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Can Sundance’s Hits Fly Outside Park City?

Can Sundance’s Hits Fly Outside Park City? (photo)

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The high altitudes of Park City, UT — home to the Sundance Film Festival — have been known to cause dehydration, insomnia and an overappreciation of certain independent movies. What sparks standing ovations and multi-million dollar acquisitions in the rarefied confines of the snowbound town doesn’t always carry over into the outside world. For every “The Blair Witch Project,” “Super Size Me” or “Precious,” there’s a “Hustle and Flow,” “Hounddog” or “Hamlet 2.” Where do you draw the line between hype and reality, sleep deprivation-induced passing crush or bona fide true love? A really great film that will resonate with niche (or even mainstream) audiences, or one that happens to provide the weary festivalgoer adequate satisfaction when compared with all the muck? Here’s a little Sundance soothsaying about how four festival hits might fare when they arrive at a theater near you.

“The Kids Are All Right”

A late selection at the festival, director Lisa Cholodenko’s dramatic comedy about a lesbian couple (played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) confronted with their kids’ hippy sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) was an undisputed hit of the festival. The film drew the fest’s biggest payday: Universal subsidiary Focus Features coughed up $5 million to distribute the film not only in the U.S., but key foreign countries, the U.K. South Africa and Germany. “Kids” also drew some of the most enthusiastic praise: Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir said the film “ranks with the most compelling portraits of an American marriage, regardless of sexuality, in film history.”

Critical Buzz: Unlike Cholodenko’s darker previous efforts “High Art” and “Laurel Canyon,” “The Kids Are All Right” has a lightness of touch that many viewers foresee as its saving grace when it comes to the marketplace. While Variety critic Rob Nelson begrudged its “formulaic” qualities and “ingratiating sitcom-style entertainment,” these were nevertheless the traits that he admitted would lead to “solid” “commercial prospects.” The film had naysayers among certain bloggers and alternative press critics, but it’s the mainstream journalists — in whatever limited supply that still exists — that could drive ample positive word of mouth on the film.

Market Comparison: A story that centers on liberal L.A. lesbians may not find fans in Peoria, but observers feel that Cholodenko’s well-drawn likeable characters won’t scare away cosmopolitan audiences. And, after all, it was Focus Features that safely steered the gay cowboy movie “Brokeback Mountain” to an $83 million box office gross in 2005 and the Harvey Milk biopic “Milk” to $32 million in 2008. In the wake of Proposition 8 and the newly energized debate around gay marriage, “The Kids Are All Right” could serve as a lightening rod for political presses, furthering interest in the film.

Then again, straightforward sophisticated comedic dramas have had a hard time finding audiences lately. Unless the movie taps into the “It’s Complicated” romantic comedy crowd, “The Kids Are All Right” could be a film more fondly remembered at that progressive-friendly “granola festival” (as Variety critic Todd McCarthy disparagingly referred to Sundance) and then subsequently lost amidst next fall’s award season.

Prognosis: “Kids” will do all right.


“Blue Valentine”

What determines a film’s fate in the cruel, competitive marketplace isn’t just whether it’s good or not; it’s how its presented, handled, cultivated — in short, “marketed” — an ugly word for art-loving festivalgoers, but a necessary evil when it comes to film distribution. According to many viewers in Sundance, Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” is a wrenching, brilliant, sensitively told story of a married couple’s unraveling, the kind of movie that discerning critics go out of their way to champion, but getting audiences to see is near impossible. As Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman asked, after writing a rave, “What sort of chance does this movie have in the real world?” Others put the onus on a “dedicated distributor” — in Variety‘s words — to muscle the film into the real world.

Industry Buzz: The news that the Weinstein Company would be that distributor, having acquired the film for a reported $1 million, raised some eyebrows. While “Blue Valentine” may have once been the kind of movie that Harvey Weinstein distributed — when indie films were still a novelty — the new TWC doesn’t have much of a track record with non-genre arthouse titles. The pairing of “Blue Valentine” with the brothers Weinsteins might seem like a match made in hell — or perhaps, a limbo place where financiers prefer dollar signs over delicate handling.

The Weinstein Company’s financial troubles are well known, and a number of smaller films on the company’s slate have gotten short shrift. For example, Andrew Jarecki’s “All Good Things,” which also stars Ryan Gosling, and “Shanghai,” starring John Cusack, have sat on the shelf for months. Another film, “Hurricane Season,” starring Forest Whitaker, went straight to DVD, much to the chagrin of its director Tim Story. Who’s to say “Blue Valentine” won’t suffer a similar fate if “it did not test well,” as TWC executive David Glasser recently said of “Hurricane Season.”

There is also a concern among some quarters that Harvey Weinstein, a.k.a. “Harvey Scissorhands,” might try to recut the film in a way that would soften what fans admired most about it. Certain critics have called the film a tad overlong. Then again, there’s always a chance that the Weinsteins, due to their financial pressures, are scaling back in a sincere way, looking for smaller, modest hits to put out in a marketplace that has largely abandoned the small-scale winner.

Market Comparison: Let’s give credit where credit is due: The Weinstein Company’s release of Tom Ford’s sad and stylish “A Single Man” is holding up admirably at over $5 million; the company also pushed for — and got — an Oscar nomination for star Colin Firth. “Blue Valentine” lovers can hope for the best given Gosling’s track record. His previous bold Sundance drama “Half Nelson,” which featured a similarly riveting performance in a story just as bracing, also got an Oscar nomination and a healthy arthouse box office take of $2.7 million.

Prognosis: Without love and attention, this “Valentine” will go sour.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.


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.