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The week’s critic wrangle: “Offside,” “The Page Turner,” “First Snow.”

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Sima Mobarak-Shahi.
+ "Offside": Jafar Panahi may be Iranian cinema’s most accessible filmmaker, and "Offside," a comedy about a group of girls who are caught attempting to disguise themselves and sneak in to a Bahrain-Iran World Cup qualifier match (women are banned from the stadium) is both entertaining and politically acrid (our New York Film Festival review of the film is here). At indieWIRE, Michael Koresky compares the film to another dealing with Iran (well, Persia) that’s currently in theaters:

[N]ot only does "Offside"’s very contemporary look at Iranian youth culture act as a nuanced corrective to Zack Snyder‘s conveniently "unintentional" Iran invasion propaganda (known before the mid-Thirties as, you guessed it, Persia) but also both films are literal calls to action — "Offside" for young women to assert their independence in a hideously patriarchal society that’s ever so slowly evolving due to burgeoning youth activism; "300" for Americans to stomp, slice, and hack their way through anything, or anybody, of a different color.

Meanwhile, Andrew O’Hehir at Salon notes that while Panahi’s films have almost all been banned from theaters in Iran, he had trouble getting a visa to come the US to promote the film either: "I am shocked, shocked, to report that when it comes to genuine questions of liberty, the Bush administration and the Iranian mullahs are on the same side."

Of the film itself, "Offside confounds expectations regarding genre as well as gender," writes J. Hoberman at the Village Voice. "Panahi has things both ways—his movie is critical and utopian, cinema verité and political allegory."  Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly considers the film "a light counterweight to [Panahi’s] sadder 2000 feminist drama The Circle," a film that A.O. Scott at the New York Times declares "one of the best works of cinema to come out of Iran in the past decade." He praises "Offside"’s "rich, pointed comedy," while noting that "the lightheartedness is often shadowed by the threat of real trouble, since even the lighthearted breaking of a silly rule can have serious consequences."

Keith Uhlich at Slant writes that while "Offside" "doesn’t lack for striking images," "Panahi is so concerned with a particular social problem (a law that forbids women to enter Iran’s spectator-sporting facilities) that he fatally neglects the cinema—the handheld DV camerawork flattens the argument as much as the visual texture." Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club likes the camerawork, writing that "What might’ve come off as stage-bound, like a didactic one-act play, instead contains the energy and tension of a major sporting event, as Panahi moves the camera between the women and their jailers, as though following a series of scoring rallies."


Beware the butcher's daughter.
+ "The Page Turner": Revenge, lesbian lustings and chamber-music trios abound in Denis Dercourt‘s thriller, which stars Déborah François of "L’Enfant" as a thwarted piano prodigy who inveigles herself into the life of the woman who disrupted an audition of her years before. Nick Schager at Slant is one of many to see echoes of the films of Claude Chabrol, but sighs that it’s no "Merci Pour Le Chocolat"; it’s "a French thriller without a single thrill (but plenty of chuckles)." Manohla Dargis at the New York Times similarly declares that the film "is finally ersatz Chabrol, absent the master’s perverse wit, complex psychology, social sensitivities and visual flair." She does allow that while the film’s "parts don’t really fit together…individually they are just fine," calling out Julie Richalet in particular as the younger incarnation of the character François plays as an adult.

Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE praises François’ performance, but cautions that "It may be subtitled, but don’t be fooled: ‘The Page Turner’ isn’t a great deal more sophisticated than ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.’" Jim Ridley at the Village Voice muses that "Dercourt’s overbright visual scheme aims for a Michael Haneke–esque bourgeois chill that comes off instead as curiously bloodless," but likes the classical score and François, "effective as an opaque dose of pretty poison." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon is a fan, writing that "it’s a fine example of the excellence of French genre film right now: A dark tale of revenge with an inscrutable heart, ice in its veins and an electric undercurrent of eroticism, it also might be the best-photographed picture I’ve seen so far this year."


No "Memento."
+ "First Snow": Guy Pearce stars as New Mexico salesman who’s death is predicted by a fortuneteller in the directorial debut of Mark Fergus, one of the screenwriters behind "Children of Men." Stephen Holden at the New York Times is fond, calling it a "pointed little thriller with metaphysical pretensions" and "a mind-teaser that speaks the flat, evasive language of its seedy characters." Ella Taylor at LA Weekly salutes the films "great acting and pretty good writing," but finds that while it "has a fine sense of place and a small but terrific turn by veteran actress Jackie Burroughs… other than some instant messaging about living well as the best revenge on the certainty of death, it doesn’t have much on its mind." Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE sums that film up as "an alternately witty and dull psychological thriller intriguingly lacking in suspense. Simplistic and yet not unintelligent, it only spottily achieves its canny aspiration: to produce tension despite having already divulged its end point."

At Slant, Eric Henderson is generally unimpressed by film’s determination to remain "resolutely low-key," but writes hilariously in praise of its star:

Pearce, whose jaw muscles increasingly look like vaginal lips even as his choice of parts continue to serve penance for playing cinema’s all-time hottest drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, unravels marvelously, even as his character alternately believes and disbelieves in his mortal interruption at the worst possible moments.

Jim Ridley at the Village Voice dismisses the film as a "moody, tedious anti-thriller about ineluctable fate"; Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club is scornful, observing that "First Snow echoes Pearce’s signature film Memento just closely enough to suffer by comparison."



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


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.