List: Counting Down Ten Sadly Underseen Films

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By Aaron Hillis

Lists are breezy reads, but there can be an unfortunate disposability to the data because arbitrarily numbered “Ten Best” somethings or “Five Things You Should Know About” whatevers literally demonstrate quantity’s domination over quality. And now that I’ve sucked all the fun out of the room, here’s a practical but otherwise unranked list of ten auteurist gems — nine of which are already on DVD — that deserve their layers of dust blown off. (Sorry, “Zero Effect” and “11 Harrowhouse,” but the list dictates the rules!)

07252008_onefromtheheart.jpg“One From the Heart” (1982)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

The fires of over-ambition still smoldering in his belly after “Apocalypse Now,” Francis Ford Coppola’s follow-up was a decadent fiasco that bankrupted him, and might have seemed at the time as if the director had returned half-mad from the Filipino jungles. Epically staged on the Zoetrope studio lot, Coppola’s hypertheatrical Vegas romance-cum-musical fantasy stars Frederic Forrest and a frequently nude Teri Garr as a working class couple who still can’t get it right by their fifth anniversary. Garr runs off to the Strip and into the arms of singing waiter Raul Julia, Forrest romps off with sultry acrobat Nastassja Kinski (whose dance inside a jumbo cocktail glass must’ve inspired Dita Von Teese’s renowned burlesque act), but the live-ins still pine for one another — often behind lit scrims that cleverly open “walls” into their disparate scenes within the same shot. It’s obvious why the film sunk upon release — its leads are a bit milquetoast and the clunky drama old fashioned even by 1980s standards. But between its extravagant set pieces popping out our eyes with every neon hue in legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s crayon box, and the smoky-bluesy score — crooned by its Oscar-nominated songwriter Tom Waits (!) in duet with Crystal Gayle (!!) — the film now invokes warm nostalgia for both vintage musicals and an era in which Coppola still shot for the rafters.

“Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight” (a.k.a. “Moment to Moment,” 1975)
Directed by Robert Downey Sr.

Except for 1969’s “Putney Swope” — his irreverent cult send-up of Madison Avenue ad lizards — director Robert Downey Sr.’s anarchic, fun-loving oeuvre remains largely unavailable to the masses today. That hopefully changes in September, when New York’s Anthology Archives presents some of his early, “Putney”-era satires, including “Babo 73,” “Chafed Elbows,” “No More Excuses” and this odd bird from 1975 that took him years to finish, perhaps the most obscure and personal of the lot. An absurdist, 16mm sketch comedy with jazzy digressions and countercultural wordplay (a random handball player riffs, “I paid my dues, so why should I pay my debts?” cut to: a hipster in a baby crib, voiced over by a child, giving a stranger directions to “Jive”), “Moment to Moment” taps the same welcomed vein of indulgent weirdo gags found in Soderbergh’s “Schizopolis” or Rafelson’s “Head” (there’s a Nicholson connection, too, but let’s not oversell it). A full-manned baseball game is played entirely on horseback, senior citizens pick fights over chicks, yet at some point, a voice in the cacophony sighs, “Today’s surrealism is tomorrow’s soap opera.” Downey the junior turns up as his Dadaist self in quasi-home movie snippets, but the whole show is stolen by Iron Boy’s mother, Elsie “L.C.” Downey. In nearly every scene, seemingly in a new costume and persona each time, she’s flippant and flirty while deadpanning boho non-sequiturs.

07252008_threebusinessmen.jpg“Three Businessmen” (1998)
Directed by Alex Cox

Two traveling art dealers check into the same Liverpool hotel — one a stocky, crass American who specializes in southwestern topaz (Miguel Sandoval, with Gervais-ian cringe power), the other a sniffy Brit into African artifacts (“Repo Man” and “Sid and Nancy” writer/director Alex Cox). Scripted by Cox’s wife and longtime collaborator Tod Davies with not just a nod but a headbang to Buñuel (their production company is called “Exterminating Angel”), the biz-attired odd couple meet and are eerily abandoned in the hotel dining room, thus beginning their cerebrally funny, otherworldly, obstacle-filled quest for a sit-down meal. Bickering and bonding over capitalism, religion and global unity, the two wander like the leads in “Naked” through spacious long takes, getting on public transportation that somehow deposits them in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Rotterdam, even the real Spanish desert town where Leone shot spaghetti westerns (a genre Cox gave the punk-rock treatment to in the equally undervalued “Straight to Hell”). The discreet charm of the third businessman, Robert Wisdom, only pops up in the last reel to complete the title and a clever Three Kings motif: the trio gifts a newborn with gold, frankincense and a model of the space station Mir.

