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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: “Hot Fuzz,” “Syndromes and a Century.”

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"You ain't seen 'Bad Boys II'?"
+ "Hot Fuzz": How good is the new film from Team Wright/Pegg? Good enough for even the New York PressArmond White to overcome his dislike for hipsters and comedy to twice deem Wright’s work "Godardian." He writes:

It’s a British Music Hall version of the social myths that cop movies inherited from American westerns. They’re paying tribute to what is most human in an increasingly dehumanized pop genre now gone global. When Angel and Danny get inspired by a drugstore rack of cop-movie DVDs, these clichés are revitalized and given back their roots in cultural/social anxiety. This moment of truth derives from Danny’s infatuation with Kathryn Bigelow’s exotic 1991 film Point Break—a cop/surfer movie, freedom/friendship/fatherhood apotheosis. When Keanu doesn’t shoot the President Reagan-masked robber, it beautifully distills one’s ambivalence toward authority. Referring to Bigelow’s profound incident, Hot Fuzz proves our modern political crises are also cultural.

We worship at the altar of "Point Break" more than anyone, but we admit, "Bigelow’s profound incident" made us snicker… and, perhaps, touched our heart. Going on — Manohla Dargis at the New York Times is most tickled by the film as a reaction to the standard British cinematic import: "Think of it as ‘The Full Monty’ blown to smithereens." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon writes that "Wright and Pegg are masters at balancing great, dumb, obvious jokes with ticklish, oblique ones, gags that zing by, only half-glimpsed." She salutes that way the film is "at once deeply affectionate and sharply observed: There’s never anything smart-alecky about Wright’s approach as a director."

"After Team America: World Police, this brand of blockbuster lampooning is itself something of a tired formula," allows Nick Schager at Slant, still won over by the "sheer, giddy vigor with which Wright and Pegg… faithfully pay tribute to their corny source material." He also writes:

That it self-consciously chooses the odious Bad Boys II as one of its stylistic templates (replete with pointlessly circling pans and slow-motion) is forgivable considering that its other prime influence is the ne plus ultra of modern Hollywood action films, Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break, a superlatively cheesy classic whose most overwrought—and unintentionally funny—moment becomes a key plot point during Angel and Butterman’s investigation.

(We’d never have dreamed so many critics harbored a secret fondness for Bigelow’s film — it’s thrilling.)

A nameless Onion AV Club staffer finds that "[l]ike Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz is characterized by an all-too-rare sense of childlike joy in the possibilities of filmmaking, collaboration, and a night out at the movies," while Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly surveys the cast and declare that "[t]his movie set, clearly, was a VIP room for the cool kids." Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE, while not finding in the film the depths seen by Armond White, is nevertheless charmed, particularly by Pegg and costar Nick Frost: "they even pull off the inevitable buddy cop-latent homosexuality gag with winning understatement, never getting all het up and panicky." Robert Wilonsky at the Village Voice calls "Hot Fuzz" "a cult film writ humongous"; David Edelstein at New York ultimately finds that the film is "fun, and it’s nice to see all the English character actors who aren’t busy in Harry Potter films, but it lacks its predecessor’s freshness."

And at the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas observes:

For most of its running time, it’s an enjoyably unpretentious celebration of the guilty pleasure we can take from a stupid-as-all-get-out car chase or from watching things blow up real good. Then, in its final half hour, Wright and Pegg ratchet up the absurdity tenfold and enter the realm of the sublime: Beware of the shotgun-wielding grannies and double-barreled vicars!

 

"Normally, I sing about teeth and gums. But this album is all love songs."
+ "Syndromes and a Century": Shifting gears — Apichatpong ("Joe") Weerasethakul‘s fifth feature film is at least as deserving of the description "sublime," but proves both less populist and much more difficult to pin down in print. "When I’ve written about Joe’s work in the past, I’ve received angry e-mail from readers who say they tried to watch a Joe movie and were bored out of their skulls," warns Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek. "As with all films that don’t cling to strict narrative structures, one person’s rapturous, pointillist dreamscape is another’s ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’" For her, the film comes down to the following:

Joe has said, "The mind doesn’t work like a camera. The pleasure for me is not in remembering exactly but in recapturing the feeling of the memory — and in blending that with the present." The suggestion is that Nohng and Toey are dream-memory versions of Joe’s parents: He can’t, of course, have known them as young people, so he has to slip back in time to paint them, as their younger selves, with watercolor washes of imagined memory.

A.O. Scott at the New York Times (who also cautions that Weerasethakul’s films are "resistant to summary, at times even to understanding") writes that "’Syndromes and a Century,’ like its curious title, has the logic of a dream, a piece of music or perhaps a John Ashbery poem. Its coherence is evident; it is too lovely and lucid to be frustrating or dull. But it takes place just on the other side of conscious apprehension."

J. Hoberman at the Village Voice muses that "the 37-year-old director’s distinctively casual cine-nigmas are anything but predictable—except, perhaps, in their unaccountable happiness." Nick Schager at Slant writes:

Via his elliptical editing and his tales’ penchant for drifting, on a whim, into flashbacks or visual asides, the director captures the way in which memories subconsciously operate—how they gently blend into one another with little concern for clear-cut sequential arrangement, and how our reminiscences of certain moments in life are often colored by our lucid, almost-tangible recollections of the specific places in which they occurred (hence his frequent cut-aways to empty rooms, hallways, and fields).

Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club notes that the film’s "individual sequences spin along, lovely and mesmerizing, and they’re not really all that hard to understand, in and of themselves. It’s in figuring out how they all fit together that Syndromes And A Century can become maddening. So don’t try too hard."

And Armond White at the New York Press comes in with the dissent that’s actually yet another protracted and hopeless campaign to declare the brilliance of Julián Hernández‘,s "Broken Sky," the film that continues to be White’s Rosebud-like obsession. White writes that the film’s enigmatic nature "allows Western critics to condescend, investing Weerasethakul’s lackluster cinema with inordinate significance. They prefer this bland repetition of what other filmmakers do with excitement. If Syndromes and a Century’s blandness passes for mysteriousness, it indicates a decline in art-cinema culture." Having read the piece twice, we can only glean that White’s complaint is that there’s not enough sex in "Syndromes," which is a powerfully strange thing on which to pin such a negative review — though what do we know about art-cinema culture? 

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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.