DID YOU READ

“The Lookout” and “The Hawk is Dying”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Paul Giamatti in “The Hawk is Dying,” Strand Releasing, 2007]

“The Lookout”

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) can’t get a grip, literally or figuratively. The car accident that robbed him of a promising future and Sundays at the hockey rink also damaged his brain, leaving him mentally and physically impaired. Glasses and bottles slip through the unresponsive fingers of his left hand the way thoughts fall through the cracks of his crippled noggin. He’s constantly writing himself reminders in his little pocket spiral notebook so he stays on his routine and doesn’t forget to brush his teeth. Chris is better off than Leonard from “Memento,” but they could both benefit from the same therapy classes.

Like Leonard’s, Chris’ handicap is a bridge to a dark criminal underworld that he would never have known existed before his accident. In movies, people with memory loss are very susceptible to criminal activity. You never see someone in a movie bump their head and goes to work for the Peace Corps but, then you never really see anyone go to work for the Peace Corps in movies. It’s not nearly as cinematic a subject matter as bank robbery, and so that is where Chris’ destiny lies.

His only friend his blind roommate Lewis (Jeff Daniels), Chris is desperate for some human (not to mention sexual) contact, and that’s exactly how a shady but charismatic character like Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) is able to sink claws into him. Sidling up next to Chris at a Kansas City bar, he plies him with companionship, free drinks and his kewpie doll bombshell buddy Luvlee (Isla Fisher). Chris is so happy to be amongst people again he barely notices when Gary begins to make intimations about robbing banks; just by coincidence, Chris works as a late night janitor in a local bank. Cue the planning, robbing, deceiving, shooting and dying.

This sooty concoction comes from Scott Frank, a talented screenwriter (“Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty”) making his directorial debut, and he exhibits some classic screenwriter-turned-director attributes. It’s a meticulously written film, from Chris’ ironic voiceover (which is supposed to sync with the notes he leaves himself in his notebook, but often doesn’t) to the integration of good storytelling lessons into a narrative (Lewis advice to Chris, and perhaps Frank’s advice to aspiring screenwriters: “You can’t tell a story if you don’t know where it’s going.”). Another director might have excised some of the clunkier elements, but they do add a refreshing directness to the film; sometimes a big, thudding cross-hanging-over-Chris’-shoulder metaphor (which Frank employs not once but twice during “The Lookout”) can do us all some good.

Though it doesn’t really look like a traditional entry in the genre, “The Lookout” falls into the world of film noir on the strength of its tragic hero. Chris is more loser than innocent; the car crash was his fault and the mistakes he makes in its aftermath are all his. He’s a pathetic guy, but not exactly a likable one and, as Levitt plays him, he has a dark side that manifests itself via outbursts that bubble up when he can’t figure out how to make himself dinner or snag a loan from his parents.

Levitt’s become one of the most talented and reliable young actors on the indie film scene. With “The Lookout” and other recent standouts like “Brick” and “Mysterious Skin,” a pattern’s emerged: he’s drawn to socially awkward loners, particularly ones with dark secrets in their past that they can’t atone for or deal with. What about that appeals to Levitt is unclear; does he feel like he must atone for “3rd Rock”? Dude, it wasn’t that bad.

Never terribly outstanding (except when Daniels is on screen), “The Lookout” is nonetheless a solid genre picture, carefully plotted and acted, with a nice balance of style and substance. Unlike most modern day stabs at noir, it’s more reserved than flashy; like Chris himself, the movie is withdrawn and subdued, sometimes charming and a little bit sad.

“The Hawk is Dying”

The movie I most anticipated and disliked from Sundance 2006, “The Hawk is Dying” — based on the novel by Harry Crews — comes with a fine creative pedigree and a murderers’ row of a cast, including Michelle Williams, Michael Pitt and Paul Giamatti as George, a man obsessed with capturing and training birds. After the death of his nephew, George dedicates himself to training a wild hawk. Until his task is complete, he will not eat or sleep or, lamentably, make a good movie.

Despite the talented cast and creators, the project never gels and, like a lot of festival films, it’s drenched in human anguish, heavy on the symbolism, and light on entertainment or enlightenment. And mostly it’s just Giamatti with a big leather glove on his hand and a hawk on his arm grunting and sweating as the hawk flaps and squawks around. For two hours.

“The Lookout” opens in limited release on March 30th (official site); “The Hawk is Dying” opens in New York on March 30th (official site).

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.