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DID YOU READ

Disc Covering: “Eyeborgs” which, to meye surprise, is not bad.

Disc Covering: “Eyeborgs” which, to meye surprise, is not bad. (photo)

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I’ve been on the DTV beat for a couple months now. Patterns are starting to emerge. For example, every direct-to-DVD movie about police officers or FBI agents is apparently obligated to feature an obnoxious female reporter. The Obnoxious Female Reporter appears in many forms but always follows certain rules:

1) Her first line in every movie is: “Officer [[NAME OF COP]]! Officer [[NAME OF COP]]! [[NAME OF OBNOXIOUS FEMALE REPORTER]], Channel [[FAKE TV STATION]] News!”

2) Obnoxious Female Reporter never sets up a shot or asks for an interview. She just runs around, screaming at people and shoving a microphone in people’s faces.

3) Obnoxious Female Reporter lives in a perpetual state of outrage. She has no patience and no tact. Her picture should go in the dictionary next to the word “indignant.”

4) Obnoxious Female Reporter always acts like she’s about to break the biggest news story since Watergate. But…

4) …no matter how outrageous her suspicions, Obnoxious Female Reporter is always right about them.

Take, for instance, “Eyeborgs,” a film about a Department of Homeland Security Officer (Adrian Paul) investigating a strange series of murders involving a government of the near future’s Eyeborgs surveillance program. As DTV sci-fi action thrillers go, “Eyeborgs” isn’t bad. It’s got a clever premise, a decent storyline, and some surprisingly credible special effects. But even something as well-made as “Eyeborgs” couldn’t resist throwing in an Obnoxious Female Reporter. Her name is Barbara Hawkins (Megan Blake) and she’s the only person who realizes the Eyeborgs’ evil plan. But will anyone believe her in time to stop them? And will anyone put up with her pushy behavior long enough to listen to her in order to believe her in time to stop them? Stay tuned…

07132010_eyeborgs6.jpg“Eyeborgs”
Directed by Richard Clabaugh

Tagline: Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: TV’s Highlander versus evil right-wing surveillance robots.

Salable Elements: Character actor extraordinaire Danny Trejo in an important supporting role; a muscular lead performance from Adrian Paul, who must have some kind of a fanbase if his “Highlander” television series lasted six seasons in syndication; a title so goofy that a certain type of person (like, say, the type of person that has a column about direct-to-DVD movies) feels compelled to find out how bad it is.

Biggest Success: Here’s the thing about that title, though. While it is technically accurate — the movie features little robots named Eyeborgs, and plenty of ’em — it’s also misleading. Such a stupid name suggests a stupid movie and, for the most part, “Eyeborgs” is not a stupid movie. It’s a solidly pleasurable taste of cautionary sci-fi. And like most good cautionary sci-fi, it’s set in a recognizable world twisted into an impossible extreme to make a salient point about the dangers of modern technology.

The target, in this case, is the proliferation and sophistication of contemporary surveillance equipment. In the “Eyeborgs” universe, a deadly terrorist attack has spurred the U.S. government to pass a bill with the chillingly plausible title: “The Freedom of Observation Act.” It authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to put these little robotic cameras all over the country, who watch citizens’ every move in the interest of national security.

As quickly becomes clear, these Eyeborgs don’t just record crimes, they commit them as well and use their advanced computer technology to doctor the video they’ve recorded. And since people have have a tendency to believe whatever they see on video, nobody suspects the Eyeborgs until it’s almost too late to stop them. While the conspiracy that unfolds in front of Paul’s Agent “Gunner” Reynolds (heh) and Obnoxious Female Reporter Hawkins eventually becomes a bit too outlandish, the core idea is a perfect one for science-fiction paranoia.

07132010_eyeborgs1.jpgBiggest Failure: The premise may be smart, but too often the characters are not. Imagine for a moment you are a highly trained field agent for the Department of Homeland Security. You work every day with these Eyeborgs. You know what they can do and how they work, and you know that they are everywhere.

Now imagine you are beginning to suspect there is a massive conspiracy brewing involving Eyeborgs. So would you hold extremely important meetings involving sensitive material in well-lit public squares in the middle of the day where dozens of these little critters can watch and record your every word? ‘Cause that’s exactly what Paul’s character does. I know his nickname is Gunner, not Thinker, but c’mon. That’s just plain dumb.

Though it’s a bit nitpicky given the film’s obviously limited budget, it’s hard not to notice that “Eyeborgs” is set in a world where these incredibly advanced robotics and video capture systems exist, yet everything except the Eyeborgs looks exactly as it does in our world in 2010: boring old cars and cell phones and guns. How’d they wind up with super-futuristic killer robots and not super-futuristic anything else?

07132010_eyeborgs3.jpgBest Moment: You may not approve of their anti-human agenda, but give the Eyeborgs credit: these cats are smooth criminals. They don’t just kill people, they do it in style, as when they make the murder of one of their enemies look like a drunk driving accident.

While this guy with video evidence of the Eyeborgs’ shenanigans is on his way to give the footage to Obnoxious Female Reporter, they sneak into his van, open the dude’s mouth and pour whiskey down his throat. Now since the Eyeborgs are crime scene investigation units as well as surveillance robots, this is a totally superfluous gesture. They could just alter any blood samples after the fact to make them look full of booze. So basically they just felt like fucking with this guy who was pissing them off.

They manage to get him to crash the vehicle, but they don’t kill him. One of the Eyeborgs grows a blowtorch and lights a trail of gasoline to the van, but its target escapes just in time. Thinking himself victorious, he looks at one of the ‘borgs’ dismembered limbs and screams “You have been DISARMED, baby!” Ah, but he’s spoken too soon, as the still-functioning robot leaps forth from the flaming wreckage and roasts the cocky sonofabitch with a flamethrower. Remember kids: sometimes the direct method is the best.

07132010_eyeborgs2.jpgSpecial Features: The “Eyeborgs” disc includes a trio of ten-minute making-of featurettes. None of them are particularly revealing and all of them are fairly self-congratulatory, but they do shed light on the fact that this entire production was made in North Carolina, mostly by local talent and craftsmen, including director Clabaugh, a Carolina native, former North Carolina School of the Arts instructor and Hollywood cinematographer on stuff like “The Prophecy” and “Phantoms.”

Clabaugh says he specifically wrote to the strength of his effects team with mechanical objects, and it shows; the computer-generated Eyeborgs look like effects from a movie with a budget 50 times larger than his own. On a purely technical level, the work — particularly by cinematographer Kenneth Wilson II and the visual effects team led by Christopher Howell Watson — is just as good if not better than comparable Los Angeles-based low-budget fare. Clabaugh’s resourcefulness and creativity in every aspect of production suggests his team could have a long future ahead of them in the DTV business.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release? Almost. But this film is better suited to the scope and size of the small screen anyway, where it plays really well. A decent script with some good ideas, supported by good action and special effects? Obnoxious Female Reporter or no, that’s a pretty unusual combination in this straight-to-video world.

For Further Viewing: Check out this hilariously incomprehensible five minute condensation of Adrian Paul’s last “Highlander” movie, 2007’s “The Source,” which was so wonky it went straight-to-TV (not even straight-to-DVD!).

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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.