DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: “All the King’s Men,” “The Science of Sleep.”

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Leer, Sean, leer!
+ "All the King’s Men": After being brutalized at its premiere in Toronto, Steven Zaillian star-packed adapation of Robert Penn Warren‘s novel (adapted once before in 1949) limps into theaters to thwacked around by the critics again. Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader complains that "the unfocused story is so bereft of any clear sense of period or location that the political melodrama sometimes seems to be taking place inside a cigar box." A.O. Scott at the New York Times states flatly that "[n]othing in the picture works," and goes on that "[i]t is rare to see a movie so prodigiously stuffed with fine actors, nearly every one of them grievously miscast." Ella Taylor places the fault at the feet of the director: "[I]f ever there was a wrong man for the job of committing to film this Democrat idealist and thug, it’s the fastidious Steven Zaillian, the brains behind the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, who also wrote and capably directed the intelligent 1993 chess drama Searching for Bobby Fischer." At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek would agree, though she also wonders at Sean Penn‘s starring role.

So what the hell does Sean Penn think he’s doing in Steven Zaillian’s bizarrely conceived re-slapdashtation of "All the King’s Men"? Both the performance and the movie around it are virtually incomprehensible. This is supposed to be a story about a charismatic and ambitious politician who earns the loyalty of the populace by telling it to them straight, and yet half the time we have no idea what Penn’s Willie Stark is going on about — or what Zaillian wants us to think about him.

In fact, that film seems to prompt such rhetorical questions: Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly asks "How could such dullness defeat the retelling, when Willie Stark is one of the most vivid characters in 20th-century American popular culture?" At the Village Voice, Michael Atkinson amusingly notes both that Penn’s "hick-Eraserhead hair [encourages] us to place this cracker politician somewhere between Penn’s special kid in I Am Sam and his obliviously narcissistic guitarist in Sweet and Lowdown," and that "As if the film had a ponderous-metaphor deficiency, Stark’s hollerin’-governor press conferences are staged like fascist rallies, on the nighttime capitol steps. (Not that symbology wasn’t available—the film was shot in a pre-Katrina Louisiana that appears to be virtually devoid of black people.)" And David Edelstein at New York writes that

Halfway through, the director, Steve Zaillian, cuts to Willie in different settings—a swamp, a park, a main street—to show how the candidate has taken his message to the road, and for some reason the composer, James Horner, scores the speech with elegiac, cradle-of-democracy strings that quiver and swell. By the time the sequence ended, I thought I’d seen five of the stupidest minutes in an American movie since Lady in the Water.

We’re not sensing an Oscar in your immediate future, Mr. Zaillian.

 

"Isn't life already in 3-D?"
+ "The Science of Sleep": Mostly good reviews on Michel Gondry‘s latest adventure, which we personally found a pale shadow of "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind." Others would disagree, directly, in the case of Andrew O’Hehir of Salon, who believes the film is be "a far more intimate and personal film than Gondry’s 2004 hit ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’" He does observe that "This movie walks a fine line, and it’s going to drive some viewers absolutely bats." Armond White at the New York Press is (somewhat surprisingly, given Gondry’s undeniable hipster status) fond of the film:

With childlike innocence, Gondry shows that Stephane needs to use his imagination in order to communicate and love. This goes beyond the boho solipsism in Andrew Bujalski films. Gondry reconnects moviegoers to the anxiety of socializing—the reasons we pine for a love of our own. I can’t think of another film that made the pain of relationships such a vivid daytime nightmare. Patient viewers will take Gondry’s movie to heart and keep it there, because its truth, though shamefaced, is revelatory.

At the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas also notes that "the soul of Gondry’s work, it seems to me, is neither its soaring flights of visual fancy nor its sometimes crude slapstick, but rather its pained understanding of a generation hopelessly tongue-tied when it comes to matters of the heart." J. Hoberman at the Village Voice, also a fan, writes that it "is an extraordinarily playful movie. The mood is borderline fey. But no less than its hero, the movie is too strange and even infantile to be whimsical." A. O. Scott at the New York Times has tempered his praise: "[W]hile “The Science of Sleep” may not, in the end, be terribly deep, it is undoubtedly — and deeply — refreshing."

At Slate, Dana Stevens likes Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s performance: "[E]ven with her hair uncombed, perpetually wearing the same raggedy sweater and horn-rimmed glasses, Stéphanie is the most believably desirable love object I’ve seen onscreen since, well, Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine. If she were my neighbor, I’d build a robotic felt pony for her, too."

On the less enchanted side of things is Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, who, after noting that Gondry wrote the screenplay, writes that he "reveals himself to be an incurable advocate for never-ending childhood. On cranky days, I’d call never-ending childhood a nightmare, but hey, it’s his party." At New York, David Edelstein find that ultimately

The hero emerges as just another jealous, overmothered, self-pitying asshole—a bad bet. Gondry must think that the movie’s dark, realistic, unresolved finish is a mark of his integrity. But in the great madcap love stories (among them Eternal Sunshine), the magic carpet flies over the abyss: You get a great view, but you don’t take the plunge. Gondry loses faith in his carpet—which is to say, his own artistry. He drops you like a stone.

At the New Yorker, Anthony Lane has similar thoughts: "’The Science of Sleep’ is a frantic and funny diversion, but it pales and tires before its time is up. It doesn’t know the meaning of enough." And this week’s Reverse Shot three, James Crawford, Kristi Mitsuda and Elbert Ventura, are mixed. Mitsuda likes the film, Crawford thinks that "Gondry perhaps needs Charlie Kaufman to bring his ethereal personality back down to earth," and Ventura finds genius in its end.

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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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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.

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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.