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DID YOU READ

Critic wrangle: “The Flight of the Red Balloon.”

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04042008_flightoftheredballoon.jpgHou Hsiao-hsien’s first film outside of Asia, the luminous “The Flight of the Red Balloon,” uses Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 children’s short “The Red Balloon” as a counterpoint to its scarce story of a frazzled Parisian single mother (Juliette Binoche) navigating personal troubles, a career in puppetry and the raising of her seven-year-old son with the help of the Chinese film student (Song Fang) she’s hired as a nanny. My review from Cannes last year (written before the film was acquired by our sister company IFC Films) is here.

I love “The Flight of the Red Balloon,” and so do most of the critics, but I feel like the heady words of praise that are being heaped on it merit a word of caution — “Flight”‘s a delicate as a soap bubble, with about as weighty a narrative pull. As with most all of Hou’s films, it needs patience and, really, to be watched in a theater. Still, as Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir wrote from Cannes last year: “Several people walked out of the premiere and I can only assume they were bored by this stuff. I’m not so naive as to think there’s a large audience for Hou’s films in America (or anywhere else, really). But ‘The Flight of the Red Balloon’ is not arty or difficult in any way, and I genuinely believe that, in its unassuming fashion, it’s a masterpiece.”

“In the end what elevates Mr. Hou’s films to the sublime — and this one comes close at times — are not the stories but their telling,” writes Manohla Dargis at the New York Times. David Edelstein at New York find that Hou “uses The Red Balloon as a springboard for his own masterpiece–a distinctively modern and allusive one, yet so tender and plaintive that you understand what Hou is up to on a preconscious level.” The Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman, in a particularly nice review, observes that “Flight of the Red Balloon is explicitly an outsider’s movie, full of odd perspectives and founded on dislocation,” concluding that the film “is in a class by itself. In its unexpected rhythms and visual surprises, its structural innovations and experimental perfs, its creative misunderstandings and its outré syntheses, this is a movie of genius.” Glenn Kenny at Premiere seconds the “genius” designation while adding that “This is a slice of life that implies so much more than what’s on its surface, something that today’s conventional narrative films are increasingly hard-pressed to even attempt.”

Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot commends that way that, despite Binoche’s star turn, the film “remains a story of childhood, not with bullies to overcome and rites of passage to traverse, but with the fleetingly beautiful moments caught in a haze of everyday routine.” Slant‘s Nick Schager commends its star: “At once commanding and vulnerable, Binoche is a revelation, dominating space in ways ultimately almost as masterful as her director.”

And a few words of dissent (or, at least, of grounding) amidst all this acclaim: Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader deemed “The Flight of the Red Balloon” a “relatively slight but sturdy work,” while the Onion AV Club‘s Scott Tobias writes that the film feels “impeccably slight, as if Hou were resigned to playing a tourist in his own movie,” allowing that it “disappoints more in context with his career than as a standalone piece.” And for Armond White at the New York Press, the problem with the film is that “Hou lacks the common touch.” While he declares that the film “never penetrates child and pop consciousness,” he does praise Binoche, who “pinpoints emotion across Hou’s undifferentiated compositions.”

[Photo: “The Flight of the Red Balloon,” IFC Films, 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.