DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: A Spike Lee sublet? And “L’Enfant.”

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Our week’s review (it’s been a while). for "Stoned," is here.

"This ain't no bank robbery!"
+ "Inside Man"
: For while now, the mere flicker of Spike Lee‘s name across the opening scenes of a film has been enough to set people’s teeth on edge…so straightforward crime caper "Inside Man" might be Lee’s "Match Point" moment for the way most critics are calling it both great and completely lacking the bludgeoning sensibilities we’ve come to associate with Lee as a director. "Mr. Lee may have missed his calling (one of them, anyway) as a studio hire," muses Manohla Dargis at the New York Times,  who is not alone in calling the film his best in years, and who also lauds the performances of stars Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster, the film’s "holy trinity." Scott Foundas at the LA Weekly is even more impressed, gushing over the film as "a gripping, jugular entertainment that starts off wound-up and never winds down, and only much later do you realize the movie isn’t just playing the audience like a violin, it’s also saying something cunning about human nature and the price of success in the big city," and also claiming the film manages to form "a curious dialogue with Steven Spielberg‘s ‘Munich’" (okay, dammit, we’re intrigued). Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek loves Lee’s New York (as does Grady Hendrix at Slate) and Jodie Foster’s Madeleine White ("This is the best performance Foster has given in years").

At the New York Press, Matt Zoller Seitz outlines the tension felt be Lee’s attempt at splashing in the mainstream ("’Inside Man’ aims to sell out without selling out") but also likes the film despite the flaws he sees:

Some of Lee’s social tension seems shoehorned in, but the best of it plays like an earthbound answer to "Crash"‘s direct-from-1971 racist caterwauling—an accurate rendition of modern urban America’s infinite gradations of prejudice, and a true portrait of how such impulses get submerged and redirected so people can get ahead.

Others aren’t buying Lee as a commercial director, among them Roger Ebert (whose sanity, by the way, we’re seriously questioning after giving, hah!, three stars to "Ask the Dust"), who thinks the pacing’s off, the plot’s fishy, and Christopher Plummer unconvincing as a 90-year-old. Anthony Lane at the New Yorker has something (possibly spoilerish) to say of the subject of Plummer’s bank CEO Arthur Case too:

The document in question, as we learn early in the film, shows that Arthur Case had links with the Nazis. This cannot be true, for one reason: he is played by Christopher Plummer, and, excuse me, but Christopher Plummer does not make friends with Nazis. He sings at them! He plays guitar at them! In a daring, nun-assisted escape, he flees from them over the hills with an annoying child on his back! Come on.

Ha, ha…hah? The patron saint of all snark, Dorothy Parker, must be sloshing in her grave. Lane also argues that "Inside Man" is really "a study of racial abrasion" after all, while J. Hoberman at the Village Voice relishes Lee’s trademark "ethnic vaudeville," and salutes the film as an overlong, but successful, genre flick. And at New York, David Edelstein thinks the film both benefits from and is hampered by its leisurely pace.

 

Love in the time of social realism.
+ "L’Enfant"
: Our review of the film from those grand New York Film Festival days is here.

"To that small but intense percentage of moviegoers for whom all Belgian realism is a cause for joy, the arrival of ‘L’Enfant’ will be no less exciting than the birth of their own offspring." And then Anthony Lane launches into a rare bad (or, at least, not so great) review for a film that whose praises have been sung by an international choir of critics since it picked up the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year, which he acknowledges:

Viewers in Europe have swooned, it is said, at this movie’s painful
inching toward redemption. Against that, I have to report a slow drip
of disappointment.

Unrelated to the fact that we disagree with him on this one, how off is Anthony Lane this week? He’s never been the most insightful of critics, but he could usually be counted on to be his particular form of mild, British amusing. David Edelstein at New York is also not won over by the Dardenne brothers‘ latest, a story of a young homeless couple and their baby, which he calls "wholly predictable, alas," while also acknowledging there are many worth aspects to the film.

And then it’s all praise, some extremely breathless, from here on out, so we’re just going to pull quotes:

Ella Taylor at LA Weekly: "To call ‘L’Enfant’ a movie about growing up would be to trivialize its intention, as in every other movie by this indispensable duo, to bestow on its bruised souls what the writer Grace Paley sublimely calls ‘the open destiny of life.’"

Armond White at the New York Press: "The Dardennes’ storytelling is so highly conceptualized that their brilliant, politically conscious ideas don’t need show-off technique… Through plain, atmospheric camera work and Bruno and Sonia’s innocence, the Dardennes’ fully demonstrate that our morality (which is our politics) originates in how we value the life of others."

J. Hoberman at the Village Voice: "Above all, this is an action film—or, better, a transaction film. It’s not just that the Dardennes orchestrate an exciting motor scooter purse-snatching and a prolonged hot pursuit. ‘L’Enfant’ is an action film because every act that happens is shown to have a consequence."

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times: "[T]he Dardennes are not interested in passing judgment on a grievously flawed character; that’s why God and Hollywood were invented. Since there is no moral ambiguity in the act of selling another human being, there would be no point in such judgment, other than to indulge in some self-satisfied finger-wagging. Rather, what interests the Dardennes — what invests their work with such terrific urgency — is not only how Bruno became the kind of man who would sell a child as casually as a slab of beef, but also whether a man like this, having committed such a repellent offense, can find redemption."

James Crawford (who totally wins the ferventness medal) of Reverse Shot, at indieWIRE: "The way I feel about the Dardenne brothers is the way J. Hoberman praises Robert Bresson; to not understand them is to not understand the cinema. With their bleak, uncompromising, and astonishingly affecting dramas of marginal lives, they have thoroughly exploited the medium’s potential for laying bare real life (as fraught with complications as that notion might be). Godard‘s famous axiom that cinema is truth at 24 frames per second, seems to have been formulated with the Dardennes’ films in mind."

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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.