07252008_fourtimesthatnight.jpg“Four Times That Night” (1969)
Directed by Mario Bava

Mario Bava’s legacy may have cemented him as the godfather of golden age Italian horror and giallos, but no one should discount his pop-groovy genre dalliances like “Danger: Diabolik” and this intelligently chic take on the trashedelic sex farce. While out walking her poodle, mini-skirted hottie Tina (Daniela Giordano) attracts the wolfhound nose of sports-car hunk Gianni (Brett Halsey), who woos a date out of her. After facing down Tina’s overprotective mother at home, Gianni takes the young lady out to the discotheque, then back to his swinging bachelor pad, but what happened next? How did Tina tear her beautiful dress and Gianni’s face get scratched? Like “Rashomon” in go-go boots, the night’s events are replayed by Tina to her mama (the guy was a predator!), Gianni to the fellas (the chick was a panther!), the hilariously perverted doorman to the milkman (the guy was a homosexual and his friends are debauched freaks!), and then a fourth time as the events actually, and quite naïvely, happened. The film’s proto-softcore provocations may be tame compared to our era of half-naked A-listers on the covers of glossies, but certain sensibilities will be titillated by its mod fashions and interior design porn.

07252008_fivededicatedtooze.jpg“Five: Dedicated to Ozu” (2003)
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

Beyond their static cameras and love for humanity, even a discerning cinephile might not make obvious comparisons between the late filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu (“Late Spring,” “Tokyo Story”) and Iranian new-waver Abbas Kiarostami (“A Taste of Cherry,” “Crimson Gold”). Yet it’s to the 100th anniversary of the Japanese master’s birth that Kiarostami devotes this film: five Caspian Sea shoreline tableaux without plot, dialogue or much action, each in the low-angled, minimalistic, contemplative style of Ozu. Patience is mandatory, as this experiment isn’t just some gallery installation to be slowly walked past, its soothing anti-dramas rewarding to anyone whose attention span hasn’t been plundered by the onslaught of technology. The first sequence concentrates on a mere piece of driftwood, which suspensefully — spoiler alert! — splits in two. Another sees wild dogs napping and stretching, and yet another unveils a harmonious symphony of frogs and insects. One man’s acclimation to Zen-like tranquility may just be another man’s screen saver, but perhaps we all need to shut off our interwebs and take in the mind-expanding quiet.

07252008_sixoclocknews.jpg“Six O’Clock News” (1996)
Directed by Ross McElwee

Self-reflexive documentarian Ross McElwee (“Sherman’s March,” “Bright Leaves”) is used to turning the camera on his family and friends, but in this profound and wryly funny feature — conceived as an episode of “Frontline” — it’s the images presented by news media and the idea of God Himself that ultimately become his fatalistic subject. It begins with the anxieties of parenthood, as the new father McElwee wonders if the mirror in his newborn son’s crib will fuel his future autobiographical tendencies; just thinking about his kid stirs up mortality issues that he sees reflected on TV in natural disaster stories. Narrated in McElwee’s hangdog whisper, the film gives off a gloomy Gus inevitability as he free-formally pursues news subjects who had been reduced to sound bytes, becomes a storm-chaser (great found moment: a hurricane survivor ranting while ignoring the bee circling his face) and chronicles his TV-obsessive landlord and a Korean businessman whose wife was killed for less than 50 bucks. McElwee’s poignant and witty fortune cookie riddles about the universe, what fate might be, and if anything exists if it hasn’t been recorded.

07252008_sevenchances.jpg“Seven Chances” (1925)
Directed by Buster Keaton

“One beautiful summer day, when flagrant flowers were in bloom, Jimmie Shannon met Mary Jones, and he wanted to tell her he loved her,” reads the opening title card of this silent Buster Keaton rom-com, a minor snowball that rolls into a must-see avalanche. Keaton’s Jimmie is a junior partner at a nearly bankrupt brokerage firm who still can’t manage to tell Ms. Jones (Ruth Dwyer) that he loves her by the fall, winter, or even the following spring. Complicating matters, a seven million dollar inheritance comes his way, with the stipulation that he must marry by seven o’clock on his 27th birthday… and that’s today! Misunderstandings push the lovebirds away to make room for epic mayhem, as a newspaper article printing the predicament unleashes a bridal-garbed flood of gold diggers after Jimmie, spilling down wide streets, trampling football games and on down the countryside. (If this sounds at all familiar, shame on you for remembering its puerile remake, the Chris O’Donnell vehicle “The Bachelor.”) I can’t imagine Jackie Chan or parkour without there first being Keaton’s awe-inspiring skips through rockslides and cliff-jumpin’ daredevilry, traits that hopefully help counterbalance what doesn’t hold up so well: a handful of casually bigoted gags against Jews and blacks.

