DID YOU READ

Opening This Week: Dot-com days, period magicians, Eddie (sigh) Murphy

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07072008_august.jpgBy Neil Pedley

This week finds the U.S. Army bringing war games to a whole other level, a ’60s sex icon getting an exposé, Ron Perlman returning as the defender of small fluffy kittens everywhere and Eddie Murphy taking cinema egotism to new heights.

“August”
After the warm reception his first feature “XX/XY” received at Sundance in 2002, director Austin Chick returned to the snowy slopes of Park City to debut his sophomore effort, which seemed to impress our own Matt Singer when he saw it in January. Assembling an noteworthy ensemble that includes the likes of Robin Tunney, Naomie Harris, Rip Torn and David Bowie, Chick follows Tom and Josh Sterling (Josh Hartnett and Adam Scott, respectively), two brothers desperately trying to right the sinking ship of their failing dot-com company in the weeks leading up to the devastating September 11th attacks.
Opens in New York.

“Days and Clouds”
“Bread and Tulips” director Silvio Soldini looks at the life of a comfortable middle-class housewife (Margherita Buy) who struggles to deal with downgrades in lifestyle after her husband is forced out of the shipping company he used to run.
Opens in New York.

“Death Defying Acts”
Achieving both critical acclaim and commercial success is an act of magic in itself for any movie these days. So when such a feat was conjured by both “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist” in the same year, the only wonder remaining is how another dark and brooding period piece about an obsessive magician didn’t arrive sooner. Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong, who herself is reappearing after last helming the 2002 Cate Blanchett historical drama “Charlotte Gray,” oversees fellow countryman Guy Pearce as Harry Houdini, who offers $10,000 to anyone who can contact his deceased mother and retrieve her dying words. Catherine Zeta Jones co-stars as an impoverished con artist who sets her sights on the money, if she can only get by his suspicious and protective manager (Timothy Spall). Then again, he might be easier to deal with than Houdini purists who cried foul at Pearce’s portrayal of the magic legend when the film premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Eight Miles High”
A “Factory Girl” for Germany, this film is a biopic of the Edie Sedgwick-esque Uschi Obermaier, a Bavarian runaway turned ’60s fashion model and counterculture icon who traveled the globe in a hippie-approved Mercedes Benz bus and became a symbol of the sexual revolution with a string of high-profile affairs with the likes of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Unfortunately, the majority of reviews have suggested that the film is much like the lady was herself — very good-looking, but ultimately a little thin. Still, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t intrigued by the notion of German actors Victor Norén and Alexander Scheer playing Mick and Keith.
Opens in New York.

“Full Battle Rattle”
Winner of a Special Jury Award at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss’ documentary takes us inside the dizzyingly surreal world of the U.S. Army’s sprawling Iraqi simulation complex in California’s Mojave Desert that serves as a fully functional training exercise and the last stop for troops shipping out. Befitting of a place described by one trooper as “one giant reality TV show,” there’s a hair, make-up and wardrobe department that outfits the nearly 1600 soldiers that engage in live field exercises designed to prepare troops for the reality of war, without all that nasty death and destruction stuff, of course.
Opens in New York.

“Garden Party”
From a million bedroom windows across the world, the twinkling lights of Los Angeles burn bright, but it’s the idea of burnout in LaLa Land that holds limitless appeal for indie filmmakers. Ten years after Jason Freeland made his directorial debut with the noir “Brown’s Requiem,” his second film doesn’t so much owe Robert Altman’s masterful “Short Cuts” a wink and a nod — it owes the ensemble dramedy a dinner and a show. Offering his own take on how the town sucks its inhabitants dry, Freeland co-scripted this tale of jaded residents and newly christened Angelenos swapping stories as they loosely drift in and out of each other’s lives searching for that shining promise that drew them there.
Opens in limited release.

