DID YOU READ

When Films Fall Victim To Bad Timing

When Films Fall Victim To Bad Timing (photo)

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Motion pictures are years or even decades in the making. As much as we like to ascribe credit to directors who manage to capture the zeitgeist — like when Sam Raimi uses a put-upon mortgage broker as the heroine of his new movie right in the middle of an economic crisis fueled by the collapse of the housing market — the truth is, more often than not, a movie’s cultural relevancy is a matter of luck and timing. In the case of “Drag Me To Hell,” Raimi’s film was eerily prescient, but just as often the opposite turns out to be the case.

No one could have predicted, for example, the tragic accidental death of Exodus Tyson, Mike Tyson’s four-year-old daughter, or that it would come just weeks after the release of one film starring Tyson (James Toback’s documentary “Tyson”) and days before another, Todd Phillips’ new comedy “The Hangover,” that features the former heavyweight boxing champion in a prominent and heavily advertised cameo. Here, now, a few more notable examples of movies struck by (or, in one extremely bizarre case, were aided by) bad luck and unfortunate timing.

06032009_PhoneBooth.jpg“Phone Booth” (2002)
Directed by Joel Schumacher

Larry Cohen first hatched the idea of a film set entirely in a phone booth in early ’70s, during a lengthy business lunch with director Alfred Hitchcock. The concept bubbled through his subconscious for years as he tried to solve one question: Why would someone actually remain trapped inside a phone booth for 90 minutes? Decades later, Cohen hit upon the notion of a sniper pinning a man to the phone; he sold the script to Fox in 1999 and the movie, starring Colin Farrell as the man in the phone booth and Kiefer Sutherland as the voice of the sniper, was finally completed in 2002. Improbably, just weeks before “Phone Booth”‘s release after 30 years of development (by which time phone booths were rendered a near-anachronism), the Washington D.C. area was suddenly plagued by a pair of snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who killed 11 people before their capture by police in October of 2002. As a result, Fox delayed the film’s release from November to April 2003. The coincidence is so absurd, if Cohen had pitched that story to Hitchcock, he would never have believed him.

06032009_Alphadog.jpg“Alpha Dog” (2007)
Directed by Nick Cassavetes

When director Nick Cassavetes was prepping his production of “Alpha Dog,” a quasi-fictionalized account of a real kidnapping and murder that took place in California in 2000, the man accused of masterminding the crime, Jesse James Hollywood, was still a fugitive from justice. According to Entertainment Weekly, Santa Barbara prosecutor Ron Zonen hoped the film might help their case as “a great ‘Wanted’ poster” and provided the filmmakers with access to confidential materials in their file.

Hollywood had been missing for years by the time “Alpha Dog” went before the cameras; naturally, it was at this exact moment that he was found and extradited. The film premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and was being readied for release concurrently with Hollywood’s trial, but by that point, the film wasn’t so much a “Wanted” poster as a giant monkey wrench tossed into the mechanics of the American judicial machine. When Hollywood’s attorneys got wind of Zonen’s actions, they tried to have him removed from the case, and later argued to have “Alpha Dog”‘s release delayed on the grounds that its portrayal of their client (by Emile Hirsch) would taint the jury pool. Hollywood’s case was later reassigned to another prosecutor, but “Alpha Dog” did come out on schedule on January 12th, 2007. Hollywood’s trial finally began in Santa Barbara last month.

0604009_o.jpg“O” (2001)
Directed by Tim Blake Nelson

Actor Tim Blake Nelson’s debut behind the camera was 1997’s “Eye of God,” a well-worth-renting adaptation of his own stage play about a small-town tragedy. He was lured back into the director’s chair by a chance to take on a somewhat older theatrical work — “O” is an update of “Othello” that, despite flaws, does rather neatly transplant Shakespeare’s story to a Southern private school. Its title character goes from skilled Moorish general to basketball star and token black kid in a sea of white privilege; its Desdemona is Desi, the coach’s daughter; and its escalating violence plays out with guns instead of swords. It’s the last that sealed “O”‘s fate when it was scheduled to hit theaters right around the time of the Columbine massacre in April 1999, and distributor Miramax became so leery about the idea of putting out a film that depicted a high school shooting, even in an overwhelmingly negative light, that they canceled the planned release date and were reportedly ready to keep the title on their infamously crowded shelf forever. Nelson made some threatening legal noises, and eventually “O” made it into theaters some two years later courtesy of Lionsgate, where it was a moderate box office success, though probably more due to the casting of then-draws Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles and Josh Hartnett than any residual controversy.

06042009_trespass.jpg“Trespass” (1992)
Directed by Walter Hill

“Trespass” ended up with its generic and misleading title because its original one, “Looters,” didn’t seem in such terribly good taste after the L.A. riots. But there were other issues that couldn’t be remedied by a simple title change — like the film’s matching up of black gangsters and amoral white firemen in an escalating battle over some stolen gold. Walter “every film I’ve done has been a Western” Hill, working from a script by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, was clearly aiming for a no-heroes-here East St. Louis-set update of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” but timing made his would-be action movie more racially and politically loaded than the studios could have dreamed, and one can only imagine the squirming of the executives as they screened it, then turned on the TV. “Trespass” was tweaked and bumped from summer to Christmas of 1992 as seasonal counter-programming, where it got little attention — a shame for what’s still the only real screen pairing of the chilly rapper-turned-actor dream team Ice Cube and Ice-T.

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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…

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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. 

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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