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Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith on “Son of Rambow”

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04302008_sonoframbow1.jpgBy Matt Singer

Every film lover remembers that first adult movie they were too young to see. For Garth Jennings, that movie was 1982’s “First Blood.” “It was brilliant,” remembers Jennings. “Here’s this guy with a stick and a knife taking on 200 men. We just thought it was the business — so much so that we then decided to make our own home movie version of this using my father’s video camera.”

Jennings’s home-brewed movies eventually led to a career working in collaboration with Nick Goldsmith under the name Hammer & Tongs, in which Jennings would direct and Goldsmith would produce first a string of remarkably creative music videos and then features, starting with 2005’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” The team’s second picture brings Jennings full circle: a semi-autobiographical story of two British school kids who become amateur filmmakers after watching — what else? — “First Blood.”

The result is the hilarious and deeply touching “Son of Rambow” — the extra “w” of the title, as Jennings and Goldsmith note, is to avoid reactions like the one they got after an early test screening, when a man was furious to discover the movie was not an actual Rambo sequel. “He wrote on his test sheet, ‘How dare you trick me? Where are the guns?'” Goldsmith told me with a laugh. During our interview, Jennings and Goldsmith talked about their own “Rambo” sequels and the pleasures of growing up children of the 1980s.

I assume that the film is in some way based on things that one or both of you did as children.

Nick Goldsmith: The first draft we wrote was sort of autobiographical, but we both had fairly ordinary, nice upbringings, so it was a bit of a dull script. But then we had this peripheral character who was a Plymouth Brethren, this religious group that goes to ordinary schools, but aren’t allowed any form of entertainment in their lives. We found by moving the story next door to this little kid who’d never seen a film before or any form of entertainment, we could have it so that when he sees “First Blood,” it blows his mind. It was a way for us to get that feeling across of how it was when we were kids, when you see a film, and it really has an effect on you in a much more filmic way.

04302008_sonoframbow2.jpgWhat sorts of movies did you create in the wake of that “First Blood” viewing?

Garth Jennings: Well, the movie that we were inspired to make by “Rambo” was called “Aaron: Part I,” and Aaron is a sort of Rambo-esque character. I played the head of the military of defense, and I get kidnapped by the PLO, and the PLO hold me hostage in my mother’s shed at the end of the garden, and they’re gonna burn me alive unless the government coughs up some money and makes their lives better. And so Aaron comes running in, kicks everyone’s ass and then burns them alive in the shed. The name Aaron came from the fact that we always wanted our hero to have one big singular name, and I had seen the name Aaron Spelling going up at the end of “Dynasty,” and thought, “Aaron. Aaron’s a hard name. Aaron’s coming! Be afraid!” I didn’t know that in real life, Aaron Spelling was a tiny man.

The kids start making their movie, and there’s something wonderful and pure about it. Then at a certain point, everyone in their school finds out about it, and it mutates into this huge production. Are there any comparisons to be drawn there with the story of a pair of independent filmmakers getting sucked into the Hollywood machine?

NG: Well, you can’t help but have that. Even though we were conscious of that [parallel], it’s a function of the fact that once you start doing things as kids and it’s exciting, people tend to join in. So it is a sort of comparison to what happens in the real world. We tried not to make too much of that — it’s too easy to start going, “Hey, we’re making a particular dig at the Hollywood system,” or something.

The movie is very much a product of people who grew up in the 1980s. Can you talk about what made it such a great time to be a kid?

GJ: I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I look back, I think that was pretty good. There were great records. There was good clothing. Very big hair.

NG: I think it was probably the worst looking decade ever.

GJ: It was definitely the most garish, stupidest looking decade. I think the ’70s have got nothing on the ’80s in terms of just stupidity.

04302008_sonoframbow3.jpgWith your film and the recently released “Be Kind Rewind,” there seem to be the rumblings of a movement to reclaim VHS as a technology now that it’s been completely supplanted by DVD and digital. Do you think that’s true?

GJ: It was the first time we were able to do something immediately that felt very professional. It was a feat when we all got video cameras — well, we didn’t all get video cameras.

When I grew up, you usually had one kid who had one and you’d make friends with him so you could play with it.

GJ: It was actually my dad who got one because his friend was emigrating and selling off all of his electrical equipment. We never would have had one otherwise. We got this thing, and it was amazing. I haven’t seen “Be Kind Rewind,” but I understand it’s from a similar generation of people that just grew up discovering they could make something and then play it back. There was something wonderful about putting on a show at the end of the day and not having to send it off to a processing plant. It felt like we’d been given the keys to the car.

With very few exceptions, we don’t see the kids’ imaginative view of what we’re seeing. When they create a “flying dog,” we see what it really is — a plastic dog strapped to a kite. Yet one of the kids says “It looks just like my drawings!” which is a great moment. Was it difficult to decide how to represent what Will and Lee do?

GJ: None of it was actually difficult to do because it’s so based on the fact that we never saw anything as impossible at that age. You never worried about making a mistake. You just thought, “Wow, yeah, it’s a dog tied to a kite. It’s a flying dog.” I like that ludicrous ambition.

NG: The flying dog was an idea we came across and we thought, “Oh, yeah, of course, flying dog. Easy. We’ll just tie a dog to a kite, and it will fly,” and then the special effects guys come in, and they’re like, “Of course it’s not going to fly. You’d need a kite the size of a small country in order to fly this dog.” We ended up having hundred-foot cranes and men with wires and rigging and that sort of thing. It always gets more complicated. It’s easier when you’re a kid.

[Photos: Bill Milner as Will Proudfoot; Will Poulter as Lee Carter; writer/director Garth Jennings — “Son of Rambow,” Paramount Vantage, 2007]

“Son of Rambow” opens in limited release on May 2.



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.