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Reality Bites

Reality Bites (photo)

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The 2010 version of the 1941 Universal Horror classic “The Wolf Man” shares more than just a title (sans space) with its predecessor. In a lot of ways, they’re the same movie — same core group of characters, same premise about a guy returning to his family’s estate to deal with his brother’s death, and the same basic story of said guy getting gnawed on by a werewolf and becoming cursed to transform into a beast himself whenever the moon is full. But despite all that, 2010’s “The Wolfman”, directed by Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park III”), also boasts some pretty stark differences from the version directed by George Waggner nearly 70 years ago, differences that are telling about the way Hollywood has changed in that time.

In 1941, it was enough for “The Wolf Man” to be a 68-minute-long psychological thriller heavy on gothic atmosphere and light on graphic horror. It got by with just a bit of cutting edge monster makeup by artist Jack Pierce; it used shadows, tricks and clever visual storytelling to help our minds fill in the rest. Now, “The Wolfman” clocks in at over 100 minutes, drenched in blood and buried beneath layers of complex latex and hair appliqués by Rick Baker, and padded out with additional action, horror and chase sequences not featured in the original. No longer just a character drama and a monster movie, the new “Wolfman” is also something of a slasher film and a superhero movie, with just a dash of torture porn sprinkled on top. It’s as if the original film was bitten by a werewolf, and then transformed into this uglier, louder, angrier version of itself.

02092010_wolfman2.jpgLon Chaney Jr., the original Wolf Man, often cited the role of Lawrence Talbot as the best he ever got the opportunity to play. His respect for the part came across in his performance. Chaney didn’t just phone it in and assume that all people cared about was the monster; he acted his guts out in every scene. One could argue Chaney’s intensely emotional style was too overwrought for a taut supernatural scares film — no other Universal Horror protagonist spends quite so much time blubbering — but you can’t deny that he brought genuine pathos, not to mention a deeply personal connection, to the material (like Talbot, Chaney Jr. was a man who lived his whole life in the shadow of a powerful, overbearing father).

Despite the fact that he’s credited as a producer on the film, Benicio Del Toro frankly looks a little bored in his turn as Talbot, a Shakespearean actor who becomes the subject of his own tragedy after he returns to his family’s enormous, decrepit English manor after decades abroad. Del Toro musters a little interest in his dead brother’s fiancé Gwen (Emily Blunt), but he doesn’t seem the slightest bit concerned or confused by the strange behavior of his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins). If you returned to home and your father was living in filth, wearing garish leopard print robes and occasionally shooting at people with a shotgun, wouldn’t you be at least a little worried about his mental health? Larry doesn’t bat an eye. It doesn’t help matters that Hopkins looks only slightly more invested in his performance than Del Toro, and that he seems to be having trouble maintaining his British accent, which is especially strange, since last I checked, Anthony Hopkins is British.

Where this new “Wolfman” shines, where it unquestionably outperforms its inspiration, is in the realm of production design and special effects. The makeup by Baker, while clearly inspired by the distinctive look of the Chaney-Pierce werewolf, is far more credible and convincing than the original and fairly terrifying in its own right. And the transformations, now done almost entirely with CGI (as opposed to the time lapse dissolves of the 1940s or the practical effects of previous Baker lycanthropic escapades like “An American Werewolf in London”) are anatomical freakshows in the best possible sense. I also admired the way production designer Rick Heinrichs manages to evoke the feel of that tiny, foggy forest on the old Universal backlot while working on a much bigger and more lavish canvas.

02092010_wolfman3.jpgJohnston and Baker also increased the level of gore significantly. While the film looks on the surface like a throwback to an earlier type of horror film, “The Wolfman” actually attempts to graft modern gore spectacle onto that old school model. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing will vary by taste, but if you go to see “The Wolfman” for the graphic beheadings, I think it’s safe to say you will feel like you got your money’s worth.

But even at its very best, this is a good-looking production in search of a better movie. The genuine sense of human tragedy Chaney brought to “The Wolf Man” and even lesser follow-ups like “Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man” is barely present in Johnston’s version. Del Toro plays a character who is fighting for his soul with all the intensity of a man falling asleep while he watches a late night infomercial. And speaking of lesser follow-ups, without spoiling anything, Johnston’s film does leave plenty of room for its own sequel. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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.