearing on local "Solid Gold"-like dance show, "Dance TV," which has just announced citywide tryouts to cast a new couple on the series. Unfortunately, her overbearing father forbids her to do anything but Catholic school activities, so she has to sneak out to meet her "Dance TV"-appointed partner, Lee, after she makes the semi-finals.

Lee loves to dance, too, but comes from a deeply working-class background, and his father expects him to go to trade school—mirroring Janey's father issues, but with a motorcycle and a mechanic's license in his future. He scoffs at her prissy lifestyle and stodgy school uniform, but soon they bond over their mutual love for jetés and work on their chemistry as well as their choreography. But the plot takes on an interesting subtext, particularly for the Reagan '80s: the blue-collar and military nature of the leads' upbringing is presented a foil in rival Natalie, a wealthy, devious dance competitor who wears furs to high school and complains to her father, "My therapist is right: I'm unloved, unappreciated, I only have two cars." When it becomes clear that Janey and Lee are major contenders to win the "Dance TV" contest over Natalie and her beefcake partner, Natalie calls on her industrialist father: Lee's dad works for Natalie's dad, and if Lee's team wins, Lee's dad will be out a job.

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America Doesn't Need Another 'Total Recall' Movie -- And it Says a Lot About Us That There Is One

For both sci-fi nerds and movie fanatics, Total Recall is a holy grail of a film, one of three made in the 1990s that base their premises on stories by hailed writer Philip K. Dick. Shot in 1990 during the high point of Arnold Schwarzenegger's career (including the governorship in this timeline), it's a high-stakes, futuristic spy story as seen through the colorful, pop-arty lens of director Paul Verhoeven. The film was made at the start of a Dick-ensian renaissance, in which filmmakers began to mine the cult sci-fi author's strange, often paranoid, usually brilliant works. Total Recall was no different. 

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Twilight Fantasy Rupture: Why I'm Glad Kristen Stewart Cheated

For Twilight fans, July 25, 2012 is a day that will live in infamy. It was on that day that Kristen Stewart, the wan but tough young actress who portrays the cinematic series heroine, released a public letter apologizing to Robert Pattinson—her love interest in Twilight and real-life boyfriend—for cheating on him with a married 41-year-old director, Rupert Sanders. Stewart’s letter was short, sweet and to the point:

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Nicki Minaj's Retroactive Feminism

Last month, Nicki Minaj was part of a dust-up that underscored how important the Queens-born rapper is to young women. At Hot 97's Summer Jam—arguably the most important arena concert in New York hip-hop—a white Hot 97 DJ by the name of Peter Rosenberg made some disparaging comments about her music while introducing another artist. "I know there are some chicks here waiting to sing 'Starships' later—I'm not talking to y'all right now. Fuck that bullshit. Bullshit. I'm here to talk about real hip-hop shit."

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Are Mega-Corporations and Wall Street Killing Electronic Dance Music?

Over the last two years, electronic music has become bigger across the United States than at any point in history, even at the height of the rave era in the 1990s. For lifelong fans, its sudden rise has been astonishing. For years, while house and techno were born essentially in the Midwest of America, those of us stranded stateside have looked on as electronic became a staple of European pop culture, while we were left seeking out underground clubs and boutique record stores, feeling niche-ier than ever. But now, dance music is so mainstream that the corporate powers that be have rebranded it—electronic dance music, or EDM, which self-respecting dance music fans tend to despise.

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Is Gourmet Foodie Culture Killing the Music Festival?

Two weeks ago, the Great Googa Mooga Festival descended upon Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which abuts on its left some of the borough’s nattier neighborhoods. Declaring itself “an amusement park of food and drink” (somewhat cornily) it combined celebrity chefs like Eddie Huang and Marcus Samuelsson with their musical and celebrity counterparts, like Parks & Recreation’s Aziz Ansari and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. The mainstage, which brought a reported 40,000 people, paired lectures on wine pairings and livestock butchering with cool bands like the Roots. And for an extra, whopping $250, attendees could get a VIP pass and see, among other things, a James Murphy DJ set after sharing a nosh with Anthony Bourdain. Hall & Oates, the ‘80s blue-eyed soul duo, headlined. 

