DID YOU READ

Leave the Kids at Home: The Rebirth of Arthouse Animation

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Mickey Mouse first ripped off Buster Keaton to impress the kiddies in 1926’s “Steamboat Willie,” and it wasn’t long after that that Bugs, Elmer and the merrie melodymakers were sketching out more sophisticated yuks for little ones and adults alike. Nowadays animated films in the U.S. have largely devolved into cheap babysitters, too cloying for parental consumption. It’s a step in the right direction that the Hollywood machine has absorbed high-quality ‘toon houses like Pixar and Aardman Studios, but for every acclaimed “Finding Nemo” or “Wallace and Gromit,” three more strident “Madagascar” knock-offs have barreled down the pipeline. Is there any hope for grown-ups and older kids with refined tastes to appreciate the art of animation without a squealing farm/zoo/wildlife animal in sight?

You betcha, and the key word there is “art.” Finding life along the major festival circuit and even some noteworthy theatrical releases across the country, a fresh crop of animated features are demonstrating darker, more mature, and downright arthouse sensibilities. First, let’s not forget (even if its buzz has long waned) this past spring’s “A Scanner Darkly,” Richard Linklater’s lysergic, quite literate adaptation of sci-fi demigod Philip K. Dick’s paranoid drug-noir classic, which utilizes a rotoscoping technique to transform Keanu’s scruff and Winona’s breasts into vibrant surfaces with wiggly contours. That it barely left a box-office dent is probably attributed less to its queasy illustrations than to its high-brow plottings, an alienating no-no in the stupidity-embracing sociopolitical climate we seem to be living under. (Maybe part-time animator Mike Judge should make a movie about said idiocracy? Nah, that would never get released.)

Less bubbly but just as hyperstylized in its motion-capture renderings, Miramax’s gorgeous French import “Renaissance” opens this weekend in New York and L.A. Sold to its producers based on a four-minute screen test, director Christian Volckman’s cyberpunk conspiracy-thriller takes place in the labyrinthine sprawl of Paris, 2054, a daunting tech-tropolis as bleakly expressionistic as it is 19th-century retro. Critically speaking, neither its McGuffin-lite intrigue nor A-list voiceovers (led by Daniel 007 Craig) are half as fascinating as the film’s stencil-sharp palette and virtuosity, which manage to convey visual depth and human emotion with only the colors black, white and nary a delineating shade of grey. Forget about “Sin City” — this is what a two-tone Frank Miller graphic novel might actually look like transposed to the big screen.

It seems impossible to bring up inventive pixel-making without invoking the name Hayao Miyazaki, but the Japanese master was too busy building “Howl’s Moving Castle” to add his ink-and-cel genius to “Tales From Earthsea” (a/k/a “Gedo senki”), which premiered earlier this month at the Venice Film Festival. Still, Studio Ghibli lives on through the family line as Goro Miyazaki (Hayao’s eldest, mildly estranged son) makes the leap from a background in forestry and museum design (?) to helm his feature debut. Largely sourced from the third book in Ursula K. Le Guin’s popular fantasy series, this somber-faced parable of Japan’s youth culture chronicles a bloodstained prince’s journey through a realm of wizards, dragons and alt-medieval tropes. Rumors say that what this potentially G- or PG-rated fable lacks in capriciousness, it makes up for in family-friendly crossover appeal, so expect a celeb-redubbed American version to entirely negate it from this round-up in 2009. Oh yeah, that’s the soonest the film can play in the U.S., after the Sci-Fi Channel’s copyright on their own “Earthsea” series expires.

Coming ’round the bend next is the 44th New York Film Festival, whose notoriously snooty selection committee somehow found it in their elitist hearts to include the Japanimated “Paprika” in their programming schedule. Directed by the always-interesting Satoshi Kon (“Perfect Blue,” “Tokyo Godfathers”), this heady exploration of perception, memory and the controlling powers of the subconscious focuses on the titularly nicknamed female detective and an experimental device allowing shrinks to enter their patient’s dreamscapes. Those familiar with Kon’s past work (especially his crackerjack “Millennium Actress”) should expect shifting realities, identities and logic systems, but what’s to make of the baffling NYFF synopsis that describes it as a “head-on collision between Hello Kitty and Philip K. Dick?” Most will have to wait and see after fest reviews roll in over the next few weeks, or check it out for yourself when Sony Pictures shakes out its spices in early 2007.

Most decidedly not for kids of any age, Danish first-timer Anders Morgenthaler’s “Princess” is a sex-industry psychodrama that avoids the label “exploitation film” because it’s, um… actively against exploitation? A guilt-ridden priest returns home after his porn star sister dies of a drug overdose, then goes on a brutal crusade with his abused five-year-old niece to rid the world of all pornography involving his sibling’s likeness. Deeply distressing and yet deliriously entertaining, this anime-inspired commentary on the consumptive evils of commercial smut is a paradox of themes as well as form: though 80% of the film is animated, the remaining 20% consists of live-action flashbacks, and all 100% opened the prestigious Directors’ Fortnight program at Cannes this year. Can it be, two decades after “Akira” began America’s love affair with anime, that the medium is capable of intellectually and emotionally transcending its fanboy pegs? At the very least, Tartan will prove they’ve got a pair when “Princess” opens in U.S. theaters next year.

On a final related note, the most gonzo animated feature yet heard of has to be Joe Bum-jin’s “Aachi and Ssipak,” a futuristic South Korean comedy that takes place in a world powered by human poop and anally surveilled by a government that rewards everyone with addictive popsicles. No word yet on when this MTV-licensed insanity will be unleashed upon us, but the official recipe looks to be a mix of one part “Rugrats” (stay with me on this), two parts “Akira,” and cooked under a Ralph Bakshi glaze. Official site here, if you dare.

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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.