Your Early Work: “Fear, Anxiety & Depression”

Your Early Work: “Fear, Anxiety & Depression” (photo)

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Some directors burst out of the gate with fully formed visions and debuts that set Sundance aflame. Others take longer to firm up their perspectives and filmmaking identity. (And, of course, many, many others don’t get going at all.) “Your Early Work” is an occasional feature in which we’ll take a look at an established auteur’s first movie and how it fits in with or foreshadows the ones he or she made down the line.

First up, Todd Solondz, whose new film “Life During Wartime” opened on Friday.

“Fear, Anxiety & Depression” (1989)
Directed by Todd Solondz

These days, it’s almost inconceivable to picture Todd Solondz, the premiere ’90s maestro of deadpan misery, putting himself front and center on screen. For Solondz to subject himself to the same unflinching (if non-judgmental) gaze he’s centered on countless characters, not to mention the humiliations, awkwardness and despair which make up their day-to-day, would seem to require a sense of self-loathing that would make any resulting feature intolerable.

07262010_fearanxiety2.jpgBut back when he was getting started, Solondz did star in his own 1985 short “Schatt’s Last Shot,” appeared as a musician in another by Cédric Klapisch called “In Transit,” and had a cameo in Jonathan Demme’s “Married to the Mob.” And in 1989, he played the lead role in his first film, “Fear, Anxiety & Depression.” as Ira Ellis, a would-be serious playwright barely scraping by in downtown New York. The unpleasantness of his experiences with the studio while making the film so soured him on the process that he quit filmmaking for years, finally coaxed back by a friend who helped finance 1995’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”

“Fear, Anxiety & Depression” isn’t a disaster so much as it’s a cultural oddity. If it weren’t for Solondz’ involvement, it’d come across as an unremarkable late ’80s indie made by someone really into Woody Allen. But not only does Solondz appear in almost every scene, he also dabbles in moments of physical comedy and wrote the lyrics for plot song “A Neat Kind of Guy.” It makes watching the movie a unique experience, akin to finding photos of your goth cousin from her ponytailed student council days.

The film opens with Ira writing a letter to his idol Samuel Beckett (who would pass away later that year) to accompany a copy of his own play “Despair,” expressing his admiration for Beckett’s work and desire to someday collaborate. “Although I do not think that I, personally, am waiting for Godot, I do have some very good friends who are,” he muses. Those friends include aspiring painter Jack (Max Cantor), who disparages everyone else behind their backs while feeling certain his work is destined for the Whitney Biennial, his aspiring actress/waitress girlfriend Sylvia (Anne De Salvo) and Sharon (Jill Wisoff), who doesn’t aspire to anything except being Ira’s girlfriend.

07262010_fearanxiety1.jpgThere’s no doubting Ira’s ambitions, but his aptitude is another matter. He sinks all of his money into a production of “Despair” that reveals the play to be a befuddling avant garde shambles involving a Greek chorus and someone running back and forth between platforms shouting “Life! Life! Life! Death! Death! Death!”

Ira’s parents, who are supporting him financially, try to be encouraging, but would prefer he move home and join the family business. His romantic outlook’s no better — he becomes enamored of a cynical performance artist named Junk (Jane Hamper, working variations on a punk “Bride of Frankenstein” look) who has no interest in him, and gets entangled with Sylvia when Jack leaves her, but only wants to shake off the needy, girlish Sharon, who actually loves him.

Solondz, with his frizzy halo of hair and nasal affect, isn’t a natural screen presence — he looks pained all the time, whether his character’s situation calls for it or not. But the main problem with “Fear, Anxiety & Depression” isn’t his performance, it’s the overall focus of the film, which, as a downtown satire, is wan and obvious. There’s a reason Solondz headed to the suburbs after this — there, his films were freed from the burdens of skewering a specific time and place and became more universal. At their best, they’re meditations on humanity at its most unvarnished, most vulnerable and most cruel.

This isn’t to say there aren’t a few flickers of that promise in “Fear, Anxiety & Depression.” In Junk and Jack there are shades of Lara Flynn Boyle’s reptilian, self-obsessed, successful author in “Happiness” (played by Ally Sheedy in “Life During Wartime”). But it’s really the sad-sack Sharon who provides the film’s main (and darkest) laughs and any lingering resonance.

