DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on “The Hunger Games” and the rise of Hollywood’s next generation of stars

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What were you doing when you were 11? Probably dealing with grade school and possibly still playing with toys. What you probably weren’t doing, though, was being cast as the lead in a movie that a Hollywood studio was hoping would gross about a billion dollars. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid, but that’s what happened to Daniel Radcliffe when Warner Bros. picked him as their Harry Potter. Eight movies and $7.8 billion later, it’s very easy to overlook how incredibly risky that casting choice was: If Radcliffe hadn’t possessed the chops, a cash cow may never have materialized.

It’s funny to think how studios spend so much on their potential franchises — especially on effects and marketing — and even though these movies need good writers, directors, and technicians, in the end a lot of their success hinges on relatively new faces who have never really experienced the media attention this new role will bring them.

Jennifer Lawrence is the latest to face this challenge. Little-known before her breakout two years ago in the acclaimed indie “Winter’s Bone,” Lawrence has seen her profile rise considerably thanks to her subsequent role as Mystique in “X-Men: First Class.” But she was just one of many names in that “X-Men” prequel; for this weekend’s “The Hunger Games,” she’s the main attraction as Katniss Everdeen, the tough, beloved hero of Suzanne Collins’ insanely popular books. In comparison to Radcliffe, Lawrence is a seasoned pro — she’s been acting for seven years, and she’ll be 22 in August — but still Lionsgate is gambling that the world will envision this fresh-faced starlet as Katniss. If audiences don’t, that could seriously derail hopes of sequels and all the many millions of dollars they could generate.

But Lawrence isn’t the only actor whose rising stardom has dovetailed with her attachment to a major studio franchise. The same year that filmgoers were introduced to Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone,” they also discovered Andrew Garfield, who was in “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network.” (A few years earlier, he’d been dynamic in the little-seen British drama “Boy A,” playing a young man recently released from prison after a murder conviction.) But can this superb 28-year-old actor become a believable Peter Parker in this summer’s “The Amazing Spider-Man”? Sony had better hope so: He was their pick to star in the comic book reboot that the studio is betting will make people forget all about Tobey Maguire — even though it’s only been five years since Maguire appeared in “Spider-Man 3.” Garfield has proved his ability to play dark, complex characters in sophisticated dramas, but “The Amazing Spider-Man” (despite its brooding trailers to the contrary) is a big summer entertainment catering to as broad a mainstream, worldwide audience as possible, which requires a different sort of performance. Put it this way: Garfield never had to dress up in a costume at Comic-Con when he was promoting “The Social Network,” but he did just that for “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

While it’s unfair to put all the weight of a franchise’s success (or failure) on its star, it’s hard to forget that when an event movie doesn’t pan out commercially, its lead often takes the blame. Consider 2006’s “Superman Returns,” which was supposed to be up-and-coming actor Brandon Routh’s big breakthrough. Instead, when the movie “only” made $391 million worldwide, his career stalled badly, unfairly saddled with the baggage of somehow “ruining” Superman. Likewise, George Clooney may be much older than the other actors we’ve mentioned, but he had to rebound from the debacle of “Batman & Robin,” which threatened to derail his post-“ER” film career.

If Garfield has to contend with oversize commercial expectations, things are a little easier on Benjamin Walker. He’ll play the hero in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” one of the summer’s possible sleeper hits. Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is an action-horror movie that re-imagines our 16th president as a shadowy vampire-slaying machine. Though not as popular as the “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games” books, “Vampire Hunter” has its passionate cult fans, which makes Walker’s acting job somewhat unique. Playing one of America’s most famous figures, Walker (who previously appeared in “Flags of Our Fathers” and the Broadway musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”) has to seem both presidential and an ass-kicker. The entire movie looks like a kooky roll of the dice, and so Walker’s performance could be instrumental in holding the whole thing together — or, if it goes poorly, he could be the face of a badly misguided project.

For all these emerging talents, it’s surely a dream come true to become a superstar in a potential franchise. But there’s a lot of uncertainty attached. Ryan Reynolds had probably hoped that “Green Lantern” would catapult him to the upper echelon of action stars — that didn’t quite happen. So it’s not just enough to play the lead in a big studio film; it has to deliver, too. And when your career has just begun — like in the case of Lawrence or Garfield or Walker — there’s no guarantee there will be a safety net if your big movie tanks. It must be an exciting time for them, knowing that their acting future could be hanging in the balance, but it must also be incredibly stressful as well. By comparison, fighting to the death in the Hunger Games — or web-slinging through New York, or killing vampires — must seem like a breeze.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
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Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
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Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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