This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


Pushing Richard Kelly’s Buttons

Pushing Richard Kelly’s Buttons (photo)

Posted by on

When “Donnie Darko,” writer-director Richard Kelly’s ominous sci-fi tale of teen angst, premiered at Sundance in 2001, its oddball ambitiousness was generally dismissed. When it was eventually picked up for distribution, it had a weak theatrical run, but grew into a massive cult hit on DVD, paving the way for a double-disc director’s cut and Kelly’s even bolder follow-up, “Southland Tales.” Similarly panned at its 2006 Cannes premiere, that pitch-black sociopolitical (and yes, sci-fi) satire about the end of the world was edited down, but still polarized critics and audiences, which proves that you can’t set out to make a cult classic — only the test of time has that power, meaning the film might still find new life in years to come.

In a fascinating career leap, Kelly has taken his penchant for logic-bending science fiction from Indiewood to the Big Show, as Warner Bros. has produced “The Box,” his enigmatic adaptation of Richard Matheson’s short story “Button, Button.” In Kelly’s 1976-set thriller, a NASA engineer (James Marsden) and his high-school teacher wife (Cameron Diaz) are financially strapped Virginia parents who have been gifted with a curious wood box, topped by a cherry-red button. Soon after, a man named Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) arrives unannounced, missing half his face due to a burn and some killer CGI, and imposes a moral dilemma on the couple: push the button, and they’ll earn a million dollars in cash, tax free. The catch, however, is that a complete stranger will also die as a consequence. Less than an hour after seeing this dizzying new film, I spoke with Kelly about his favorite movie of 2009, why most Philip K. Dick adaptations suck, and what I believe is his one criminal misdemeanor against cinema.

Come on, admit it. You’d push that button.

[laughs] Listen, it’s easy to be self-righteous and say, “Oh, I would never push it.” I look at it more from the logical point of view of a scientist. I’d see this little contraption and be like, “Okay, this thing has no technology in it. Whoever built it is playing a trick. If they want to give me a million bucks to come into my life, annoy me, and freak out my wife, I’m going to push it as an act of defiance, to call their bluff.” The violence isn’t on me unless this thing has some sort of computer chip that’s going to shut down someone’s pacemaker, you know? I’d push it out of curiosity.

It’s appropriate that this is a period piece. In this age of instant gratification, it seems like people are far more inclined to push a button for the sake of ease today.

Absolutely. Now we have all this technology that we didn’t have in 1976, the way computers and the internet have transformed our way of life. We’re so much more cynical today. That was one of the reasons why I couldn’t set the movie in present day. I didn’t want to have that scene where Norma goes onto the computer and Googles Arlington Steward. For half the movie, the characters would be sitting in front of laptops. That wasn’t really dramatic for me, and it made it implausible. It’s an absurd premise. Part of what I love is that it’s mischievous.

There’s a rug-pull in the film’s second half that’s far more otherworldly and ambiguously plotted than the naturalistic chain of events leading up to then. Were you ever concerned that mainstream audiences might find that maddening?

We tried to set the film up as science fiction. There’s a text crawl at the beginning that refers to NASA and the Mars project, and we tried to lay the groundwork. There’s discussion of the potential for intelligent life on another planets, so we planted the seed pretty clear to people. My hope is that audiences will take the ride, be intrigued by the mystery and try to put the pieces together. The magic in this movie, in reference to the Arthur C. Clarke quote about an advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic, that’s the button unit. This little contraption that appears to be just a piece of wood has some sort of magic attached to it. When you deconstruct the movie, it doesn’t work without that component.

11052009_thebox02.jpgYour father was a NASA engineer, your mother had a similar physical affliction to Diaz’s character, and you grew up in the area where the film takes place. What was most exciting about recreating the 1976 of your youth?

Obviously, my production designer Alexander Hammond and my set decorator Tracey Doyle deserve so much of the credit for reaching back into the past, not only in the home décor, but the laboratories, and what the communication scientific technology looked like then. Big mainframe computers that helped send the Viking to Mars. You know, your Blackberry has a hundred times more power in it nowadays then those computers had. I tried to put in a few sitcoms and programs on the TV, Johnny Carson and stuff, because this is a story that has its root in serialized science-fiction, where Richard Matheson got his start. It’s an old-fashioned film, and I wanted it to have that nod, like the slight absurdity of seeing a promo for “What’s Happening?” That’s a bit of an inside joke: it’s a question a lot of people ask while watching one of my movies.

I know you were born in 1975, but do you have any memories of that decade?

I barely remember the ’70s at all. I have a few memories of moving to my new house, but I think my cognitive memory switch didn’t get flipped on until 1981 or ’82. [laughs] It’s all kind of a blur.

Watch More

Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

Watch More

A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

Watch More

WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

Posted by on

Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

Watch More