07262010_fearanxiety4.jpgOn a date — in one of a few musical interludes! — Sharon reveals to an inattentive Ira that she was molested as a child, was once a pill-popper and is on the verge of getting evicted, while he pays no mind. She gets mugged on the subway platform as Ira, not noticing in the foreground, ponders how suffering only makes you a better artist.

She downs pills and whiskey and has to be rushed to the hospital, slurring and clutching a stuffed animal, as Ira tries to get her drink some water. And when it seems she’s finally, really gotten his attention and his devotion, he runs into Junk on the street and never makes it to visit her in the hospital.

That Sharon gets the closest thing the film has to a happy ending is seriously tempered by the fact that it comes courtesy of Donny (Stanley Tucci, memorable in an early role), a classmate of Ira’s who’s effortlessly stumbled into financial and artistic triumphs. As his latest acquisition, she seems doomed to be toyed with and then discarded — except you can’t really wish her back with Ira, since he hardly treated her any better. Some people are just doomed to be taken advantage of, it seems. Now that’s the Todd Solondz we all know and love.

Maron S3

We Good?

Maron Is Returning to IFC for Season 4

Maron will return Spring 2016.

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Jumpstart the coffee maker and herd the cats because Marc Maron is coming back to IFC. Today the network announced it has renewed the critically acclaimed, universally loved original comedy Maron for a fourth season.

“I got the character of me into a bit of trouble last season. I hope I can get him back on track. The real me is doing fine,” said Marc Maron of his fictional counterpart. At the end of last season, Marc (the TV version, not the real one) fell off the wagon and in season four everyone’s favorite neurotic podcaster/comedian struggles to regain his sobriety, while trying to keep his sense of humor and looking for a deeper meaning to his life.


Luckily, Marc’s family and friends have his back, including Judd Hirsch as Marc’s unstable father, Sally Kellerman as his meddling mother and, of course, pals Andy Kindler and Dave Anthony. Guest stars for Season 4 include Patton Oswalt, Andy Dick, Adam Goldberg and many more.

“Marc is easily one of the most audacious comedians around today, and his pervasive sense of angst and unease is something we can all relate to and can’t stop watching,” said Jennifer Caserta, IFC’s president. “His take on society, and himself, is completely unfiltered and authentic and manifests into great comedic storytelling. We’re thrilled to renew Maron for a fourth season and look forward to more comic mayhem.”

Production on Maron‘s 4th season begins in January 2016 for a spring premiere. In the meantime, viewers can catch up on the first three seasons of Maron on iTunes. Seasons one and two are also available on Netflix and season three will be joining them in the streaming world on December 28th.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl 1920

Carrie Opens Up

Read Carrie Brownstein’s Moving Essay About Her Father From Her New Memoir

Carrie's book Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl will be released on October 27th.

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Writer/actor/rocker Carrie Brownstein recently added another credit to her poly-hyphenated resume: autobiographer. The Portlandia star and Sleater-Kinney musician penned Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, a memoir covering her years playing gigs, writing comedy, and producing a sketch show with cohort Fred Armisen.

Brownstein shared an excerpt from her memoir with The New Yorker that details her complicated relationship with her father, his coming to terms with his homosexuality, and how it led up to him coming out to Brownstein in 1988. A compelling and moving read, the essay is highlighted by the final passage wherein her father opened up to her grandmother and the life lesson Brownstein learned by her tragic response.

When my father came out to his mom, my grandmother said, “You waited for your father to die, why couldn’t you have waited for me to die?” I knew then that I never want to contribute to the corrosiveness of wanting someone to stay hidden. Despite all my initial conflicts about trying to reconcile the father I had as a child to the one I have now, I am thankful that he is happy, that he did not waste another second. Now there is someone to know.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl will be released by Penguin Press on October 27th, and readers can enter a contest to see Sleater-Kinney in New York City by pre-ordering here. And be sure to catch Carrie on her Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl book tour.

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Steve Schirripa on Benders

The 10 Funniest Sopranos Star Cameos

Catch Steve Schirripa on a brand-new Benders tonight at 10P on IFC.

