The Sandbox: Blockbusteritis

The Sandbox: Blockbusteritis (photo)

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As any summer moviegoer knows all too well, there’s nothing Hollywood likes more than a franchise capable of spawning sequels and tie-in merchandise. The glut of superhero, science fiction, horror and action series may please genre fans (in theory, if not always in practice), but their true admirers are the studios, who rely on them to prop up annual profits, as epitomized by the box office declines Sony Pictures experienced in the off years between “Spider-Man” releases. For the studios, sequels afford a lot less financial risk than stand-alone original films, equipped as they are with built-in audiences and recognizable stars and characters. And for fans, familiarity provides a level of comfort and a sense of knowing what they’re putting their money toward, an increasingly significant factor as the economy continues to tumble and the decision to drop a not-inconsiderable chunk of change at the ticket counter becomes a more considered one.

If movie producers and consumers both tend to find sequels a win-win proposition — despite the debatable quality of these cash-grab endeavors — then it’s no surprise that video game studios view the issue likewise. Since “Super Mario Brothers 2” hit the NES in 1988, gamemakers have been revisiting popular titles with a voracity usually only seen at Coney Island’s annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Whether warranted or not, virtually every profitable video game eventually winds up receiving a Part II, or If enough time has passed, a “reboot.” Some of these take advantage of bigger budgets and newer next-gen consoles (like the N64’s peerless “The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time”), and plenty of others do nothing more than offer minor gameplay and graphical enhancements that barely justify their $50-$60 price tag (I’m looking your way, “Madden” football).

In the past few years, the combination of hot big-ticket franchises, enormous budgets, tech advances and a more-is-more ethos has finally pushed video games’ “sequelitis” into a distinctly summer movie realm, with the marketplace flooded with — and increasingly defined by — A-list action series installments reminiscent of the slam-bang event pics of Michael Bay. “Halo 3,” “Gears of War II,” “Metal Gear Solid 4,” “Resident Evil 5,” “Grand Theft Auto IV,” the forthcoming “God of War III” and Sony’s current blockbuster “Killzone 2” epitomize gaming’s new paradigm, in which established brands, bolstered by enormous sums of development money to create bigger, better versions of their predecessors, minimize the chance for losses by offering up a proven and (maybe) enhanced experience. It’s a strategy as old as the hills, and one that, with the qualified exception of the reportedly $100 million-budgeted “GTA IV,” which strove to push narrative and immersive boundaries, seems to be leading the industry down a slippery slope into monotonous regurgitation.

04092009_GTA4.jpgTake the PS3’s “Killzone 2,” the follow-up to 2004’s disappointing PlayStation 2 first-person shooter. It’s been hyped by Sony since the 2005 E3 trade show, when a jaw-dropping teaser trailer promised an evolutionary graphical step forward. Few gamers outright loved the original “Killzone,” but since it featured enemies that were visually distinctive — heavily armored soldiers with menacingly green, glowing eyes — and since first-person shooters remain all the rage, Sony believed the title had the potential for greatness. And sure, “Killzone 2” (rumored to have cost $60 million) not only bests its precursor, but at times offers a superlative military-action rush, thrusting you onto massive, chaotic battlefields (à la “Call of Duty”) that thrillingly approximate what it might feel like to be a cog in an active war machine. The graphics are stunningly realistic, the scale is gigantic and, most important, there’s a sense of weighty tangibility to your movements across the corpse-strewn front lines, a heaviness of armor and guns and the resultant sluggishness of your stride that lends a you-are-there element to the mayhem.


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.