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Carla Gugino and Sebastian Gutierrez’s Life of “Luxx”-ury

Carla Gugino and Sebastian Gutierrez’s Life of “Luxx”-ury (photo)

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There are many filmmakers who sound nothing like the films they make. Sebastian Gutierrez is not one of them. Within seconds of opening his mouth, a flood of words escape in all directions, all hurdling towards some greater point. This has served the writer/director well on two fronts – the first being his recent run of films, beginning with 2009’s “Women in Trouble” and eventually its sequel “Elektra Luxx,” that sprint on the colorful flourishes of its aesthetic and banter, if not the wild tonal shifts from slapstick comedy to musical numbers to melodrama that make the fact that their main characters are porn stars seem tame by comparison. Gutierrez’s way with words also helped him out of a jam when a projection problem at last year’s SXSW premiere of “Elektra Luxx” resulted in one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever experienced at a film festival after he commandeered the stage and entertained a rapt audience of over a thousand with stories from the set, his newfound facility with digital cameras and advance word of his next film “Girl Walks Into a Bar,” which, to show there are no hard feelings, will premiere at SXSW on Friday simultaneously with its debut on YouTube.

Yet even as Gutierrez is using new technology to bring his work to the masses, he is relying on the oldest of engines to power his films – interesting characters and even more interesting actors to bring them to life. Which is where Carla Gugino, Gutierrez’s leading lady both onscreen and off, comes in. As the titular heroine of “Elektra Luxx,” Gugino is asked to do just about everything one can in her performance as an adult film star who leaves the industry when she becomes pregnant and life becomes even more complex when a flight attendant (Marley Shelton) who finds the lyrics of the baby’s deceased rock star father asks for an unusual favor of Luxx as a finder’s fee. While the criminally underrated actress has demonstrated such versatility over the years, she and a cast that includes Adrianne Palicki, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Marley Shelton, among others, clearly relish the opportunity to show off a different side. With that in mind, I recently spoke to both sides of this creative team separately to talk about “Elektra Luxx,” why patience is not a virtue and breaking other rules.

Since you’ve collaborated with Sebastian so often, have you started getting involved in the creative process earlier?

Carla Gugino: It’s interesting because definitely I think there is a real collaboration. [Sebastian] is the vision behind all of these pieces and that’s something that I actually champion and love. There may be a story someday that I feel like maybe only I can tell, but at this point, I really love being an interpreter. I’m really amazed at people who come up with something out of nothing — writers. I find it to be an incredible talent. But what’s been really nice is because we have worked together so many times and have a real trust in each other, it’s always an exciting moment when hot off the presses, I get the next script of his. And he’s always really receptive.

Generally I’m the first person to read the ones that I’m in and it’s become an interesting process because I might say “Oh, is this clear? Is this not clear? Why don’t you explain this?” And he’ll say, “No, I didn’t do that because of this but that’s a good idea” – so it’s a nice, natural building upon each other. I also think it is wonderful to be a muse of someone who’s very talented and yet because I think we both have been doing this for so long and I love acting so much, it certainly has become a co-created affair.

03102011_ElektraLuxx2.jpgYou and Sebastian have made no secret of casting friends of yours in these films, but instead of being some indulgence, they’ve really shown off things in these actors that you haven’t had a chance to see. Has that been really gratifying?

CG: It’s really wonderful and that’s the thing is I’ve always felt from the start is I would never want a friend to recommend me for a job because I’m a friend, nor would I ever recommend a friend for a job because of that. But because we are surrounded by incredibly talented actors who I appreciate and love both so much as human beings and I love their work, the idea that we get to go and create together is just about as good as it gets.

Also, I think something worth noting is I think Sebastian is a perfectionist, as am I, and I think all the people involved in these movies have a very high standard for themselves. In that way, I think a lot of times when people think low-budget or a short shooting time, it’s this idea that it’s sort of haphazard and improvised and you’re grabbing the camera [when in actuality] these are actually really little condensed versions of a big movie that are shot with care, written with care, acted with care. That’s something that’s very exciting because young filmmakers can know that you can actually make a really good quality movie in a very brief period of time with very limited funds as long as you have the material, the actors and the director.

You can feel that, but at the same time, these films have also retained a kind of “tossed off” energy. Where does that come from?

CG: I think that comes out of a lack of pretense and a lack of preciousness because of the time. This particular kind of way of filming in terms of timeframe and structure really was started as just a fun experiment. And I think that’s the nature we always want to keep them — it’s never worth it if you don’t make a good movie. That’s obviously the reason to do it. But in the midst of it, the nature of it has been this great creative experience and experiment and I feel like if we can maintain that, that’s an important thing and you feel it.

03102011_ElektraLuxx3.jpgIn “Elektra Luxx,” you have a scene with your twin sister where you’re playing both parts, a musical number and plenty of other emotional highs and lows. Is it a challenge to keep the tone when you’re doing so many things?

CG: Yes, it is. It is. I think that’s also why people tend to want to separate things by genre and go, “Well, is this a musical or is this funny or is this serious?” One of the things we wanted to do with this while hearkening back to old screwball elements of 1940s when women were the box office draw and also a bit of a good ol’ fashioned sort of melodrama [was to have] those kinds of elements ultimately keep a heart to the film that’s very unencumbered, but stylistically be able to touch on a lot of different styles.

Everyone compliments Sebastian on how well he’s able to write women, and just like so many of those 1940s films you mentioned, it’s in the service of a character that’s been marginalized by society, updated here as a porn star. Have you found that to be an interesting thing to play?

CG: Yeah, a lot of judgment. It has been. And I was going to say also because I realized I kind of didn’t answer the question in terms of tone from a performance standpoint because yes, it is tricky because you’re dealing with a movie where it’s screwball enough that you’re accepting the fact she’s going to sleep with a guy [Timothy Olyphant] who’s the fiancé of this flight attendant [Marley Shelton] because she owes it to her. So there’s already an element of heightened reality to take into play. And you can justify it because she’s a pornstar, etc. But what was always very key was never did it become a caricature and I think that’s in reference to the pornstar question too, which is the fact that that’s her profession reflects itself in a couple of different ways, but mostly, she’s done everything for herself. She’s been on her own, she’s made a good living at this and she’s never actually been able to see herself through what might be her daughter’s eyes and when she sees that, she realizes she may have to make a change and what comes along with that. To me, that was the compelling notion of the movie.

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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.