DID YOU READ

“Jellyfish,” “Snow Angels”

“Jellyfish,” “Snow Angels” (photo)

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The new Israeli film “Jellyfish” (2007) — co-directed by lifemates Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen, and a Camera d’Or winner at Cannes — is both familiar and otherworldly. Israeli filmmakers, doubtlessly because of their particularly tense position in the world, of their society’s fervent militarization and of the question of the Palestinians, love the everyone’s-connected social-weave film, à la “Crash” (Amos Gitai has made several), bouncing amongst a variety of intersecting characters as a way to paint a portrait of the whole culture. As a sub-subgenre, it has its pitfalls, but as all of our cultures become more and more deracinative and immigrant-scrambled, it’s easy to see the idea’s allure. “Jellyfish,” fortunately, adopts the mode but maintains modesty: a mere 78 minutes long (hallelujah), the movie is sharp and poetic on particulars (somewhat like Keret’s short fiction, though Geffen is credited as the screenwriter), and is rescued from undue ambition by drop-dead bits of mundane magical realism. Most of all, it’s a woman’s film; of the roughly 12 characters, only two are men. As it is, three women dominate: Batia (the rather Islid Le Besco-ish Sarah Adler, whom Godard filmed so rapturously in “Notre Musique”), a lost waitress numb from a breakup and confronted one day at the beach with a mute five-year-old girl who simply walked out of the sea; Keren (Noa Knoller), a newlywed stuck honeymooning in a Tel Aviv dump after she breaks her ankle during her reception; and Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a Filipino nursemaid far from home and commissioned to care for a belligerent old woman.

Confident enough to simply suggest the fantastical and never nail it down, and nervy enough to quote Jean Vigo’s “L’Atalante” in the end, “Jellyfish” is rich with motifs and mysteries, and displays a sweet, patient personality. Scenes often trail off like a dozing child, and dreaminess is a given, particularly once Batia, plagued by ambivalence about her narcissistic parents, gets hit by a bus and walks the streets of the city in her hospital gown, still searching for the wide-eyed nymph in the bathing suit who disappeared when she wasn’t looking. Like Wong Kar-Wai, Keret and Geffen prioritize poetic simile and jukebox irony, a woman’s lovely suicide-note poem (“A ship inside a bottle cannot sink, or collect dust…”) and a plaintive Hebrew-ized cover of “La Vie en Rose.” But “Jellyfish” hangs together rather blissfully in the end because of its sympathetic aura, and the responsive presence of the actresses — especially Adler and De Latorre, who has a disarming way of seeming repulsed by and empathic toward the sullen Israelis around her at the same moment.

09302008_snowangels.jpgSame microgenre, different frontier: David Gordon Green’s “Snow Angels” (2008) limns out a community at the other end of the sensibility scale, namely snowbound North American malaise and self-destruction, played out in a low-rent suburban nowhere where the prettiest woman in town (Kate Beckinsale) waits tables at the old school, Greek-owned chow mein house, where marriages crumble like thin ice, and where the high schoolers’ lives are an aimless mix of pot haze and marching band practice. Based on Stewart O’Nan’s debut novel, the film involves three interconnected families (a faithless high school teacher, a state trooper, another waitress, plenty of old folks stuck in their aging living rooms, etc.), but focuses on Michael Angarano’s sheepish teen, and on Glenn (Sam Rockwell), a chronically jobless drunk who’s now sober, employed and fervently born again, trying to be a good Christian father to his semi-spoiled four-year-old daughter, and to get in good again with his ex-wife (Beckinsale), who harbors a lingering affection but visibly bristles at the uselessness of every man around her. Rockwell is indelible; Glenn is a complex admixture of native intelligence and sour inadequacy, go-getter energy and finally, ignorant fury.

In this kind of movie, convincing realism is 90% of the battle — we know these people, even if the story’s fire alarms feel a little forced and predictable. (Or, more precisely, feel like an unadventurously plotted debut novel that might’ve tried for Raymond Carver-ness but resorted to the conventional in ways Carver wouldn’t have.) Suffice it to say that the fragile, unhappy equilibrium suffered by the characters is eventually destroyed by tragic happenstance, after which only the acting sustains us. Beckinsale isn’t quite up to her big scenes, but Rockwell certainly is, and in smaller roles, Olivia Thirlby (as an irresistibly funky high school new-girl-in-town) and Jeanetta Arnette (as Angarano’s weathered mom) are so vivid you could think you recognize them from somewhere real. Green’s improvisational style lets actors find the right stuff, even if their back is to us when it happens, and it’s a pleasure to get lost in. Your preference for either “Snow Angels” or Green’s more recent “Pineapple Express” would say more about your temperament than about the films’ relative merits — which I think are virtually neck and neck, a dead heat between the morbid and the crispy — but either way Green is having quite the Elvis year.

[Additional photos: “Snow Angels,” Warner Independent, 2007]

“Jellyfish” (Zeitgest Films) and “Snow Angels” (Warner Home Video) 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.