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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: The weatherman goes to three extremes, and “Paradise Now.”

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Michael Caine and Nicolas Cage.+ "The Weather Man": We know this isn’t kosher, but we loved/feared Gore Verbinski‘s "The Ring," more so than the Japanese original. We dunno if it was his intent, but Verbinski managed to make a horror movie so sparse and strange it was almost expressionist. Kept us up for days. He’s a very interesting, if scattered, commercial director (Remember when he sprayed fake tanner on Gene Hackman and had him pretend to be ethnic in "The Mexican"? What the hell was that?), one who jumped right in to the mainstream (see "Mousehunt") without splashing around in the indie…pond (it’s too early in the day to extend metaphors) first. Our point is, clearly he’s gotten the urge for an indie moment, and here we are. Nicolas Cage faces stylish mid-life angst.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Roger Ebert argues:

One of the trade papers calls it "one of the biggest downers to emerge from a major studio in recent memory — an overbearingly glum look at a Chicago celebrity combing through the emotional wreckage of his life." But surely that is a description of the movie, not a criticism of it. Must movies not be depressing? Must major studios not release them if they are? Another trade paper faults the movie for being released by Paramount, when it "probably should have been made by Paramount Classics. For this is a Sundance film gussied up with studio production values and big stars."

I find this reasoning baffling. Are major stars not allowed to appear in offbeat character studies? Is it wrong for a "Sundance film" to have "studio production values?"

He likes the film. Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek does too — to an extent. As she puts it: "[Y]ou don’t have to be a middle-aged man (or even just middle-aged, or a man) to sympathize with [Cage’s David] Spritz — although even just writing that phrase somehow, inexplicably, makes me want to kick him." She finds that the Spritz’s mid-life sad sackeries, while well done, get wearying very quickly. And both Slate‘s David Edelstein and the New York TimesManohla Dargis point out that "The Weather Man" is one in a long line of male existential crisis movies. It works for Edelstein (who calls it "a fine movie, beautifully acted, but it isn’t easy to love — or to watch") far more than it does for La Manohla, who bemoans that "the film’s most promising idea, which glimmers faintly only to be pusillanimously extinguished, is that David’s pursuit of the beautiful house and beautiful wife, to invoke an old Talking Heads song, has left him wondering how he got here."

 

Miriam Yeung.+ "Three…Extremes": The hipper and slightly more international of your two Halloween gorefest options opening today, both of which, as J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader points out, fall solidly under the banner of the nouveau exploitation film (our favorite "Saw II" quote goes to the LA Weekly‘s Christopher Orr, who muses that "’Saw II’ distinguishes itself from its forebear chiefly in the depth of its unpleasantness: It contains enough slashing, screaming, mutilating, bludgeoning, burning and bleeding to make the earlier film seem, in retrospect, like a drawing-room comedy. If there’s a ‘Saw III,’ it will doubtless feature nuns and orphans being slowly pushed through a hand-cranked meat grinder."). "Three…Extremes" is an anthology film, featuring a trinity of 30-40 minute shorts from two of the current big names in edgy Asian film (Japan’s Takashi Miike and Korea’s Park Chan-wook) and the less well-known, artier Hong Kong director Fruit Chan. As with all anthology films, the result is, by critical consensus, an uneven thing. Jones likes the Park segment, "Cut" (which, he points out, does have almost the same premise as "Saw II") so much he doesn’t even address the other two. Roger Ebert, who sees the film as horror for grown ups (finally), declares Miike’s "Box" the "most complex of all," though he also seems to like Chan’s "Dumplings," for all that he ponders how many people will walk out of the theater when the figure out the premise. Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice also hearts "Dumplings," which he says "may be the most viciously conceived piece of social satire the continent’s seen since ‘Tetsuo’"; he’s pleased with the film as a testament to the renewed strength of the short form film. And Dana Stevens at the New York Times, in a short review, sums the film up as a relatively tame sampler of Asian extreme cinema: she also prefers "Dumplings."

Our old NYAFF review is here; we’d advise you to see the film if only for "Dumplings," which also happens to have Chris Doyle as DP, making it something equally lovely and horrific, as well as dark, dark, dark. Here’s hoping Chan’s full-length version of "Dumplings" finds a US distributor soon, if it hasn’t already.

 

Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman.+ "Paradise Now": Hany Abu-Assad‘s suicide bomber opus is only opening in New York and L.A. today, so reviews are limited thus far (we’re painfully curious as to how the film will play). Good things as yet: J. Hoberman at the Village Voice calls it "[c]ontrived but chilling," liking it overall while acknowledging:

A Palestinian-Dutch-German- French co-pro, "Paradise Now" was also
workshopped at Sundance, and as has been pointed out, it has certain
Amerindie characteristics — including a carefully worked-out backstory
and a number of didactic scenes in which the action grinds to a halt to
allow for the expression of varied points of view.

It all works for the New York TimesStephen Holden, who says that "[p]olitics aside, the movie is a superior thriller whose shrewdly inserted plot twists and emotional wrinkles are calculated to put your heart in your throat and keep it there."

And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Armond White at the New York Press adores the film, calling it an emotional rich, complex, humanist work that is also intensely cinematic (he points out a segment in which the characters try to discuss their lives in terms of movie genres: "Is there a genre as boring as life?" asks the unhappy main character).

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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.