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“Even Money,” “Severance”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Left, “Even Money,” Yari Film Group, 2007; below, “Severance,” Magnolia Pictures, 2007]

Even Money

Per the opening credits as well as the official poster, “Even Money” is “A Mark Rydell Production” of “A Film by Mark Rydell.” So does that mean he’s doubly to blame for this overblown mess of ham(my acting) and cheese(y dialogue)?

“Even Money” is a drama in the mould of “Crash,” in that it presents a very serious topic — in this case, gambling, in all its addictive and destructive forms — and tries so hard to be important it forgets to be engrossing. It features a lot of good actors, including Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta and Forest Whitaker — but few good characters. The actors do a lot of screaming and cursing and crying and fighting, but the characters just sort of sit there at a remove from all the extravagant performances.

Take the characters played by Basinger and Liotta. They’re a married couple, he a professor of literature, she a writer who claims she’s working at the local coffee shop when she’s really at the casino, blowing the family’s life savings. The two have several high-tension on-camera dustups, including one in front of a fireplace where Basinger melodramatically shudders and gasps “I’m an addict!” But they never seem like an actual couple, even one with marital difficulties, except maybe the one scene where Basinger directly addresses Liotta’s penis.

Like “Crash,” the plot follows several loosely related storylines. Nick Cannon is a basketball star whose older brother (Whitaker) is heavily in debt to his bookies (Jay Mohr and Grant Sullivan), who are feuding with a more powerful bookie played by Tim Roth. Roth’s character is being investigated by a crippled cop (Kelsey Grammer in a hideous fake nose), and bothered by a washed-up magician (Danny DeVito). Only Whitaker, appropriately tragic as a born loser, gives something resembling a third dimension to his part.

Even more frustratingly, the narrative hinges on a series of dubious coincidences. Sullivan’s character’s girlfriend is oblivious to his activities until she bumps into an old friend she hasn’t seen in 12 years. The old friend drops a blunt (and incredibly convenient) bombshell on the order of: “Hey, your boyfriend broke my husband’s jaw! Nice seeing you again for the first time in over a decade!”

Some elements are totally unbelievable: no police force would let a cop as severely impaired as Grammer’s do anything more physically demanding than a desk job. Other times, the characters are just too damn stupid: Liotta’s character is shocked to learn that Basinger’s has completely drained their finances, after he finally grows suspicious and takes a look their recent bank statements. Doesn’t this guy even glance at the screen when he goes to the ATM?

What “Even Money” ultimately needs is someone like Robert Downey Jr., who understands addiction and could bring to the piece a much needed sense of reality. Producer/director Mark Rydell, who has made just six movies since he was nominated for an Oscar for directing “On Golden Pond” in 1981, was so proud of the movie he put his name on it twice, but he should have spent a little less time crafting the film’s color palette (the rich cinematography is “Even Money”‘s only flawless aspect) and more time crafting the film’s emotional one.


“Severance” is to “Hostel” as “Shaun of the Dead” is to “Night of the Living Dead.” As such, it’s yet another pun-intended stab at combining scares and laughs with mixed results. I’m always amazed by how often filmmakers try to marry these two antithetical concepts. As genres go, horror and comedy aren’t peanut butter and jelly; they’re not even peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Terror and joy are at such odds, they don’t make very good bedfellows, even in a movie as good as “Shaun of the Dead,” which is funny at first, and scary at the end, but rarely both at the same time. In his recent appearance on KCRW’s “The Treatment,” “Shaun” director Edgar Wright even admitted that, successful as his film is, it doesn’t really mesh the gags (as in laughing) with the gags (as in choking as you gorge yourself on human flesh).

“Severance” doesn’t really either, which is not to say that it doesn’t have individual moments that are very funny, as well as moments that are very scary. Its quite superb marketing campaign makes it look like a slasher set in a post-Gervais office, but that’s not entirely accurate. In fact, it follows a group of co-workers on a team-building weekend at a remote cabin (in horror movies, cabins are always remote) somewhere in the menacingly wooded foothills of Eastern Europe. Unfortunately for the team, which includes Danny Dyer, Laura Harris and Toby Stephens, they find themselves at the mercy of a brutal serial killer who stalks them and murders them one by one.

Your appreciation of the movie will vary based on your tolerance/enjoyment of torture-vacationer-slashers in the “Turistas”-“House of 1,000 Corpses” vein. As with “Shaun,” this is more genre reconstruction than deconstruction: you point out some hackneyed scare tactics, then you use them anyway in a particularly aggressive manner. So there is a good deal of gore, killings, mutilations, torture, carnage, explosions, and in at least one case, beheading (to some, I may have just made this film sound a good deal more appealing). While you’ll laugh more (at least intentionally) at “Severance” than you would at, say, “Saw,” you’ll still be rendered plenty disgusted and, depending on your temperament, maybe even a little offended.

The screenplay, by James Moran and director Christopher Smith, has at least two genuinely witty moments that involve bodily dismemberment, but that’s still at least a couple short of being a true horror-comedy. This is more “horror, comedy.” Not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but rather two different sandwiches, one PB, one J, which you’ve got to eat all at once.

“Even Money” opens in New York and L.A. May 18th (official site); “Severance” opens in New York May 18th (official site).



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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