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Why do cult comedies have such trouble in theaters?

Why do cult comedies have such trouble in theaters? (photo)

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When “Mystery Team” opened in August of last year, I wondered aloud whether the DERRICK Comedy troupe could build on their following from YouTube to lure audiences in to see their very funny comedy on the big screen. As full-capacity screenings over the weekend in Los Angeles proved, they could — to some extent. As far as the film’s theatrical run, things never quite kicked into second gear.

What was mildly depressing as I stood in the long line in front of the New Beverly Cinema was the fact that “Mystery Team” is part of a breed of films that usually enjoys success only when they hit home video and cable, despite the fact they play best with a huge crowd. (Not so coincidentally, these screenings coincided with the film’s DVD release.) There was, of course, an irony to Donald Glover shouting “Let’s get krunk!” before the film started to roll, but also an appropriate temperature taking of the room as it was about to get krunk indeed.

Full of increasingly familiar faces like “Parks and Recreation”‘s Aubrey Plaza, “The Office”‘s Ellie Kemper and “Saturday Night Live”‘s Bobby Moynihan, “Mystery Team” is far from the one-note affair it appears as on paper. The premise is simple: a group of overgrown kid detectives (Glover, Dominic Dierkes and D.C. Pierson) used to helping find cats are faced with something considerably more daunting when they’re asked to solve a murder. The trio refuse to let their innocence be corrupted as they naively find themselves in strip clubs and crack dens in search of the killer. The trailer:

The film has its share of gross-out humor to make the most of its adults-in-kid-bodies scenario, but it also cleverly builds upon its gags, both with wordplay and with visual touches, in a way that will surely play well for friends huddled around TVs and computer screens yet become transcendental when seen at a movie theater.

06012010_MysteryTeamNewBeverly.jpgAs HitFix’s Drew McWeeny wrote when he interviewed DERRICK’s Dan Eckman, Dierkes and Pierson recently, these guys did everything but pop the popcorn to try and attract people during “Mystery Team”‘s half-year run around the country, and their distributor Roadside Attractions came up with what seemed like a savvy distribution strategy to target college towns where interest should’ve been high.

Still, the daring of both the filmmakers in making a genuinely amusing and audacious debut and the distributor in trying something different wasn’t rewarded. And this trend isn’t limited to indies — although “MacGruber” broke the mold with an unapologetically nasty send-up of ’80s action flicks that was more fun than it had any right to be (though Matt Zoller Seitz disagreed, as did A.O. Scott, who refuses to believe the movie exists), it won’t come close to making its money back theatrically (after advertising is tacked on) despite a relatively paltry $10 million price tag.

Movie City News’ David Poland suggested “MacGruber” might’ve been a perfect test case for a day-and-date release on VOD, which would seem to be the future of the genre, as it is with most other films that can’t afford and can’t explain their appeal in a 30-second TV spot. (When it comes to marketing comedies, Fox Searchlight has no peer, but even they might be in for a tough haul with “Cyrus,” the Duplass brothers’ shaggy laffer. The film boasts recognizable stars in Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei, but has taken to the streets with “Don’t F**k My Mom” T-shirts which repeats one of the film’s funniest lines, yet doesn’t exactly convey the thoughtful, mature romantic comedy it actually is.)

06012010_gethimtothegreek.jpgStrangely, this apathy towards feature comedy comes not only as sitcoms and sites like Funny or Die are thriving, but as some of the most assured and innovative voices in years are starting to make their mark in movies. Besides the Apatow gang, which has “Get Him to the Greek” coming out this week and will produce The State alum David Wain’s next feature “Wanderlust,” you’ve got directors like the Duplass brothers, Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”), Armando Iannucci (“In The Loop”), Jody Hill (“Observe and Report”) and Alex Holdridge (recently tipped for Fox Searchlight’s buzzed-about comedy “The F-Word” after the impressive “In Search of a Midnight Kiss”) making smart, appealing comedies that are appreciated long after they leave theaters.

Not all of these filmmakers would be considered cult per se, but they have found audiences, even if it’s on Netflix since they’ve got the goods, although the dwindling interest in discovering them on the big screen is no laughing matter.

[Photo: “Mystery Team,” Roadside Attractions, 2009; “Get Him to the Greek,” Universal Pictures, 2010]

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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.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.