07252008_8women.jpg“8 Women” (2002)
Directed by François Ozon

On an artificially Technicolored winter night out of some retro Douglas Sirk melodrama, the rich patriarch of an unbelievably glamorous chateau is found dead with a knife in his back, and the murderer will be made to sing, for this mystery is a musical comedy! Art- and set-directed within an inch of its confectionery life, writer/director François Ozon’s mischievous precursor to “Swimming Pool” thinks pink pastels, parlor tricks and pastiche (hello, George Cukor; bonjour, Jacques Demy). It’s barely art-house nourishment, but who cares if candy spoils your dinner when the haute couture is worn by the dreamiest possible cast of top-tier French femmes? Catherine Deneuve is the victim’s wife, Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier are the troubled daughters, plus there’s a cocktail dress boom-booming Fanny Ardant, frigid neurotic-cum-sex bomb Isabelle Huppert and Emmanuelle Béart as the oh-so-luscious maid. Suspicions turn to rivalries and interrogations, and out seep the overwrought family secrets of affairs and pregnancies, lesbianism and even incest — which are then abruptly interrupted every few minutes with forlorn ballads and bouncy pop interludes, choreographed for maximum flair. Speaking from the standpoint of either today or the ’50s, you could call this one a gay delight.

07252008_ninesouls.jpg“9 Souls” (2003)
Directed by Toshiaki Toyoda

Nine Japanese prisoners who’ve escaped through a passage in their shared cell to the outside world find additional release — from their cosmic shackles. Still barely known on these shores, scriptwriter-turned-filmmaker Toshiaki Toyoda (“Hanging Garden,” “Blue Spring”) sets up his makeshift gang of downtrodden delinquents (including a pornographer, a biker, an epileptic “mad bomber” and a pint-sized doctor) for a compassionate, inventive and somewhat heartbreaking dramedy about redemption and trying to re-acclimate to a society that has left its old friends behind. The first half of their journey plays like an eccentric Coen brothers farce, as the misfits wear giant mustaches or hijack a conspicuously bright red van to hunt for a treasure at Mt. Fuji’s base that may or may not exist. But the clouds soon thicken in a fog of existential crisis, as each character is knocked sober and worse by the realities of cleaning up unfinished business. Lyrically whacked-out when it isn’t philosophically tragic, Toyoda’s delicate juggle of tone and multiple realized characters isn’t always seamless, but it’s what most films today can’t claim to be: unpredictable.

07252008_tencanoes.jpg“Ten Canoes” (2006)
Directed by Rolf de Heer

There are deeper curiosities than just anthropological in Rolf de Heer (“Bad Boy Bubby”) and co-director Peter Djigirr’s impressive Cannes prizewinner, the first feature ever made in an Australian Aboriginal dialect. As the camera gusts majestically across the swampy waterways of central Arnhern Land, a bawdy-humored storyteller’s voice (famous aboriginal actor David Gulpilil of “The Last Wave,” “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” and yes, “Crocodile Dundee”) begins hypnotizing us with a jolly, two-tiered flashback rooted in both the Ramingining people’s cultural history and his own puckish desires to catch listeners off-guard. In his mirthful myth, an elder teaches an ancient cautionary fable about fidelity to young Dayindi (Gulpilil’s son, Jamie), who is horny for one of his older brother’s wives. Toggling between black-and-white and color panoramas to diverge between the elder’s story within that story (itself a parenthetical inside the film), “Ten Canoes” is a slyly charming ode to the sorcery of spinning yarns that shares the humane otherworldliness, off-kilter drollness and dangerous shooting locations of a Werner Herzog picture.

[Photos: “One From The Heart,” Columbia Pictures, 1982; “Three Businessmen,” VPRO Television, 1998; “Four Times That Night,” Cinevision Films, 1972; “Five Dedicated to Ozu,” MK2 Diffusion, 2003; “Six O’Clock News,” Homemade Movies, 1996; “Seven Chances,” Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, 1925; “8 Women,” Focus Features, 2002; “9 Souls,” Tohokushinsha Film, 2003; “10 Canoes,” Palm Pictures, 2006]

This list marks day 24 of IFC’s List Month — check back here for a new list every weekday!



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.