DID YOU READ

Overcasting, when film casts overflow with familiar faces.

Overcasting, when film casts overflow with familiar faces. (photo)

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Over at Movieline, Christopher Rosen bemusedly chews over the casting news for “Horrible Bosses,” a comedy due next summer that — in the absence of other news — is being wildly anticipated.

It does sound pretty awesome, insofar as it ups the “Office Space” stakes and has disgruntled employees actually killing their bosses instead of merely smashing fax machines — the recession comedy we’ve all been waiting for! Arriving, alas, too late.

But the point Rosen wants to make is that “Horrible Bosses” might be overcast: with Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell, Donald Sutherland and Jamie Foxx (though I refuse to believe Jason Sudekis is actually anything like “a star”), he wonders if there’s a correlation between an over-abundance of big names and a less-than-quality product — or worse, if this is a film a la “Valentine’s Day” that compensates for innate shoddiness with marquee firepower.

There have always been movies that overdose on stars for their own sake, to the point where there’s barely any room for a plot. There were a whole raft of these during World War II, when studios issued what were basically variety shows with thin romantic plots to tie them together. This lead to some bizarre sights — the perfectly pleasant “Stage Door Canteen” ends with Katharine Hepburn delivering a rousing wartime speech, a very uncharacteristic moment in her career — but generally it was a pleasant way to combine propaganda, charity and studio self-promotion.

06292010_followtheboys1.jpgStudios would pull together their rosters and donate much of the money to charity: Universal had “Follow The Boys,” Warner Bros. had “Thank Your Lucky Stars” and “Hollywood Canteen” (the latter of which gave 40% of its profits to the actual titular canteen), Paramount had “Star Spangled Rhythm” and MGM had “Thousands Cheer.” All now act as decent time capsules, and then served handily to promote the studios’ wares and thespians for the post-war era.

Stacked-deck casting has also been used as a form of spectacle to rival whatever expensive stuff going on on-screen, as practiced in 1956’s “Around The World In 80 Days” (in which Frank Sinatra’s cameo is basically one shot) and 1963’s “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” whose cast list is so big Wikipedia splits it into three parts. And of course there are the lousy Eurotrash movies made after “Airport” designed to package multiple names for cross-cultural revenue — they’re endearingly cheesy now.

What’s missing in all this, though, is the good old character actor. All those studios in the ’30s and ’40s had a stable of odd types to fill in the margins with their (usually comic) specialties, rather than plugging in stars galore. These were guys like Guy Kibbee, whose niche Wikipedia nicely synopsizes as “daft and jovial characters” and who had a form of toad-in-the-hole named after him.

There were guys like the entire original cast of “The Wizard of Oz,” prolific Broadway and vaudeville vets all, where physical and character-based eccentricities could be smoothly adapted for multiple films. It was good for women too, like Margaret Dumont, who practically became the fifth Marx Brother while playing easily shocked matrons over and over.

06282010_koteas.jpgThe contemporary equivalent of this kind of player would be someone like Elias Koteas, whose features are just distinctive enough to seem sinister. Still, it’s impossible to imagine Koteas as a widely beloved bit player — to most viewers, he’ll just be That One Guy.

A lot of movies now are stuffed around the fringes with wildly overqualified players seemingly as a form of thespian insurance, like Ian Holm — distinguished Harold Pinter interpreter reduced to looking merely seasick for a small part in “The Aviator.” This form of overcasting has its consolations; rare is the Hollywood movie without a pleasant surprise of an appearance (I don’t know what Alfred Molina will bring to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” for example, though I’m sure he’ll bring his A-game regardless).

The downside is that — aside from comedies, which have more capable supporting specialists than ever in recent memory — dramatic films lack memorable, vaudevillian types. It’s not that the air-brushing of lead actors is a bad thing in and of itself; who doesn’t like to gawk at pretty people? It’s that the fringes themselves have been blanded out, filled with interchangeable bodies lusting after stardom.

[Photos: “Office Space,” 20th Century Fox, 1999; Marlene Dietrich and Orson Welles in “Follow the Boys,” Universal Pictures, 1944; “Shooter,” Paramount, 2007]

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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.