The week’s critic wrangle: “The Promise,” “The Proposition,” and “Art School Confidential.”

Posted by on

Dong-Kun Jang and Cecilia Cheung.
+ "The Promise": We’d been forewarned about Armond White‘s review of Chen Kaige‘s pricey fantasy epic. But still!

With "The Promise," Chen Kaige joins cinema’s archetypal visionaries from Murnau to Kurosawa, Bertolucci to Boorman. He’s made an action movie rich with adult meaning and paradox—as when the Princess pauses and kisses the General, a kiss that gives orgasmic rest. Chen commits to genre refinement; he shows exactly what you need to see with no excess—but with sudden shifts where dreamlike events take on a realism of supernal clarity. "The Promise" is a corrective to the HK/Peter Jackson trend where action and speed are abused. Even more, it’s Chen’s pledge to preserve what makes movies great by visually revving-up our subconscious. As Kunlun, the liberated slave, is told: “To achieve real speed you must discover your heart’s desire.”

Ah, you’ve really lost us this time, Mr. White. We don’t even know where to begin. Also liking "The Promise," though not at the point of declaring Chen’s place in the canon, is New York‘s David Edelstein, who is unruffled by the film’s extreme dramatics and occasional cartoonishness: "Here, the animation suggests a kind of magical delirium that perfectly suits the emotions of these demigods and -goddesses, whose love gives them the capacity to alter their supposedly fixed destinies."

Less impressed is the New York Times’ A. O. Scott (‘eeey, Tony, welcome back!), who finds that the film "meanders and digresses, alternating moments of genuine loveliness with scenes of lumbering, not always well-executed artifice," but also suggests that it marks "at least a partial comeback for this gifted director." Roger Ebert complains that "the CGI work in this movie looks like it was done with a dial-up connection" and that

The characters are not people but collections of attributes, and isn’t it generally true that the more sensational an action scene, the less we care about the people in it? It’s as if the scene signals us that it’s about itself, and the characters are spectators just as we are.

And least fond of all is the Village Voice‘s Michael Atkinson, who congratulates the film for "resembling the Chinese cover art for a vintage Iron Butterfly album," and complains that

More ejaculatory effort has been expended on the knights’ Vegas-style ensembles than on a coherent narrative, and the upshot is a new-millennium wuxia pian that risks all its marbles on nonsensical style and none on storytelling.


Guy Pearce and Danny Huston.
+ "The Proposition": Many good things are being written about John Hillcoat‘s Nick Cave-scripted bleak Western. At the Voice, J. Hoberman calls it "a true anachronism and an authentic lone ranger…as
primal, savage, and downright miserablist as all but the greatest of
Hollywood’s terminal oat operas." That is a recommendation. The NY PressMatt Zoller Seitz echoes the sentiment: "This is not a film about westerns, but simply a western, one that revives the form for a couple of hours instead of embalming it." He also, interestingly, write that

[W]hile Hillcoat’s direction lacks Peckinpah’s splendidly restless energy, it achieves a feat that often eluded the master: It’s graphically violent, often horrendously so, yet it’s never, ever superficially exciting.

With certain exceptions, the violence of "The Proposition" often occurs below or beyond the frame line, or is glimpsed only fleetingly. Yet the before-and-after contrast, combined with reaction shots of horrified onlookers, tells you everything you needed to know. Hillcoat isn’t pretending to be repulsed by the evil men do to each other; he truly is repulsed. That revulsion makes "The Proposition" not just a powerful film, but an honest one.

At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis proclaims that "the cast of ‘The Proposition’ is reason enough to see the film," and is particularly impressed by Danny Huston ("There is something heavy and monumental about the way Mr. Huston takes up film space") and Ray Winstone ("Few actors register menace on screen as persuasively as Mr. Winstone, who here directs that menace inward, turning Stanley into one more victim of the land’s unrelenting violence.").

Liking the film, but not fully won over, is the New Yorker‘s Anthony Lane, who muses that "The Proposition" is "one of those movies—Antonioni’s ‘Red Desert’ being the most flagrant example—that spend so much time brimming with moral and political suggestion that they almost forget to tell us what’s actually going on." Still, he points out that "[a]lthough many viewers will not care for ‘The Proposition,’ with its fevered performances, it’s not a film that wants to be cared for; it wants to drive us into an enforced communion with the blood, the heatstroke, and the drought." Which is good, we suppose.


Max Minghella.
+ "Art School Confidential": Terry Zwigoff‘s fifth film bounces back from bad Sundance buzz to mixed reviews. At the New York Times, A.O. Scott thinks the film is "a dull and dyspeptic exercise in self-pity and hostility" that "grinds its gears, much as [main character Jerome] does, between defiant romanticism and nasty cynicism." He’s also not alone in criticizing the look of the film ("indifferent to the niceties of framing, lighting and narrative rhythm, as muddled and hectic as a student art project pulled off in a single, desperate, caffeine-fueled all-nighter"); at New York, David Edelstein calls the film an "eyesore" and "a curdled mess of self- and other-loathing."

At the Voice, J. Hoberman suggests that "Zwigoff can be as mean to his characters as Todd Solondz—the dramatized painting critiques (in which everyone gets an A) rival the idiocies of the creative-writing class in Solondz’s ‘Storytelling.’ But where Solondz is fastidious in his filmmaking, Zwigoff is indifferent—’Art School Confidential’ can be nearly avant-garde in its tone (deaf) shifts and spatial incoherence." Still, he finds that Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes achieve…something in their bleak assessments of artistic success and failure.

At LA Weekly, Scott Foundas is fond, pointing to a misanthropic rant from Jim Broadbent‘s embittered alcoholic as "the kind of moment of which Clowes and Zwigoff are masters, when we’re
not sure whether it hurts too much to laugh, or whether we laugh to
stave off the hurt." And of this week’s Reverse Shot Three at indieWIRE, Nick Pinterton is won over by the film’s cynicism ("it’s probably the most thoroughly cruel piece of work I’ve seen in recent memory") while Kristi Mitsuda and Leah Churner are disappointed.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

Posted by on

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.

Posted by on
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.

Posted by on
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.