Phillip Noyce Adds a Dash of “Salt”

Phillip Noyce Adds a Dash of “Salt” (photo)

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Following a screening of “Salt” at the L.A. County Museum of Art, Phillip Noyce recounted how, as the son of a former instructor for Australia’s covert ops team Zed Special Force, he was inspired to spy on people on his way home from school in Griffith, New South Wales. Strangely enough, he’s doing something similar today — only with $100 million at his discretion and Angelina Jolie to do his bidding as a CIA agent capable of turning an office chair and cleaning chemicals into a blowtorch and diving out of the way of subway cars while on the run from co-workers who suspect she’s working with the Russians.

As LACMA chief programmer Ian Birnie acknowledged in his introduction for “Salt,” “We’ve never shown a movie that’s been advertised on the side of a bus,” but Noyce is the rare director who can straddle the line between high art and high fun. If it can be believed, “Salt” is the director’s first studio film in over a decade after the twin indie triumphs of “Rabbit-Proof Fence” and “The Quiet American” in 2002 and “Catch a Fire” in 2006, and for a thriller about the scary potential uprising of enemy sleeper cells, it’s anything but sleepy.

Shortly before Noyce was to head to Comic-Con for the first time today to promote the film with Jolie on one of the more anticipated panels, he spoke about returning to the genre he helped reshape during the ’90s with “Clear and Present Danger” and “Patriot Games,” why Jolie’s acting muscles are more important than her biceps and how Harvey Weinstein started and ended the indie film revolution.

Since you last directed a studio-backed spy thriller, the “Bourne” trilogy and Bond reboot have changed the mechanics of action films. Were the conversations you were having studio any different than when you worked on the Jack Ryan films during the ’90s?

I think Martin Campbell with Bond and Paul Greengrass with the latter Bourne movies have provided a new high mark that we have to live up to in kinetics and emotionality. Bond used to be most noted for his one-liners. You could never feel the pulse of his heart beating — whereas in “Casino Royale,” he suddenly became a human being, and that breathed new life into a tired series.

07222010_SaltJolie2.jpgAnd Greengrass’ particular editing style has given us the kind of edge of your seat ride that is more akin to a rollercoaster than a moviegoing experience. Hopefully both of those influences are felt by audiences when they see Evelyn Salt’s story and that we’ve added something else, which is the uniqueness of a female character doing all that and more.

“Salt” seems to place a premium on showing the action rather than following the trend of a lot of recent films where editing is used for energy. Was that important to you?

Sometimes editing by stealth is interesting because you can create rhythms that affect and audience viscerally but they don’t really understand. We do that a few times in “Salt,” but generally the kind of storytelling that we use is one where you can follow exactly what is going on in terms of the geography of the characters. But I love those Greengrass films.

People refer to his style as “shakycam.” Well, for me, given how much we now rely on our home video cameras as a record of contemporary life, “shakycam” is 90% of our day-to-day reality.

You mentioned at the LACMA screening that you had nightmares after Harrison Ford barely made it through one particularly dangerous stunt on “Clear and Present Danger.” Are these films more psychologically taxing than non-action films?

Your worst nightmare as a director of an action film is that people get injured. Your very worst nightmare is that someone might lose their life. It is only a movie and that’s something that you don’t want to have to live with. But it’s one of the possibilities that you always have to be prepared for because there is a certain amount of danger involved in thrilling audiences and it’s become easier in some ways through the years with CGI.

At the time, 15 years ago, I did “Clear and Present Danger,” Harrison Ford really was driving past a massive explosion. Nowadays, we’d use a much smaller explosion and augment it with CG work in post-production so that the actor’s not in nearly as much danger. All of that is fine — except when you suddenly get an adrenaline junkie like Angelina Jolie, who really wants to be out there and doing all these things for herself. [laughs]

07222010_SaltJolie3.jpgYou’ve said Angelina Jolie is “great at action because she’s a great actress,” which seems to run counter to what we expect from successful action stars.

Acting is really important if, like Angelina, you are physically adept and athletic, but she’s not muscular. We can imagine that with extreme training as a covert spy, she would’ve developed techniques of hand-to-hand combat that don’t rely on muscle power but rather on skill.

But giving and taking in an action sequence, the believability of that ultimately depends not on really being punched, not on really being kicked, but convincing the audience that you’ve just been through that. And Angelina’s skill as an actress is in direct proportion to her abilities as an action star. She knows how to pretend.



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.