DID YOU READ

A guide to Roland Emmerich’s early work.

A guide to Roland Emmerich’s early work. (photo)

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I’ve had so much fun writing about “2012,” I’m almost sad it’ll actually be coming out next Friday. Almost. In a fairly amazing recent interview with Roland Emmerich, the schlock auteur explains he could get away with casting John Cusack because “I make movies where the movie itself is the star” and says it’s totally cool that “2012” is a whopping 158 minutes because “The ten most successful movies of all time are all around three hours long. My favourite movie, ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ is four hours. So there!” Same thing!

But what really caught my eye was an allusion to one of his earlier films, “The Noah’s Ark Principle,” which Emmerich says “was also about morality and what you can and can’t do in these situations.” Earlier film? I thought he hit the ground running with “Universal Soldier” and “Stargate.” How wrong I was. Here, for your edification and mine, is a guide to the early work of Roland Emmerich:

The Noah’s Ark Principle (1984)
After 1979’s short “Franzmann” (set in 1937, about a young German lad who has to figure out whether to go study in France or stay and join the army), Emmerich’s first feature was a class project, made for one million deutschmarks, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. Really! It’s about an international space station named FLORIDA ARKLAB that, in the words of DVD Verdict‘s Michael Rankins,”becomes a pawn in an international chess game involving American hostages in Riyadh. The suits on the ground have stumbled on the notion of employing the space station’s radiation blasters as weapons of mass destruction (funny how no one thought about that before the thing went up). Will Billy and Max carry out their new orders to wreak havoc on behalf of the American government, or will they remain true to their peaceful humanitarian mission?” Here’s a clip from the opening, nicely highlighting Emmerich’s shameless steals from “Alien” (that crawl of the space station across space’s inky black) and “2001” (a computer named H.A.R.V.E.Y.):

Joey (1985)
Emmerich followed up “Ark” with “Joey,” aka “Making Contact.” Despite have studied several plot summaries, the movie still doesn’t make any sense to me, but as far as I can tell it’s basically about a boy who discovers he has telekinetic powers, which brings him into contact with an evil ventriloquist’s dummy that lives in his closet and opens another world there. Here’s a trailer that does not clarify anything, but does seem to indicate several “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” likenesses:

Ghost Chase (1987)
Also known as “Hollywood-Monster,” this was the first Emmerich film to be shot at least partially in the US. As with “Joey,” it appears to be difficult to summarize, but it’s essentially about three guys who unleash a ghost that comes out of an old clock and leads three aspiring filmmakers to a lot of money they can use to finance their movie. If you watch only one of these clips, let it be this superbly hacky one, replete with campy ’80s, a ghost that looks like “E.T.” (or maybe just “E.T.” rip-off “Mac and Me”), a sword-fight with a spectral knight against a strobe light, and a narrator who insists on making bad puns: “They may not have a ghost of a chance, but they’re gonna have the time of their lives!” Amazingly, this saw the light of theatrical projection in the US, a first for Emmerich.

Moon 44 (1990)
The last Emmerich film to go direct-to-video in the US, “Moon 44” is closest in spirit to where Emmerich would end up in his career. “The year 2038,” the narrator intones in the trailer, “a world of intergalactic corporations locked in ruthless rivalry.” According to IMDb commenter junk-monkey — who deems it “testosterone driven pile of pseudo homo-erotic horse cookies masquerading as an SF movie” — this standard-issue robots-vs-humans on a outer-space mining station movie has some truly memorable characters: “these guys ARE as thick as two short planks because, having been told that their lives are in the hands of their teenage navigators they seem to think it’s a good idea to anally rape one of them in the shower.” Also, at some point someone says “I got fed up with talking to my French fries.” And after this project, well, it was on to “Universal Soldier” and glory!

[Photo: “Moon 44,” Lions Gate, 1990]

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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.