DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: “Marie,” “Running,” “Requiem” and “51 Birch Street.”

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"We are too young to reign."
+ "Marie Antoinette": It seems silly to label this film divisive — we liked it quite a bit, but we imagined responses to it would fall somewhere on a sliding scale of "Indifferent <——-> Enchanted." Then again, Sofia Coppola seems to inspire all the derision a girl auteur could ask for. On the yea side, we have:

A recovering Roger Ebert, who writes "Every criticism I have read of this film would alter is fragile magic and reduce its romantic and tragic poignancy to the level of an instructional film."

A.O. Scott at the New York Times, who calls the film "a thoroughly modern confection, blending insouciance and sophistication, heartfelt longing and self-conscious posing with the guileless self-assurance of a great pop song. What to do for pleasure? Go see this movie, for starters."

Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly notes that "it’s tempting to read autobiographical identification into the filmmaker’s madly chic, tauntingly shallow biopic," but that the film "is the work of a mature filmmaker who has identified and developed a new cinematic vocabulary to describe a new breed of post-postpostfeminist woman."

At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek thinks that the film "is Coppola’s silk-embroidered fantasy sampler of the inner life of a queen we can never really know: It’s a humanist comedy-drama decked out not in sackcloth but in ribbons — instead of flattering our ideas of our own virtuousness, it asks our sympathy for this doomed queen even as we can’t help envying her privilege." Of the film’s decadence, she goes on to suggest

Maybe it stems less from a girly love of glamour than a Catholic taste for pageantry and excess — a taste that her father and his fellow Italian-American filmmaking contemporaries, Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma, have all shown in their movies. The lush draperies and ornaments of Versailles are baldly ecclesiastical, perfectly fitting for rulers who were supposed to be guided by God. Why wouldn’t Coppola be attracted to that setting?

David Edelstein at New York (who offhandedly notes that Coppola’s "signature shot" is of "the strange new world viewed from behind her heroine’s tush") does draw the autobiographical parallels: "Having partied with the rich and hip, [Coppola] understands the pleasure in escapism, as well as the sense of alienation it can reinforce. In the film, as Marie Antoinette takes up gambling and gamboling—lawn parties with booze and drugs and sex—you can feel the desperation under her drive for pleasure." He chalks the film’s flaws up to its script; J. Hoberman at the Village Voice would blame them on the gravitas of the ending: "the filmmaker’s attempt to redeem her heroine’s shallowness reveals her own."

And the naysayers: Armond White (sigh) at the New York Press calls it "entertainment weakly, blatantly flaunting idiocy as art—to justify bourgeois indulgence at any cost." Then he accuses it of ripping of "A Knight’s Tale." Oof. Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly finds the autobiographical connections a negative thing: "this project seems to me inspired less by artistic urges than by the solipsistic desire to fold one of history’s most fascinating figures into Coppola’s own history as a poor little rich child of movie aristocracy." Dana Stevens at Slate‘s complaint is that it is "impossible to tell is what, if anything, this film has to say about its objects of desire, its subject herself, the waning years of the French aristocracy, or the present day." She takes issue with what Vanity Fair calls Coppola’s "unwitting" political stance:

It seems disingenuous to suggest that a movie about the fall of the
French monarchy could be anything but political. I don’t ask Coppola to
be unsympathetic to the young queen, or even to devote any screen time
to her arrest and decapitation. But just because the
film’s heroine has nothing to say about politics, revolutionary or
otherwise, doesn’t justify Coppola being similarly dumbstruck.

Finally, Anthony Lane at the New Yorker, who would never do something as gauche as getting his long knives out, jabs with a hat pin instead:

Coppola films Versailles with a flat acceptance, quickening at times into eager montage, and declares, in her notes on the film, that she sought to capture her heroine’s “inner experience.” Her what? This is like a manicurist claiming to capture the inner experience of your pinkie.

We have yet to read a review (our own included) that really expresses what we thought of this film, which we found inexpressibly hard to pin down. We’re no Coppola apologist, but we were surprised and a little put-off by the glee with which some of our colleagues have greeted negative reviews of the film rather off-putting. And yes, that is rich, coming from us. Perhaps we’re going through a holier-than-thou period.

 

"Are you ready to play 'Doctor'?"
+ "Running With Scissors": Mixed-to-bad for "Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy‘s adaptation of Augusten Burroughs‘ memoir. A. O. Scott at the New York Times anoints Annette Bening‘s performance as "a minor classic in the monstrous-movie-mom pantheon," and salutes the performances of others before adding that "the problem is that the efforts of the actors don’t add up to much more than a series of uncomfortable, funny-horrible vignettes in a scattered, shapeless movie." David Edelstein at New York
believes that the "director does gravitate toward the cute, but that’s
in keeping with the detachment of his source: The feelings of loss and
alienation are woven into the portrait of the time-into the
otherworldly fluorescent seventies fashions and sitcoms in which its
hero seeks escape." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon
likes the actors and the sympathy, but complains that "the movie’s
madcap mission to flash a beam of sunshine on every whacked-out flower
in Burroughs’ garden ends up feeling a bit too reductive… Too often
the movie veers dangerously close to that dread ‘They’re not crazy,
they’re special’ territory."

Less fond are Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, who calls the film "quite a feat of dullness," and Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly, who writes that

Murphy, creator of the far superior television series Nip/Tuck,
has an episodic sensibility far more suited to the small screen (this
is his first feature), and he appears to have gone through Burroughs’
memoir with a highlighter, culling bits of weirdness to hammer into
something resembling a narrative.

And Armond White at the New York Press proclaims that it "displays the worst elements of popular gay cinema," that "[n]othing in Running with Scissors is credible," and that it is "guaranteed Oscar bait: Every Bening scene is a mad scene."

 

Goodbye Emily Rose.
+ "Requiem": Hans-Christian Schmid‘s "Requiem" is based on the same true story that inspired "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," only, you know, sans that whole Scopes Trial/faith wins/horror thing. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon calls it "absolutely astonishing," "closer in spirit to Ingmar Bergman‘s ‘Through a Glass Darkly’ than to TV demonology." Jim Ridley at the Village Voice writes that star Sandra Hüller "invests Michaela’s terrified, possibly schizophrenic outbursts with unholy conviction" and Jeannette Catsoulis at the New York Times also cites "Hüller’s astonishingly physical performance."

Also tackling the film is this week’s Reverse Shot trio, actually a duo: Kristi Mitsuda marvels at the film’s "eloquent humanism," and concludes that the film "casts a vastly more complex and durable spell of disquiet," while Michael Koresky also drops an h-bomb (hyuck!), claiming that "’Requiem’ might not have been intended as an antidote to the culture of shock-horror exorcist flicks, but that’s exactly how it functions."

 

All about my mother (and father).
+ "51 Birch Street": Doug Block‘s documentary about his parent’s marriage (an unfair understatement of a description) opened in New York on Wednesday to plenty of praise. Samplings: A.O. Scott declares it "one of the most moving and fascinating documentaries I’ve seen this year":

Everyone in it seems so familiar that by the end you can’t quite believe that you have known them for less than 90 minutes. Mr. Block has put his parents’ life, and his own, into this film with such warmth and candor that it may take more than one viewing to recognize it as a work of art.

Ella Taylor writes that it is a "marvelous home movie…Open-minded, probing but never prurient, 51 Birch Street is much more than a portrait of suburban ennui. It’s a loving, painful map of the gulf between thought and word, between word and deed, that props up good marriages, and sends bad ones to hell." And, catching it at SXSW earlier this year, Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir called it "a sad, delightful and half-accidental movie."

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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.