Rian Johnson’s Last Con

Rian Johnson’s Last Con (photo)

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How do you follow up a film that managed to be both a faithful noir throwback and an unusually effective teen movie? Rian Johnson knew before he finished his 2005 debut “Brick” that his next feature was going to be about con men. But “The Brothers Bloom” is as much about the relationship between two siblings as it is about graft — Bloom (Adrien Brody) and his brother Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) are the greatest con artists in the world, and like so many of their cinematic brethren, it’s the personal problems that do them in. Bloom, who’s point person in all of Stephen’s artful plans, wants out of the game, but is pulled back in for one last job, one that may have been tailored by Stephen to give his brother everything he’s ever wanted, including the love of an lonely, winsome heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). I talked with Johnson about Europe, Wes Anderson comparisons and “Paper Moon.”

What’s the appeal of genre been to you? “Brick” and now “The Brothers Bloom” have both been located in very specific niches of film language.

The appealing thing about working in genre is it gives you a defined playing field, a chessboard to play on. It also gives you a certain set of audience expectations, both to play with and to play off of, and the discipline of that is something I really like. Those kind of limitations — the space that the thing has to fit into — that’s something that I welcome. Otherwise, it’d be very easy for me to go off the deep end and make four hours of nonsense. (laughs)

Where would you place “Bloom” in relation to the typical conman movie? It exists in a sort of alternate universe.

The conman genre is a pretty flexible one. You’ve got everything from the more intellectualized “House of Games” to broad comedies, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” to fable-type things, “Paper Moon”… I’d say it probably slides more towards the scale of “Paper Moon” if I had to place it in the context of other movies, but I wasn’t really thinking of it that way when I was conceiving it. It came from a place of wanting to take a crack at a character-based conman movie, wanting to do something where the payoff at the end wasn’t a plot twist, but was an emotional payoff, and the challenge of doing that in a genre where the audience is trained to not trust the characters.

Bloom himself is a conman movie archetype, the character who wants to get out of the game, but who gets called back in for one last con.

05132009_brothersbloom4.jpgThere’s definitely that element of it, which, again, sets up a familiar dynamic for the audience, which I hope in some ways helps cushion things, especially towards the end of the film when everything doesn’t end up paying off the way that you expected. Obviously Stephen writes these grand fictions and lives his life through a process of storytelling, and Bloom is trapped in a story that he didn’t write, which is something that has a lot of resonance for me. There’ve been plenty of times in my life, in all of our lives, where we kind of take a look around and realize that we’re doggedly playing out a role in a play that we don’t particularly like.

The other easy parallel to make is that of actor and filmmaker — Stephen’s cast his brother as the leading man in all of their cons.

Absolutely… (laughs) I have an immediate reaction to divorce it from those terms just because the way I’d elaborate on that would sound condescending to actors as a trade, so — divorcing it from that, it’s the passivity of Bloom playing these parts as opposed to the activeness of Stephen creating them. Bloom’s journey is going from passive to active and hopefully writing his own story at the end as opposed to just reciting lines.

How do you feel about the Wes Anderson comparisons? Was there any kind of intentional relationship?

There were absolutely no intentional comparisons at all. It’s weird. I’m a big Wes Anderson fan. I love his movies, and if people are going to compare me to something, it’s good to be at least compared to something good. But at the same time, it’s kind of a shallow comparison, especially when it’s put out there dismissively — it indicates to me that maybe they weren’t paying very close attention to the film. It’s mainly a loose connection between the visual styles, and the soundtrack and the fact that Adrien Brody’s in it… But there are so many other films that I stole from more! I’m more surprised I don’t get called out for stealing the whole scene on the steamer ship from “The Lady Eve” or the bearskin rug scene with Shirley MacLaine in “Being There.” I guess I should be thankful that the accusations of theft are so short-sighted. (laughs)



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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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.