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DID YOU READ

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Casey Affleck in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” Warner Bros., 2007]

According to Andrew Dominik’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” that famous outlaw’s last words were “Don’t that picture look dusty.” Dominik’s picture is dusty too, a throwback to the last great period of westerns in the early 1970s, those days of Peckinpah and Siegel and Altman. It succeeds in invoking that era, but not necessarily in equaling its great works.

The title, taken from the novel of the same name by Ron Hansen, ostensibly explains the entire story, what little there is. But rather than focusing on the story, the movie is more about the end of the West and a variety of melancholic moods from grief to desperation to resignation to regret. It’s beautifully shot and acted, but languidly paced in a way that blunts most of the movie’s emotional impact.

The movie follows James (Brad Pitt) after the dissolution of his gang in the early 1880s as he attempts to make a home with his wife Zee (Mary-Louise Parker) and their children. A young man who idolizes James named Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) and his brother Charley (Sam Rockwell) fall in with the increasingly paranoid and distrusting bandit. Eventually Robert decides to kill his hero and James realizes that Robert’s decided to kill him. The question then becomes what will each do next.

Pitt’s comfortable in the role of the enigmatic nut — his performances in that mold in both “12 Monkeys” and “Fight Club” remain two of his most memorable — and he brings a similar vibe of charismatic psychosis to his take on James. His version of the gunslinger is a little bit Jason Bourne, a little bit the Bogeyman: he’s blessed with an uncanny ability to anticipate danger and scare the hell out of everyone around him. He masks his derangement with overly cordial gestures and speaks in niceties while planning to commit murder. In those past loon roles, Pitt’s opened the characters up to the audiences, let them inside the dementia a bit. His James is a closed book; his motives are as unclear to us as they were to those around him. After he begins to suspect that Robert plans to do him in, he gives him a beautiful new pistol as a gift. How, Robert wonders, is he to interpret the gun? Could the cunning thief have given him a defective weapon to save his own life? Or does Jesse James have a death wish?

It’s these questions that make “The Assassination of Jesse James…” worth watching. But they’re answered in such a vague, haphazard fashion, and they are approached so incredibly slowly (the movie clocks in at over 160 minutes) that the movie almost dares you stop watching it. More frustratingly, the film is a pile of contradictions. It’s a movie all about the intricacy of character despite the fact that it treats shots of rustling thistles with greater care than the dialogue scenes. It exposes the fallacy of some aspects of the Western mystique even as it upholds others. And it is about transience in a remarkably static way.

Dominik is clearly a student of the genre, and he has recaptured much of the mood of those great old ’70s western and even some of their nagging sense of impending doom (just look at that title). When the James gang breaks up, Jesse becomes a bit aimless. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the movie about him should be equally aimless.

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” opens in limited release on September 21st (official site).

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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.