DID YOU READ

2007: Five Directors Who Shifted Gears for the Better

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By Nick Schager

IFC News

[Photo: Frank Darabont’s “The Mist,” MGM, 2007]

Tilling the same ground over and over again is easy. Just ask Eli Roth. Or Michael Bay. Or Wes Anderson. Or the countless others who delivered new movies in 2007 that strongly evoked — if not outright replicated — their prior works. But taking a gamble, both narratively and aesthetically, is a feat worth celebrating, even if the end results aren’t wholly successful. These following five filmmakers all embraced projects that challenged them in new and exciting ways.

Paul Thomas Anderson — “There Will Be Blood”

2004’s “Punch-Drunk Love” seems to have been the liberating experiment Anderson needed since “There Will Be Blood” finds the director thrillingly marrying his formidable technical skills to a legitimately epic saga devoid of his trademark (and now played out) pop culture riffing and favorite auteur homages. “Blood” is an astoundingly controlled period-piece-cum-horror-show whose form is awe-inspiringly in harmony with its content. From its elegant tracking shots to its employment of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s magnificent and otherworldly Kubrickian score, the film stands as the most vital turning point in Anderson’s career to date, an impressive shift from agreeably showy stylistics to exceptional, imposing artistry.

Frank Darabont — “The Mist”

Setting aside the feel-good, Capra-esque schmaltz that had characterized his post-“Shawshank Redemption” output, Frank Darabont went fast, loose and nasty with this adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novella about a group of small-town Maine residents trapped in a grocery store by a mysterious fog. Shooting all his action with two roving cameras, Darabont’s latest has an intense in-your-face claustrophobia that balances out his script’s more preachy tendencies with a swift ferocity that culminates in a decidedly bleak finale. A less “important” genre film than his prior efforts, to be sure, but “The Mist” is more excitingly visceral than those heralded predecessors as well.

David Fincher — “Zodiac”

Like Anderson, David Fincher’s storytelling gifts have often been overshadowed by his dexterous craftsmanship. And as with “There Will Be Blood,” “Zodiac” stands as a defining moment in the filmmaker’s career, exhibiting none of the self-conscious cinematographic frippery that infected his prior “Panic Room.” Stunningly synthesizing narrative and technique, Fincher’s “Zodiac” takes a wholly different approach to the serial killer genre that made him famous with 1995’s “Se7en,” concentrating less on traditional suspense tropes and jazzy visuals than on the rigorous process of journalistic and police investigation, as well as the immense personal toll wrought from obsession. It’s his masterpiece, for the time being.

Francis Ford Coppola — “Youth Without Youth”

Having spent the last decade working on his dream project “Megalopolis,” Francis Ford Coppola finally returned to actual filmmaking — and delivered this bonkers philosophical head trip, which involves an old Romanian man (Tim Roth) in the 1930s who is struck by lightning and, consequently, becomes young again with supernatural powers. Oh, and then he rediscovers his long-dead lover reincarnated in a beautiful stranger who winds up being possessed by an ancient Indian woman who’s traveling backwards in time. Make sense? No. But with a new collaborator in cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. (not to mention composer Osvaldo Golijov’s beautiful score), Coppola’s luscious widescreen photography has a grandeur that’s nonetheless entrancing. The director’s adventurousness is commendable, even if the end result is not.

Lasse Hallström — “The Hoax”

Lasse Hallström’s preference for high-toned sentimentality can be insufferable, which is why it was such a pleasant surprise to find those directorial impulses largely absent from “The Hoax,” a mostly factual tale that, at least during its opening half, has a gleeful, rollicking vivacity. Things eventually fall apart once the story transforms into a flaccid pseudo-thriller that aspires to cast its protagonist Clifford Irving (Richard Gere), who tried to sell Houghton Mifflin a counterfeit memoir of Howard Hughes, into a big, fat symbol of Nixon’s dishonest America of the ’70s. But the film’s initial verve and vibrancy is so compelling that it almost absolves Hallström for making “Chocolat.”

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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.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.