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Going Solo: Movies With (Mostly) Just One Actor

Going Solo: Movies With (Mostly) Just One Actor (photo)

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“127 Hours” is James Franco’s show — there are other people in the cast, like Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn as hikers his character, Aron Ralston, encounters while exploring the canyons near Moab, UT. There’s his family, his coworker and his former lover, all glimpsed in memories, but for the majority of the runtime of Danny Boyle’s film Franco is alone on screen, doing a remarkable job of holding our attention with no one to talk to but his camera and his own increasingly desperate self.

Movies may be a visual medium, but it’s through dialogue that we tend to get to know characters and grasp plots. So having an actor alone on screen is a tricky proposition, one that often requires gimmicks, games or just letting go of any traditional narrative. Here’s a look at a few films, recent and older, that have offered significant solo time for a character.


“Wrecked” (2010)
Directed by Michael Greenspan
Soloist: Adrien Brody

A man wakes up in a wrecked car in the middle of the woods. His leg is pinned under the dash and there’s a dead body in the back seat. Also, he’s Adrien Brody, so we know some serious emoting is going to be going on in this Canadian indie, the feature debut of director Michael Greenspan. Aside from a few flashbacks and the sporadic appearances of a woman (“Wonderfall”‘s Caroline Dhavernas) and a dog who may or may not be real, Brody spends most of this film alone, telegraphing his pain, frustration and confusion (he doesn’t remember anything about who he is or how he ended up in the car) through the kind of half-muttered interjections you make to keep yourself company when you’re sure you’re totally alone. “Wrecked” is intriguing when it keeps to the unprotected confines of the car and the mystery of who its passengers are, but eventually it has to open up to the larger woods and a somewhat silly threat to our hero.


“Buried” (2010)
Directed by Rodrigo Cortés
Soloist: Ryan Reynolds

A man wakes up in a coffin buried in the sand. In Iraq! Like “Wrecked,” Rodrigo Cortés’ film is a high-concept one-man show about a character trapped in a claustrophobic space, though here there’s an attempt at topicality. The sense of time running out is also upped, with limited oxygen and an unstable space posing threats to Ryan Reynolds’ Paul Conroy, captured convoy driver. On the other hand, Paul has a cell phone, which means he actually has people to talk to. Reynolds is remarkably game, but is also given off-screen characters with which to interact, relieving some of the burden of having to be exciting on screen all by oneself.

“Symbol” (2010)
Directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto
Soloist: Hitoshi Matsumoto

Comedian and filmmaker Hitoshi Matsumoto (of “Big Man Japan”) pits two seemingly unrelated storylines against each other in his second feature. In one, the patriarch of a Mexican family prepares for a lucha libre match against intimidating opponents. In the other, a man (played by Matsumoto) awakens by himself in a white room with no doors or windows, just switches that are actually the genitalia of snickering cherubim hiding in the walls. Alone, Matsumoto displays his gift for physical comedy — the unnamed man he plays, clad in bright pajamas and sporting a bowl cut, isn’t terribly bright but is amusing prone to burst of loud frustration. His exploration into what the switches do is a prolonged, and very funny, absurdist journey.


“Yaadein” (1964)
Directed by Sunil Dutt
Soloist: Sunil Dutt

You can’t fault Sunil Dutt for a lack of confidence — he directed himself in this black and white 1964 Hindi film, aside from a silhouette toward the end, the only actor on screen. “Yaadein” (Memories) consists of a monologue from Anil, played by Dutt, who reminisces about his marriage to Priya, the birth of their children, his straying and its effects on the family. He’s come home to an empty house, and believes his wife has finally left him, despairing at his mistakes and overcome with regret. This film is apparently one of three sharing a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Fewest actors in a narrative film.”

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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.