Six Studio Journeymen We Wish Would Return to Their Indie Roots

Six Studio Journeymen We Wish Would Return to Their Indie Roots (photo)

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There was a reason to feel queasy after watching the trailer for “The Hannah Montana Movie,” and it wasn’t just the sight of Miley Cyrus fighting off Tyra Banks for a pair of garish high heels. No, it was seeing the end credits that read “Directed by Peter Chelsom.” That name may not mean much to most, but for those who discovered Chelsom during the mid-’90s by way of his trilogy of Blackpool-set showbiz dramedies — the short “Treacle,” 1992’s “Hear My Song” and his best, the 1995 Jerry Lewis-Oliver Platt father-son vaudeville comedy “Funny Bones” — an adaptation of a Disney Channel show is nothing short of a crushing disappointment.

Now, times are tough and filmmakers have to eat. And perhaps such disappointment comes as a result of investing too much in the auteur theory, but there is a class of filmmakers whose careers haven’t gone the way we thought they would after displaying a unique voice in their earlier work. These aren’t directors whose careers have been endlessly dissected by fanboys or film critics, but in recent years they’ve become strictly hired hands.

Of course, it happens every generation — though he still has an indie streak, Brian DePalma directed “Sisters” for AIP and later was responsible for “Mission to Mars;” Penelope Spheeris went from helming punk pieces like the “Decline of Western Civilization” doc series and “Suburbia” to the much-maligned “The Beverly Hillbillies.” More recently, Neil LaBute’s mainstream “Wicker Man” remake was about as painful to watch as the two misogynists who tortured their female coworker in his explosive “In the Company of Men” nearly a decade earlier. Here’s the current crop of filmmakers who seem like they should have had better things to work on this year than what they ultimately ended up making:

03302009_PeterChelsom.jpgPeter Chelsom
First Directorial Feature: “Hear My Song” (1991)
What He’s Doing Now: “The Hannah Montana Movie”

It isn’t the first time Disney has made an unconventional choice for one of their prized franchises. Jim Fall’s penchant for bright, swirly visuals was the only obvious explanation for how the director of the 1999 gay satire “Trick” landed the gig for 2003’s “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” But the selection of Chelsom is pretty much the final nail in the coffin of a long, dark chug of a career once filled with enormous potential. It was likely Chelsom’s light touch with magical realism and sly sense of humor that attracted such talent to his films once he arrived in Hollywood during the mid-’90s. It was just as likely those same sensibilities that saw his first major big-budget productions, “The Mighty” and the notorious “Town & Country,” get re-edited by the Weinsteins and Warren Beatty, respectively, and bomb anyway.

Traces of Chelsom’s eccentricity can still be seen — Beatty has a surreal scene in “Country” where he’s dressed as a polar bear and fools around with Jenna Elfman’s Marilyn Monroe in the snowy forest as his children watch, and Chelsom’s follow-up “Serendipity” wouldn’t have worked without the director’s whimsy — but his remake of “Shall We Dance?” marked the end of any sense that the director’s quirks were more intriguing than annoying. Now, with “The Hannah Montana Movie,” he’s gone from working with leading men like Beatty and John Cusack to Billy Ray Cyrus and the only “Achy Breaky Heart” here is ours.

03302009_MarkWaters.jpgMark Waters
First Directorial Feature: “The House of Yes” (1997)
What He’s Doing Now: “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”

Incidentally, it was Mark Waters’ work for Disney that afforded a second act to his career, which was floundering after he made a splash at Sundance with the bold (and slightly incestuous) “The House of Yes” and then directed the romantic comedy, “Head Over Heels,” which featured Monica Potter as a mousy restoration artist who falls for Freddie Prinze, Jr., before realizing he might be a serial killer. Needless to say, it didn’t make a killing, but Waters’ re-do of “Freaky Friday” for the Mouse House suggested that he could marry his quirky, often macabre sense of humor with formulaic studio comedies to wonderful effect. His encore with “Friday” star Lindsay Lohan, “Mean Girls,” confirmed that.


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.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

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.


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.


Forget Public Wifi

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



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.


Self Defense

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


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