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Tim Grierson on the Return of Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell

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When you think of Colin Farrell, what comes to mind? Do you picture the Hollywood heartthrob who’s constant tabloid fodder? Or do you remember the fine actor who’s done everything from “The New World” to “In Bruges”? The betting is that, for most people, it’s the former. Lately, Farrell is trying his best to make it the latter.

On Friday, Farrell stars in the remake of “Total Recall,” the latest film in the Irish actor’s years-long project to rehabilitate his image. For a guy who only recently turned 36, he has already experienced several significant career ups and downs in the 12 years since he came to the world’s attention in “Tigerland.” It’s hardly been a smooth road from there to here, but it sure hasn’t been dull.

Farrell made his Hollywood debut in 2000’s “Tigerland,” a nervy change of pace from director Joel Schumacher who at that point was best known for making blockbuster John Grisham and Batman movies. But “Tigerland” was a gritty, low-budget character piece about young men preparing to be shipped off to the Vietnam War, and it starred the unknown Farrell as the rebellious, antiwar Private Roland Bozz. The actor gave the movie an immediate weight and authenticity — he seemed like a star with real chops.

And thus began the first phase of Farrell’s career, that of a serious actor with movie-star looks. It’s entirely possible that he could have chosen to use that momentum as a springboard for thought-provoking roles, Oscar nominations and critics’ accolades. Instead, he quickly transitioned to more Hollywood films, which proved to be a very mixed bag for him. Usually, he was slotted as the up-and-comer next to the established pro (with Tom Cruise in “Minority Report,” with Al Pacino in “The Recruit”), but too often he was involved in dull studio action films like “S.W.A.T.” and “Daredevil,” the token “respected actor” added to the ensemble to give it a little more prestige. This period of Farrell’s career was capped by 2003’s “Phone Booth,” which found him reuniting with Schumacher for a nasty little thriller about a man forced to stay on the phone with an unseen sniper, lest he be killed. While “Phone Booth” wasn’t great, it suggested the kind of star presence Farrell had, even if it didn’t show off his acting skill to its fullest potential.

But by this point, audiences arguably knew Farrell better from his off-camera exploits than by anything he had done on film. He was linked to starlets like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. He had a problem with drugs and alcohol. And by all accounts, he was pretty miserable. “I had created an environment for myself, a way of living for myself which, on the outside, seemed incredibly gregarious and vivacious,” he later told interviewer Jonathan Ross. “I don’t believe I have any chemical predisposition towards depression, but let’s just say I was suffering from a spiritual malady for years and I indulged it.” If there was a low point, it might have been “Alexander,” the critically savaged 2004 Oliver Stone historical epic that Farrell spent more than a year filming. A few weeks after “Alexander’s” release, which was met with audience apathy, Farrell hosted “Saturday Night Live” for the first time, and in his opening monologue he joked about the film’s failure and then did a bit where he played into his persona as an arrogant womanizer who got by on his looks and accent. In the span of a few years, Farrell had gone from being viewed as a promising young star to being dismissed as a hopeless party boy.

If it became easy to write Farrell off, there were still signs that he had the goods as an actor. At the time, his turn in “The New World” was deemed by some a surprise: What was a lightweight like him doing anchoring a film by the great Terrence Malick? But it was a nuanced, grieving performance that gave the film’s central love story a soul. And even if “Miami Vice” was an overblown thriller, Farrell’s haunted cop helped cut through the macho bluster elsewhere. Very quietly, Farrell was honing his soulful side.

That came through even more gloriously in two films released in 2008. In the underrated Woody Allen drama “Cassandra’s Dream,” he plays a luckless London lad who can’t live with himself after he commits murder to help pay off his gambling debts. Showing none of the sharp swagger of his earlier roles, Farrell was touchingly, painfully vulnerable in “Cassandra’s Dream” — it felt like seeing him for the first time. Then came “In Bruges,” a tart crime comedy-thriller that once again featured Farrell as a would-be tough guy who simply doesn’t have the stomach for the dark side. (He plays a hitman who inadvertently kills a boy on his first job.) This newfound lack of cockiness didn’t make Farrell dull; rather, it revealed depths that something like “S.W.A.T.” simply didn’t. Critics warmed up to him again, and he won a Golden Globe for his “In Bruges” performance.

Since then, he’s bravely bounced from role to role, seemingly freed of the expectations of his early career. Also undoubtedly helpful, he got sober. (“You develop such f***ed-up attachments that you need to be confused and in pain and high to create art,” he said in 2010 by way of explaining his earlier bad-boy behavior.) Not all of those roles have been successful — he’s enjoyably game, if a bit one-note, as the jerk boss in “Horrible Bosses” — but you can forgive a few misfires for something as eloquent as his turn as the successful country sensation in “Crazy Heart.” For as much praise as Jeff Bridges received for that film — not to mention the Oscar — Farrell’s sweetness and casual confidence in the drama make it one of his very finest performances.

This brings us to this weekend’s “Total Recall,” where he’ll play the role that was originated by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990 film. (It’s hard to think of two more different actors, which is probably the point.) Despite all his ups and downs, Farrell has emerged as an actor who audiences are still willing to take seriously: a regular guy who’s got a bit of gravitas to him. But for Farrell, “Total Recall” also represents his most concerted attempt in the last few years to prove himself as a box office draw in his own right. Are moviegoers ready to see him that way? That remains to be seen, but considering where Farrell’s career was just a few years ago, it’s achievement enough that he’s come this far to even have that be a legitimate question.

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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.