DID YOU READ

On DVD: “My Blueberry Nights,” “The Free Will”

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07012008_myblueberrynights.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

Nobody seemed quite capable of dismissing or faintly praising, then dismissing “My Blueberry Nights” (2007) fast enough when it wandered into American theaters this April — it was as if the collective unconscious had decided to make Wong Kar-wai pay in little cuts for both the demanding ordeal he put us all through with “2046” and for the hubris he subsequently displayed by daring to shoot his next film in the U.S., in English, and casting an inexperienced pop star (Norah Jones) in the lead. Fortunately, the film press one-upmanship has already faded into the disposable past, and the movie remains with us, nothing less than a blessing, a quintessentially Wongian daydream of romantic suspension and sweet lyrical conceits. If you require the Hong Kong context and the Cantonese-with-subtitles with your balladeering Wongness, you’re just an import film slummer — “My Blueberry Nights” plays like a trip-around-the-world continuation of “Chungking Express,” “Fallen Angels” and strands of “2046,” just roaming into a new milieu, the differences of which are minimal compared to the universalities.

From the very first extended sequence — when the lovably relaxed Manhattan diner owner Jeremy (Jude Law) modestly regales heartbroken nowhere girl Elizabeth (Jones) about the jar of keys on his counter (left by wrecked lovers but never retrieved), and how he, heartbroken as well, stays at the restaurant waiting for his girl’s return because his mother taught him to simply remain in one place if he were ever lost — you know you’re seeing the world in Wong’s terms. He’s one of the few filmmakers working that gets away with virtually anything — sentimentality, story hopscotchings, soundtrack repetition, characters implausibly defined by their deranged obsessions, barroom drowsiness — because he approaches his fanciful, poetical narrative ideas with the conviction of a penitent. He may seem in some ways to be the young Jean-Luc Godard’s dream director, intoxicated by iconic images and movie-movie essence, but the difference is, Wong means it. Godard had his romantic genuineness and ate it, ironically, too, but Wong is the patron saint of lovelorn storytelling, the Piaf of new-millennium film.

Typically, Wong didn’t know if Jones could act (he’d just heard her music) or if novelist Lawrence Block could write screenplays (Wong had only read his crime novels), but both could, making me wish this is the way every movie was made, motored by romantic impulse and intuition. As Elizabeth spirals out away from the diner and its comforting late-night servings of otherwise untouched blueberry pie, running away from her pain to Tennessee and Vegas, she encounters twin lost souls, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman (the three could be sisters), and gets involved in their self-destructive stories, as if passing through funhouse mirrors and seeing alternate versions of how her life could’ve turned out. There’s an effortless sense built in here that whatever story we carry around with us, it mixes with and collides into other stories — a terribly mature vision in the modern movie sphere for which Wong is rarely given enough credit. Every mundane thing, like a wrong number Jeremy calls looking for Elizabeth, is an occasion for a quiet swatch of poignancy.

“My Blueberry Nights” is, characteristically, a stew of sublime eloquence, overripe dramatics, smudge-edited mood, jukebox jouissance and raw gorgeousness, and picking it apart seems akin to insulting a beautiful woman for her tear-streaked mascara. It’s a refreshingly sexless movie, but nonetheless world-weary. Likening it, and Wong’s project altogether, to contemporary poetry is not stretching too far — the work is a battle waged against everyday complaisance, frustration and bitterness, everything that prevents us from seeing the lovely, life-valuable nature of a broken heart, a romantic obsession, a symbolic devotion (in Wong, it’s often a devotion to food), a gesture of warmth. Frankly, I don’t understand what it is about movies that I’m supposed to love if it isn’t this.

07012008_thefreewill.jpg“Love” isn’t a word you’d apply to Matthias Glasner’s “The Free Will” (2006), a nearly three-hour German film that won a Silver Bear at Berlin and which opens with a 10-minute rape scene that’ll make mold grow fast on your swoony pie-eating. Temperamentally restrained if not structurally remarkable, Glasner’s unblinking sojourn follows the balding, bulky, hollow-eyed perp Theo (co-writer Jürgen Vogel) out of prison years later, and into a halfway house and the free world, where every social moment pulses with the possibility of indulged compulsion and recidivist disaster. (He routinely stalks women into the subways and does nothing, like a recovering addict still unable to resist a tiny taste of dope.) He’s virtually mute from fear and awkwardness, but, unlikely as it seems, he meets a woman practically as socially immobilized as he. Nettie (Sabine Timoteo) is his factory boss’ daughter, and a willowy, squinty wastrel who, it’s obvious without us being told, has been the exploited sexual plaything of every man she’s ever known, including her father.

Glasner maintains a relentless focus, and has some inspired ideas — the magnificent, almost five-minute one-shot scene in which the new couple wordlessly spars in a jiu-jitsu gym accelerates into a revelatory crescendo, all of it happening on Timoteo’s body and face. But Glasner’s primary weapon here is the shock of counterintuitively positioning his very serious film, and its web of empathic effects, around a helpless sociopath. The wonder and relief we muster when Theo enters into a caring relationship against all odds is poisoned when he impulsively rapes again; it’s realistic enough, but does Glasner have a point? Is there a thematic point to be made about compulsive sexual violence? There is if you see the film as being a critique of a masculinized society, and Theo as being a walking metaphor for every man’s inner ape. But I’m not sure — Glasner is very specific and very intimate with his character. Our sympathies are put under even more dire stress later in the film, when Nettie confronts Theo’s victim; the most appalling scene in the film doesn’t involve Theo directly, and also borders on misogyny so intense it makes your eyes burn. What would’ve happened in this movie if it’d been made by a woman? (It might not have had the basic plot shape of “An American Werewolf in London,” which is in any case hardly a drawback, even to a film this grim.) You get the feeling Glasner was lighting house fires for the sake of raising questions about motivation and viewer complicity and social responsibility, an agenda that could make him, with some seasoning, the next generation’s Michael Haneke.

[Photos: “My Blueberry Nights,” Weinstein Company, 2007; “The Free Will,” Benten Films, 2008]

“My Blueberry Nights” (Genius Products – The Miriam Collection) and “The Free Will” (Benten Films) are now available on DVD.

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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.