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When B-Listers Go Abroad

When B-Listers Go Abroad (photo)

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What do Robert De Niro and Coolio have in common? First, they’ve both worked with Michelle Pfeiffer — De Niro in last week’s “Stardust,” Coolio in the classic “Gangsta’s Paradise” music video from 1995’s “Dangerous Minds.” Second, they’ve both starred in a foreign production. Further similarities, however, end there: while De Niro’s trip overseas was motivated by a desire to work with Bernardo Bertolucci on 1976’s epic “1900,” Coolio, like a growing number of struggling B-movie actors and wannabe thespians, was just looking for another opportunity to show off his acting chops. Those chops are, unsurprisingly, pretty meager, but they still have value in the international film marketplace, where the presence of an American — any American, no matter how dubiously talented — translates into cachet (or at least novelty value) and, hopefully, extra receipts at the local box office. Thus, movies like this weekend’s “Marigold,” a joint US-Indian venture headlined by “Heroes”‘ Ali Larter that actually plays with the idea of unwanted American talent heading to Bollywood. And Russian gangster films featuring Michael Madsen. And Turkish action-comedies starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Herewith, a few choice examples of the budding phenomenon.

Gary Busey in "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq."Billy Zane and Gary Busey in “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq” (2006)

How to revive a flagging career? If you’re Zane or Busey, you find an anti-American propaganda film and sign on the dotted line. Zane stars as a U.S. military monster (and Christian zealot) who subscribes to a personal kill-’em-all Middle East policy, and Busey — in a role seemingly designed to once and for all ruin his credibility — lends minor support as a Jewish-American doctor with a fondness for carving up Iraqi corpses and selling their organs on the international black market. Based on a popular Turkish television show of the same name, and using a real-life event as its narrative foundation, the film is little more than a shoddily constructed exploitation film that mixes references to Abu Ghraib with the occasional sight of Zane wearing a safari hat and brightly colored scarf. Given the wholly predictable backlash that greeted news of the film in the States, one can’t help but wonder why either actor wanted to court such notoriety, especially in the case of Busey, whose subplot is so meager and tacked-on that his minimal employment (and, one must assume, minimal paycheck) couldn’t have been worth the negative press.

Michael Madsen in "Velvet Revolution."Michael Madsen in “Jacked$” (2004) and “Velvet Revolution” (2005)

“Reservoir Dogs” set Michael Madsen up for life, providing him with an unending stream of jobs playing tough guys, menacing criminals and/or homicidal maniacs. Given his flourishing career as the lead in direct-to-video clunkers, however, it’s hard to imagine Madsen’s motivation for traveling to Russia for by-the-books gangster comedy “Jacked$” — perhaps it was because the role of an underworld kingpin offered him the chance to act pissed off while obsessing over Elvis Presley? Regardless, his experience making Russian music video director Oleg Stepchenko’s feature debut must have been a happy one, since he re-teamed with the filmmaker one year later for “Velvet Revolution,” another derivative piece of crime cinema crap that opens with Madsen blatantly rehashing his “Dogs” glory by chatting it up in a diner and, shortly thereafter, torturing a man to death. After those two introductory scenes, he basically disappears from the film. Which, even in light of the ensuing lameness, isn’t all that disappointing.

Malcolm McDowell in "Mirror Wars: Reflection One."Malcolm McDowell, Armand Assante and Rutger Hauer in “Mirror Wars: Reflection One” (2005)

“Mirror Wars” is, in essence, a 116-minute commercial for a Russian fighter jet. And what better filmic way to sell a fighter jet than to enlist the services of Malcolm McDowell and Armand Assante, two actors intimately familiar with the art of crashing and burning. Still, it’s hard to fault the two for seeming lost and bewildered throughout this incomprehensible political-espionage adventure, which involves McDowell’s terrorist’s plans to steal a super jet so he can then shoot down Air Force One and, consequently, initiate a new Cold War. Scenery-chewing is apparently de rigueur, and both Americans are up to the task, albeit not enough to prevent every instance of human speech from making one crave more aerial plane footage. At least they’re given something to do, which is more than can be said about Rutger Hauer, who for reasons unknown decided to fly all the way to Russia to film a one-minute cameo.

Jean-Claude Van Damme in "Sinav."Jean-Claude Van Damme in “Sinav” (2006)

The Muscles From Brussels has never gotten much stateside respect, but Van Damme-it, anyone who can do splits on a kitchen countertop in his underwear and maintain a straight face is okay in my book. Having been consigned to direct-to-video purgatory for years, the former action star has recently begun peddling his brawny wares on international shores, and this recent Turkish film — about a group of teens determined to steal a university entrance exam, “Mission Impossible”-style — finds Van Damme in all his suave glory. Or at least, that’s what I can glean from the trailer (watch it on YouTube), as I was unfortunately unable to procure a copy of the film for full analysis. Van Damme reportedly so loved the script that he worked for free as “The Thief.” And, from the sight of him roundhouse kicking a young boy while decked out in designer duds, I’d recommend that Turkish audiences prepare to have their hearts stolen.

Coolio in "China Strike Force."Coolio in “China Strike Force” (2000)

“A Lam-Bo-Geeni! It’s Eye-talian!” With those initial lines in Stanley Tong’s 2000 Chinese crime film, Coolio makes a bid for international cinematic superstardom. And fails. Hilariously, and often. Starring as a gangster named Coolio (presumably to keep confusion to a bare minimum) who’s in China for a big drug deal, Coolio delivers plenty of cheesy gangster boasts while seizing every opportunity to engage B-movie staple Mark Dacascos in playfully racist banter. His perpetual bug-eyes and exaggerated movements seem perfectly at home amidst the rest of the cast’s similarly cartoonish expressions. Nonetheless, it’s his penchant for yelling dialogue like the type of knucklehead who thinks foreigners will better understand him if he dials up the volume — a habit made funnier by the fact that his co-stars all speak English — that truly catapults his performance into the loony stratosphere. Well, that and his reference to “Chairman Mayo.”

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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.