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DID YOU READ

Tobey Maguire and Jacob Aaron Estes Fill in “The Details” in L.A.

Tobey Maguire and Jacob Aaron Estes Fill in “The Details” in L.A. (photo)

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A crisp, cool night in Los Angeles might’ve been the perfect evening to catch the Tobey Maguire/Elizabeth Banks dark comedy “The Details,” but it may not have been the best idea to ask for writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes for any. Giving incredibly gracious answers to the assembled crowd, he still concluded the post-screening Q & A for the film in Los Angeles by answering the final question about a speech in the film, “I don’t really have a great answer, but at the next Q & A, if you come to it, I will have thought about it.”

As Estes told the audience, part of the beauty of writing “The Details” was not thinking about it too much, though he certainly can’t be blamed for just not wanting to right now. Having endured many post-screening Q & As during a whirlwind week that saw the film sell to the Weinstein Company for a reported $7.5 million, Estes may have a case of festival fatigue as well as having a film that’s best not to be spoiled in advance. And yet frustratingly for the few who have seen it early, “The Details” is one that’s completely worth talking about.

A far cry from either Estes’ earlier slow-burning thriller “Mean Creek” or the group of quirky suburbia-is-hell comedy genre that it will inevitably be lumped into, “The Details” features Maguire and Banks as Jeff and Nealy, an upper-middle-class couple in Seattle whose 10-year marriage has lost its spark amidst the upbringing of their young son and the renovation of their already idyllic home, which is why their constant bickering is of far less concern to Jeff than the raccoon infestation that is pockmarking the family’s back lawn. Banks’ Nealy actually disappears from most of the picture when Jeff goes about finding ways to exterminate the vermin while appeasing those around him for whom he has about as much respect, like a slightly off neighbor (a wonderfully mercurial Laura Linney) or the couple’s closest married friends (Kerry Washington and Ray Liotta). Although he finds it in his heart to help out a basketball buddy (Dennis Haysbert) first with a job and then with a kidney transplant, Jeff’s preoccupation with plotting out a perfect life without thinking about any of the fallout it wreaks on others or even himself causes considerable headaches when he starts putting poison on his lawn to rid it of raccoons and the results end up far more toxic.

Though there are cheeky allusions to other films about domestic frustration (Jeff’s cell phone ringtone sound an awful lot like Thomas Newman’s chimes for “American Beauty”), “The Details” separates itself by placing the onus on its main character’s self-delusion rather than the typical suspect of suffocation by his environment, giving Maguire the room for one of his darkest and most mischievous performances since his all-too-short appearance in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Good German.” Amped up by a nearly carnivalesque score by tomandandy for the film’s first half, Maguire’s Jeff piles up one seemingly inconsequential lie after another to preserve a way of life, if not necessarily happiness, and Maguire is one of the few who could pull it off with a straight face. The same could be said for all of the cast Estes assembled, some of whom appear at first to take on roles that would frankly not be worth their time until a perfect, unexpected moment reveals why they were hired.

01282011_SundanceUSAVistaDetails.jpgAt the film’s Sundance USA screening in Los Angeles, moderator Jay Duplass joked shortly after the end credits, “You surprised me about 45 times in this movie” before asking Estes, who was accompanied by Maguire and Haysbert at the Vista Theatre in Los Feliz, whether he was conscious of throwing audiences for a loop.

“I was trying to surprise and amuse myself,” said Estes. “I frankly had a very general idea of what I wanted to do with the movie. I wanted to make a movie about adults, adult relationships, about what it means to be an adult and I only had one really childish notion and that was a man obsessed with eradicating his raccoons. And so I didn’t know where that was going to lead. But I was just trying to draw on authentic details from life and somehow they found their way into this weird synthesis of plot, which was surprising to me all the time, which is why I enjoyed writing the script more than I’ve enjoyed writing most scripts.”

Apparently, the film’s shoot was less fun, as Estes explained that both the budget and the shooting schedule were slashed dramatically shortly before filming was scheduled to commence. But by then, it had become par for the course for Estes, who had seen a few projects come and go since he last attended Sundance with “Mean Creek” in 2004. Estes insinuated his planned adaptation of “The Gifted” about philanthropist Zell Kravinsky that had Ralph Fiennes attached to star fell victim to rights issues and in his words, “It took awhile just because I didn’t write something that I really believed in that didn’t get killed somewhere along the line.”

It took producer Mickey Liddell and the commitment of his cast for “The Details” to avoid the same fate, but as Estes said, “When I saw the actors didn’t abandon ship when the budget got cut in half and days got shorter, it was really encouraging.”

01282011_EstesDuplassDetails.jpgThen again, that trust might’ve only extended so far. When Maguire was asked if he had trouble adjusting to the film’s frequently shifting tone, he got a laugh when he answered, “I always have trust issues. It comes from my childhood and it’s just what I do. I’m suspicious.” But then he added, “I was curious about how broad the comedy was going to be when we were doing it and it really was a process of getting on the set and playing around. In a lot of cases, we would do takes that have a lot of range and so there is a lot of trust in giving that to the director to play around with. Later, in the editing room, we would sit there – some of the stuff I did I thought was absolutely ridiculous and Jacob wasn’t going to put that stuff in, but I would say, ‘You’ve got to stay away from that because some of that stuff was just corny ridiculous.'”

As for the film’s ambiguous title, Estes preferred it be left up for interpretation, suggesting that assumptions that it comes from “the Devil is in the details” aren’t necessarily accurate since as he says, “I don’t think about the Devil in my life,” something that might come as yet another surprise for those who believe the film has a religious subtext. But after thinking it through, Estes said, ” It used to be called, “Yes, The Details” from a scene that was actually cut out – I just remembered why it’s called “The Details.” In the strange nine-month editing process I went through, we cut out a lot of stuff and among the things we cut out was a scene where Elizabeth Banks caught Tobey screwing around online [a late-night hobby in which he visits adult chatrooms] and Tobey had to explain to Elizabeth what he was doing and she said she wants to hear about it, she wants to hear it all. And Tobey said, ‘you mean, the details?’ And she said, ‘Yes, the details.‘ And that was what became the title. Just remembered that.”

Fortunately, Estes will have plenty of time to hone his on-set anecdotes before doing any more Q & As before “The Details” released likely later this year, but rest assured the film itself is already quite sharp.

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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.