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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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.