Hal Holbrook’s Sunny Disposition

Hal Holbrook’s Sunny Disposition (photo)

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At 84 years young, actor Hal Holbrook has had drama coursing through his veins for over a half-century, going back to when Ed Sullivan had him on TV to perform a piece from his beloved one-man play, “Mark Twain Tonight.” But Holbrook remains prolific in his twilight years, especially after receiving a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for “Into the Wild.” He can most recently be seen headlining director Scott Teems’ gorgeously atmospheric “That Evening Sun,” in which he steals the show as an irritable Tennessee coot named Abner Meecham. After escaping a nursing home to find his land has been rented out by his lawyer son (Walton Goggins) to bad apple Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon) and his family, Abner decides to squat on the property anyway, and the southern-fried tensions soon rise. With an avuncular delivery reminiscent of his Twain characterization, Holbrook phoned from California to talk about the family member who inspired the character of Abner, why he rejects the idea of retirement, and how prescient ol’ Samuel Clemens was about today’s economic mess.

You’ve worked with so many acclaimed filmmakers, and Scott Teems is still a relatively unknown name. Why did you take a chance on a newcomer?

I just did the same thing a month or two ago with another film. The film business changes a lot, and for an actor who’s interested in character work, I suppose you might say, I don’t get offered these films where you have to jump out of an airplane with a machine gun, land on both feet and take out half the crowd. When a good script and character comes along, usually there’s not much money in it either, but it’s much more interesting for an actor. Most of us take a shot at that opportunity. It was a bit worrisome working with a new director, but it turned out to be a great idea. You do it because of the material.

Has that ever backfired, like when you pursued a great screenplay, but the director didn’t have the same understanding of it as you?

That’s something you have to arrive at. Sometimes with a director, it just seems like a perfect match, like with Sean Penn and “Into the Wild.” Sean said very little to me. We just seemed to be on the same wavelength. No matter what you’re doing as an actor, there’s always a little strain of tension because you’re not too sure whether what you’re doing is okay. You hope it is. Scott had a very specific idea about how these characters should relate and behave. The character in this movie had to be dried out. That’s the best way I can say it.

There’s always an instinct in an actor to protect his character, to try to somehow get the audience to feel sympathetic. That’s a fly in the ointment sometimes. I learned something very valuable by just doing another take, and another take, drying the character out and not asking for any sympathy. The thing that surprises me, frankly, is that this film has taken a hold of audiences the way it has because I thought it would be too dark and gloomy. When we went to Austin for [South by Southwest] where it premiered, the audience got the humor of the sarcastic insults my character and Lonzo Choat were throwing at each other, and I thought, “My god, that’s wonderful. They’re laughing!”

11052009_ThatEveningSun4.jpgYour wife, Dixie Carter, who also has a small role in the film, is from Tennessee. What have you gleaned from your time in the South?

I’ve learned a great deal from my association with my Tennessee family. People down South have an extraordinary family component. They are very encompassing and defensive about the family. Coming from the no-family structure that I came from, this was a whole new world to me. My father-in-law passed away about three years ago. He lived with us for 20 years or more, and when he was in really bad shape, he said to Dixie one day, “Darling, I’m getting dyin’ signals. I want to go back to Tennessee.” So we moved there, it turns out to be for two years. My father-in-law was in my mind a lot when I played this character because he was a no-nonsense man, and when he said something, you could believe it. He didn’t pussyfoot around. You would never get a word of advice from him. He would never say, “I think you should do this in this way.” But if you asked him for his opinion, you got it. Bang!


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.