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8 Awesome Things About Tim Burton

The new movie Dark Shadows took a decade to drop. A long-running bit of Tim Burton/Johnny Depp lore, the dynamic duo has been trying to make a film based on their favorite kitschy ‘60s vampire television show for years—so to have it released in theaters seems almost beyond comprehension for megafans. Unfortunately, though, it seems like it might have been left in the oven a little too long: critics are panning it like nobody’s business, despite its marquee director-star pairing and a packed cast that includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and Jackie Earle Haley.

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Act Like a Lady? 7 Romantic Comedies Stuck in the 1950s

This weekend, the cheeky relationship comedy Think Like a Man hits theaters, and already the positive reviews are pouring in, particularly for its all-star cast: Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Hart, Meagan Good, Gabrielle Union, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall. It’s an Ocean’s 11 lineup of romantic comedies, and the chemistry and likeability of the characters has been almost universally noted in film reviews.

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7 Most Absurdly Schmaltzy Historical Movies

In case you haven’t been alerted by the sound of Celine Dion singing “whereeeeeever you areeeeeee” on your radio or television: James Cameron’s 1997 epic Titanic was just released in 3D, in all its iceberg-murdering glory. A romantic cult classic and one of the highest-grossing films of all time ($1,847,901,606!!!!!!), the film clearly still has a hold on America for its tragic, class-friction love story, gorgeous costumes, accurate recreation of the actual Titanic, and dramatic conclusion. Fans are going crazy about the re-release.

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5 Infuriating Copycat TV Shows

With the return of "Mad Men" last weekend, suddenly the copycat filler on television meant to whet fans’ ‘60s fetish looks acutely bad. It did then, too, of course—”The Playboy Club,” with a Draper-style lead and a philandering plotline ripped from the “Mad Men” playbook, was canceled after only three pathetic episodes.

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The 5 Best Sex Scenes on Film

One of the most salient critiques of modern mainstream pornography is that it generally revolves around the subjugation of women. Some of these women could earn Oscars for their dramatically faked orgasms, which help normalize the idea among viewers that all women are as subservient and sexually eager as those in porn. Of course, some of us are, but give us a break! This led to the creation of more feminist-minded porn, made by women and men who do not believe in the concept of censorship to subvert mainstream modes of pornography, but in creating an alternative for sex-positive voyeurs.

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What Does It Mean that Rihanna Has Collaborated with Former Abuser Chris Brown?

It’s impossible to consider without a semblance of heartbreak, and a little bile in your throat: on Monday night, three years after Chris Brown was arrested for violently beating then-girlfriend Rihanna to a pulp, the duo released not one, but two collaborative songs together.

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Why MIA Was Right to Give America the Finger at the Super Bowl

As Nipplegate instructed us, the Superbowl halftime stage is seen in America as almost hallowed ground, a football altar where only our most sacred pop stars may tread. And if they desecrate it? They will be effectively excommunicated, even if their legacy in American music is as important as anyone’s.

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The 7 Most Irritating Superbowl Halftime Performers of All Time

Well, perhaps not all time—there is the case of 1967’s pre-YouTube performance by various university marching bands, and the halftime performance a decade later that included something called an “audience card stunt.” But in the years since media has been preserved and democratized for posterity, there have been countless entertainers on the Superbowl halftime show who have irritated America into oblivion, whether for their performative snafus or for their despicable personal politics.

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The 10 Worst Things About the Oscars

The 2012 Academy Awards are marching onward, scheduled to air their singular brand of glitz and self-congratulation on Sunday. While they’re often fun to watch and as much of an American pastime as the Super Bowl or, you know, apple pie, there are also plenty of things to criticize about them, and not all of them are obvious. We'll be tuning in. But while you ogle the pomp and circumstance also keep these things in mind: the 10 most annoying, offensive, and stupid things about the Oscars.

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8 Awful Pop Culture Offerings to Dread in the New Year

Certainly 2011 was one of the worst years for pop culture in recent memory. If you need proof, look at the resurgence of the Ayn Rand oeuvre, the spate of reality shows on virtually every channel on television, or, perhaps most chillingly, "Hey Soul Sister" by the band Train.  But in the first week of 2012, it already looks like this year might, in fact, be worse. Here are 11 forthcoming happenings in pop culture that may have you wishing for the Mayan apocalypse.

