Opening This Week: A doc on beauty culture and an acclaimed Sundance drama

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07282008_americathebeautiful.jpgBy Neil Pedley

This week’s offerings find twilight twenty-somethings longing for love in Los Angeles, “The Mummy” franchise heading East and a gruesome subway slasher trying very hard not to scare people clean out of the theater, at least not before the movie actually starts.

“America the Beautiful”
At 12, Gerren Taylor was a bright young model who strolled the catwalk of Fashion Week in Los Angeles. By 13, she was considered a has-been. Director Darryl Roberts traces Taylor’s early entrance and exit from the runway to paint a far larger picture of the inner workings of the fashion industry, examining the class system of models and the advertisers and designers who relentlessly manufacture a feeling of negative self-image among consumers and then prey upon it to get us to dip into our wallets. Through interviews with fashion industry experts, the first-time documentarian learns that beauty isn’t skin deep — it’s retouched, glossed over and as a business, just plain dangerous.
Opens in limited release.

“Back to Normandy”
French director Nicolas Philibert embarks on a romantic, nostalgic quest to find his filmmaking roots by returning to the beautiful, bucolic heartland of Normandy where his career began some 30 years previous as an assistant director on his first industry gig, the historical murder-mystery thriller “Moi, Pierre Rivière.” Searching out the village locals who helped serve as cast and crew on the film, Philibert encounters old friends and colleagues who recount how the project touched them in different ways and their unique experiences since. In French with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

“Frozen River”
Having scooped a Grand Jury Prize for Drama at Sundance earlier this year, writer/director Courtney Hunt’s debut actually began life as a short film whose run at the 2004 New York Film Festival impressed enough people that she was able to secure financing to adapt it into a feature. Shifting the plot from simple cigarette smuggling to the current hot button issue of illegal immigration, the film offers a rare leading role to Melissa Leo as a desperate mother forced to turn to Misty Upham’s wily border runner for some quick paying jobs after her deadbeat husband gambles away the house payments.
Opens in limited release.

“In Search of a Midnight Kiss”
Taking the old adage of writing what you know, “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” is another semi-autobiographical slice of life from writer/director Alex Holdridge charting the journey of Wilson (Scoot McNairy), a listless screenwriter who searches for love in the lonely wilderness of Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve. Desperate to find companionship to help offset a terrible year, Wilson turns to Craig’s List where he discovers Vivian (Sara Simmonds), a caustic misanthrope who grants him until midnight to prove to her he is worthy of her time.
Opens in New York.

“Love and Honor”
After a hugely successful stint on the Asian festival circuit, the final installment of Yôji Yamada’s intimate and graceful samurai trilogy arrives following the director’s acclaimed “The Twilight Samurai” and “The Hidden Blade.” Again returning to his familiar themes of duty and sacrifice, Yamada’s story follows the lowly samurai Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura), the shogun poison taster whose dreams of opening a casteless samurai dojo are shattered after a careless mistake leaves him blind, forcing his wife to take certain steps to ensure their survival. In Japanese with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Midnight Meat Train”
Japanese horror director Ryuhei Kitamura’s first English language foray into gore gleefully cobbles together some really horrific and terrifying elements, and we’re not just talking about Vinnie Jones’ acting. Jones stars as a crazed butcher who stalks the subways in New York for passengers, including a freelance photographer (Bradley Cooper) who tries tracking down the killer for an upcoming gallery exhibition. The only thing more bloody than the butcher’s thrill kills has been the battle behind the scenes to give the film a proper release — Barker sent an open letter to fans to inundate Lionsgate with e-mails and phone calls after the film was rumored to be going direct to DVD.
Opens in limited release.

“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”
With its thunder somewhat stolen by the very franchise that was its inspiration, the summer’s second most eagerly anticipated archaeological adventure arrives in theaters. Brendan Frasier returns as swashbuckling explorer Rick O’Connell, this time aided by his fast-growing son (Luke Ford), as well as series regulars, Jonathan (John Hannah) and O’Connell’s feisty wife, Evelyn (Maria Bello, stepping in for Rachel Weisz, as Matt Singer chronicled here). Though nowhere near the 19 years it took Indiana Jones to dust off his fedora, “The Mummy” is attempting a reboot of its own by shifting focus and location from the pharaohs of Egypt to the warlords of China where Jet Li’s entombed tyrant is mistakenly awakened and our heroes’ only chance to defeat him lies with Michelle Yeoh’s ancient sorceress and her army of the undead slaves.
Opens wide.

“Profit motive and the whispering wind”
Loosely inspired by historian Howard Zinn’s celebrated book “A People’s History of the United States,” this poetic concept film comes from Emerson College professor-turned-director John Gianvito. Billed as a visual meditation on our progressive history, the documentary silently tours cemeteries and monuments, including the headstones of Malcolm X and César Chávez, as Gianvito spans 400 years of history in less than an hour, but nonetheless marks the hardship and sacrifice this nation was built on.
Opens in New York.

“Sixty Six”
Brendan Fraser isn’t the only one double-dipping this summer. Following rom-com “Made of Honor,” Brit director Paul Weiland’s rite-of-passage yarn comes stateside to offer something of a mutual cultural exchange, as — let’s be honest — British audiences are about as in tune with family-based Jewish comedy as their U.S. counterparts are with soccer. Ably propelled by historical ironies, this good-natured comedy finds young Bernie Rubens (newcomer Gregg Sulkin) employing everything from panicked plots to voodoo rituals to combat soccer fever as he tries to prevent the scheduling of his bar mitzvah on the same day the 1966 British team play in the World Cup final. Helena Bonham Carter and Eddie Marsan star as Bernie’s exasperated parents.
Opens in limited release.

“Swing Vote”
The idea of the reluctant but incorruptible everyman suddenly finding himself with his hands on the nation’s highest levels of power is an American cinematic tradition dating all the way back to Frank Capra and Mr. Smith. Yet Capra probably never would’ve envisioned the ill-tempered, apathetic single dad, played by Kevin Costner, who suddenly finds himself the center of a worldwide media frenzy as he’s courted by the presidential candidates from both parties (Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper) when the election comes down to his single deciding vote. Besides Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci as dueling campaign managers, everyone from Arianna Huffington to Tucker Carlson weighs in during the satire that might not seem so funny come November.
Opens wide.

[Photo: Model Gerren Taylor in “America the Beautiful,” First Independent Pictures, 2008]


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

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.


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.


Forget Public Wifi

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



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.


Self Defense

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


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