DID YOU READ

Taking lessons from “Prizzi’s Honor” instead of “The Karate Kid.”

Taking lessons from “Prizzi’s Honor” instead of “The Karate Kid.” (photo)

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This week’s big movie meme is Originality vs. Profitability, thanks to the spectacle of two ’80s retreads squaring off at the box office this past weekend. Why “The A-Team” sunk (relatively speaking) and “The Karate Kid” was immensely profitable has led to a lot of discussion, but little consensus.

Both film are primarily riding off of brand names and a nostalgic fanbase. “The A-Team” had a budget in the $110 million range, while “The Karate Kid”‘s was a mere $40 million, something that had more to do with shooting in China than scale. While we dwell on this summer of recycling and sequels, it should be pointed out that if Hollywood’s going to look to the ’80s for inspiration, they’re going about it the wrong way.

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott has some interesting thoughts on the consolations of narrative continuity as embodied (or at least promised) in the modern franchise: “Anyone who has told a child a bedtime story knows that its conclusion is met with the demand for ‘another one’ — for the same one again, but a little bit different. Movies are far from the only medium to cater to this desire.”

That’s certainly one way to explain why there were eight “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies in the first run, and why we’re now seeing more movies hitting their third, fourth and fifth installments than we’ve had in a while. But it doesn’t explain why we couldn’t come up with a new franchise of comparable value (who doesn’t love at least one of those movies?).

The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, continues to beat the drum for “quality storytelling” in its own odd way, with Steven Zeitchik theorizing that ’80s films like “Back to the Future” and the original “Karate Kid” had “a fundamental grasp of storytelling” and that “subconsciously, the remake craze may be partly about good narrative.”

06142010_prizzi.jpgI’m going to have to disagree with that last point — I don’t see how the solution to our apparent storytelling stagnation means invoking the original “Karate Kid” as a model of strong narrative, insofar as the original “Karate Kid” is incredibly slack. A better test case is “Prizzi’s Honor,” which came out 25 years ago yesterday, the strange (and fun, incidentally) John Huston movie that won Anjelica Huston an Oscar. If you want to talk about fixing summer cheaply — and you must do it in an ’80s fashion — this is the kind of movie to rip off.

Despite slow pacing and morbid humor, in commercial terms, “Prizzi’s Honor” didn’t perform badly at all, pulling in less than concurrent releases “The Goonies,” “Cocoon,” “Pale Rider” or “St. Elmo’s Fire” but performed much better than some other high-profile flops, including the sadly undervalued “Return to Oz.” (Note also that “Pale Rider” made money. Genre balance gives all movies a better chance of succeeding; the old “demographic split” model was more consistently if modestly profitable than the one-size-fits-all blockbuster.)

Lead Jack Nicholson was very hot stuff in 1985, as was Ms. Kathleen Turner (fresh off “Romancing the Stone”; more on this in a minute). Good old-fashioned star power triumphed that week over an anonymous child robot (“D.A.R.Y.L.”) and whatever Corey Haim (“Secret Admirer”) was up to. That whole month, in fact, was (with the arguable exception of “Return To Oz”) based on all original properties.

Because summer blockbuster season wasn’t the endless slog then it was by now, by July studios were re-issuing last year’s successes (“Gremlins,” “Ghostbusters”) because they could.

06142010_stone.jpgWhat does this tell us about the past weekend? Well, nothing, of course. But relying upon the idea that audiences responding to “The Karate Kid” because it gives us the familiar comforts of a narrative that’s detailed without being novel doesn’t tell us anything either.

If we’re going to plunder the ’80s wholesale while still trying to keep budgets down, there are so many options, and better ones than the likes of “The Karate Kid.” Perhaps not remaking “Prizzi’s Honor” per se (you’d hope not), but it’s seriously doubtful that the country that made “The Blind Side” the eighth-highest grossing film of last year (not to mention actually showed up for “Inglourious Basterds”) is ready to give up on “storytelling” as a whole during the increasingly endless summer.

Anyway, how big of a star was Kathleen Turner in the ’80s? So big that the late Falco (of “Rock Me Amadeus”) wrote a whole song about pining for her kiss:

[Photos: “The Karate Kid,” Sony, 1984; “Prizzi’s Honor,” MGM Home Entertainment, 1985; “Romancing The Stone,” 20th Century Fox, 1984]

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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.