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“Arthur,” Reviewed

“Arthur,” Reviewed (photo)

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Want to know the difference between the two versions of “Arthur?” Just compare their first scenes. The 1981 original introduced Dudley Moore’s Arthur Bach cruising for hookers. The 2011 remake has Russell Brand’s Arthur dress up as Batman and crash an authentic “Batman Forever” Batmobile into Charging Bull and make fun of its testicles. I’m not a huge fan of the original “Arthur,” but as a film about a drunken, whoremongering hero, at least it took some chances. Moore’s Arthur was a lecherous sleaze. Brand’s Arthur is a cutesy cartoon goof.

So is his movie. Everything messy and ugly (and therefore interesting) about the old Arthur has been smoothed out in this shrewdly calculated remake. With those hints of darkness gone, Arthur becomes an overgrown boy with his toys, a lost innocent looking for the love and respect he’s never gotten from his distant mother. He doesn’t need a drink; he needs a hug. The changes make Arthur the character way more likable and “Arthur” the movie way less likable.

Here’s why. In both films we watch Arthur get drunk and act out, while his butler or nanny Hobson (John Gielgud in 1981, Helen Mirren in 2011) dryly mocks his antics. Moore’s Arthur was an asshole, so it was fun to watch him get put in his place. Brand’s Arthur is a sweeter soul, so Hobson’s insults come off as more mean-spirited. Moore’s Arthur drinks because he’s bored; Brand’s, although he doesn’t drink or act drunk nearly as often, is much more clearly an addict. Maybe it’s wasn’t exactly P.C. to have an impenitent lush as a protagonist, but it was certainly a whole lot edgier. This “Arthur” feels aimed at families and kids, right down to the title character’s love of children’s books.

Part of the problem may be Brand himself. His charm in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was rooted in the effortlessness of his performance. In “Arthur” he tries really hard to be funny, manically tossing out pratfall after dirty joke after crazy voice. A strained Russell Brand is not a funny Russell Brand, especially when he’s playing a guy like Arthur who’s three sheets to the wind and should probably be a bit more chill.

As before, Arthur’s story entails his efforts to resist an arranged marriage that will be financially advantageous for his wealthy family. Since refusing his assigned mate would mean forfeiting hundreds of millions of dollars, he’s initially willing to go along. But when he happens to meet an unlicensed New York City tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig) he has to decide whether he wants to spend the rest of his life with his money or his true love.

Despite the dangerous levels of quirk foisted upon her by the screenplay — she couldn’t be a licensed tour guide? — Gerwig provides an endearing note of cutesiness as Naomi. And she has some nice chemistry with Brand, who only seems to relax when he’s on screen with her. Together they share what’s easily this “Arthur”‘s best scene: a truly romantic first date inside an empty Grand Central Station. I’m not sure how a woman who’s supposedly as poor as Naomi affords such an expensive looking wardrobe, but whatever.

Her opposite number is Jennifer Garner, who narrowly beats Luis Guzmán for the title of Actor Whose Presence in This Movie Depresses Me The Most. As Susan, the woman Arthur’s mother has chosen for him, all she has to play is pure, comic book super-villain-level evil. There’s no suspense over Arthur and Susan’s relationship; of course he doesn’t want to marry a woman who treats their marriage like a hostile takeover. As anyone who’s ever watched “Alias” can tell you, Garner is capable of so much more than this. (For the record Guzmán plays Arthur’s chauffeur and he, too, deserves a lot better.) For her part, Mirren doesn’t add much to the role of Hobson that wasn’t already there in John Gielgud’s Oscar-winning performance, but at least she looks like she’s having some fun with the material.

One curiosity of the new “Arthur” is the expanded role of women in its title character’s life. In the original movie, Arthur’s marriage was arranged by his dad, and his faithful manservant was, well, a man. Now Arthur’s fate is determined by an unfeeling mother and the manipulative Susan, not to mention a gender-flipped Hobson. Suddenly Arthur has become this pure beacon of goodness trying to break free of the conniving, money-grubbing women who control his life. Which is a little strange.

Like I said, I’m no “Arthur” fanatic, so the changes made by director Jason Winer and writer Peter Baynham to Steve Gordon’s version don’t bug me as a fan; they bug me as a moviegoer. Aside from some screwy gender politics, the new “Arthur” is bland and tired. Without Gordon’s unconventional details, the material has aged as well as an uncorked bottle of champagne.



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.