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The week’s critic wrangle: My dog is like a red, red road.

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A little abrupt this week, we’ve had an unexpectedly busy day.

Kate Dickie.
+ "Red Road": Generally fondness for Andrea Arnold‘s surveillance camera directorial debut, part of a (planned, at least) three film rule-bound set called Advance Party. "No one does poetic British miserabilism with more remorseless hyperrealism than the Scots," writes the LA Weekly‘s Ella Taylor, "and Arnold…directs with a precociously sure touch and a taste for raw, graphic sexuality that’s rare in a woman director, yet feels organic to the film’s paranoid, loveless milieu." Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE finds the film "combines elements of both no-nonsense realism and Foucaultian paranoia to produce a unique, not soon forgettable drama." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon reviewed the film at Sundance and declared it "dynamite, the kind of sexy, paranoid, creepily atmospheric picture that invades all your senses at once." He also points out the "this is the first thriller I’ve ever seen with a female protagonist in the prototypical noir hero role of pursuer and sexual aggressor."

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott writes that Arnold’s "style of shooting and editing is like a more artful, more expressive adaptation of the fuzzy, haphazard movements of the surveillance cameras… Her deft juxtaposition of sound and silence — the City Eye cameras have no accompanying ears — adds to the atmosphere of paranoia and dislocation."

Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club likes the look of the film, but thinks that "there appears to be an underlying struggle between the movie Arnold wanted to make—an elliptical study of obsession and voyeurism—and the necessary backstory that [executive producers Anders Thomas] Jensen and [Lone] Scherfig provide." Nick Schager at Slant finds that "Red Road" is "a hybrid of Dogma verité aesthetics and manipulative storytelling, a conflict her intermittently bracing film never properly reconciles." And Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader shrugs that "filmmaker Andrea Arnold kept me intrigued, but beyond a certain point the movie’s ambiguity fades into indifference."

No one seems to like the ending, which is labeled as everything from "pat uplift" (Taylor) to a conglomeration of "Sundance hallmarks — in particular a familiar dialectic of abjection and redemption" (Scott).


"We'll see how long that lasts."
+ "Year of the Dog": General fondness as well for Mike White‘s prickly portrait of Peggy, a single, middle-aged dog owner (Molly Shannon). According to Manohla Dargis at the New York Times:

It’s a film about what it means to devote yourself to something other than your fears and desires, to shed that hard, durable shell called selfishness. It is, rather remarkably, an inquiry into empathy as a state of grace. And if that sounds too rarefied for laughs, rest assured, it’s also about a stone-cold beautiful freak.

Also pleased is Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, who goes so far as to say that the film "deserves the same admiration accorded Joan Didion‘s exceptional memoir The Year of Magical Thinking…the depth of loss felt by Peggy for [her beagle] Pencil is expressed with observations just as acute and honest as any in Didion’s lauded account. And an amazing, translucent Shannon is fearless too in exposing Peggy’s naked sadness."
Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly adds that "[s]o oppressive is Peggy’s world — Year of the Dog is the best evocation I’ve seen of how much worse it is to be depressed in a sunny climate — that when she finally loses control, it feels more like catharsis than madness, and a form of dissidence from the American way of converting every aspect of life into work."

At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir calls the film "an enjoyable, patchy, rambling affair, a series of bittersweet comic sketches strung together with thin wire," while Dana Stevens at Slate suggests that despite "small inconsistencies of tone" the film "succeeds in so many other ways. Year of the Dog asks how far we should be willing to go for the love of animals, and for that matter, for love itself. The movie’s sophistication lies in the fact that White isn’t sure there’s any one right answer." Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club calls Shannon’s performance "revelatory" and writes that "[l]ike a distaff Marty, Dog indelibly chronicles the emotional thaw of a woman seemingly resigned to living life quietly on the sidelines until fate spurs her into action."

Nick Schager at Slant calls the film "sweet if somewhat slim," adding that  "if its style is a bit derivative and its reserved humor tends to wax and wane, the film is nonetheless reasonably playful and charming, and benefits immensely from a sterling lead performance by Shannon." Rob Nelson at the Village Voice is a bit ambivalent, writing the "unlike [Todd] Solondz‘s, White’s humor isn’t merciless. If anything,  Dog’s bark is more like a lonely howl; its comic bite never breaks the skin, and its kisses are sloppy."

And we’d be remiss to not mention Peter Sarsgaard, who gives a memorable performance Stevens sums up thusly: "Sarsgaard excels at capturing a type I’ve never seen portrayed in a movie before: the passive-aggressive, ambiguously gay celibate."

We quite liked the film ourselves — hopefully we’ll finish up our languishing review tomorrow.



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.