The week’s critic wrangle: “Jarhead,” “The Dying Gaul,” Greenwald takes on Wal-Mart.

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Jake Gyllenhaal, gas mask.+ "Jarhead": We’re back to that contention of Truffaut‘s that there’s no such thing as an anti-war film, a claim cited in several of this week’s reviews of Sam Mendes‘ adaptation of Anthony Swofford‘s Gulf War memoir. Swofford himself, as other reviewers (including the Chicago Reader‘s Jonathan Rosenbaum, from whom we swiped the following) point out, says the same thing in his book:

There is talk that many Vietnam films are antiwar, that the message is
war is inhumane and look what happens when you train young American men
to fight and kill, they turn their fighting and killing everywhere,
they ignore their targets and desecrate the entire country… But
actually, Vietnam films are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed
message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended.

What does this make Mendes’ film? According to the New York PressMatt Zoller Seitz (who has the most interesting review), "This is an epic meta-war movie, in which the
contemporary infantry soldier’s experience is viewed through the prism
of (and then judged against) all the war movies he has seen."

It’s also a disappointment (though not a total one) to almost everyone except Roger Ebert, who raves. For A.O. Scott at the New York Times, it "half succeeds," effectively portraying the surreality of the Marines daily routines out in the desert while never providing insight into the characters, a not-uncommon complaint: the New Yorker‘s David Denby complains that "even as we’re reading Tony’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) immediate emotions, the filmmakers don’t tell us what’s going on inside him," while David Edelstein at Slate say of Gyllenhaal’s performance: "He acts as if he knows he’s going to be supplying a voice-over to spell out what he’s thinking." Ultimately, by choosing an overly simplistic path refusing to deal with politics, the film is left, as Scott Foundas at the LA Weekly puts it, as "an impeccably well-made piece of Oscar bait that tells us almost nothing we haven’t heard before about the dejection and disillusionment of men in war."

Breakdown: How’s that Sam Mendes?

While it is not another lacquered, overpriced collectible in the manner of Mr. Mendes’s "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition," "Jarhead" is, in the end, similarly empty.     -A.O. Scott:

Although "Jarhead" is more visually accomplished and less empty than "American Beauty" or "Road to Perdition," it still feels oppressively hermetic.     –J. Hoberman

In pictures like "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition," Mendes doesn’t love his characters; he can barely contain his contempt for them. But in order to make movies, he needs characters, so he reluctantly works with what he’s got.     –Stephanie Zacharek

"American Beauty," his best movie, was shot in exquisitely designed jigsaw pieces that just barely fit together. "Road to Perdition" was almost decadently luscious—a glistening illustrated gangster saga—but dramatically ineffective. "Jarhead" isn’t luscious, but it has been designed for painterly effect.     -David Denby


Peter Sarsgaard, bathtub.+ "The Dying Gaul": Whatever they think of Craig Lucas‘ directorial debut, pretty much everyone hates the ending. Considering that "The Dying Gaul" was a big buzz film at Sundance this year, it’s petering out to some pretty mixed reviews. On the pro side is the New York TimesStephen Holden, who calls it "a boldly expressionistic, proudly theatrical film," Roger Ebert, who, despite what he sees as a fatal turn in the film about half-way through, gives it two and a half stars, and Kristi Mitsuda, Michael Joshua Rowin and Michael Koresky at indieWIRE, who are each varying degrees of impressed by it.

The Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman and LA Weekly‘s Scott Foundas are less than swept up — Hoberman calls the film "entertaining if cornball," which we suspect is not the effect Lucas was going for, while Foundas sums up the mind games played between the three main characters as

hilarity ensues — well, not exactly, though there are moments,
particularly during "The Dying Gaul"’s histrionic third act, when
playwright Craig Lucas’ directorial debut stops teetering on the edge
of unintended comedy and plunges right in.

Of our beloved Peter Sarsgaard, Stephen Holden says that he "gives the riskiest screen performance of his career" here, while Armond White at the New York Press is not so kind:

Sarsgaard now joins that ever-growing list of actors you can’t trust
who’ll do anything. In films like this and "Jarhead," Sarsgaard trashes
his talent in unreliable fabrications of life experience, almost
canceling out his previous credible gay characterizations in "The Salton
and "K-19: The Widowmaker." Like Charlize Theron and Philip Seymour
, he’s in the Showoff Phonies Club.

White hates this film: it’s his current Worst Movie of the Year, but we’re sure, given time, he’ll find plenty of others at which to direct his disgust. It’s barely the beginning of awards season, after all.


Menomonee Falls, WI.+ "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price": It’s no "Uncovered" or "Outfoxed" — by early accounts, Robert Greenwald‘s latest on-the-cheap muckraker doc (which opens in theaters in New York and LA today, while also being offered on DVD through the film’s website) is much better, at very least in terms of journalistic responsibility, because, Andrew O’Hehir over at Salon puts it:

The target is more elusive,
arguably more dangerous and definitely less well-understood, so
Greenwald and his team have had to dig deeper and weave together many
different strands of research and reporting. Knowledgeable critics of
the Bush administration or Fox News are relatively easy to find.
Whistle-blowers who know about the inside workings of Wal-Mart are few
and far between, and this film will make you appreciate their courage
and convictions.

Both O’Hehir and the New York TimesAnita Gates are devastated by the doc, which encompasses all levels of the megastore’s evils, from racist and sexist treatment of employees, to intentionally unaffordable health care, to sweatshops in China and Indonesia, to dangerous parking lots. Gates cheerily closes with:

But it’s impossible not to remember what happened with Michael Moore’s "Fahrenheit 9/11": it outraged many Americans, made White House decisions look ridiculously dishonest and/or inept, and President Bush was re-elected anyway.


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.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.