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Tony Goldwyn on the Many Trials of “Conviction”

Tony Goldwyn on the Many Trials of “Conviction” (photo)

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Even though Tony Goldwyn’s surname has long conjured up the heady days of Hollywood’s Golden Era and of his grandfather Samuel, he has long carved out his own path as an actor, most famously in “Ghost,” and as a director of films such as “The Last Kiss” and “A Walk on the Moon” that has always put a modern spin on the old fashioned. (This could be demonstrated by his decision to star in the recent remake of “The Last House on the Left” and then on Broadway in a revival of “Promises, Promises,” either of which taken alone might be considered reinvention, but when done back to back, becomes something radical.) The irony of his latest film as a director is that it might be the first that could’ve been made at his grandfather’s old studio Paramount.

Ultimately, “Conviction” had to be produced independently, the product of an era where the social issue drama has all but vanished into the realm of television, even though, when done well, it can hold a power over an audience in a theater unlike few other genres. As Goldwyn explains below, it took nearly a decade to bring “Conviction” to the screen, a grueling wait only exceeded by the one in the story he tells of Betty Anne Waters, a Massachusetts woman spends 18 years attending law school and filing briefs with the sole purpose of overturning the murder case against her brother Kenny.

Being an actor himself, it should come as no surprise that Goldwyn’s film is lifted by its performances from a cast including Hilary Swank, Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis, and particularly Sam Rockwell (made more impressive by having little time to prepare, as he told Matt Singer recently), but also by the unusual shape Goldwyn and “Walk on the Moon” screenwriter Pamela Gray give to the classic underdog tale. Shortly after the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Goldwyn spoke about the film’s long road to the big screen, invoking real-life names like Martha Coakley and how filmmaking’s become a full-time career.

How did you get involved initially?

Nine years ago, my wife saw a piece on the news, I think it was “60 Minutes” about Betty Anne and Kenny right after his exoneration and I missed the segment. She told me about it and I asked myself, God this woman spent 18 years, what was that bond between those two people that she had such faith in him? He could’ve been guilty. She could’ve been wrong. She could’ve failed and yet she knew – that fascinated me.

10142010_Conviction3.jpgSince all three of your other three films have been romances, did you ever see yourself using that template for this film where it’s obviously a platonic love, but one that endures similar kinds of obstacles?

I always saw this as a love story between a brother and a sister. I never apply any template. Every story I tend to approach, you’re exploring a theme — that connection, that love between this brother and sister — that was my guiding thing. In “A Walk on the Moon,” it was about a woman who found herself in a life not of her choosing really and in a marriage, she suddenly woke up and found herself in her 30s, going I didn’t choose this life and through her romance with this man, this affair that she has, she explores a part of herself she didn’t know. That was the theme I was exploring and something I had been going through at that time about being in my 30s, so that’s more my approach. I wouldn’t say it’s a template.

Yet it fits in so nicely into Hollywood tradition. Are you surprised you had to make this independently?

No, I’m not. [slight laugh] I was surprised along the road. But I’m not. Here’s the thing about a movie like this. First of all, dramas are very difficult to sell. Studios are very nervous about them, especially female-driven dramas and a true-life story like this could easily be done as a TV movie version; it might be good, but it’s not terribly interesting or innovative, so a marketing department goes we don’t know how to sell this if it has a generic quality to it. I knew that wasn’t the movie I wanted to make.

Although [the studios] saw the sort of “Erin Brockovich” potential in it, they were hesitant, so we developed it at a studio and it was at one point greenlit. Then it all fell apart for various reasons. Even when we had Hilary attached, they were like “Oh we want to do it,” but they wouldn’t greenlight it. They were waiting for some insurance policy. I begged the studio to give it back to me in turnaround, I said, “Please just admit to me you don’t want to make this and let me take it out and set it up independently.” Even that was incredibly difficult to finance because it’s all a numbers game. But we persevered and we got very lucky and then of course, once it’s made, even then it took a studio like Fox Searchlight to see it and they got it. They said, “We know how to sell this movie.” With others, they said “We love it, it’s great, but it makes us nervous.” So it’s just a very tough marketplace out there.

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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.