The week’s critic wrangle: “Zodiac,” “Black Snake Moan,” “Into Great Silence.”

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+ "Zodiac": David Fincher‘s highly anticipated chronicle of the Zodiac Killer, who haunted the San Francisco Bay Area and its surrounding areas in the late 60s into the 70s, does not disappoint the critics (we’ll post our own review shortly). Amongst the film’s biggest supporters are Nathan Lee, who, by his own admission, geeks out with one of the longest reviews we can recall running at the Village Voice. "As a crime saga, newspaper drama, and period piece, it works just fine. As an allegory of life in the information age, it blew my mind," he writes, calling out three particularly skillful shots and the film’s relationship to Fincher’s best known film to date, "Se7en." At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis points out the film is an "unexpected repudiation" of that earlier, flashier serial killer film. She also writes that Fincher’s "polished technique can leave you slack-jawed":

There is mystery in this minutiae, not just virtuosity, and maybe, to judge from reports of his painstaking process, a touch of madness. Like his detectives and journalists, Mr. Fincher seems possessed by the need to recreate reality — to revisit the scene of the crime — piece by piece.

Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly dubs the film "[a] procedural thriller for the information age," and suggests that the film’s unending investigation is "an analogue of the post-9/11 world, where the enemy is specific yet, by virtue of his self-projection, omnipresent, and therefore impossible to pin down." "Zodiac is the sort of vast, richly involving pop epic that Hollywood largely seems incapable of making anymore," sighs a blissful Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, while Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club is one of several critics to writes that this "feels like [Fincher’s] most personal and accomplished work to date." Nick Schager at Slant salutes the film’s "portrait of obsession run amok, and of the multifaceted influence of the media—and the cinema—on society."

Of the few voices of dissent: David Edelstein at New York finds a lot to admire in the film, particularly the opening scene ("among the most brilliantly cruel sequences I’ve ever seen") but finds the "the movie itself feels like an unfinished puzzle." Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader writes that "I’m not convinced this had to be 158 minutes long, so it’s all the more annoying when essential material gets elided"; Armond White at the New York Press (who dubs Fincher "the brainless Kubrick" — we’d disagree, but still: hah!) claims:

Fincher’s technique distracts from a resolved mystery or narrative closure; it encourages apathy that suggests resolution and absolution are impossible. Zodiac’s ending is a shocking let-down, not because it’s gruesome but because it nullifies itself. This time, Fincher puts everybody’s head in a box.

And Stephanie Zacharek at Salon writes that

Bits of the picture are fascinating to look at, but eventually, exhaustion kicks in, to the point where we’re not sure what we’re looking at, or why. And Fincher can’t stop himself from portraying the murders (in one case, in extremely graphic detail), as if addressing them more obliquely might possibly dilute their horror — as if their horror could be diluted. His approach, and his coldness, may be some kind of point-of-pride demonstration of artistic objectivity. But is there any such thing as an objective artist? And if so, do we want, or need, one?


+ "Black Snake Moan": Craig Brewer‘s third film, with an even more outrageous premise than his last, "Hustle & Flow," opens to mixed if often bemused reviews. Writes Roger Ebert (!) at the Chicago Sun-Times:

"Black Snake Moan" is the oddest, most peculiar movie I’ve seen about sex and race and redemption in the Deep South. It may be the most peculiar recent movie ever except for "Road House," but then what can you say about "Road House"? Such movies defy all categories.

He’s quite fond of the film, though he does writes, apparently meaning it as a complement, that Christina Ricci‘s "work defines the boundaries of the thankless." "Brewer knows how to guide his leads through this improbable story, and he kept me interested in spite of everything," shrugs Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader, while a fonder Nick Schager at Slant calls the film a "B-movie with an A-list cast, it’s an audaciously confrontational, button- and boundary-pushing work, marked by a sharp wit and a gleeful desire to see just how much it can get away with."

Dana Stevens at Slate has some problems with the boundaries that are being pushed, and doesn’t mince words:

I’m sorry, but in the age of Abu Ghraib and Alberto Gonzales torture memos, it seems important to say it again: Chaining people and holding them against their will is not the right thing to do. By that I don’t mean, simplistically, that Jackson‘s character is "bad" and should be punished at the end of the film. I mean that the questions—ethical, sexual, racial, whatever—that are raised by this initial act of violence are never addressed.

Armond White at the New York Press has other issues: "Black Snake Moan is so full of bad ideas and misrepresented ethnicity that people who are ignorant of black Southern culture, or feel nothing for it, will misread the film’s blunders as daring provocation."

At New York, David Edelstein calls the film "outlandish, hilariously overripe, and possibly sexist," but adds that "I loved the picture’s tabloid energy and heart." At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek, who likes the film quite a bit, calls Brewer "a humanist in wolf’s clothing"; Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, who less impressed, calls him "an old-fashioned guy," writing that "Black Snake Moan is, at its core, a fairly straightforward variation on George Bernard Shaw — Pigsfeetmalion, if you will."

A.O. Scott at the New York Times suggests that the Samuel L. Jackson character is nothing but "a tried-and-true Hollywood stock figure: the selfless, spiritually minded African-American who seems to have been put on the earth to help white people work out their self-esteem issues." He writes that underneath the provocative surface of the film is "a heart of pure, buttery cornpone"; Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly cautions that one should "be prepared to collapse into a hoot and a howl of hilarity at all the wrong moments." Rob Nelson at the Village Voice suggest that halfway through the film, "the filmmaker begins to direct his grindhouse fantasy of female enslavement as if it were Our Town." And Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club agrees that "it’d be nice if the execution matched the startling audacity of its premise.


+ "Into Great Silence": Monks. Doc. Three hours.

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott observes that "you surrender to ‘Into Great Silence’ as you would to a piece of music, noting the repetitions and variations, encountering surprises just when you think you’ve figured out the pattern." He concludes "I hesitate, given the early date and the project’s modesty, to call ‘Into Great Silence’ one of the best films of the year. I prefer to think of it as the antidote to all of the others."

An impressed Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE writes that "It’s almost as if Groning, having lived alongside the brothers and participated in their rituals for six months, was left by the experience disinclined to hew to any standards of linear narrativity when constructing his film, drifting instead towards an impressionistic wash of images and, yes, sounds that are often impenetrable, but always seductive." At Slant, Keith Uhlich suggests that as one falls into the rhythms of the film, "The monks still maintain their unique distinctions of self, but are now united (as are we) in common purpose and singular pursuit. Pursuit of what exactly? Call it God. Call it Cinema."

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon acknowledges the challenging nature of the film: "Gröning’s film asks you to do, in miniature, the same thing that the Carthusians ask their novices to do: Give up the outside world. That’s a devilishly difficult thing to manage, at first, but a delightful release once accomplished." And Michelle Orange at the Village Voice allows that "the point, however, is solidly made by the two-hour mark, and epiphany fatigue sets in; the more gimlet-eyed may turn to thoughts of heresy, or at least tire of exalting the supposedly pure existence of a bunch of men playing house on a hill, oblivious (and useless) to the world of need and suffering beneath them."



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.