DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: Walking the Line to Pluto.

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No new long review from us this week — our NYFF review of "Breakfast on Pluto" is here.

Mrs. and Mr. Oscar? Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix.+ "Walk the Line": The consensus seems to be that James Mangold‘s Johnny Cash biopic is good, but not great. There’s near universal acclaim for leads Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (David Denby at the New Yorker says "As I watched Phoenix sling his guitar around and gun it at the audience
in Cash’s shambling style, I couldn’t imagine anyone better suited to
play the role," while Ella Taylor at LA Weekly claims that Witherspoon "brings not just vivacity but a depth and breadth" to the role of June Carter), but not so much for the general direction of the film. David Edelstein at Slate feels that Mangold "gets the big things right," but has the typical biopic arc and gaps; David Denby just generally finds "Walk the Line" to be "a lot less interesting than
it might be": "Can the central lesson of Johnny Cash’s life really be that he was a loser until a good woman shamed him into growing up?" A.O. Scott compares the film to "Ray" (as does almost everyone else) and finds it lacking: "Mr. Hackford structured his
film around Ray Charles’s creative life, inviting us to understand how
he fused various elements of the American musical vernacular into a new
and distinctive sound. While Johnny Cash achieved something comparable,
Mr. Mangold’s film offers more tribute than insight." And Ella Taylor, while generally enjoying the film, finds there’s something a little too pat about the story.

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon, on the other hand, argues that "Walk the Line" may be conventional, but that "its conventionality is part of its power": "This is a democratic and accessible picture." And Roger Ebert of course raves about the film (though he stops short of giving it the full four stars), but says most interesting that he went into the film not knowing that Phoenix and Witherspoon were doing their own vocals:

Knowing Cash’s albums more or less by heart, I closed my eyes to focus on the soundtrack and decided that, yes, that was the voice of Johnny Cash I was listening to. The closing credits make it clear it’s Joaquin Phoenix doing the singing, and I was gob-smacked. Phoenix and Mangold can talk all they want about how it was as much a matter of getting in character, of delivering the songs, as it was a matter of voice technique, but whatever it was, it worked. Cash’s voice was "steady like a train, sharp like a razor," said June.

But the massive monetary prize for our favorite review of the week surely goes to the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman, who sounds epically world-weary as he describes "Walk the Line" as a perfectly functional, formula-following movie that leads him to the following prestige-pic-punch-drunk conclusion:

The fact is that neither "Walk the Line" nor the even more tedious "Ray" exerts nearly the fascination of last year’s "Beyond the Sea," an obviously bad movie about a limited performer of minor cultural significance and yet a weirdly compelling psychodrama, allowing director-star Kevin Spacey to match Bobby Darin‘s patented insincerity with his own. In no way obsessive, "Walk the Line" is more sincerely—which is to say, more boringly—sincere. It doesn’t leave you with much to think about, except maybe the empty vibrato of effective ventriloquism.

 

Cillian Murphy.+ "Breakfast on Pluto": What’s oddest about Neil Jordan‘s latest and possibly most bizarre film is the way that both Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir and the New York Times’ Stephen Holden seem to have talked themselves into liking it. We’re not trying to say that it’s impossible to give the film a good review, but Holden’s piece parrots the extensive press notes that came with the film a little closely, and O’Hehir sort of sidesteps much opinion on the film, simply using it to introduce a lengthy interview with Jordan.

It’s hard to blame them, though — who doesn’t carry a bit of a torch for Jordan? His films may be all over the place, but they’re never not interesting (well, with the possible exception of "High Spirits," which we’ve never seen but which looks truly awful), and he’s so dedicated to the mechanics of film — no seams showing, each film’s rawness seeping in slowly and where you least expect it.

Anyway, the New York PressMatt Zoller Seitz reluctantly calls the film a failure:

It’s all so wide-ranging and eccentric that I really wish it worked.
"Pluto" is the kind of movie that a great director’s fans will be tempted
to overrate. It touches on so many established Jordan elements
(ideologically driven violence, personal and physical transformation,
the hidden sensitivity of brutish men, the coexistence of polite and
impolite society and social outcasts’ instinctive tendency toward
fellowship) that it sometimes feels richer, more precise and more
complete than it really is.

(He also points out one of the great filmmaking truths: "In movies, when a character puts on an animal suit, it’s only a matter of time before he beats somebody up.") Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice is less hesitant in finding flaws:

"Breakfast on Pluto" may be Jordan’s wildest mis-shot yet, so dense with dying fizzle and limp ideas that I began to wonder if Jordan has an evil twin, or if there are in fact several Neil Jordans, among them at least one literate stylist and one humor-handicapped village idiot.

Alas.

Quote of the day: From La Manohla‘s "Harry Potter" review (emphasis ours):

[N]othing prepares you for the malevolent force that is Lord Voldemort and the brilliance of the actor playing him, Ralph Fiennes. Dressed in a flowing black robe that seems to float off his body rather than hang, Mr. Fiennes moves with lissome grace, his smooth white head bobbing like a cork on a sea, his fluttery hands and feet as pale and bright as beacons. For years, the movies have tried to transform this delicate beauty into a heartthrob, but as "Schindler’s List" proved, Mr. Fiennes is an actor for whom a walk on the darker side is not just a pleasure, but liberation. His Voldemort may be the greatest screen performance ever delivered without the benefit of a nose; certainly it’s a performance of sublime villainy.

At the very least, that should merit its own MTV Movie Award category.

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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.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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