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The week’s critic wrangle: The shopping, the kissing, the class action lawsuit.

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Steve Martin and Claire Danes.+ "Shopgirl": Compare and contrast: A. O. Scott‘s rave ("[I]t’s true that none of [the characters] are perfect. From where I sit, though, the film they inhabit comes pretty close.") and Andrew O’Hehir‘s scathing tear-down ("[I]t’s basically a dreadful film that should never have been made.") (O’Hehir is on fire with the snark this week — see him slap down the admittedly ridiculous-looking "Stay" here). We admit, we’re startled by both — Anand Tucker‘s adaptation of Steve Martin‘s novella (in which Martin also stars) looked more than a little "Garden State" slick-whimsical-self-important to us (we haven’t seen it), but we’d never guess it to be the kind of thing that would lead someone like O’Hehir to muse "There’s so little sexual chemistry between the actors in this film that it seems like a kind of accomplishment. I’ve seen shows on C-SPAN that were hotter than this." Part of the disagreement here falls to the film’s treatment of the uneasy "kept-woman" aspect of the Martin-Claire Danes romance at its center: Scott sees it as something refreshing that adds complexity; O’Hehir’s just grossed out. Jessica Winter at the Village Voice falls somewhere in between on the film: she acknowledges that it’s a bit of a mess, but likes the strangeness of Danes’ character: "’Shopgirl’ is a strangely hybrid creature: a hollow store mannequin with a broken, beating heart."


Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr.+ "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang": Let’s let Roger Ebert take on the title here:

"All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun," as I so tirelessly
quote Jean-Luc Godard. Pauline Kael refined that insight after seeing a
movie poster in Italy which translated as "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." These
four words, she wrote "are perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of
the basic appeal of the movies. The appeal is what attracts us and
ultimately makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom
movies are more than this."

("[T]hat whirring sound is the critic rotating in her grave," J. Hoberman asides.) Despite building much excited advance buzz from its various festival jaunts, Shane Black‘s meta-meta directorial debut (and return to screenwriting after years off) isn’t thrilling anyone, though no one’s particularly put off either. A. O. Scott:

I could say that its syncopated editing, its switchback chronology, its fourth-wall-breaking voice-over narration and its hectic mixture of humor and violence represent a fresh and exciting twist on sturdy noir conventions. In fact, I would say just that – if it were 1995 and I were the kind of person whose mind had just been blown by the cinematic possibilities revealed in "Pulp Fiction."

"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" seems to be most interesting as a cultural document: both Hoberman and the New York PressMatt Zoller Seitz devote large chunks of their review to Black’s career to date: at age 22, he sold the screenplay to "Lethal Weapon," and went on to shape, for better or worse, the modern action movie. "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" is so meta that it seems to prompt Hoberman to barely touch on the film itself; he gets lost in what it means as a career reinvigorator, but does share that it’s "[e]ssentially a pumped-up screwball comedy with a big body count and a soupçon of gross-out." Seitz spends a lot more time on the many mechanisms of the film (which include a voiceover-as-screenplay-pitch from star Robert Downey Jr.), and finds that: 

The fourth-wall-breaking riffs (brilliantly executed by Downey, who has perfected a modern version of Bob Hope’s fast-talking coward/weasel character from the Road pictures) suggest that we’re going to see a mildly subversive commercial thriller that combines escapism with self-critique. But Black can’t or won’t deliver on that implied promise because his commercial instincts are too strong.



Charlize Theron.+ "North Country": Before we start: we found Niki Caro‘s "Whale Rider" to be a shamelessly manipulative bit of moviemaking that wasn’t content to tug on those heartstrings: it yanked. That said, it destroyed us; we wept like we were back in middle-school gym class. Caro seems to be making a career of wielding her filmmaking skills as a weapon, working in the confines of a certain type of formulaic and awards-friendly Hollywood film to make these unabashed feminist fables. Are we going to see "North Country"? Probably not. But we find it admirable.

On that note, compare and contrast: LA Weekly‘s Ella Taylor ("’North Country’ isn’t reductive either; it doesn’t divide neatly into beastly men and intrepid woman warriors, and [Charlize] Theron invests Josey’s growth from a downtrodden loser into a fighter with a delicate vulnerability; you understand there’s as much at stake in her fight with herself and her family as there is in her institutional battles.") and Slate‘s David Edelstein:

In interviews, Theron and her director, Niki Caro, have said that the original screenplay (by Michael Seitzman) was a little too black-and-white, and that they tried to introduce "shades of gray." I can only infer that said shades are moments when some of the men—after hissing the c-word and pushing over a Port-A-Potty with one of Josey’s co-workers (Michelle Monaghan) in it, who emerges screaming and sobbing and covered in liquid shit—are shown, for a second or two, with a look of shame. But those looks are fleeting. There is, after all, harassment to be done.

Roger Ebert (who, not to disrespect the man, seems to always and immediately cave for anything with a whiff of "prestige film" to it — his smaller reviews are far more interesting) hearts it; Manohla Dargis offers a measured review in which she acknowledges the film’s gritty heart as well as the problem of it’s quintessential movieness:

That the film works as well as it does, delivering a tough first hour only to disintegrate like a wet newspaper, testifies to the skill of the filmmakers as well as to the constraints brought on them by an industry that insists on slapping a pretty bow on even the foulest truth.

Jessica Winter is less impressed: the ending spoils it for her, and she, with plenty of advance warning, spoils it for anyone who cares to read, enraged by what leads up to a moment she’s not alone in comparing, not fondly, to "Spartacus."

And Armond (Arrrrr!) White goes for the full bile; this is this type of film he loves to hate (possibly even more than those irony-heavy productions beloved to his nemeses, the "hipster critics"). A sampling:

"Inspired" by a true story, Theron and director Niki Caro don’t have to follow rules of truth, fairness or art; they simply push post-feminist self-righteousness with crude storytelling techniques that only a fool would find persuasive. (Caro made the dreadful "Whale Rider," which dulled and infantilized the same feminist and ethnic issues that were powerfully realized in "Once Were Warriors.")…In all, this is the most infuriatingly unfair portrait of an American community since…"Monster."

Armond, we’ve missed you, you ol’ curmudgeon, you.



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.