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Hip-Hop Diplomacy? How the State Department Uses Rap to Spread Propaganda Abroad

Since 2005, the US State Department has been using hip-hop as a bridge for foreign cultural diplomacy. Operating under the auspices of then-public diplomacy undersecretary Karen Hughes, the “Rhythm Road” program began sending “hip-hop envoys” to, mostly, the Middle East, hoping to promote transnational understanding through music and dance.

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10 Pop Monstrosities That Almost Destroyed Our Culture in 2011

Every year, things go down in pop culture that seem to signal the coming armageddon -- like offensive and popular reality shows, for instance -- and we wonder, could it possibly get worse? And every year, it does. We could list 2011 terrible things in American culture this year and not even come close to completing the list, so for brevity’s sake, here are the top 10 worst things that happened in pop culture this year. May 2012 have fewer of them.

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The 10 Most Annoying Pop Christmas Songs of All Time

In 1940, Irving Berlin penned “White Christmas,” that woozy, mournful standard that wished for snow from a sunny California office. In 1941, popular and handsome actor/singer Bing Crosby recorded it, somewhat haplessly (he didn’t think it was a hit). A version was included in the 1942 film Holiday Inn; Crosby sits at a piano, duets with co-star Marjorie Reynolds, and at one point, plays the bells on a Christmas tree with his pipe. It won an Oscar that year for Best Original Song, and its legacy has endured: probably the most recognizable pop Christmas song of all time, it’s sold over 50 million copies to date.

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The 13 Best Political Films of 2011

This year was defined by anxiety: the economy roiled, the GOP was increasingly hostile, the government careened towards shutdown more than once. And while these things all still seem to loom, 12 months later, there is a landscape of renewed hope and empowerment. The Arab Spring set off revolutions across the Middle East, which first inspired the Western world to rise up into Occupy Wall Street. Now the ripple effect of people power travels further, as we see the germination of the Russian Winter. Culturally, we’re gearing for a seismic shift: In 2012, expect to see the effects of the year manifested in film, music, and art. But in 2011, we felt the tremors, and a clutch of political films and documentaries both presaged and inspired the increasing awareness and resolve we’ve seen smattering across the globe. You’ll see some of these in the Oscar nomination lineup, but all of them are must-see. 

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13 Great New Political Movies You Should Watch For

While the Oscars are often praised for bringing greater attention to political documentaries like Inside Job and Gasland, the Sundance Film Festival is where it begins. Something of a feeder fest, it plucks smaller features (and shorts!) and sets them on the path to more mainstream, commercial audiences, which benefits both filmmakers and the causes they seek to illuminate. In the mid-2000s, it was certainly lambasted for leaning too Hollywood — and fostering a Cannes-like celebrity atmosphere that distracted from its initial goal of helping independent films — but in recent years, festival directors have tried to rectify that, adding different programs, such as “Focus on Film,” that mean to bring it back to earth. Last year, Gasland, Restrepo, and Waiting for Superman all hit Sundance before they were nominated for Oscars (Restrepo won).

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When Is It OK to Tell Rape Jokes?

This past month, the rape culture's been under the magnifying glass—particularly in the context of "humor." Jersey Shore's Vinny Guadagnino, generally considered the most sensitive, intelligent male cast member on the show "Jersey Shore," released a rap song with the line:  "actin' like I'm rapin' it/fuck her til she fakin it." The Twitter account of the condom manufacturer Durex posted a horrific one-liner that had nothing to do with safe sex, and everything to do with forcible misogyny. And Facebook, after much pressure from groups both within and outside of its internet universe, finally banned rape-joke pages, some on the site for years, saying, "There is no place on Facebook for content that is hateful, threatening, or incites violence, and we encourage users to report pages, posts, or users who violate our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. 

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5 Hilarious Parodies of the Current Presidential Candidates

To many rational people, Herman Cain is appalling as a presidential candidate. He’s allegedly sexually harassed an increasing cadre of women, and seemingly minimized the importance of foreign policy in the presidency with his characterization of Uzbekistan as “Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan.” He feels close enough to the democracy-destroying Kochs that he called them “brothers from another mother.” And yet he is inexplicably high up in the polls, trailing only Mitt Romney as the GOP’s top nominee. The whole thing is, frankly, a little scary.

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