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The week’s critic wrangle: Bewitching the Dead, Yes!

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Simon Abkarian and Joan Allen+ Yes: Despite our fears that many critics would think it was just hilarious to review Sally Potter‘s film in the rhyming iambic pentameter in which its written, only one ventures that far. And it’s Anthony Lane, of course:

You may get off on this enthralling stuff,

But after half an hour I’d had enough.

He actually does quite a good job of it, and seems to thoroughly enjoy pretending he’s the love child of Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde (now there’s a grand romantic pairing for you). Anyway, he doesn’t buy the verse gimmick, finds the film padded, and while he admires Joan Allen and the ambition behind the film, he ultimately finds it lacking. So does A. O. Scott: ""Yes" is not just a movie…it’s a poem. A bad poem."


He has many issues with the film, particularly with Potter’s high-minded attempts at commentary on the state of the post-9/11 world: "’Yes’ offers a case study in the moral complacency of the creative class, and its verbal cleverness cannot disguise the vacuous self-affirmation summed up in the title."

We suspect our personal preferences are seeping through here, so for the record, we do not care for the films of Ms. Potter. Perhaps we go so far as to loathe them and find them insufferably dull, humorless and agonizingly self-important. That being said, many did care for "Yes." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon finds that the film works despite itself, and is particularly impressed by Joan Allen’s apparently smokingly hot performance, though he finds the film falls apart at the end. Holly Willis at the LA Weekly is impressed by Potter’s use of verse to represent the social structures that prevent her characters from connecting:

He and She may quarrel, but their inchoate rage must find expression in verse. The result is at once frustrating and striking. We desperately
want them to connect, but they can’t step outside the codes that at once enable and debilitate them.

Laura Sinagra at the Village Voice finds "Yes" cautiously refreshing, and the week’s indieWIRE/Reverse Shot crew like it/love it, Jeannette Catsoulis with the lead review in particular finding Potter’s wide-ranging embedded political commentary impressive.

Eugene A. Clark+ "Land of the Dead": All hail the return of the zombie king. George A. Romero’s newest addition to the undead canon to which all aspire is getting praise all ’round (at least from the critics we care about).

Perhaps Sally Potter should take a leaf from Romero’s book (of the dead! bwahaha!). His film seems to offer more complex politically commentary than her overtly messagey one. La Manohla points out that:

With "Revenge of the Sith" and "Batman Begins," "Land of the Dead" makes the third studio release of the summer season to present an allegory, either naked or not, of our contemporary political landscape… One of the enormous pleasures of genre filmmaking is watching great directors push against form and predictability, as Mr. Romero does brilliantly in "Land of the Dead."

She notes that as Romero’s films have progressed, the dead seems to become more human, while the living seem less and less in touch with their humanity.

David Edelstein finds "Land" "more formulaic than its predecessors"; nevertheless, "The zombie with the flip-top noggin is an instant classic. And the sociopolitical subtext is good, too." Edelstein heralds each of Romero’s previous "Dead" films as classics in their own way, though the greatest remains, of course, 1968’s "Night of the Living Dead": "I saw it at age 12, and it didn’t just scare the living crap out of me, it turned my world inside out."

Roger Ebert attempts to understand the mechanisms of Romero’s world:

The most intriguing single shot…is a commercial for Fiddler’s Green, showing tanned and smiling residents,
dressed in elegant leisurewear, living the good life. The shot is intriguing for two reasons: (1) Why does
Fiddler’s Green need to advertise, when it is full and people are literally dying to get in? and (2) What is going through the minds of its residents, as they relax in luxury, sip drinks, shop in designer stores and live the good life? Don’t they know the world outside is one of unremitting conflict and misery?

Of course, that’s Romero’s point.

Nicole Kidman+ "Bewitched": Roger Ebert‘s the only one unfamiliar with Nora Ephron‘s source material, which is perhaps why he liked it the best ("tolerably entertaining", two and a half stars). We’ve seen maybe two or three episodes of the original show ourselves, so we were mildly surprised to see it declared and defended from various sides as a subversive somethingerother, though perhaps it looks better in comparison to this "reimagining." Anthony Lane, on the earlier televised incarnation, claims "You could read Samantha’s gifts as subversion in deep disguise or as a smiling gesture to the radical—just enough to leave the status quo refreshed," while Armond White sites the "legitimate antecedents" of the "witch longing for a normal life" genre.

Stephanie Zacharek declares that Nicole Kidman has proven she can rise about the most dismal of material, while her performance works for Manohla Dargis for a different reason:

Because the ethereally beautiful Ms. Kidman no longer resembles a real person, having been buffed to almost supernatural perfection in the way of most modern stars, casting her as a witch was inspired.

For David Edelstein, though, "she’s playing Meg Ryan—and even Meg Ryan has moved beyond playing Meg Ryan." He says the movie is at least not as bad as Ephron’s last few, while reminding us that he’s "grading on a curve that dips, at its lowest point, into the abyss." He is particularly put out by the use of R.E.M.’s anti-suicide song "Everybody Hurts" over a montage of Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell, um, hurting, but it’s Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice who should get final say on the musical montages here:

As always a fool for wealth porn, Ephron also jams her scenes with swatches and memorabilia from the old show—postmod!—and virtually every sequence change is an occasion for a song interlude. "Witchy Woman," "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead," Sinatra on "Witchcraft," the Police’s "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." I’m dying!

We’d twitch our nose and make it better if we could, darling.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.