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DID YOU READ

Cannes Dispatch 1: “Blueberry Nights” and Ian Curtis

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By Dennis Lim

“My Blueberry Nights” is turning out to be the worst-reviewed film of Wong Kar-wai’s career, but Cannes attendees who were counting on an opening-night triumph had better luck last night — at the Directors’ Fortnight, which kicked off with Anton Corbijn’s “Control,” an electrifying biopic of Ian Curtis that delivers everything Wong’s film promised and more: pop-star glamour, knockout cinematography, tragic-romantic grandeur.

A tribute to the late Joy Division frontman, the Dutch-born rock photographer’s debut feature is as loving as a fan’s mash note and as laconic as its doomed hero. (The title of the source book, “Touching From a Distance,” by the singer’s widow Deborah Curtis, nicely sums up the film’s approach.) Curtis’s story, briefly outlined in Michael Winterbottom’s “24 Hour Party People,” is well known to many and intimately familiar to Joy Division devotees — he killed himself in 1980, at 23, on the eve of what would have been his band’s first U.S. tour. “Control” doesn’t exactly shed new light on Curtis’ life and death, but it’s a dream match of filmmaker and subject. Corbijn got his break working for the NME in the late ’70s, shooting Joy Division and other seminal British post-punk acts, and his trademark aesthetic — angsty achromatic chiaroscuro — perfectly fits the band’s.

In the central role, Sam Riley nails Curtis’s awkward, hostile intensity both off and especially on stage: the possessed messianic figure with the thousand-yard stare and the windmill arms. (Riley played Fall leader Mark E. Smith in “Party People,” which occasions a wry in-joke here.) Beginning with his adolescence — as an intense, introverted kid in grim Macclesfield, closely studying David Bowie and Lou Reed in his bedroom — the film ticks off the milestones in Curtis’s short life: He marries teen sweetheart Debbie (Samantha Morton) at 19, gets a job at the unemployment office, is diagnosed with epilepsy (which the film implies was psychosomatic), has a baby daughter, grows distant from Debbie, plunges into an affair with Belgian fan Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara), and endures the surprisingly rapid and painful ascent of Joy Division (assorted music-biz Mancunians, including the ubiquitous Tony Wilson, played here by Craig Parkinson, provide comic relief).

The film takes pains not to assign blame for the suicide, but without presumptuous psychologizing it gets into Curtis’ head. At any rate it conveys the crippling nausea he apparently felt whether on stage before a screaming throng or in the stifling, guilt-inducing domestic nest (you can hear in his baby’s gurgling and his wife’s gentle offer of a cup of tea the rumblings of a panic attack). Shot by Martin Ruhe in crisp, Corbijn-style black and white, “Control” isn’t as adventurous as “Last Days” in attempting to circumvent the limiting conventions of the rock biopic — the rock-suicide biopic at that — but from a fan’s point of view, it’s more satisfying. For one thing, there are songs: Most of the greatest hits are here, many of them credibly performed by the actors in live or studio settings. For another, it’s a bold and touching feat of empathy: without diminishing his mystique, “Control” makes a mythic figure life-sized.

As for “My Blueberry Nights,” Wong’s first English-language film is — to repeat the consensus — slight to the point of frivolity. English-speaking critics have griped that Wong has a tin-eared grasp of the language; it’s perhaps more honest to admit that his dreamy/mundane pop philosophy was more attractive, even exotic, in subtitled Cantonese. (As Norah Jones’ character notes, explaining to David Strathairn’s why she’s writing letters and not calling: “Some things are better on paper.”) There’s also a problem of repetition and overfamiliarity (which in “2046” registered as self-examination). Wong devotees will be able to trace a web of correspondences that don’t always flatter the new film. Jones and Jude Law, for instance, are simply a gender-flipped version of the “Chungking Express” pair: she has Tony Leung’s doe-eyed sadness while he’s inherited Faye Wong’s quirky hyperactivity. Speaking of “Chungking,” Cat Power’s drowsy “The Greatest” stands in for “California Dreaming,” but here the repeated pop song seems less a romantic talisman than a soundtrack cost-cutting measure.

Perversely interior given its cross-country premise, “My Blueberry Nights” is less about the romance of the road than the romance of the countertop: the mythic site, in the diners and bars of Wong’s America, of solitary meals and too many drinks, where the kindness of strangers is likely to apply. The New York segments, set largely within a small glass-fronted cafe, are the loveliest. The scenes resolve into a pleasant blur of closing-time conversations and D.P. Darius Khondji, shooting through glass whenever possible (a Windexed pane, a cake dish), cultivates a fishbowl intimacy. Even off his peak, there are things Wong does better than almost any filmmaker on earth: shooting physical intimacy, for instance. The first Jones-Law kiss is simplicity itself — a few extreme close-ups, a lingering overhead shot, total silence — but it’s a real time stopper, up there in the swoon pantheon with the taxicab snuggle in “Happy Together” or the back-alley last goodbyes of “In the Mood for Love.”

[Photo: “My Blueberry Nights,” Weinstein Company, 2007]

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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.