The week’s critic wrangle: Lives, souls and a nice chianti.

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I always feel like/Somebody's watching me.
+ "The Lives of Others": We’ve battled back a perverse urge to hate on Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck‘s debut more than it deserves solely because of the overwrought praise it’s being showered with ("overwrought" because we don’t agree, natch — otherwise it would be "well-deserved"). No less than Anthony Lane of the New Yorker, supreme ruler of the Review As Excuse For Witticisms of Varying Quality, is moved to sincere acclamation:

You might think that “The Lives of Others” is aimed solely at modern Germans—at all the Wieslers, the Dreymans, and the weeping Christa-Marias. A movie this strong, however, is never parochial, nor is it period drama. Es ist für uns. It’s for us.

On the other hand, Armond White at the New York Press…well, also likes it, finding it "surprising that a new German film would teach Americans about human faith at a time when acclaimed movies like Borat lack faith."

The forces of dissent are lead by Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, who writes that the film "gave me the creeps":

Donnersmarck is the sort of director who knows a good deal more about filmmaking technique and dramatic structure than about human behavior, and his impeccably well-made debut feature is the sort of movie that often gets wildly overpraised by audiences (including film-school grads, studio executives and some critics) who believe a good movie is one where the heroes and villains are clearly demarcated, every plant has a payoff, and the moral of the story is as obvious as skywriting.

Also less enthused: Fernando F. Croce at Slant, who finds that it’s "the director who ultimately clips the picture’s wings by insisting on a trite feeling of uplift that inexcusably oversimplifies a nation’s social struggle and grappling toward unification." Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE calls the film "fairly workmanlike," well made but clunky.

J. Hoberman at the Village Voice declares the film "a compelling thriller but an unsatisfying character drama.," faulting the "increasingly squishy humanism" that builds at it goes on. At New York, David Edelstein calls it "a cunning piece of construction—a Kafkaesque tearjerker, a tragic farce." He likes the film’s moral complexity, in that "[w]e fear for the freedom of the vulnerable couple, yet on some level it’s a kick to spy on them along with Wiesler—to listen in on mundane conversations in a culture in which there’s no sphere of privacy"; he does take issue with some of the heavier handed moments.

Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club dislikes von Donnersmarck’s "stolid" direction, but finds that the plot and performances are enough to warrant a "B."

And the rest is exaltation: A.O. Scott at the New York Times writes that

There is a bracing, old-fashioned quality to Mr. von Donnersmarck’s film, which supplies us with good guys to root for and villains to despise. But it also shows, with excruciating precision, the cruelty with which a totalitarian state can exploit the weakness and confusion of its citizens. And even as they are, to some extent, enacting a morality play, the actors also seem like real, vulnerable people forced into impossible choices.

Dana Stevens at Slate lauds "The Lives of Others" as "intricate, ambiguous and deeply satisfying movie," and concludes that "Von Donnersmarck’s film is set in a world where freedom isn’t an abstract concept to be taken for granted—it’s a distant promise that is enough to make bureaucrats in headphones weep." At Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum calls it "utterly riveting." And at Salon, Stephanie Zacharek writes that
"[t]his isn’t just a story about the oppressiveness of the GDR, but about the way even imperfect human beings can tune in to their best impulses, and make choices that will allow them to live with others, as well as themselves."


+ "The Decomposition Of The Soul": This 2002 documentary about the Stasi from Massimo Iannetta and Nina Toussaint opened in Film Forum this week as a nicely timed counterpart to von Donnersmarck’s film. Some make the claim that it’s the better film — Ed Gonzalez at Slant calls it "the first essential documentary of the new year," and writes that "unlike The Lives of Others, its study of social conditioning never veers toward cuteness." At the Village Voice, J. Hoberman calls the film "[m]ore tough-minded and even poetic," and notes that "The Decomposition of the Soul is a deliberately confining movie, but unlike The Lives of Others, it offers no closure."

At New York, David Edelstein also salutes the film as "poetic," but does add that, for better or worse, "there is something about the movie’s pacing—the silences, the drone of the narration (‘The name of your enemy is hope … ’)—that wears you down." Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE compares the film to 2003’s "S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine," as does Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. Rowin praises the filmmakers for their ability to "create a vivid, harrowing testimony from a bare minimum of visual evidence." Rabin points out that the film is "an intentional ordeal," and that it "bears powerful, uncompromising witness to man’s inhumanity to man, which is one of the most important things any documentary can do, though, it’s also one of the most grueling."

At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir suggests that the film "might be too slow and morbid for American viewers without an existing interest in the subject." And at the New York Times, Manohla Dargis goes further, writing that in comparison to "The Lives of Others," "The Decomposition Of The Soul" "is a tougher sell partly because it offers no palliatives, though partly because it’s a bore."


We hear 1999 was a good year for Tuscany.
+ "Hannibal Rising": Few of our go-to critics bothered to review Peter Webber‘s prequel addition to the Hannibal Lecter franchise, which is probably more telling than anything anyone could write. But a quick look: Jeannette Catsoulis at the New York Times sighs that "[a]lmost everyone involved seems deadened by the literalness of the material, especially [Gaspard] Ulliel, whose lanky, effete avenger may snack on the cheeks of his victims but never hardens into a genuine horror. He’s like Anthony Hopkins’s brain-damaged sibling." Scott Foundas at LA Weekly writes that "[b]y the end of two full hours, it’s only [writer Thomas] Harris’ head you long to see on a plate." And Jeremiah Kipp at Slant concludes that "This film exists to further the cash cow legacy of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and create a nifty deluxe DVD box set containing ‘Hannibal’s Legacy of Evil.’ One hopes there are better reasons for making films than this."


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.