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The week’s critic wrangle: Proof that the Corpse Thumbsucker is HellBent for Illumination.

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So. Many. Releases! If this is terse, don’t take it personally.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins+ "Proof": It’s possible this stodgy-looking Miramax play-adaptation was made just for Anthony Lane to review. He utterly enjoys himself with all kinds of silliness (he calls Anthony Hopkins‘ character "a math wizard of Dumbledore
proportions"). A particularly worthy selection:

Claire [Hope Davis] flies in from New York, where, unlike
Catherine [Gwyneth Paltrow], she has (boo!) a job, and (hiss!) a fiancé, and (avaunt
thee, Satan!) nice clothes. She despairs of her lank-haired, wonky
sibling, and they soon lock antlers over the vexed question of jojoba
conditioner. Claire can’t even get the patient to eat. "Have a banana,"
she says, becoming the first person to utter that line since Louis
said it to Mowgli in "The Jungle Book." Unlike King Louie,
however, Claire does not follow up her offer with a sprightly rendition
of "I Wanna Be Like You," although you can’t help praying that she
would. This movie needs all the swingers it can get.

Stephanie Zacharek and Dennis Lim both compare the film’s subject matter (math) to it’s creakily mechanical structure and plotting. Manohla Dargis takes issues with the main character: "A martyr to her own choices, Catherine…demands our pity, our attention, our indulgence, our love, while giving little in return but her narcissism."

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (sort of)+ "Corpse Bride": The clear critical hit of the week, Tim Burton‘s return to stop-motion animation is beloved by all. Stephanie Zacharek, Manohla Dargis and Michael Atkinson all find it variations of "exuberant" and "warm": Zacharek particularly gets teary-eyed over the film’s old-school craftsmanship and loveliness, while Dargis is pleased to see Burton’s return to gothy form ("it suggests, despite some recent evidence, that he is not yet ready to abandon his own dark kingdom") and Atkinson points out that, culturally, it’s an unexpected "humble slice of Old World folklore." Matt Zoller Seitz is also fond of the film, though less giddy: "I can’t hold up the movie as an example of Burton’s best."

Lou Pucci + "Thumbsucker": Jessica Winter:

Exiting a press screening a while back, however, I overheard an
otherwise mild-mannered audience member growl, "Another fucking
American suburban teen-angst film." Snip off the expletive and you’ve
got a perfectly fair nutshell of the endearing and well-acted "Thumbsucker," and you can throw in much of whatever’s left of the
Sundance-Amerindie project too ("The Chumscrubber" and "Me and You and
Everyone We Know"
also premiered this year at Park City).

Despite its overt Sundanciness, she’s fond of Mike Mills‘ debut, as is A. O. Scott, who finds it well acted and nicely restrained, a film that "manages to show how calamitous and out of control (and also how thrilling) growing up odd and ordinary can be, without wallowing in its hero’s occasional self-pity or condescending to him." David Edelstein, on the other hand, feels that Mills, despite drawing great performances out of his actors, kills most of the jokes that were in the novel the film’s based on.

Dylan Fergus+ "HellBent": This low-budget horror film about a group of young, hot, gay men who are stalked and slayed (preferably shirtless) by a menacing killer on the streets of West Hollywood claims to be "The first ever GAY Slasher film!!!", a point that we, while no experts, would debate, on the dubious merits of last year’s "Make a Wish," which seemed to play at every LGBT festival in the country, and centered around a woman who invites all of her exes (female) out for a camping trip, provoking much bickering, making out, and mysterious dying. Does that one not count? And is this such a debate-worthy claim to begin with? At this week’s Reverse Shot review trinity at indieWIRE, Michael Koresky points out that "serial killer films have been chockablock with homosexual psychotics from day one," but that "HellBent" is rare in its gay-friendliness, and ultimately good-natured fun. His fellow reviewers Brad Westcott and Suzanne Scott dub it "derivative, predictable, and well, just bad" and "disappointing," respectively. Laura Kern at the New York Times sees it more as a cultural artifact: it "widens the scope a bit by bringing gay cinema one step closer to the mainstream." Jorge Morales at the Village Voice is far from impressed: "I’ve seen spookier reruns of Paul Lynde as center square."

Elijah Wood and Eugene Hutz+ "Everything is Illuminated": One thing everyone can agree on: the music gets way old way fast. David Edelstein (who otherwise thinks the film shows some promise, but is too cutesy and falters at the end): "That lusty klezmer soundtrack made me smile for about half an hour—until I realized that it was ironing out the dissonances, killing the unease we ought to feel in this deceptively verdant landscape. Then I began to wish it were hunting season on klezmer bands." Michael Atkinson (who finds the film "serviceable"): [Director Liev] Schreiber relies
on relentless soundtrack oompah-pah to make the jokes seem like
jokes—until the sniffly climax." Stephanie Zacharek (who thinks that "Schreiber leaves the whimsy faucet dripping for far too long," but likes the last third of the film): "Schreiber overuses some particularly annoying Eastern European oompah music to signal us to the allegedly hilarious absurdity of certain narrative twists, not trusting us to find the humor in this story without musical signposts." A. O. Scott thinks the film spins its wheels a lot but never gets further than announcing its themes, and, less charitably, says that it "suggests that even the darkest page of history can be bathed in a glow of consoling, self-congratulatory sentiment." Hah! And Ella Taylor loved the book, loves the film.

Our own review is here: we actually walked out feeling relatively benign about the film, and disliked it more and more as we thought about it. Eugene Hutz is fabulous, though (there’s a little Q & A with him here on IFC News).



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.