“Harold”
Sibling rivalry may have taken its toll on Abigail’s brother Spencer Breslin, but who’d have imagined it would result in male pattern baldness in high school? That’s the scenario imagined in T. Sean Shannon’s offbeat teen comedy, which is actually the full-length incarnation of a short film he adapted from a “Saturday Night Live” skit he penned. Since Harold finds himself subjected to swirlies as the target of bullies, it’s up to Cuba Gooding Jr’s. goofy but cunning school janitor to intervene and teach Harold his own brand of survival skills. Not surprisingly, former “SNL”-ers Rachel Dratch, Chris Parnell, and Colin Quinn round out the supporting cast, in addition to Ally Sheedy, who costars as Harold’s scatterbox of a mom.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”
Perhaps all too aware that the juggernaut that is “The Dark Knight” is a mere week away, Universal has initiated a carpet-bombing marketing campaign of truly epic proportions that’s virtually guaranteed that there are undiscovered tribes in the heart of the Peruvian jungle that know this movie is coming out on Friday. No stranger to sequels, director Guillermo del Toro follows up his Oscar-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth” with a second installment to his 2004 sleeper hit “Hellboy.” Ron Perlman reprises his role as the foul-tempered, cigar-chomping, kitten-loving badass who ably delivers both punches and punchlines when the tentative truce between humans and the fantasy realm is shattered and the forces of darkness prepare to wage war. Fun fact: Luke Goss, the steely-eyed actor who played the villain of del Toro’s last sequel, “Blade II,” returns to torment the director’s current hero.
Opens wide.

“Journey to the Center of the Earth”
Two-time Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig seems ideally suited for the job of directing this latest screen adaptation of Jules Verne’s pioneering adventure tale. Brought to us in stereoscopic 3-D, the same technique employed by last year’s “Beowulf,” this “Journey” stars Brendan Fraser as Trevor, a volcanology professor who, accompanied by his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) and a mountain guide (Anita Briem), follows notes left by his late brother that take them to Iceland and a deep pit that leads to the Earth’s core.
Opens wide.

“A Man Named Pearl”
With a massive, and dare we say it, almost “fashionable” preoccupation with global warming, Iraq and the Israel/Palestine conflict exhibited by filmmakers today, the term “feel-good documentary” is almost an oxymoron. Co-directors Brent Pierson and Scott Galloway look to change that with a portrait of topiary titan Pearl Fryar that’s as bright as the blue skies of Fryar’s home state of North Carolina. Understandably a little irked that his application to a gated community was turned down on the ignorant assumption that black people don’t keep up their yards, Fryar sets about winning the local yard of the month contest by becoming a real-life Edward Scissorhands.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on July 25th.

“Meet Dave”
Originally titled “Starship Dave,” this film’s implication that Eddie Murphy is, in fact, a highly sophisticated spaceship crewed by tiny beings from another planet that don’t fully comprehend our cultures and customs would certainly go a long way to explaining a few of his career choices (oh fat suit, how you beguile us). “Norbit” director Brian Robbins reteams with Murphy in this high-concept farce, co-scripted by Bill Corbett of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fame, that sees Murphy play both the awkward ship and its wildly enthusiastic miniature captain who navigates the treacherous streets of New York to save his planet from destruction. Presumably Murphy wasn’t asked to drive around in the 15-foot tall float in his image that could be seen around Times Square this past weekend, because the idea of Eddie Murphy in Eddie Murphy in Eddie Murphy would really make our heads spin.
Opens wide.

“The Reflecting Pool”
Taking one of the defining, divisive and most emotionally charged events of our time (9/11) and adding a subjective narrative to it is always going to alienate half your audience. Kudos, then, to Russian-American filmmaker Jarek Kupsc for going ahead and doing it anyway. Kuspsc not only culled together the vast and plentiful conspiracy theories about the attack being an inside job, but takes on the lead role as an investigative reporter hired by the father of one of the plane crash victims to dig deeper into the events of that tragic day.
Opens in New York.

“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”
After premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this provocative documentary about one of Hollywood’s most celebrated and vilified artists is receiving a limited theatrical run. Armed with a treasure trove of archival footage, Marina Zenovich extensively chronicles the events leading up to Roman Polanski’s conviction for unlawful sex with a minor and his subsequent and equally unlawful escape to France where he remains in exile to this day. If catching this in the theater would first involve catching a plane, as is the unfortunate case with many limited releases, you can still thankfully see this one on HBO, where it has been doing the rounds for the past month.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on July 18th.

“The Stone Angel”
Prolific Canadian director Kari Skogland writes and helms this brave stab at adapting Margaret Laurence’s celebrated, controversial, and some would say, unfilmable novel of the same name. Told through a series of vignettes, the film is grounded by the irrepressible and always excellent Ellen Burstyn, who stars as Hagar Shipley, a defiantly proud 94-year-old woman who skips out on her well-intentioned son and his less than well-received plans to plant her in a nursing home to journey through Manitoba trying to reconcile events from her turbulent and colorful life. On a somewhat related note, someone really needs to pass a law forever banning the use of Thomas Newman’s “Dead Already” from any trailer for a film about an aging person rediscovering his or her vitality. Ellen Page, Cole Hauser, Kevin Zegers and Dylan Baker co-star.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: “August,” First Look International, 2008]

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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.