Seven notably high concept movies.

Seven notably high concept movies. (photo)

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The “high concept” movie (a much-abused term) is one whose premise can be summed up in a sentence, if not within the title itself — for instance, what happens when a bored married couple’s “Date Night” goes wrong? Wacky fun!

The ideas is that the easy hook goes over well with your stereotypical movie executive — it becomes the selling point rather than the actors or characters. If it sounds irresistible (and/or ridiculous), people will show up hoping to see exactly what they were promised (a premise “Snakes On A Plane” took to its logical conclusion). Here are seven movies whose high concepts are more pronounced than most.

04052010_demonseed.jpg“Demon Seed” (1977)

High concept premise: A woman is raped by a computer.

How it plays: Horror movies prone to be high concept by default — the specific form of danger is the reason people show up. But “Demon Seed” takes that to a whole new level. An insanely lurid adaptation of a Dean Koontz novel, “Demon Seed” has poor Julie Christie taken hostage by her scientist husband’s supercomputer. The computer — which somehow uses a gigantic metal tetrahedron as a weapon — is none too pleased with mankind’s destructive ways, so after it comes up with a cure for leukemia it decides it wants a human-computer child to begin the reform process. This is a very simplified version of an incredibly nutsoid movie — one that’s made even stranger by the fact that the director was the very talented Donald Cammell, who made the best feature he possibly could out of the mess, down to the final, horrific face of the demon spawn. You will never see anything like this ever again — even this pillaging vacuum cleaner can’t compare.

04052010_seven.jpg“Se7en” (1995)

High concept premise: A serial killer takes down his victims based on their violations of the seven deadly sins.

How it plays: It’s miraculous that “Seven” works at all — let alone as well as it does — given that its premise wouldn’t be out-of-place in some lazy ’80s slasher. “Se7en,” though, has bigger goals — it’s a horror film/police procedural with a morality play embedded in it. David Fincher is a natural director, and he makes the whole deterministic scenario work and even seem plausible until the riveting but ridiculous ending. It’s still a terrifically gripping movie throughout.

04052010_biodome.jpg“Bio-Dome” (1996)

High concept premise: Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin get trapped in, yes, a biodome.

How it plays: Based on the real (and controversial) Biosphere 2 experiments, “Bio-Dome” quickly received its own separate level of infamy as the absolute last word in Pauly Shore’s ’90s reign of terror. (Its ranking as the worst-reviewed film in Metacritic history — with an average score of one out of 100 — is unlikely to change anytime soon.) It does have a stoner cult following (and the now fervently evangelical Stephen Baldwin credits the film with helping him bring fans to Jesus), but for the most part “Bio-Dome” (like Shore’s career itself) is best left to its era — though it’s hard not to admit that any scene that manages to combine simultaneous homages to “Reservoir Dogs” and “Blue Velvet” is probably worth a look, just to see how it screws that up.

04052010_mars.jpg“Mars Attacks!” (1996)

High concept premise: See title.

How it plays: Awesomely. Arguably the last Tim Burton movie to really work from start to finish, “Mars Attacks!” studiously lives up (or down) to its title, using a massive all-star cast as fodder for the gleefully nihilistic (but strangely innocent) little green guys. “Mars Attacks!” is Burton’s ode to the joys of campy garbage — while being better than many of the movies that fueled his childhood, it stays true to their underlying promise of cheap thrills every minute. Burton just has the budget and skills to skip all the boring stuff: “Mars Attacks!” is one money shot after another, while winkingly suggesting the world would be better off if it was solely in the hands of aging pop culture icons (Jim Brown, Tom Jones) and inarticulate vidiots. It’s the perfect hangover from the Clinton era, when it really did seem like the world could run itself.

04052010_jackfrost.jpg“Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman” (2000)

High concept premise: Oh, c’mon.

How it plays: It’s hard to fathom that there are not one, not two but three separate movies about a guy turning into a talking snowman, but there you go. First there was 1997’s “Jack Frost,” in which a man becomes a homicidal snowman and goes around making bad puns as he kills people. Then there was 1998’s “Jack Frost,” in which neglectful dad Michael Keaton dies in a car accident and comes back to life as a really creepy-looking snowman. (Roger Ebert deemed it “the most repulsive single creature in the history of special effects.”) But all that was just a build up for “Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman,” which sort of plays like an Ed Wood movie that not only knows how bad it is but aspires to that state. (The only goal, apparently, was to make it campier than the first “Jack Frost.” Success?) It’s not just the ridiculous concept or the breathtakingly unconvincing special effects. No, it’s the overall feeling of cheapness you get in watching a movie that was clearly conceived as a title first and as a movie second; the production values are shoddy in ways that don’t seem purposeful. And did people rent it? Do you even need to ask? The question remains — how much of that incompetence is intentional?

04052010_mindhunters.jpg“Mindhunters” (2004)

High concept premise: “Ten Little Indians” with FBI trainees.

How it plays: It delivers. Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” (aka “And Then There Were None”) pretty much invented the sub-genre of people trapped somewhere being killed off one by one without knowing whodunnit and suspecting each other accordingly. “Mindhunters” is content to spend most of its time setting up elaborate Rube Goldberg machines that murder people (see below, though probably not at work); otherwise, the main attraction is Val Kilmer’s hair, which he was growing out to play John Holmes in “Wadd.” It upstages even his scenery chewing.

04052010_tooth.jpg“Tooth Fairy” (2010)

High concept premise: The Rock is the Tooth Fairy.

How it plays: Some bad ideas can never die. “Tooth Fairy” is based on an 18-year-old screenplay, and its baldly ridiculous premise — a man who doesn’t understand the power of dreams is sentenced to temporary tooth fairy duty, complete with wings, so he’ll stop disillusioning little kids — shows the strain of age. The “Freaky Friday” remake aside, that kind of ridiculous body-switching high-concept film for kids starring adults has largely faded away, as the kids themselves take center stage. “Tooth Fairy” could be worse — “The Office” co-creator Stephen Merchant makes it go down easy enough — but it’s the staleness of the premise (and the alternately elaborate and/or nonsensical structure of its fantasy world) that really start to get to you. Like, how many different fantasy punishments do men need to endure in family comedies so that they can understand childhood better?

[Photos: “Date Night,” 20th Century Fox, 2010; “Demon Seed,” MGM, 1977; “Se7en,” New Line Cinema, 1995; “Bio-Dome,” MGM, 1996; “Jack Frost,” A-Pix Entertainment, 1997; “Mindhunters,” Dimension Films, 2004; “Tooth Fairy,” 20th Century Fox, 2010]


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.