DID YOU READ

On DVD: “Joy House,” “The Witman Boys”

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08052008_joyhouse.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

We’ve been trained nowadays to believe that if a mainstream movie is not a monstrous, definitive, top-heavy, eye-blasting, eardrum-bruising mega-event, it’s not worth seeing. Gone are the cultural aesthetics of the double bill (in which no one film was so commanding that it couldn’t stand to be immediately followed by another), the moviegoing habit (when diversion, charm and story were all moviegoers wanted, every weekend) and the notion of a film’s nature, like a person’s, being valued for modesty, lightweight pulpiness, empathic thrills in the moment and the pleasant company of beautiful and confident movie stars. Stuck in the summertime hell of superhero crapola and CGI migraines, it’s not hard from where I stand (which is, frankly, still a state of bedevilment about how the typically abbreviated and overwrought non-storyness of “The Dark Knight” has so many educated viewers bamboozled) to find relief in the forgotten matinee fodder of a less bombastic time. This week, it’s René Clément’s rather delightful 1964 suspenser “Les Félins” (The Felines), titled here (after the American pulp paperback it was based on, by prolific noiriste Day Keene) “Joy House.” There’s not much that’s earth-shaking about “Joy House” (except perhaps Lalo Schifrin’s pre-Jerry Goldsmith score). But it’s a movie in a way movies haven’t been in a long time: graceful, relaxed, fun-loving, unpretentious.

What you get is Alain Delon in his best persona — a ne’er-do-well playboy flitting around the Mediterranean looking for cash and ass, not unlike his Tom Ripley in Clément’s “Purple Noon” four years earlier. He’s targeted by a jealous American gangster — bring me the head of Alain Delon, literally — and escapes into the opulent Riviera clutches of icy widow Lola Albright (a stunning blonde from Akron whose résumé is otherwise comprised of cheap westerns and episodic TV) and her dewy, bubbly cousin-cum-maid, played by a pristine 26-year-old Jane Fonda at the onset of her French phase. Delon’s hired as a chauffeur — the kind whose driving is seriously impeded by his penchant for hiding under the steering wheel whenever gangsters walk by — but both the chateau-owning widow and the adorable but possibly unhinged kewpie doll have other cat-and-mouse plans for the wandering hunk, and it’s got to do with murder, swapped identities, set-ups, and so on.

It’s the kind of American pulp French filmmakers have always loved: the kind in which not one character has an iota of honesty or morality to them. This is my idea of escapism, hanging in an absurd vacation-France inhabited by nuns and sex kittens, digging the redoubtable chemistry between Fonda and Delon (honestly, Fonda’s so game and sexy here she’d muster chemistry with Fernandel), enjoying the stars’ indulgent wallow in the Riviera as I’m also casually and effortlessly following the not-too-fast narrative without the benefit of a single optical effect or a single moment where the film insists on “making” me “feel” the action. (When an on-the-run Delon hazardously flags down a passing truck, Clément hangs back and just watches the actor literally leaps on the grill.) “Joy House” is not a great film (it’s not as rich as the Patricia Highsmith-derived “Purple Noon”), but it is pure movieness, un-self-important and respectful and sweet, and I’d prefer watching it again to sitting through another $120 million comic book holocaust.

08052008_witmanboys.jpgOn another planet, and not one immune to a degree of pretension, the overlooked Hungarian film “The Witman Boys” (1997) grimly lays out the growth, like mold, of family psychopathy, and of its kind (think “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea,” any number of Claude Chabrol films, and the numerous movies based upon the Papin sisters) it’s an expert, reserved, thoughtful piece of work. There’s a predictability to it, of course, as we observe the titular brothers (Alpár Fogarasi and Szabalcs Gergely, both of whom could pass for John Lennon progeny) react to their tyrannical father’s death by not reacting at all, and then begin torturing and killing animals (mostly off screen), and then fall under the spell of a whore who encourages them to thieve from their mother (the always mesmerizing Maia Morgenstern) and eventually edge over into homicide. Still, the stars of the show are director János Szász and cinematographer Tibor Máthé (Ildikó Enyedi’s D.P. and maybe the best unemigrated shooter in Eastern Europe); “The Witman Boys” is set in a small turn-of-the-century Hungarian city, a chilly mess of snow, oil light, stray dogs and smoky air, and it’s breathtakingly shot, in glowing earth colors and magic-hour luminescence, like Wyeth meets Vermeer meets Sargent. The cold story may be familiar, but the place and time is evoked so clearly it becomes a sense memory.

[Photos: “Joy House,” MGM, 1964; “The Witman Boys,” Bunyik Entertainment, 1997]

>”Joy House” (Koch Lorber) is now available on DVD; “The Witman Boys” (Facets) will be available on DVD on August 26th.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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