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Opening This Week: Brad Pitt ages backward, Dustin Hoffman loses his job

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12222008_bedtimestories.jpgBy Neil Pedley

After a December in which big name stars have been mostly MIA, this holiday week finds Dustin Hoffman getting fired, Brad Pitt getting old and Tom Cruise trying to explain why you really should spend Christmas Day with your family reliving one of the most bloody chapters in recent history. Merry Christmas everyone!

“Bedtime Stories”
A simple glance at the one-sheet for this anarchic family friendly crowd-pleaser from the Mouse House tells you everything you need to know. Searching for a new cash cow post-“Pirates,” the folks at Disney took one look at the numbers for “Night at the Museum” and decided they fancied a bit of that, so here comes Adam Sandler fending off aliens, cowboys and Romans when his world is transformed (literally) by the outlandish bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew to sleep with each night, only to discover the stories to come true the next morning. Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Russell Brand, Jonathan Pryce and Courteney Cox round out the eclectic supporting cast.
Opens wide.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
As the credits roll on this gentle, life-affirming saga, it will be little surprise to anyone watching that the screenwriter behind David Fincher’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story is Eric Roth, the Oscar-winning scribe of “Forrest Gump”, whose sticky fingerprints are all over this like a melted box of chocolates. Instead of a handicap of the mind, Brad Pitt is forced to deal with a handicap of the body as Benjamin Button, a man who is born old and ages backwards, returning time and again to his home in New Orleans and his one true love, Daisy (Cate Blanchett).
Opens wide.

“Last Chance Harvey”
Given the pervasive air of economic doom and gloom that’s threatening to, quite frankly, ruin Christmas, it seems both inevitable and wholly appropriate that we come to this simple story about how much it sucks to lose your job, done Hollywood-style, of course. After teasing us with that unmistakable warble in “Kung Fu Panda” and “The Tale of Despereaux,” Dustin Hoffman puts in a shift as Harvey Shine, a fired jingle writer cooling his heels across the pond at his daughter’s wedding in London when his spirits are lifted by the charming Kate (Emma Thompson). The film marks the return of “Jump Tomorrow” writer/director Joel Hopkins and the reappearance of the amazingly now less famous Brolin, James.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; expands on January 9th.

“Marley and Me”
In a world of digital pandas and hyperactive CG zebras, it seems as though the dog movie — that cinematic mainstay of so many wet Sunday afternoon marathons on TCM — is making a comeback. With “Wendy and Lucy” charming critics, this cheery adaptation of journalist John Grogan’s autobiographical tearjerker is set to become tissue fodder for the masses as the mischievous man’s best friend stars alongside Owen Wilson as John and his new bride Jenny (Jennifer Aniston), employing those big brown eyes to reflect the couple’s changing lives over the course of his own.
Opens wide.

“Revolutionary Road”
This screen adaptation of Richard Yates’ celebrated indictment of the American dream reunites the “Titanic” dream duo of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, this time under the direction of Winslet’s spouse Sam Mendes, as a desperately unhappy couple whose seemingly blissful suburban marriage masks a reservoir of resentment and quiet rage at their mutually unfulfilled lives. Critics are already flying the flag for Winslet, the perennial Oscar bridesmaid, claiming she’s a shoo-in for a statue at last, citing her primary competition this year as that chick from “The Reader.” Kathy Bates, who already has her Oscar, and the always excellent Michael Shannon co-star.
Opens wide.

“The Secret of the Grain”
Tunisian-born writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche becomes the latest in a long line of immigrant filmmakers to employ the medium to mourn the diminishing role of the patriarch in contemporary Western society. Habib Boufares stars as Slimane Beiji, a family man crippled by feelings by feelings of inadequacy when he loses his job at the shipyard. Determined to restore his sense of pride and dignity, Slimane sets out to open a restaurant on the strength of his ex-wife’s couscous recipe to serve as his legacy, though his plans are met with stiff opposition from the French bureaucracy and collective apathy from his grown children. In French with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“The Spirit”
Frank Miller makes a pit stop on the road to “Sin City 2” to sharpen his skills with his solo directorial debut, a dry run that attempts to lure the comic book crowd drumming their collective fingers in anticipation of the upcoming “Watchmen.” Adapted from Will Eisner’s noirish 1940s serial, the film finds longtime supporting player Gabriel Macht transitions into leading man status as Denny Colt, a rookie cop who moonlights by night as masked crime fighter The Spirit, protecting Central City from the evil machinations of the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson). Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Jaime King and Sarah Paulson purse their lips in supporting roles.
Opens wide.

“Theater of War”
Having documented the underground artist Ray Johnson in his last film, “How to Draw a Bunny,” John Walter goes above ground to chronicle this behind-the-scenes peek at The Public Theater’s production of “Mother Courage and Her Children” and explores the modern parallels to the Bertolt Brecht classic. Employing the 2006 Central Park performance starring Meryl Streep and interpreted by Tony Kushner as a jumping-off point, Walter talks to the cast and crew, examining how Brecht’s life and views on Communism, the shadow of the Nazi rule, and his theories on emotional distance as a vital part of artistic interpretation have helped to influence a generation of artists.
Opens in New York.

Despite a dodgy PR saga almost as bloody as World War II, Tom Cruise returns just in time to get in on a year that’s been all about comebacks. Playing that rarest of cinematic commodities, a sympathetic Nazi, Cruise somewhat stacks the deck as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, the German officer who masterminded an audacious plot to assassinate Hitler and bring down the Third Reich. Although the reunion of “The Usual Suspects” director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie sounds promising, when Cruise appears in TV spots explaining why you should go see his movie, it makes one wonder whether there’s a larger conspiracy to bring down Cruise’s studio, United Artists.
Opens wide.

“Waltz with Bashir”
A quest sparked by the recurring nightmares he suffered in the years following his military service, Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman’s animated docudrama takes the accepted mantra of “war is hell” and transforms it into an innovative psychological detective story that probes some uncomfortable truths about his country’s role in the 1982 Israeli-Lebanese war. Debilitated by recurring visions of snarling dogs but possessing no actual memory of the conflict in which he served, Folman tracks down his former comrades to hear their account but trades out talking heads in favor of a vivid digital depiction of the trauma of war as he pieces together his own fractured psyche.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

[Photo: “Bedtime Stories,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2008]



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.