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DID YOU READ

The critics’ gig.

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No review for you.
It’s April, and a little early to cast about for annual trends, but if last year was the year of the Box Office Slump, this year is well on its way to being the year in which the Critics Were Cast Out. 11 films so far, including two this past weekend, "The Benchwarmers" and "Phat Girlz," and it’s beginning to seem like what used to be the kiss (off) of death — not daring or bothering to offer advance screenings of a film for critics — apparently doesn’t matter much to anyone anymore, as few of the film in question are having much trouble finding decent box office biz, at least for the opening weekend. It’s like when you’re just out of college and being part of a threesome seemed all wacky and hip, but gradually you realize that you have less and less in common with Audience these days (and to be honest, you never got Studios to begin with) and then Audience and Studios are spending an awful lot of time together, and suddenly they’re talking about getting a one-bedroom together, just the two of them, and Audience hugs you and says "no hard feelings, we’ll totally all still hang out, right?" and wonders if maybe you should start dressing more your age.

And where is this metaphor going again? Ah, yes, to the Orlando Sentinel‘s Roger Moore, who, at his blog Frankly My Dear…, details how he was accidentally not uninvited to an advance screening of "The Benchwarmers," and who wrote a nasty review that was also the only one out there; it was carried by Knight-Ridder papers across the country. At which point Sony starts with the outcry:

And with the calls from Sony, come the lies. The review is "bogus," they tell one editor. "Unauthorized." That I "disguised" myself to get in (a roped-off row for "press" is not exactly incognito) to another. That KRT subscribing papers have to "pay" extra to run the review.

Incidentally, in his late review of "Phat Girlz" at the Boston Globe, Wesley Morris writes that:

When movie studios refuse to show films to the press before opening day, it usually means they stink. In the case of ”Phat Girlz," which wasn’t screened for critics, I’m convinced it’s because the studio didn’t see the movie.

This is a disarming and, in its own way, delightful vehicle for its star and executive producer, the comedian and actress Mo’Nique. Who could hate this movie?

Who knows? This could spawn a near-future era of antagonistic, espionage-based reviewing, in which critics sport fake mustaches and trench coats and creep into screenings of "Big Stan," only to be bounced back out onto the sidewalk in a tumble of tweed and brittle bones by sharp-eyed, ‘roided-out publicists: "Damn you, Sarris, we said WE’RE NOT SCREENING FOR CRITICS!"

In the LA Times, Mark Olsen interviews Phillip Lopate, who recently edited "American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now":

The question we’re sort of dancing around is this: Does film criticism matter?

If you’re a writer, as I am, you may feel it’s great to have this interesting, distinguished prose being generated. As a reader, I try to situate film criticism as a part of American letters.

I want to dodge your question by giving two answers. If film criticism no longer matters as much, I hope this anthology will be seen as a valuable tribute to what once mattered terrifically. If film criticism continues to matter, let it spur on future film critics.

Lopate will be at REDCAT in LA on Thursday, on a panel with Manohla Dargis, Richard Schickel and Kenneth Turan.

At RogerEbert.com, Lisa Nesselson of Variety responds to friend’s request for pithy advice for the would-be critic in a way that’s frank, funny but far from pithy.

In closing, I’d say the privilege of being a critic really kicks in when I get to write "the Variety review" of an important film and I feel like I really, truly, am the "right" person for the job. I’m enormously proud of my reviews of "Bowling for Columbine" and "Irreversible" (both written on tight deadlines in the pressure cooker of Cannes) and I’ve been told that my review of "Memento" has helped other people understand the film.

But I have colleagues who just crank out copy, figure one word is as good as another and everything they write will be glanced at at best and then discarded, so why knock yourself out? Variety always wants to know what’s "hot" (a word I would retire, if I had the power…). But why would anybody who aspires to make movies or act in them for the long haul ever want to be "hot?"

In his introduction to the debut issue of Undercurrent, the new magazine just launched by the International Federation of Film Critics, editor Chris Fujiwara writes that

Film criticism, at least in English, seems often in the position of
apologizing for its own existence, pretending to be something else, or
wishing it were something else. Undercurrent wants to be a place where
film criticism can dispense with alibis.

Honestly, while what we’ve looked over so far on the site is admirable, we don’t think this particular form of dense, academic-influenced criticism has ever been in danger — the small but impassioned crowd that would read a near shot-by-shot analysis of "The Wayward Cloud" isn’t going anywhere. It’s the great, more personal and more populist writing in papers that you come back to, week to week, that we do worry about.

+ The movie Sony re-HEALLY doesn’t want critics to see (Orlando Sentinel)
+ In ‘Phat Girlz,’ empowerment is entertaining (Boston Globe)
+ Sort of a critics’ revue (LA Times)
+ Advice to a Would-Be Film Critic (RogerEbert.com)
+ #1 4.2006 (Undercurrent)

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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.