DID YOU READ

Maggie Cheung Unbeautifies for “Clean”

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By Andrea Meyer

IFC News

Close your eyes and picture Maggie Cheung. Are you envisioning the impeccable beauty of “In the Mood for Love,” lithe body tucked into an elegant cheongsam and emotions bottled up somewhere deep inside? The ruthless killer soaring above swaying yellow trees, sword poised, face placid, in “Hero”? Or perhaps “Irma Vep”‘s catlike Hong Kong star-slash-burglar in black leaping from one Parisian rooftop to the next? Time and again Cheung is flawlessly lovely, emotionally refined — even when vulnerable and jilted as in “Days of Being Wild” — the epitome of grace. Until now.

For “Clean” (in theaters April 28), the Hong Kong actress who has appeared in 80-some-odd films, paired up again with “Irma Vep” director Olivier Assayas — whom Cheung married and divorced since their last collaboration — to play a sallow, frizzy-haired ex-con with a drug habit and a penchant for disaster. And Cheung loved every minute of it. “It was great,” she says of the experience. “Of course it’s great to be beautiful in a movie… but if you don’t have a break, when you can just go in your jeans and no hair and makeup… I’m just wasting my life. You don’t need to prove you’re beautiful again and again and again. It’s like you have two films [where] you’re beautiful and then I would prefer to prove I can act.”

“Clean” gave Cheung that opportunity. She plays Emily, a strung-out emotional wreck who has nothing to live for except the son she dumped with her in-laws while living in a rock ‘n’ roll haze, desperately clinging to the dregs of her musician husband’s washed up career. When he dies of an overdose in a seedy motel room and Emily gets tossed into prison for possession, she is faced with an opportunity to try to kick the drugs, the methadone, the reckless refusal to lead a normal life, in order to become a woman suitable of raising the son her in-laws won’t let her touch unless she cleans up.

“The part is so much like me, except for the drug elements, so I really felt there’s not much designing to do,” Cheung says of the role that won her the prestigious award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival. “It’s ironic because this is the film I was laziest on, but I got the biggest outcome from it… I wasn’t lazy on the set, but after I finished reading the script the first time, I decided I know what it is, I’m gonna put it away. I thought you have to be very spontaneous.”

Assayas’ directing style leant itself the freewheeling performance that Cheung craved. She says if Wong Kar-Wai, the director of such achingly gorgeous films as “In the Mood for Love” and “Days of Being Wild,” makes movies with the breathtaking precision of a Monet, painstakingly leading his actors through meticulous take after meticulous take (after meticulous take…), Assayas is more like Jackson Pollock, splattering actors and emotions liberally all over a bare canvas. “I was just doing whatever I wanted and the camera would move with me. I was totally free,” Cheung says. “Olivier would say to the cameraman, ‘I don’t want her to have any limits. I just want her to move and you follow her. Whatever she needs to do in this shot, we’ll catch it,’ whereas Kar-Wai’s set would be like, ‘Okay, three steps forward, turn around and then walk five more steps and your head faces left but your body more to the right and then that’s the perfect light where you say your first line.'”

While Cheung says her career would not be complete without both directors and their opposing styles, right now she hopes to get a crack at more films in the more realistic style of “Clean.” “You just build it all up inside and you go do it with no reservation, with nothing you have to care about except that emotion,” she said. “It’s just so nice for an actor who wants to really act. I think doing more realistic films, I get the real joy of being an actress.”

With help from Assayas and the rest of his talented cast, including a somber Nick Nolte as her father-in-law, Cheung has created the rare recovery film that is raw and never cloying. There is no 12-step circle for reluctant breakthroughs to take place, no seductive former friend trying to make her do lines, not even a wrenching scene of sweats and puking as the imprisoned junkie cold turkeys out her poison. “Olivier hates dramatic scenes,” she says. “Every time we’d see a Hollywood film and there was a calculated moment — oh,we all need to cry now — Olivier would sigh, roll his eyes, shaking and sighing and I’d be like, ‘It’s so sad.’ He really avoids all the cliché dramas in any of his films.”

Another unexpected perk of the movie is the attention Cheung has received for her singing. In the film, Emily has the opportunity to record a couple of songs, and Cheung did the singing herself. “Since then record companies have been approaching me and I’m on the verge of thinking, hmm, should I make an album or not?” While she has recorded one song before, with Tony Leung for the soundtrack of “In the Mood for Love,” she’s never thought of herself as a professional musician. “In Hong Kong, most actors do both,” she says. “All my fellow actors have had an album, at least one, except for me. It’s something people thought I would never do, so because of that, I might do it.”

If “Clean” has brought Cheung unexpected creative challenges and professional opportunities, the pleasure of starring in a Wong Kar-Wai film is something else entirely. “I enjoy watching ‘In the Mood for Love,’ but it’s not something you can do everyday,” she says, recalling the great director’s perfectionism. “‘Can you have your face angled this way because the light is coming through there and this shadow is great.’ I’m so glad to have ‘In the Mood for Love’ on my list until I’m 60 or 70, but if you say tomorrow, come to the set and do another 16 months of ‘In the Mood for Love,’ this is a big decision to make. It’s heavy everyday. You think, oh shit, I have a spot! Whereas in ‘Clean,’ it doesn’t matter. It’s like, ‘Add more [dark under-eye] circles! That’s what we want.”

“Clean” is now playing in New York.

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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.