There & Back: Luc Besson.

There & Back: Luc Besson. (photo)

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Here’s a tale of two action auteurs. In 1981, Luc Besson made his debut short “L’avant dernier” and James Cameron got his first feature directorial credit “Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.” From these inauspicious beginnings both men would go on to reinvent the action wheel for France and the US, respectively, meeting with entirely different responses along the way.

Cameron was hailed as the savior and re-inventor of the genre, getting a rare amount of critical respect in the process. Meanwhile, Besson — who went on to splashy and progressively more expensive fare like “Subway” and “La Femme Nikita” — was basically deemed Satan’s agent for trying to destroy a (very reductive) version of French film culture, one explosion at a time.

Their two trajectories intersect again Friday, when “Avatar” changes the world as we know it (or at least ties up every IMAX screen in the country for the next month) and when Besson’s “Arthur and the Vengeance of Maltazard” was, well, at least supposed to open as well — though given the cash-strapped travails of the Weinstein Company, who knows.

If you think these two movies aren’t on the same scale, consider that, with the powers of Besson and Cameron combined, France is going to have its biggest box office year ever — a measurement more meaningful than the American equivalent, since it’s based on ticket sales rather than increasing prices.

“Arthur and the Unpronounceable Title,” for those of you who haven’t been keeping track, is the second of a trilogy of children’s fantasy films seemingly too spazzy to gain much traction in the U.S. Reviews of the first installment — released, with little fanfare, in a version dubbed with the mish-mash likes of Snoop Dogg and Madonna — were unfavorable, but the “Arthur” series does well in Europe.

12142009_arthur.jpgAs does Besson: during his six-year directorial hiatus (between the roundly panned twin disasters of “The Messenger” and the unwatchable “Angel-A”), he founded an unimpeachable commercial dynasty as producer: the “Taxi” franchise that lasted four entries, three “Transporter”s, and numerous other profitable films that didn’t need America one bit to make money.

If it seems like Besson’s gone the route of easy hackdom while Cameron’s remained an uncompromising visionary (at least in his own mind), think again. Cameron needed years and years of technology to realize his visions, but Besson made “The Fifth Element” in 1997, thereby realizing his teen dreams of the ’70s. Having done that, there really wasn’t any need for him to stick around any longer. It’s actually kind of honest of him to have retreated as he did. He really didn’t have any illusions about who and what he was.

Cameron, on the other hand… well, I love him, but he’s not going anywhere, and he’s not as genial about just owning up to being an action genius and kind of an idiot screenwriter. We can only hope that “Avatar” will be at least as amusing as the goofy “Fifth Element,” possibly the least ponderous end-of-the-universe action movie ever made. That was a visionary sci-fi movie for the light-hearted Clinton years. In the aughts, it seems, everything comes harder.

[Photos: “Piranha Part Two: The Spawning,” Sony, 1983; “Arthur and the Vengeance of Maltazard,” Weinstein Company, 2009]


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.