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“Griff the Invisible,” reviewed

“Griff the Invisible,” reviewed (photo)

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Pity the indie superhero. He can’t afford big special effects or a badass car or a personal trainer to help him get big muscles. As a result, the superhero of indie movies is almost always a variation on the same guy, one who’s a lot cheaper to portray on a budget: the crazy dude with no powers who transforms himself into a comic book character as an outward manifestation of some sort of internal distress. Either he’s royally depressed (James Gunn’s “Super”), or hallucinating thanks to an experimental medication (Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passamore’s “Special”) or he’s a guy like the titular hero of “Griff the Invisible” who is… well, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what Griff’s problem is. And that, in turn, is the movie’s biggest problem.

Just who is Griff (beyond the fact that he’s played by “True Blood” hunk Ryan Kwanten)? At work, he’s a mild-mannered guy who frequently gets picked on by the office bully and mocked by his cruel co-workers. At night he dons a black rubber costume and prowls his neighborhood, stopping muggings and carjackings. When Griff admires himself in the mirror, his suit looks sleek and shiny. When he’s sitting in a police station being interrogated by an unimpressed cop, it looks cobbled together from crap he bought at a craft store. In other words, a big chunk of Griff’s extracurricular activities are figments of his imagination. But just how much?

It’s never quite clear. And it’s never quite clear, either, what exactly is the root cause of Griff’s behavior. Is he an oddball or a guy with undiagnosed, high-functioning autism? Should we laugh at his antics or pity him? Maybe things are even more serious than that. Given the fact that “Griff the Invisible” is largely told from Griff’s warped perspective, and the fact that the horrible abuse he endures for weeks would be stopped immediately in any real workplace, you could argue that the entire film is actually the paranoid delusion of a schizophrenic.

Griff’s brother Tim (Patrick Brammall) is definitely worried about him; he’s watched Griff’s weird behavior lose him jobs in the past and now it seems to be happening again. But Tim’s new girlfriend Melody (Maeve Dermody) is a bit quirky herself — her hobbies include trying to walk through walls — and she takes a liking to Griff’s moonlighting/daydreaming. Even as Tim tries to get his brother to quit the superhero routine, Melody sends him even deeper into it. These scenes are played as heartwarming and unconventional love story. But consider them if Griff is actually schizophrenic. That makes Melody the worst kind of enabler. Instead of trying to get him treated, she pushes him deeper into psychosis. She spraypaints a jumpsuit and tells Griff it makes him invisible, then sends him off into a dark, abandoned warehouse to go fight crime. Even if Griff’s just a strange guy, that strikes me as reckless behavior. What if there were real criminals in there?

I’m all for ambiguity in films, but it doesn’t feel like writer/director Leon Ford left Griff and his underlying issues vague on purpose. It seems more like he didn’t want to burden his quirky romantic comedy about two oddballs in love with the full psychological ramifications of his characters’ actions. That’s understandable to a certain extent, but ground-level indie superhero movies depends entirely on their realistic texture. This particular “What if superheroes existed in the real world?” story doesn’t feel real at all.

Dermody has a lot of screen presence and she makes the best of her role as a nerd’s dreamgirl, i.e. the gorgeous woman who’s into science and comic books and is so socially awkward she can’t land a normal guy. Kwanten has a sympathetic face, and a few moving scenes near the end of the film; he’s surely got a future as a romantic leading man. I guess it’s a nice message for the misfits of the world — and I include myself in that group — to see someone with eccentricities celebrated onscreen instead of vilified or mocked. But what if Griff’s problems aren’t just eccentricities? What if this guy needs some help? I’m not a doctor, but to me the symptoms are anything but invisible.

“Griff the Invisible” opens in limited release on Friday. If you see it, we want to know what you think of it. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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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.