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Taylor Hackford’s Trip to the “Love Ranch”

Taylor Hackford’s Trip to the “Love Ranch” (photo)

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Not since 1985’s “White Nights” has California-born director Taylor Hackford (“Ray,” “An Officer and a Gentleman”) worked with Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren. That isn’t to insinuate any animosity from that first collaboration since, well, the two eventually got married. Loosely based on the real-life story of America’s first legal brothel, Hackford’s ’70s-set drama “Love Ranch” stars Mirren as a ballsy Nevada madam who becomes ensnared in a volatile love triangle after her shady hubby (Joe Pesci) invites a South American boxer (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) to train at the ranch. By phone, Hackford spoke with me about shooting sex scenes with the Queen, why HBO’s “Cathouse” is bogus and the one film of his that never got a fair shake.

Why did it take so long for you and your wife to work together again?

When you’re an actor, you can work four times a year. As a director, you work every two years if you’re lucky. Of course I had a desire to work with my wife, but when I’m making films like “The Devil’s Advocate” or “Ray,” there aren’t roles for her. There might have been a couple of support roles, which I offered her, and she politely said, “No thank you.” [laughs]

I didn’t have really substantial roles, and everything to a consummate actor is the role. At a certain point, I decided that I needed to find something for the very reason that we hadn’t worked together in 25 years. When you’re living with the world’s greatest actress, you want to take advantage of that.

06292010_LoveRanch2.jpgThis was the script you were looking for?

Honestly, it was accidental. Mark Jacobson, an old friend who writes for New York magazine, called and told me he had written a spec script on a story that I knew about from the mid-’70s, the Mustang Ranch. I had never thought of it from the woman’s point of view. The two male characters in that story were Joe Conforte, the huckster who promoted the legalization of prostitution in northern Nevada, and Oscar Bonavena, who had been the heavyweight champion in South America [and came] to the U.S. and fought the best of the best in the decade of great heavyweights.

I hadn’t thought so much about Sally [Conforte]. Mark talked about this triangle, and I realized this is a woman of a certain age who is incredibly great at what she does, but in terms of romantic quotient, you would think it’s past her. Real stories are often times more phantasmagorical than fiction could ever be, and in this instance, Bonavena and Sally had an affair, were really caught up, he ended up dead, and most people felt it was Joe Conforte who had killed him.

06302010_loveranch16.jpgI took the idea to Helen, and she immediately warmed to it — I was surprised. I think at a certain point, Hollywood tends to type people. She had brilliantly played Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II in the same year. Then everyone said, “Oh, you’re just a queen.” I said, “You’re the madam of a whorehouse,” and she didn’t reject it out of hand.

You must have an intimate shorthand in communicating with Mirren, so what’s most challenging about balancing the personal and professional in that situation?

What’s tricky is to make sure your collaborators, especially the cast, don’t believe this is a cabal of a married couple, so intimate that we’re talking about different actors’ takes and so forth. Helen and I completely approach this as actor and director. She came to the set, she has her job to do, and an actor has to be “in charge.” If an actress has children in the film, you can’t say to these child actors, “Make this your mommy.” The actress has to bond and get familiar enough with those children to make it seem real on camera. In this instance, you’ve got an actress playing a madam who is part businesswoman, part mother confessor, part disciplinarian.

06292010_LoveRanch6.jpgWe really separated the labor. We never had lunch together, she was always with the actors. It was actually quite refreshing that way. We did sleep together at night and I’d fall into bed after 18 or 19 hours, and we’d have Sundays together to drive around New Mexico, but effectively, we were separate. That’s the way it should be.

Does it get trickier when you’re shooting your wife for a sex scene?

To me, the film is a sneaky love story in that you start in the brothel and think you’re going to be seeing something like “Cathouse” on HBO, and it isn’t that at all. It really gets into the characters. Those things on HBO are not the way a brothel operates. They’re performing, just like every reality show. I make films about working class people and I was interested in seeing the workplace. A brothel may be an aberrant one, but it is a workplace nonetheless.

I wanted to look at three cynical professionals who have been through the major part of their careers. They don’t have any romantic illusions left. Is it possible for emotions to take over and explode: passion, love, jealousy, all those things that happen to people that seem to be inured to any real emotions? In that, the love scene is an important catalyst in the story. It has to be believable and passionate and all the things you would expect.

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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.