DID YOU READ

Edward Norton Divides and Conquers

Edward Norton Divides and Conquers (photo)

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You get two Edward Nortons for the price of one in pot/philosophy comedy “Leaves of Grass,” written and directed by, as well as co-starring, Tim Blake Nelson. Norton plays identical twins — Bill, a buttoned-down Brown professor with a rising career, and Brady, a fast-talking pot farmer who never left the small Oklahoma town in which the pair grew up. When Brady gets into trouble, Bill finds himself trekking back home for the first time in years for what he’s been told is his brother’s funeral. The Kincaid boys exemplify the type of role that Norton seems to do best, showcasing his skill with the dialect and physical qualities of a character to make the twins two very believably distinct people. “Leaves of Grass” arrives in theaters after a roundabout route that started with a premiere at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, followed by a screening at SXSW where it attracted enough attention that a new distributor came on board for a larger release. The deal ended up falling through, and now it’s returned to original handler First Look Studios. Back in March, I got a chance to talk with Norton about straddling genres, “Down and Dirty Pictures” and the current state of indie film.

“Leaves of Grass” lured you out of a sabbatical you’d been taking. What lead you to take a break, and what were the qualities of the script that drew you out?

In early 2007, I’d decided I was going to not act for a bit. Not in some big way, I was just trying to finish a script. Literally right when I was just starting to get a rhythm, I met with Tim, and he said “I wrote this with you in mind,” and all this stuff — “Read it. Read it. I think it’s going to tempt you.” And when I did, I was actually a little irritated because it was really original, and playing twins was something I felt like was going to be an unusual challenge.

Do you get that a lot? People saying “I wrote this for you”?

It does happen now and then. It’s a very nice compliment. There’s a certain number of people saying that just in the hopes that that’ll make you read it. But then there are people who really do seem to have taken a certain kind of inspiration… You can’t do something because of that — that’s not reason enough to do it. It’s a nice compliment, but someone might have you in mind for something that just doesn’t click for you. That’s just the way it is. It’s like chemistry.

09152010_leavesofgrass3.jpgTim, in a way, knew me well enough to know that it did straddle things I was interested in. So it was great. I like the fact that Tim was thinking of me for it, and that it was funny. It wasn’t like oh, I wrote this for you and it’s a psychotic killer who wears a swastika on his chest and has a split personality.

He’s directed films before as well as having an established acting career. Is there a particular benefit to having someone direct you who’s had a lot of experience in front of the camera as well?

Absolutely. Actors make very good directors for other actors because they communicate in a vocabulary that actors understand. I’ve worked with some really good directors who had absolutely no idea how to talk to an actor to get the best out of them.

Tim was initially inclined not to play a role in the film. Me and my producing partner insisted that he should, because he was so right for the part. He’s such a funny, good actor that it just seemed wrong for him not to do it. He had not directed and acted, and he was nervous about it. I told him it would be fine, and it was. He was great.

You’re both Ivy Leaguers — was there any particular satisfaction in getting to play an academic at one of those school, in such a rarefied department?

The character [of Bill] was based more on Tim than anybody. He was a classical philosophy major at Brown and he had this professor that he was devoted to and thought was a hero. He’s way more of a classicist than I am. I tried to give him a lot of crap about setting it at Brown and how ugly the buildings were there. We had some fun. The thing that we both related to about it was that we both came from worlds and backgrounds that were very distant from the Ivy League, those intellectual temples that those places are.

He had roots in Oklahoma and I had roots in the South — [there was] that sense of having one foot in one world and then going to school at a place like that. The Oklahoma character was a lot like certain friends of mine in the ’70s.

The film is a pot comedy with some big philosophical ideas. Did you ever worry about having that balance?

0915010_leavesofgrass.jpgNo, to me, that’s what makes an interesting film. I laughed a lot at “Pineapple Express,” but I haven’t thought about it since then. A lot of my favorite films are ones that straddle tone — “Raising Arizona” or “Fargo” or any of the Coens’ best stuff, or Spike Lee, the way that “Do the Right Thing” is wild, madcap, with crazy comic sensibilities but a deep message as well about race and balance. It’s very difficult to make those films in the studio system. They want more clean lines.

As someone who’s bounced between doing big studio films and smaller films like this, do you ever feel like you have a one for me, one for them thing going?

No, with studio films, even early on I got very lucky coming off “Primal Fear.” I had opportunities to do more commercial films, but also things like “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” which was Milos Forman and was being made at Columbia Pictures at the time. I chose it over some other things, even very early on in my career, because he was one of my heroes. People don’t even think of Milos Forman’s films as independent films, but they were. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” they made completely independently, and no studios would buy it. They only got it bought at that absolute last minute because someone called in a personal favor. “Amadeus,” too, they financed independently with European money.

So he was, to me, one of the kings of independent art made at a grand scale. Even though that was a studio film, I thought it had more of an independent sensibility. Then things I wanted to do really badly, like “Fight Club” or “American History X” or “The 25th Hour,” those were all films I made inside studios. People think I’ve been in more independent films than I have. You know Peter Biskind? When he wrote that book — what was Peter’s book called?

“Down and Dirty Pictures”?

When Peter was working on that he called me and said, “I really need to get some time with you, to talk about those independent films in the ’90s.” I said, “I was never in any independent films in the ’90s.” He was like, “What! That’s crazy. You’re one of my fixtures.” He started listing though all these films, and I explained every one of those is a studio film. I think it rattled his theory a little.

09152010_leavesofgrass5.jpgDo you find that that’s changed? There’s a general assumption that the studios are going to be getting more conservative now.

Not going to be. It has gotten very, very different. There’s been a real compression, not just in the number of small labels and companies that are acquiring films or turning to filmmakers to make those kinds of films. The sensibilities have gotten very conservative in my view. A film like “Leaves of Grass,” even into 2004, the Fox Searchlights of the world would have been snatching it up based on the reaction of audiences.

Now it’s much harder to get a film like this even put out now by those labels. It’s almost like going back to when there was Miramax, and that was it. I don’t think ultimately [studios] are very good at it. They tried to model themselves on Miramax and threw up all these little arthouse labels, but the truth is they didn’t know how to do it efficiently like Miramax. They’ve overspent. They’ve chased Academy Awards and wasted millions and millions of dollars. So now they’re just making studio films again. The few that remain, have a small film feel but are actually fairly safe on the whole.

“Leaves of Grass” opens in New York and Tulsa on September 17th.

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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.