DID YOU READ

The mid-week’s critic wrangle: Sleeping alone, brands, brains, day, night.

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Athletic team.
+ "I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone": Who could be more elliptical a filmmaker than Apichatpong Weerasethakul? Possibly his New Crowned Hope-commissioned colleague Tsai Ming-liang, whose seventh feature opens in New York today. "Albeit closer to ballet than drama, this urban nocturne is one of Tsai’s most beautiful and naturalistic films—at least in terms of its rich, humid, almost viscous ambience," writes the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman. "The narrative, however, is pure fable—complete with a mysterious ending that leaves the protagonist and his lovers bobbing like a cork on a sea of chaos." "On the subject of angles," adds A.O. Scott at the New York Times, "Mr. Tsai may be modern cinema’s reigning genius of camera placement, with an ability to turn simple, homely spaces into zones of psychological mystery." He goes on:

In spite of the austerity of his methods, Mr. Tsai’s meticulously composed fables of longing and disconnection are lurid and comical as well as poignant. His most memorable scenes are formalist jokes, deadpan sight gags that combine sex and slapstick humor.

Michael Koresky at indieWIRE believes that Tsai may be "the visual narrative stylist par excellence working in cinema today; an entire story, a life, a world, breathes through his films, even as he rarely burdens them with language." He points out that in choosing to set the film amongst immigrant workers Kuala Lumpur, a city in his native Malaysia, "Tsai has even found a more direct motivation for his preference to tell stories through images rather than dialogue: the great language divide of his main characters." Keith Uhlich at Slant detects for the first time "a sense that the director is treading water, ineffectually replaying themes better explored in earlier works." Still, he finds it "a…minor effort, though one still worth experiencing for [Norman] Atun‘s stellar performance as Rawang." Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club has similar thoughts: "[F]ew directors can approach Tsai’s formal mastery, but his latest work, I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone, catches him on the downward slope. His signature long takes, once suffused with deep melancholy and unexpected humor, occasionally lose their dynamism here, especially in the first half, which finds his aesthetic minimalism stripped to the bone."

 

Orphans.+ "Brand Upon the Brain!": Guy Maddin‘s silent film arrives with a live orchestra, foley artists, celebrity narrators and, possibly, a castrato in tow. "Yet," observes Fernando F. Croce at Slant, "the theatrical experience isn’t a William Castle-type gimmick any more than Maddin’s feverish melodrama is a blur of shards from Feuillade, Borzage, and Gance. The director’s profoundly felt biographical obsessions and love for film history go beyond parody and homage and into poetically inexplicable private reveries." "Mr. Maddin’s adoration for early cinema — in particular, its delicate charms and now-exotic flourishes — hasn’t made him a slave to that love, which is why ‘Brand Upon the Brain!’ is as much deconstruction as a tribute," continues Manohla Dargis at the New York Times.

In interviews he has explained that the story was partly inspired by events in his life, but the intensely personal nature of this tour de force would be evident even without such insider dope. In “Brand Upon the Brain!,” the Mother sometimes watches over the children using a searchlight to pick them out in the shadows. As the light sweeps over the island, it becomes at once an old-fashioned movie camera and a projector, seizing hold of these beautiful bodies in the rapture of their immortal youth.

At the Village Voice, Aaron Hillis cautions against passing up the live events for the film’s eventual wider theatrical release, which will run to a prerecorded soundtrack.

Not to discredit its wild artistry by saying the gimmick’s the prize,
but . . . the gimmick’s the prize. Without all the hoopla, there simply
isn’t enough variation to this stylized fever-dream to justify its
fatiguing running time, nor to call it anything less than predictably
Maddin–esque.

Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club agrees that "coming after the inspired trifecta of Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary, Cowards Bend The Knee, and The Saddest Music In The World, Brand feels a little like boilerplate Maddin rather than a fresh burst of inspiration."

A less tolerant Armond White at the New York Press grumbles that the film’s "primary virtue is that it almost—but not quite—sustains interest to the end… These gestures toward the avant-garde supposedly make Brand Upon the Brain! an art event, but Maddin’s extremely mannered films are actually rear-guard. He exhibits a Canadian mediocrity, combining derivativeness with gentility."

We do like that — "Canadian mediocrity." Perhaps we shall start a band.

 

"Everybody dies. My death will be for you."
+ "Day Night Day Night": Julia Loktev‘s purposefully narratively curtailed suicide bomber film also opens in New York today. "Terror is existential in this highly intelligent, somewhat sadistic, totally fascinating movie," writes J. Hoberman at the Voice. "However low-budget and minimalist, this digitally shot, quasi-guerrilla production is a new-style disaster flick—as experiential in its way as the ritual ordeal provided by United 93." At New York, David Edelstein puts it this way: "The film is, in fact, a cunning exercise in subjectivity and withheld information—and once you accept those parameters, it’s riveting." He concludes "I’m frankly flummoxed about what Day Night Day Night adds up to, but its ‘You Are There’ allure is potent." Michael Koresky at indieWIRE has his own questions:

"Day Night Day Night" has the texture and stripped-to-the-core accuracy of allegory – which doesn’t exactly meld with its literal hot-button hook. No doubt that Loktev’s intellectual approach to the material was honorably trying to skirt sensationalism, preferring a more experimental tone, but does "Day Night Day Night" really bring us any closer to an understanding of our world, or does it simply approximate it?

Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club is frustrated by the "preponderance of coy ‘humanizing’ touches": "[J]ust as the ‘last day on Earth’ context gives scenes of nothingness more theoretical weight, so it also works against Loktev’s attempt to make a suicide-bombing thriller devoid of politics."

Ed Gonzalez at Slant finds that lead (and first-time) actress "Luisa Williams‘s fear is credible but her talents are not so grand to elevate what is a lazy abstraction of a character. In the end, Day Night Day Night is nothing more, nothing less than another exercise in sadistic immediacy." And at the New York Times, Stephen Holden writes that "Unless they go out of their way to make you despise the major characters, you tend to root for their success, no matter how mad and sociopathic their behavior. That may be the moral lesson of ‘Day Night Day Night.’ It draws you in enough to make you feel strangely culpable."

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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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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.”

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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.