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America is no country for ’80s directors.

America is no country for ’80s directors. (photo)

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A few weeks back I was at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, taking in John Badham’s ill-fated 1979 take on “Dracula.” Released only six weeks after George Hamilton’s “Love at First Bite” parodied Transylvania in theaters, the film was also soon overshadowed by Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski’s certifiably brilliant “Nosferatu the Vampyre.”

After the film, Badham joked he was happy the theater reversed the order of things and played his “Dracula” before “Love at First Bite.” He regaled the crowd with stories of working with Laurence Olivier, who insisted on be called Larry, trying to pry chemistry out of leads Frank Langella and Kate Nelligan, who hated each other, and how he could create the effect of a full moon on screen with a flashlight and some cleverly placed smoke devices.

When the Q & A ended, he stood in the hall as a cadre of fans lined up to grill him some more, It was a Saturday night, so he had plenty of time to answer their questions without worrying whether he’d be late to his current gig, as a professor at nearby Chapman University.

It’s easy to forget that Badham had one of the most solid directing runs of the late ’70s and early ’80s — “Dracula” was a rare stumbling block after helming “Saturday Night Fever” and proving himself particularly capable of directing both thrillers (“WarGames”) and comedies (“Short Circuit” and “Stakeout”). His career devolved into a series of forgettable films in the ’90s and ultimately a steady hand in television.

07092010_RobReiner.jpgSimilar fates have befallen ’80s directors like Walter Hill, who looks to be reteaming with “Johnny Handsome” star Mickey Rourke on the crime thriller “St. Vincent” after finding some success in TV with the Western miniseries “Broken Trail,” and John McTiernan, whose “Rollerball” debacle was nothing compared to his legal problems, though both obscured his position as one of the sharpest, most intuitive action directors of the era. All of them are still available to direct, but the studios have all but put them out to pasture.

So it comes as good news that two of the ’80s most celebrated filmmakers appear ripe for recovery from those not so nice Naughts, with Barry Levinson tapped to direct the Sony drama “Brother Jack,” his first studio film since the forgettable Robin Williams political satire “Man of the Year,” and Rob Reiner earning very positive buzz for “Flipped,” a nostalgic ’50s coming of age comedy that doesn’t scream “director-for-hire” like nearly everything in his post-“Ghosts of Mississippi” résumé.

Both deserve a comeback — in spite of rarely being mentioned in the pantheon of great directors, they were responsible for a run of films that earned that rare mix of critical and commercial acclaim — Reiner’s “Princess Bride” and “A Few Good Men,” Levinson’s Baltimore films of “Diner” and “Avalon” and awards bait like “Bugsy.” The most respect either director ever seemed to get was working his way into the rotation of TNT’s New Classics, where “Misery” and “Rain Man” burrowed their way into the minds of younger generations.

Both lost their way as studio directors: Levinson likely emerged from the doghouse with HBO’s “You Don’t Know Jack” while Reiner essentially called in a favor for the $14 million “Flipped,” in spite of pulling in $93 million for Warner Bros. with “The Bucket List.”

07092010_resnair.jpgIncidentally, one needs only to look at the local arthouse as a reminder that this isn’t a trend that extends to other parts of the world — Alain Resnais just celebrated his 88th birthday with the release on “Wild Grass” and 80-year-old Jean-Luc Godard’s “Film Socialisme” still lit a match at this year’s Cannes.

Although Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood appear to have no quit in them (and studios who still believe in them), it’s a shame that as even established directors like M. Night Shyamalan fumble their way through $150 million budgets, there isn’t a place for guys who know how make a flashlight into a moon. Maybe it’s why Quentin Tarantino has promised to retire at 60 (13 years away, if you’re counting), but it’s not how it should be.

[Photos: John Badham (in blue) on the set of “Dracula,” Universal Pictures, 1979; Rob Reiner on the set of “The Bucket List,” Warner Bros., 2007; Resnais on the set of “Wild Grass,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2009]



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.