“Down to the Bone,” “Hands Over the City”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Down to the Bone,” Hart Sharp Video]

As any goggle-eyed witness to Scorsese’s “The Departed” knows, Vera Farmiga — she played the police psychologist who improbably slept with both Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon — has a face that can haunt your dreams. We first saw her in the odious Richard Gere-Winona Ryder romance “Autumn in New York,” and Farmiga’s unusual aquiline visage, with its startling moon-blue cat eyes and a toothy smile that breaks like glass under pressure, made the rest of the film vanish from sight. She’s a formidable actress, too, as she proved last year in “Down to the Bone,” a raw indie in which she plays an upstate-New York supermarket cashier with a working-class husband, two kids, a small suburban house, and a jones for cocaine she thinks she can control. Farmiga’s Irene does, in fact, keep her habit under wraps most of the time — hunting for inebriation opportunities with her looming eyes even as she dresses her boys for trick-or-treating and cooks dinner. As the season gets colder, Irene gets more desperate — and then, surprisingly, and because she seems a little too smart to get lost in complete irresponsibility, checks into rehab (much to the chagrin of her co-snorting hubby).

Doper melodramas can be repetitious and dull, but Debra Granik’s movie stays so close to Farmiga you can hear her breath accelerate when cocaine is near. Irene’s plight is in any case far from a smooth ascent out of or descent toward junkiehood — in the 70s style, the film respects the struggle between clean sanity and polluted self-satisfaction, and comes as close as any film in its strange subgenre to suspending judgment. (If you had Irene’s dire low-rent life, you’d want to get high, too.) Farmiga is a show onto herself — and the suspense from here on in lies with what Hollywood will do with this brilliant, disconcertingly beautiful siren now that they have her. The new DVD comes with audio commentary by Granik and Farmiga, and Granik’s original 1997 short “Snake Feed.”

Another kind of clear-eyed essay on inequity, Francesco Rosi’s masterful 1963 “Hands Over the City” takes on an entire political system, Italian neorealist-style. A poison-pen rendition of a polluted urban bureaucracy, Rosi’s film comes off as a “Syriana” for the city of Naples, more interested in the textures of power and corruption than in individual psychology. It’s a tough kind of movie to make, and nobody has done it as well as Rosi — his “Salvatore Giuliano,” released the year before, chronicles the career of the titular Sicilian insurrectionist-cum-bandit without ever making him a character in the film. Instead, the sociopolitical hellfire erupting around him, from both sides of the law, is documented and dissected. “Hands Over the City” begins with a rampaging developer (Rod Steiger) hawking the city’s northern ghettos for profitable gentrification to Parliament members. Then, on the eve of an election, a building in the project collapses, killing two and crippling a child. (Rosi shoots this cataclysm in a breathless montage that leaves you wondering how the cameramen survived.)

From there, a tapestry of molten social conflict is crafted, as Leftist politicians insist on an investigation and attempt to head off the backroom collusion between Steiger’s all-business moneymen and the government’s “center” faction. There’s nothing dry or pedantic at work here — it’s feverish, vital drama with essential political morality at stake. (The Parliament sessions come close to blows.) Steiger’s presence may’ve sold the film in 1963, but he’s merely a single figure in an ensemble that sometimes seems to include all of Naples. The upshot is an expansive and tumultuous community portrait in which the lives and welfare of real people are decided by flabby, middle-aged men in expensive suits. (Rosi is not above cutting from the now-legless ghetto urchin on crutches to a rotund politician exercising on a rowing machine beside his built-in pool.) The film is fiction, but, Rosi tells us in an ending title, “The Context Is Real.” And universal, and timeless, he could have added. The Criterion supps include several new interviews with Rosi and several European film critics, and Rosi’s “Neapolitan Diary” (1992), a feature-length documentary about the city, the film and Rosi’s life making movies.

“Down to the Bone” (Hart Sharp Video) is available on DVD on October 31st; “Hands Over the City” (Criterion) went on sale October 24th.


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…


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.

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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?”


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.

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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.


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.