DID YOU READ

Derek Cianfrance, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams Pen a “Blue Valentine”

Derek Cianfrance, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams Pen a “Blue Valentine” (photo)

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“Blue Valentine” is the story of Cindy and Dean, an ordinary couple who meet, fall in love, get married, have a child and, eventually, split up. And in the hands of director Derek Cianfrance and his exceptional leads Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, that story is something both intimate and epic and, however you look at it, a genuine heartbreaker. The film juxtaposes the elation of falling in love with the unvarnished moment when that love slips away, worn down by time, disappointment and the weight of a thousand small concerns. I got a chance to talk to Cianfrance, Gosling and Williams at Sundance back in January, where the film premiered. Since then, it was acquired by the Weinstein Company and fought a high-profile battle against an NC-17 rating, eventually emerging triumphant. It’s one of my favorite films of the year.

Why craft both ends of a love story like this? Movies tend to be more interested in the beginnings of them.

Derek Cianfrance: Well, there is a model for love tragedy, and that’s “Romeo and Juliet” — the story of these two young lovers who at the peak of their romance die and their love is preserved for all time. As I was going through my life, I never met anyone who had that good romantic fortune to die at the peak of their life. They had to suffer through, and time became this betrayer. So the story we’ve been told is “Romeo and Juliet,” but the story behind that story, you know?

12302010_derekcianfrance.jpgRyan, Michelle, what was the appeal of this love story with a gap in the middle?

Ryan Gosling: Working with Michelle was a big appeal, working with Derek. I also had been a part of one of those big romantic movies and — this is a long time ago — people would come up to me and tell me that they thought it was romantic, but one guy told me that he was engaged and [his fiancée] broke up with him after that movie because she said to him, “You wouldn’t build a house for me, would you?” He was like, “Well, no, but I don’t know how.” She said, “But if you knew how?” He said, “No, I wouldn’t. But it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.” She said, “Yeah, it does.” And she called it off.

If you see some of those movies, then you look at your own romance and it doesn’t compare, you think, oh, what I have isn’t love because that’s love. And our hope, I think, in making this movie is that you will recognize your relationship in this, maybe not to this extreme, but on certain levels, and go home and realize that that’s really what it is. We hold ourselves to unreasonable standards, it’s probably why a lot of times we don’t stick it out.

The film is definitely about romance and being romantic, but it also seems like it reverses roles in having the male character be the big romantic and the female character be more concerned with what the practical reality of the relationship and where it’s going is.

DC: One of the things I used to try to tell Michelle and Ryan is that she was the man and he was the woman. That was pretty much the extent of my direction.

12302010_bluevalentine3.jpgDo you agree with Dean when he says “I think men are more romantic than women”?

DC: I don’t know. I was interested in the feminine man and the masculine woman. I don’t think you see a lot of that. The majority of the time movies are from a man’s point of view, and there’s always some kind of adultery that’s going on or whatever — I just never related to it.

RG: I thought it was exciting because was like new ground for a female character that I hadn’t really seen. I mean, I love my character for all of his flaws and I know that guy, I meet him a lot, in myself sometimes too. But [Cindy’s] a great female character and if I was an actress, I would watch and watch and watch this movie.

Michelle Williams: It scared the shit out of me. [laughs] Derek talked me down off the cliff more than once.

What was scary about it?

MW: Just that, inverting the dynamic and doing something there wasn’t like such a model for in current cinema. That isn’t necessarily where people’s empathy extends to. But then I also, in my own mind, reconcile it. I realized somewhere in the middle of the movie, this is two days. It’s two days in their marriage, just two really, really bad days. I thought of it sometimes as… it wasn’t the end of the story, it’s not just the divorce papers the next day. It’s an ongoing fight and maybe it’s the beginning of something real, like when you break new ground in a relationship. Weirdly, this is a lesson I’m learning, you can find more love there.

RG: I think there have been some oddly sexist reactions to the film from females at the festival that I was kind of shocked by.

12302010_bluevalentine4.jpgReally? What kinds of things have you been hearing?

RG: It just seems like there’s this idea that if a woman has a guy that loves her and loves their kid and is faithful, that she should be happy. And there’s no mention of, like — does she love him? Does she love their life? She’s just obligated to stay, she can’t look around at her life and say, this is great, you’re great, but I’m not happy and I don’t know why. I need to figure that out and I can’t do that if you’re here. I got pregnant when I was a kid, I’ve been married now and I’m still figuring out that part of me…

MW: And that you move from your father’s house to your husband’s house and never have a space of your own. All your identity is wrapped up in the way that your father thinks of you, the way that your husband thinks of you — what do you think of you?

RG: And now you’re raising a little girl and she’s learning from your example. What kind of example are you setting?

MW: And we haven’t been able to break the family habits and the cycles. These aren’t people that have access to therapy, so it just feels like a tangle of wires like in her head. But also maybe you’re a hard guy to leave. [laughs] I’m probably not going to get a lot of sympathy from women who are like what?!?

