The week’s critic wrangle: “Babel,” “DoaP,” Herzog.

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+ "Babel": Swelling with importance or self-importance, Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s "Babel" arrives in theaters and divides the critics. Reoccurring thoughts: "Babel" is like "Crash," but better. The Japanese storyline is the most compelling. The connection of the Japanese storyline to the other two is a little thin. When you try to lay out the film’s larger meaning, it’s either elusive or a little silly.

One of the fondest of the film is Slate‘s Dana Stevens, who writes that "Babel has great expectations for itself: It wants to be a movie about big ideas and big emotions at the same time. Aided by gorgeous locations and classy trappings (cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, theme music by Gustavo Santaolalla), it succeeds for the most part." Scott Foundas at LA Weekly believes that the film is like "Crash" in that it "share[s] a similarly reductive view of human nature," but also writes that "Babel has an undeniable power, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s at its most contrived and implausible."

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott salutes the film’s power while allowing:

That the film possesses unusual aesthetic force strikes me as undeniable, but its power does not seem to be tethered to any coherent idea or narrative logic. You can feel it without ever quite believing it.

Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum is more skeptical:

Measured in anything other than biblical cubits, the sum of Babel’s many parts turns out to be a picture that suggests Americans ought to stay home and treat their nannies better.

At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir believes that Iñárritu is "one of the purest talents to emerge in this medium since Martin Scorsese," but notes ever so nicely of "Babel"’s striving for themes of connection and isolation:

[T]he risk that "Babel" takes, in laboriously and lovingly connecting the private tragedies of four families in four different countries, is turning that observation, which may be lovely as a momentary flash of insight, into a stoned college freshman’s profound theory about the universe. Tremendous resources have been expended here so that Cate Blanchett can lie on a dirt floor and moan, while we ponder why we can’t all get along, and whether we aren’t all the same under the skin.

David Denby at the New Yorker also writes of Iñárritu’s talents, but deplores the way "he abuses his audience with a humorless fatalism and a piling up of calamities that borders on the ludicrous."

Among the scornful: David Edelstein at New York, who sighs that "Tricky storytelling is an irritant when you can’t trust the storyteller." Jim Ridley at the Village Voice calls the film "Crash rewritten by Yoda"; he finds the film’s politicking heavy-handed, but concludes that "the sentiment is less galling than the narrative contortions that put it across."

And Armond (oh, Armond) White at the New York Press calls it "Crash for hipsters," and goes on to marvel that "It’s a weird sensation to watch an American-financed movie that condemns U.S. culture and the people who produced it, yet intends those same suckers to watch it."

And in summary:

A.O. Scott: "In the end ‘Babel,’ like that tower in the book of Genesis, is a grand wreck…" And David Denby: "’Babel’ is an infuriatingly well-made disaster."


+ "Death of a President": Armond White, being ever so quotable this week, believes that Gabriel Range‘s faux-documentary depicting the assassination of President Bush "may be the ugliest movie moment ever presented to a rational public." He’s the only one who manages to be perturbed about this film, which doesn’t seems to be generated nearly as much controversy as its distributors surely hoped after its Toronto debut.

Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader believes the film shouldn’t been labeled a mockumentary; he finds it engages the news format more than, perhaps, the documentary form, but that it also struggles to be a thriller: "[the film] wants to function as a mindless thriller that eventually makes us think — and only after the film is over question the form that encouraged us to be mindless. These are incompatible agendas, and in the end neither is fully successful."

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon would disagree; he finds the "the tone of mournful elegy [Range] strikes here is both convincing and — believe me, I’m shocked to be writing this — moving." Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman similarly thinks that "Death of a President begins as a disturbingly clever stunt but concludes as a contradiction, a political nightmare of haunting banality."

But for others, that banality precisely the problem. At the Village Voice, J. Hoberman labels the film "[d]ramatically inert but a minor techno-miracle," concluding that:

Death of a President is ultimately just an exercise. There’s a far more subversive political mock-umentary coming next week. I invite President Bush, Senator Clinton, and all politicians to get down with Borat.

And A.O. Scott at the New York Times writes that the film is "in the end, neither terribly outrageous nor especially heroic; it’s a thought experiment that traffics in received ideas."


The Andromedan.
+ "The Wild Blue Yonder"
: Getting a smidgen of a release is Werner Herzog‘s "science fiction fantasy," which features documentary footage mixed in with narration by Brad Dourif, playing a stranded alien. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon declares it "Not a major Herzog work or one that will draw a large audience, but a must-see for those who suspect (as I do) that he’s one of the greatest talents now working in this medium." The New York PressArmond White, on the other hand, thinks it is "one of his very best films" and that Herzog is the savior of the documentary.

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times believes the film "works better as an experience than it does conceptually," and adds that even when images are included for their own sake, "[t]here is pleasure in such useless beauty, of course, and pleasure too in drifting with the jellyfish amid the wild blue yonder of a great filmmaker’s imagination."

And Ed Halter at the Village Voice writes that "[t]hough occasionally striking, the footage doesn’t pack the evocative punch Herzog intends, and segments that should be lyrical mind trips only result in overstretched longueurs."


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.