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Over the years, the cast of The Sopranos has popped up in a variety of other shows and movies, always bringing some edge. It’s no surprise that even in comedies, Soprano cast cameos come with a lot of NSFW caveats. Even in kids movies, you can tell they’re fighting to keep the F-bombs from rolling. In honor of Steve “Bobby Bacala” Schirripa shaking down the guys on Benders this week, here are a few of the funniest cameos from The Sopranos cast.

10. Tony Sirico, Family Guy

Paulie Walnuts himself finally got to teach Stewie some respect, as the voice of the Griffin’s new dog on Family Guy.

9. Vincent Pastore, Pepsi Ad

Pastore acts like a big, well, pussycat when he comes face to face with a tough little girl in this spot for Pepsi from his Sopranos heyday.

8. Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Real Housewives of New Jersey Spoof

Sigler was perfectly cast in a Funny or Die spoof of the Bravo show that owes a lot to The Sopranos.

7. Michael Imperioli, The Office

Dwight Schrute finally received his black belt from a new sensei during the last season of The Office. And when you think karate, the first person that always comes to mind is Michael Imperioli.

6. Drea de Matteo, Conan

De Matteo proves even her insecurities can be funny, copping to a whopper of a lie to get out of a guest spot back during Conan’s late night days.

5. Joe Pantoliano, The Simpsons



Joey Pants and Michael Imperioli voiced gangsters in a 2006 episode that spoofed The Sopranos, The Godfather, and pretty much every other aspect of mafia culture.

4. Steven Schirripa, Benders

It’s hardly surprising that Schirripa turns up in comedies from time to time, after years spent on the standup circuit. You can catch him on this week’s brand-new Benders as a tough guy shaking down the Uncle Chubbys boys.

3. Edie Falco, 30 Rock

Falco played Celeste “C.C.” Cunningham, a liberal congresswoman with a dark secret. That secret being she’d fallen for the human avatar of everything she’d spent her life fighting against. But have you seen Jack Donaghy’s hair?

2. James Gandolfini, Letterman Top 10 List

The late, great Gandolfini didn’t make as many cameo appearances as his costars (he was too busy making movies), but he did appear on Letterman with the rest of the Sopranos cast for a fun Top 10 list. Naturally, he came out last to the biggest applause. Tony always gets the number one spot.

1. James Gandolfini Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico and Vincent Curatola, Nicky Deuce

Schirripa actually starred in this kid’s movie, and enlisted a slew of his old Sopranos friends to pop by and put a PG spin on their old act.

Gigi Rotblum, Ricky – Photo Credit: Adam Rose/IFC

Cooking With Gigi

5 Ways to Prepare For Tonight’s Gigi Does It and Become a Culinary Expert

Get in the kitchen with Gigi Mondays at 10:30P on IFC.

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It’s Monday, so you know what that means: Break out the turquoise eye shadow and bedazzled sweater! Tonight’s all new Gigi Does It at 10:30P ET/PT will keep you charged for the rest of the week. But before you forge headlong into septuagenarian hilarity, here are five ways to get ready for tonight’s episode.

1. Brush up on your culinary skills.

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According to Gigi, every dish should be prepared with a lotta love and a little bit of lust. But be sure to keep the ecstasy to a minimum and all bodily fluids outside the pot.

2. Experience the Great White North’s signature dish.

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French fries, cheese curds and gravy — poutine is a delicacy that isn’t for everyone. Love it or hate it, you should have at least a few bites if you want to be considered a true Canadian.

3. Whip up some “special” cookies.

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Competition is fierce when Gigi and her friends vie for the affections of eligible bachelor Melvin. Cookies are always a good idea to win someone’s heart — particularly if they’re baked with love and a little “extra” ingredient.

4. Watch the video Facebook doesn’t want you to see.

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Deemed “Too Hot for Facebook,” this montage of Gigi-isms removes the bleeps and blurs for a raw, NSFW look at the foul-mouthed granny in action.

5. Crack open Gigi’s book.

Gigi Does It Book Cover

Like most seniors, Gigi knows how little appreciation grandparents receive from their grandkids. Which is why the saucy old broad penned a children’s book reminding today’s youth to call their dear grandmothers. Give it a read here.

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