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Ranking the top secret projects of Abrams, Soderbergh, Linklater and Phoenix.

Ranking the top secret projects of Abrams, Soderbergh, Linklater and Phoenix. (photo)

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There are hundreds of movies that the world at large isn’t aware of until they show up at the local multiplex, but there are very few of note that go completely unnoticed. You have to wonder if there’s something fundamentally wrong with a film culture where JJ Abrams’ best laid plans to surprise audiences with his latest production (which will be teased in front of “Iron Man 2” tomorrow) were spoiled by movie news sites mere days before the release.

Still, there’s a special place reserved for big-name filmmakers who manage to make their movies without the general public being the wiser. Perhaps it will come at the expense of the unparalleled pleasure of being truly surprised at the movies, but if you must, here are four films that have flown under the radar with plenty of speculation to come, ranked in the order of secrecy around them.

05062010_linklater.jpgDEFCON 1: “Untitled 12-Year Richard Linklater Project”

As he was doing the publicity rounds for “Me and Orson Welles” over the summer, Richard Linklater complained that IMDb had listed the film that he started shooting in 2001 with the hope it wouldn’t be made public. (Linklater has a reputation for being a little sneaky; the same year, he released “Tape,” which he steathily shot in six days without almost anyone knowing until he premiered it at Sundance.) Still, it proved impossible over the years to keep the film (at times called “Boyhood” or “Growing Up”) a secret, partly because it stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette and also because of its irresistible premise of tracking a child’s growth from a six-year-old boy to a high school senior in real time. Ellar Salmon, who had a small part in Linklater’s “Fast Food Nation,” has been returning along with the rest of the cast and crew for a few days of shooting in Texas every year, with filming set to be finished in 2013. In interviews, Linklater and Hawke have been open about it, with Linklater telling Movieline, “I’m encouraged that I get asked about it. I just hope that people are interested when it’s finally done.”

05062010_jjabrams.jpgDEFCON 2: JJ Abrams’s “Super 8”

On one hand, it’s amazing that Abrams was almost able to get away with what he did with “Cloverfield”: shoot a teaser, attach it to the biggest movie of the summer, let it speak for itself and allow the buzz commence. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be with “Super 8,” which has been described as a homage to Steven Spielberg’s films of the early ’80s. HitFix’s Drew McWeeny, who must have sources deep in the bowels of Abrams’s production company Bad Robot — he also broke the “Cloverfield” scoop back when its code name, “The Parasite,” was only bandied about in hushed tones around Abrams’s office — was the first to break the film’s title, after which Vulture pounced on it with a description of the trailer from an insider who said “it shows a bunch of kids who are shooting a movie with a Super 8 camera in the seventies or eighties. When they develop the film, they notice that there’s an alien creature in the frame.” McWeeny speculated Abrams wouldn’t be directing the film, but producing it, but /Film is reporting that Abrams is the director and has a source who has supposedly seen the trailer, with a full description to read at your peril.

05062010_JoaquinPhoenixLetterman.jpgDEFCON 3: “The Untitled Joaquin Phoenix Project”

Something always seemed fishy with Joaquin Phoenix’s announcement that he would give up his acting career after “Two Lovers,” given that he’s been acting since he was six and had recently scored an Oscar nomination for “Walk the Line.” Toss in the Phoenix’s claims that he was leaving Hollywood to pursue a career as a rapper and it was obvious something was amiss. So it was only a minor surprise the other day when word leaked out that there was a secret screening of a mockumentary made by Phoenix’s brother-in-law Casey Affleck about the star’s misbegotten musical foray. Potential distributors were implored to stay silent about what they saw. One would hope this explains Phoenix’s bizarre appearance on Letterman or that ill-fated performance in Vegas, but it remains to be seen whether what the agents at WME are shopping is a Sacha Baron Cohen-style romp or an arty self-reflective meditation and whether any studio will buy it, let alone the public.

05062010_soderbergh.jpgDEFCON 4: Steven Soderbergh’s “The Last Time I Saw Michael Gregg”

“Tot Mom,” the play Steven Soderbergh produced for the Cate Blanchett-led Sydney Theatre Company in Australia last winter, will apparently never be brought to the U.S. (It concerns the sensationalism of the American media, and Nancy Grace in particular, revolving around the disappearance of Caylee Anthony and the trial of her mother Casey for her murder.) But there will be one remnant from his time in Sydney, a new comedy that used the same Aussie actors he directed in the play. Essie Davis and Rhys Muldoon play married theater owners whose creative process of adapting Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” is told in reverse, from the show’s opening night to its first disastrous days of blocking and rehearsals. There’s no word on when the film will premiere, but already Blanchett seems pleased with the result, telling the Sydney Morning Herald, “How great that the actors got a taste of working on a film with one of the true masters…You can tell everyone had a good time with it and it was the perfect way to balance the intensity of working on the play.”

[Photos: JJ Abrams at TED Talk, 2007; Richard Linklater on the set of “Me and Orson Welles,” Freestyle Releasing, 2009; JJ Abrams on the set of “Star Trek,” Paramount Pictures, 2009; Joaquin Phoenix on “Late Show with David Letterman, 2009; Steven Soderbergh on the set of “The Informant!,” Warner Bros., 2009]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



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.