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Jurassic Park Cast

Park Rules

5 Lessons Modern Blockbusters Could Learn From Jurassic Park

Catch the Jurassic Park movies this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Jurassic Park wasn’t the first blockbuster that set out to appeal to everyone, but it is arguably the most successful of its kind. Adults, kids, boys, girls, nerds, jocks, and lawyers love it. (Okay, maybe not lawyers). With a script from David Koepp, direction by Steven Spielberg (who also had the Oscar winning Schindler’s List the same year) and groundbreaking special effects that still thrill modern CGI-addled viewers, Jurassic Park was the most ambitious film project of its time. And as we see with dreadful early-’90s megaflops like Waterworld and Showgirls, the bigger they were, the harder they were apt to fall.

Jurassic Park faced the impossible scenario of having to appeal to everyone, and the end result is one of the very few examples that actually succeeded. So what lessons can we take from the shining beacon of both mass appeal and being smarter than the competition?

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Source Material

Nedry

An adaptation of Michael Crichton’s hit novel, Jurassic Park changes a lot from page to screen, but the most significant changes are in the characters, in that they actually exist. Crichton’s primary interests were scientific morals and philosophy, not character and story, so the characters end up more as vessels for the action and ideas rather than, well, characters. Adding dimension to the characters changed a great deal of the material, since the material flowed more organically not just from ideas and philosophy, but character action.

Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the well-meaning, impassioned lover of science and possibilities, is a much more compelling character in the film than the corporate, grandchild-hating jerk who is poetically eaten by dinos in the book. Nedry (Wayne Knight) isn’t just in the story for some corporate espionage — there’s a genuine “daddy issue” undercurrent in his relationship with Hammond, and his desire to subvert his father figure goes horribly awry.

Tim and Lex (played by Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards) aren’t just whiny nuisances who are kids for kids’ sake, but are given interests and agencies that pay off later in the film — Lex with her computer skills, and Tim with his basic dinosaur knowledge. The movie gives Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) a character arc by getting him to connect with children, whom initially make him uncomfortable, which helps solidify his relationship to Ellie Satler (Laura Dern).


2. Avoid useless characters.

Jurassic World

Often in movies we see half-baked young characters (kids, teenagers) who get jammed into the film for no other reason than to appeal to a wider demographic. For example, the child characters in Independence Day are borderline comical both in their narrative non-purpose and how much they don’t act like children.

Last summer’s mega-blockbuster/franchise extender Jurassic World was guilty of this, too. Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) have no skill, except for (apparently) some world experience from That One Time They Fixed A Car, a skill which was not set up nor ever referred to again. After the kids are rescued, they’re basically fleshy backpacks for Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard to foist around for the rest of the movie.

Lex and Tim not only aid in Grant’s growth, but also use their skills to further the plot. Sure, it’s a little goofy how Lex uses her knowledge to save the day, but this was 1993. Nowadays people know a bit more about UNIX systems (and, let’s face it, most people learned about UNIX systems from other people joking about how Jurassic Park got it oh-so-wrong).


3. You can include complex concepts…but keep it simple.

Jurassic Park Jeff Goldblum

Part of the brilliance of Jurassic Park isn’t that it involves complex philosophical concepts, but all of the different ways it disseminates complex information. It’s like a sampler platter of ways to both world-build and sew in theme.

Jurassic Park grazes over complex concepts like Chaos Theory, but that is not to say that it only pays them lip service, and moreover, the characters don’t just stop the action to explain things to the audience in an inorganic way. As a writer of prose, Crichton is guilty of this. These ideas are present in the original novel, but in the film, they are distilled, focused and sharpened to a fine point. The theme of chaos in an unpredictable environment is shown both implicitly (after Nedry’s meddling throws the trip into chaos) and explicitly, where Malcolm exposits repeatedly, betwixt a uniquely suave mix of “ums” and “uhs” and other Goldblum-isms.

The overarching theme of the movie is not so much that man should not play God (as Malcolm argues), but that man cannot, with perfect accuracy, predict all outcomes. That is a much more complex and satisfying conclusion to come to than simply “man play God, man go too far!”. The “don’t play God” aspect is certainly there, but it doesn’t end there. There is a genius simplicity in Jurassic Park‘s complexity.


4. Exposition should be actually motivated!

Jurassic Park Chaos

Since all of our main characters are experts in different fields, talking to each other about their respective fields is a great and easy way to let the audience in on things the characters already know in a natural way. Some of the scientific concepts are imparted by way of a cartoon in the Jurassic Park visitor center, because it is a theme park, and it is an educational “ride,” as Hammond says.

My favorite example of this is the scene where Malcolm gives Ellie a primer on Chaos Theory in a discussion which could’ve be really pretentious and boring. He gives the elevator pitch in the form of trying to describe the Butterfly Effect, but she doesn’t get it, leading to a more practical (and flirtatious) lesson that she can actually follow. Whereas in old sci-fi B-movies of yore it would have been just a bunch of guys standing in labs, explaining things to each other, here it is motivated.

