DID YOU READ

2007: The Five Best Retreads

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

[Photo: Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in “3:10 to Yuma,” Lionsgate, 2007]

Every year a slew of newspapers run trend pieces about the lack of originality in Hollywood, citing the flood of remakes and sequels. This year, the blathering reached a numbing level of regularity — as if recycling material hasn’t been the backbone of Hollywood and every other mixture of art and commerce from time immemorial. From the silent period when film serials were the rage, whether it be “The Perils of Pauline” to “Les Vampires,” to the “Charlie Chan” and “Mr. Moto” cycles of the 1930s, the “Thin Man” films of the 1940s, and all the way up to the James Bonds and Jason Bournes of today — the film business is built on regurgitation — and the key is in how it is presented rather than what. There were plenty of imaginative retreads this year. Here’s a list of my five favorites.

Two Wrenching Departures

Directed by Ken Jacobs

A devastating memorial to the physical presences of dearly departed friends (and former collaborators), Ken Jacobs’ “Two Wrenching Departures” was first presented as a live performance at the Museum of the Moving Image in 1990. After the deaths of Jack Smith (“Flaming Creatures”) and Bob Fleischner in the October of 1989, he prepared one of his Nervous System pieces, a series of improvised works featuring dual 16mm projectors that deconstruct images into writhing shards. In 2007, he rejiggered it for DV, and it’s a masterpiece. He slows down and loops individual movements to create a throbbing, elegiac ode to the expressive power of gesture and of cinema itself.

I Think I Love My Wife

Directed by Chris Rock

One of the most intelligent Hollywood films of the year was, sadly, one of the worst reviewed. No matter, as this remake of Eric Rohmer’s “Chloe in the Afternoon” (1973) will last longer than any number of pithy pans. In updating Rohmer’s elegant classic, Rock artfully honors the spirit of the original while infusing it with his own acidic wit and an especially insightful examination of black middle-class life. Rock’s dilemma of whether to enter into an affair with an ex-flame or stay true to his wife is pure cliché, yet his treatment of it drips with ambiguity — as his faithfulness is borne almost as much out of maintaining his social status as it is out of love. Filled with pungent vulgarities and an ending of shocking sublimity, it’s a viciously underrated work of art.

3:10 to Yuma

Directed by James Mangold

James Mangold’s crisp western is a textbook example of how to successfully update a Hollywood classic by expanding the original without cheapening it. Delmar Daves’ 1957 original is a taut psychological duel fought with words in a cramped hotel room. The remake enlarges the scope to include a few more chases and gunfights to fulfill the whiz-bang needs of modern audiences, but all of it emerges organically from the original film’s plot and much of it deepens the theme of masculine pride. Anchored by nuanced, gritty performances from Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, this is top shelf entertainment — an oater that doesn’t feel out of place alongside the Manns, Boettichers, and Fords.

Belle Toujours

Directed by Manoel de Oliveira

A slender sequel to Luis Bunuel’s “Belle du Jour” (1967), “Belle Toujours” focuses on aging cad Henri Husson, a role reprised by Michel Piccoli. Piccoli, whose bird-like intensity has turned jowly and ruminative, takes a leisurely tour around Paris, searching town for Severine, the blond trophy wife and occasional prostitute he knew those many years ago. It’s an offhandedly graceful essay on aging, as Husson remembers the sexual escapades of his youth and wistfully glances at an oil painted nude. When he finally catches up with Severine (now played by Bulle Ogier, replacing Catherine Deneuve), he finds he still has the energy left for one more act of deviltry — and de Oliveira doffs his cap to Bunuel with a final, surreal visual flourish.

Live Free or Die Hard

Directed by Len Wiseman

A welcome blast of muscular irrationality, this immensely entertaining fourth entry in the “Die Hard” franchise finds John McClane once again caught in the path of a wily psycho about to wreak havoc during a national holiday — only this time, it’s Independence Day. Fully aware of McClane’s superfluity in an age of remote-controlled missiles, Wiseman and screenwriter Mark Bomback have created a self-reflexive spectacle that cracks so wise even the big action blowups seem to be shot with a giant smirk. This frees them to think up the most outrageous stunts possible, including a taxicab missile and a duel between a big rig and a fighter plane. Reality is of no concern, and with Willis willing to play along, the narrative percolates even when things don’t go boom.

[Additional photos: “Two Wrenching Departures,” Ken Burns; “I Think I Love My Wife,” Fox Searchlight; “3:10 to Yuma,” Lionsgate; “Belle Toujours,” New Yorker; “Live Free or Die Hard,” 20th Century Fox]

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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.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.