DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: The king and queen.

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"Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea."
+ "The Last King of Scotland": Ah, we love the smell of award season on a Friday afternoon. Of Kevin Macdonald‘s portrait of Idi Amin: David Edelstein at New York writes that it is "phenomenally well directed," Stephanie Zacharek at Salon thinks that Macdonald, in what is his first feature, "seems to be in almost complete control of the material and its pacing." Slate‘s Dana Stevens is less ebullient: "’The Last King of Scotland’ is wrenching to sit through, but in the end, it doesn’t leave you with quite enough to think about"; LA Weekly‘s Ella Taylor suggests that "Working with fictional material seems to have unsettled Macdonald, for the action sequences feel hard-working and awkwardly derivative of Under Fire, Salvador and other superior thrillers about Westerners entangled in the legacy of imperialism."

Manohla Dargis, who calls the film "queasily enjoyable" and gives it an otherwise fairly good review, slips in that "the larger message here, one that might make you blanch after you nod, is that the misery of other people makes unsettling entertainment, no matter how pretty the pictures and valuable the players" (which is vaguely the reason we ended up passing on this one).

Reverse Shot‘s three, Michael Joshua Rowin, Keith Uhlich and Nicolas Rapold, are split; Rowin finds it a flawed film that grows into "a frantic, disorienting tragedy about the seduction of power." Uhlich and Rapold are awesomely dismissive ("Because the world needed a Tony Scott-ish remake of ‘The Constant Gardner’…" Uhlich begins).

But enough of all this discussion of the film — how’s that Forest Whitaker?

Edelstein: "Dwarfing all is Forest Whitaker, who finally gets to seize the space and show us how he can rage. His Amin is the most bloodcurdling kind of actor: a paranoiac with one eye on his audience and the power to give them the hook."

Lisa Schwarzbaum (EW): "I can’t think of a better actor to toggle between media-savvy jester and stone-cold killer than Forest Whitaker, who, even dressed in a kilt, conveys serious menace along with mania. A massively built man who projects the energy and nimbleness of someone daintier, he barrels through this story with great control masquerading as recklessness."

Zacharek: "This is a wonderful, horrifying performance: Whitaker doesn’t take the easy way out by playing Amin as a killer clown, a treacherous buffoon. Amin might have been crazy, but Whitaker — at the beginning of the movie, though not the end — teases out threads of believable sanity and charisma. This is how dictators get away with murder: by wielding personal charm like a mace."

David Denby (New Yorker): "Whitaker has done some surpassingly gentle and rueful work in the past, but for this role he has transformed himself—he’s either sprawled in a stupor or alarmingly mobile, throwing his big body around the room as if it weighed nothing. His laugh is enormous, and his arms are like grappling hooks. This dictator has a terrifying affability: like many sociopaths, he can be surprisingly empathic."

 

"Oh no, no one tells me anything."+ "The Queen": We had to miss the advance screening of Stephen Frears‘ film (which opens the New York Film Festival tonight), and then put up with everyone’s raves afterwards. Samplings:

J. Hoberman at the Village Voice: "Frears has never redeemed the early promise of ‘Bloody Kids,’ nor returned to the form of ‘My Beautiful Laundrette,’ nor made anything nearly as ambitious as ‘Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.’ Nevertheless, ‘The Queen’ is his career-capper—maybe even his knight’s move. Whether or not Tony Blair actually saved the British monarchy, Frears has made it seem so and even worth doing."

Dana Stevens at Slate: "Stephen Frears’ ‘The Queen,’ on the other hand, is a sheer delight to sit through and leaves you with a whole evening’s worth of impassioned conversation." (She also compairs the film to a Henry James novel.)

Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly: "[T]his engrossing and unexpectedly penetrating drama, with its truly fresh perspective on how response to the news of one dead princess recalibrated the relationship between the British monarchy and the masses, is more than just another pop entry in history’s ongoing Dianathon."

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times: "How heavy that crown and how very lightly Helen Mirren wears it as queen. With Mr. Frears’s gentle guidance, she delivers a performance remarkable in its art and lack of sentimentalism. Actors need to be loved, but one of Ms. Mirren’s strengths has always been her supreme self-confidence that we will love the performance no matter how unsympathetic the character. It takes guts to risk our antipathy, to invite us in with brilliant technique rather than bids for empathy."

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon:
"Mirren’s performance is glorious: Rather than impersonate the queen —
which would have been all too easy to do — she reaches deeper to
locate the buried, calcified thoughts and feelings that might guide
this deeply inscrutable woman."

David Edelstein at New York: "There’s something perverse—delightfully perverse—about a film in which the suspense is in whether a woman can bring herself to make a grudging statement of grief, and when she acquiesces, it’s not exactly a stand-up-and-cheer kind of climax… The catastrophe is a public-relations one, and what Elizabeth has to sell is her image. She has it coming, though: She was frightful to poor, unhinged Diana, the queen of modernity, of celebrity culture. The Queen is the most reverent irreverent comedy imaginable. Or maybe it’s the most irreverent reverent comedy. Either way, it’s a small masterpiece."

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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.