Ellie and Malcolm didn’t have any kind of a “thing” in the book, but adding this now famous moment to the film not only gives us a little philosophical discussion, it allows for integral character development as well — Ellie egging on Alan by being receptive to Ian’s flirting, and Alan showing his difficulty committing to her by not engaging. It’s subtle, but all of these character traits come in and are built upon later.

Finally, if you learn nothing else from Jurassic Park, remember:


5. Dinosaurs Eat Man, Woman Inherits the Earth.

Jurassic Park Women Inherit

Just sayin’.

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Weird Al Hidden America

Keep America Weird

Watch “Weird Al” in the Trailer for Hidden America With Jonah Ray

Weird Al comes to Comedy Bang! Bang! starting June 3rd at 11P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: SeeSo

Jonah Ray, Nerdist podcaster and future resident of the Satellite of Love on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot, is motoring across the country as part of a new travel parody show on SeeSo. And “Weird Al” is coming along for the journey.

Hidden America with Jonah Ray takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to tourism travel logs as the comedian visits and fumbles through cities like Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Denver, and Austin. Along the way, Ray will meet up with Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader “Weird Al” Yankovic, Randall Park, David Koechner, and more.

Check out the trailer below. For more “Weird Al,” be sure to catch the premiere of Comedy Bang! Bang! season five on June 3rd at 11P.

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Back to the Future Jaws Parody

Swimming with Sharks

10 Hilarious Jaws Spoofs

Catch the Jaws movies during IFC's Memorial Day Shark Half-A-Day Marathon.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

How much is Jaws a part of our culture? Over 40 years after its release, it’s still prompting parodies that get laughs. To get you ready for IFC’s Memorial Day Shark Half-A-Day Marathon, check out our favorite spoofs of Jaws from across pop culture. Want more? You’re gonna need a bigger list…

1. “Mr. Jaws,” Dickie Goodman

Released just a few months after the movie’s debut on June 20th, 1975, this novelty record spent ten weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #4. In one of the earliest examples of sampling, comedian Dickie Goodman spliced in snippets of pop songs to answer interview questions with the Great White himself.


2. Jaws II (Land Shark), Saturday Night Live

It took only the fourth episode ever of SNL to establish one of its iconic recurring bits and play into the hysterical fear of sharks that Jaws prompted. A big punchline of this sketch: A sequel to Jaws! Who in 1975 could imagine such a thing??


3. “Jowls,” The Carol Burnett Show

Exactly one week after SNL spoofed Jaws, Carol Burnett and company did their take. Looking back now, what’s most amazing is that network TV allowed a sketch to go on for eleven minutes.


4. Mad Magazine

Mad Magazine Jaws
Mad Magazine/DC Comics

Even Jaws wouldn’t want to take a bite of Alfred E. Neuman in this issue from 1976. The comic inside spoofed the movie with a musical version -– an idea that took off over 30 years later.


5. 1941

How many times has this happened to you? You make a legendary movie, you see people parody it, and you want in! That’s the unlikely scenario that led to Jaws director Steven Spielberg making his own spoof as part of his 1979 war comedy 1941. How authentic did Spielberg get? Yes, that’s Susan Backlinie, the original lady in the water from Jaws, meeting up with trouble in the moonlight yet again.


6. Airplane!

One of the greatest disaster comedies of all time sets the tone for hilarity with its opening sequence. Even before the title appears, you know you’re in for a movie that winks at its place in film history.


7. Back to the Future Part II

1989 brought us this blockbuster sequel making fun of blockbuster sequels, as Marty McFly finds himself in a futuristic 2015 showing Jaws 19. While the actual 2015 came and went with Jaws only having three sequels, Universal treated fans of both movies to a trailer for the film that might have been…


8. Clerks

Kevin Smith was one of a generation of filmmakers influenced by Jaws. Many of his films contain references to his love of the original film, but only Clerks has the salsa shark.


9. Giant Killer Shark: The Musical

Mad Magazine Jaws

Why should live theater be without a spoof of Jaws? Just because of the risk of a massive lawsuit over intellectual property infringement? That may help explain the please-don’t-sue-us title of Giant Killer Shark: The Musical, which debuted in 2006. Just to drive the point home: the action takes place on and around Copyright-Protected Island. Scary!


10. Bill Murray’s Jaws Love Theme, SNL 40

The star-studded SNL 40th anniversary special marked four decades since the debut of SNL and of Jaws. It featured not one but two references to the movie, with Bill Murray as lounge singer Nick Ocean singing the love theme from Jaws we never knew we were missing. (He reprised the song at the event above.) Later, the Land Shark himself appeared on “Weekend Update.” Jaws: The gift that keeps on giving laughs.

Spend Memorial Day with IFC’s Shark Half-A-Day Marathon featuring “fin facts” from “sharks-pert” Jason Alexander!

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