DID YOU READ

NYFF: “Volver.”

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"It was a windy day."
Can we finally dispense with the popular proclamation that Pedro Almodóvar is the great director of women? The almost entirely female slew of characters in "Volver" are gorgeously photographed (Penélope Cruz has never look better) — the camera’s loving, lust-free gaze lingers on their ankles, plunging necklines and possibly prosthetic rears. They are vulnerable but resourceful, they are fierce and loving in their friendships and familial relationships, they greet each other with an amplified buss on each cheek, and their sweeping, unarticulated sisterhood hovers beyond the detection of men, who in the film exist only to admire from afar or wound up close. They are so not real.

This is beyond the director’s standard adulation of women; this is mythologizing a concept of femininity constructed from idealized maternal memories, Douglas Sirk, Sophia Loren and a touch of camp. That’s not so much a criticism (though it does chafe a bit) as an observation; "Volver" is more indulgent and inward-looking than it first appears, a journey into Almodóvarian fantasyland.

The film is possibly his least challenging. It is a pleasure to watch, as warm and comforting as its fanciful narrative concept, that one’s mother could return from the grave to provide solace and support when it is most needed. Cruz’s character, Raimunda, is the film’s luminous, suffering center, supporting her drunk layabout husband and her teenage daughter Paula by working several jobs, and sometimes driving back to the village in which she grew up to check in on and fret over her senile aunt, who seems to be doing mystifyingly well living by herself. When her husband makes a (not so incestuous, we soon learn) move on Paula and the girl unintentionally kills him in self-defense, Raimunda hides the body in the freezer of nearby recently closed restaurant. In doing so she serendipitously stumbles upon a new source of income — providing meals for a film crew shooting in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, her sister Sole returns from a funeral in the village to find a stowaway in her trunk — her mother Irene, who supposedly died in a fire five years ago, and who’s played by the marvelous, mischievous-eyed Carmen Maura. Hijinks ensue — Irene finds ways to hide from Raimunda, not yet ready to confront her; Raimunda disposes of the body with the help of the requisite cheery local prostitute; family secrets emerge.

We’ve never been particular devotees of Almodóvar, but if we sound a bit hostile in writing about "Volver," it’s not because it’s a bad film. It’s just too easy. We don’t begrudge his longing to return to a more naive mode of filmmaking, but here it feels like he’s coasting through familiar territory, and there are scattered moments of greatness that are frustrating reminders of what he’s done in the past. We seem to be in the critical minority with this one — there is no denying that the film is imminently watchable, if not so memorable.

Screens at Alice Tully Hall on October 7 and 8; opens in New York and L.A. on November 3rd.

+ "Volver" (NYFF)
+ "Volver" (Sony Pictures Classics)

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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.