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That Was Then, This is Now

That Was Then, This is Now (photo)

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As directors who have continually proven themselves to be at the cutting edge of what’s next and new, it’s hard to believe that all five of the nominees in this year’s Best Director category have already been to the Spirit Awards sometime, if not multiple times, over the last decade. For some, they return with radically different films than they first broke onto the scene with, while others have kept mining the same emotional terrain in new and different ways, but all have applied their vision to the films we continue to be excited about then, now and the future.

Darren Aronofsky is a prime example of this, having debuted with the Spirit Award-nominated “Pi” in 1998 and making the most of a reported $60,000 budget to tell the story of a numbers expert who stumbles upon a code he believes could unlock the secrets of the universe before descending into madness. Even though the budgets have gone up (though not nearly as much as it will on the director’s next film, the entry into the X-Men canon “The Wolverine”), Aronofsky has continued to work with many of the same key collaborators such as composer Clint Mansell and cinematographer Matthew Libatique and on “Black Swan,” which brings the director back to the psychological thriller genre after stripping down his style for the working class character study “The Wrestler,” Aronofsky appears to have put everything together for a film that pulls the wild abandon from his earlier films and the continued refinement of his technical precision.

Lisa Cholodenko was also part of the Spirit Awards class of 1999, competing against Aronofsky in the Best First Feature category where both would miss out to “The Opposite of Sex” director Don Roos. However, like her “Pi” compatriot, Cholodenko is riding high these days after making some films that were considerably different from her gritty debut, first with the glossy mother-son drama “Laurel Canyon” in 2003 and now with “The Kids Are All Right,” the first time she has had a writing partner (in Stuart Blumberg) for something more overtly comedic. Cholodenko’s commitment to realism and digging deep into characters hasn’t wavered – of course, it’s one of the reasons she continues to attract stellar casts to her work. However, her ability to handle the lighter moments in “The Kids Are All Right” as apt with comedy as drama, and though she’s found fertile territory to mine in her home of Southern California, the possibilities appear to be endless for what could be her next film.

Debra Granik is already said to be working on her next project, a reimagining of Pippi Longstocking, which would actually continue a lineage from the writer/director of films featuring strong female protagonists. It all began for Granik with the 2004 drama “Down to the Bone,” which was nominated a John Cassavetes Award at the Spirits and made a star out of Vera Farmiga as a woman struggling with both her marriage and her addiction to drugs. Granik worked similar magic with “Winter’s Bone” star Jennifer Lawrence in the adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel about a young girl’s search for her father amidst the meth-addled plains of Missouri and if the trend continues, whoever will be playing Pippi can be assured of both career-making performance and yet another example of Granik’s empowerment of female characters.

When John Cameron Mitchell exploded into the consciousness of audiences and Spirit Award watchers in 2002 with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” few would expect the director to manage a delicate, yet devastating turn out of Nicole Kidman as a grieving mother in “Rabbit Hole” after pushing the envelope first with the adaptation of bombastic musical “Hedwig” and then with the sexually-provocative ensemble dramedy “Shortbus” in 2006. With “Rabbit Hole,” Mitchell pushed in a different direction – our own personal capacity for enduring tragedy and forgiveness – in the story of two parents (Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) dealing with the death of their child. To argue that Mitchell was going for a film that was more relatable would be a misinterpretation, since his gifts as an artist so far has to bring the human experience to the screen in unique ways, but his most traditional movie to date feels next and new for the same reasons it is old-fashioned, it tells its tale well and promises that there’s really no barriers the writer/director couldn’t cross to do so.

Of the five directors nominated, Danny Boyle appears to be the veteran in this group, coming to the attention of the Spirit Awards first in 1997 with “Trainspotting,” but of all the auteurs, he’s arguably transformed the most. In the years since that classic of drug cinema, Boyle has worked in nearly every genre imaginable from romantic comedy (“A Life Less Ordinary”) to horror (“28 Days Later”) to science-fiction (“Sunshine”) to rags-to-riches tales (“Millions”) before settling into a streak of unabashedly joyous films about the human spirit in recent years with the much-awarded “Slumdog Millionaire” and his most recent Spirit Award nominee “127 Hours,” which tells the true story of adventurer Aron Ralston’s attempt to free himself from being trapped underneath a boulder. Boyle has defiantly never made the same film twice, much less carry anything on from one project to the next in his recent career except for the enthusiasm he brings to every movie, something that keeps him and the cinema as a whole constantly refreshed in terms of what’s new and next.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.