Opening This Week: A 9/11 noir, a Flaming Lips film and a Coens comedy

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09082008_abledanger.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Some might be quick to dismiss this week as part of the post-summer lull, but others might see it as a week of films that have been years in the making — it’s been 13 since the now re-paired Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were last on screen together, while Diane English’s remake of “The Women” took 12 to make it to the big screen, and the Flaming Lips’ “Christmas on Mars” spent a mere seven years in the offing. As for fans of the Coen brothers, it only seems like forever since “No Country for Old Men.”

“Able Danger”
Another week, another 9/11 conspiracy film, this one actually getting released on the seventh anniversary of the tragedy. Loosely inspired by “The Maltese Falcon,” this DV noir offers something of a date movie for far-left conspiracy theorists who take issue with perceived abuse of power on the part of our government. In spite of a budget that wouldn’t finance a toddler’s birthday party, first-time director Dave Herman and scripter Paul Krik cook up a shadowy cloak-and-dagger mystery starring international woman of mystery Elina Löwensohn (in femme fatale mode here) who steps into the bookstore owned by a radical blogger (Adam Nee) and sweeps him up into a deadly hunt for a hard drive that contains proof of US government involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
Opens in New York.

“Burn After Reading”
Though the Coen brothers penned this script around the same time as the somber, Oscar-conquering “No Country For Old Men,” early reports out of Venice suggest that this star-studded espionage farce is the culmination of their every idea tossed into the pile marked “silly.” When the tall tale memoirs of ousted CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) fall into the hands of scheming dimwits Chad and Linda (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand), they ineptly try their hand at a little blackmail. George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins join in on the fun.
Opens wide.

“Christmas on Mars: A Fantastical Film Freakout Featuring the Flaming Lips”
It seems as if nobody has bothered to update the film section of the Flaming Lips’ Web site where it still reads, “‘Christmas on Mars’ will be available in time for Christmas in 2003.” Which should make fans of the Oklahoman alt-rockers all the more eager to unwrap this psychedelic passion project that marks the directorial debut of Wayne Coyne, the band’s longtime frontman. No stranger to theatricality (like the band’s parking lot experiments of the ’90s), Coyne has come up with a so-called fusion of “Eraserhead” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” taking place on a dilapidated Mars colony populated by a defiantly deluded Major Syrtis (Lips instrumentalist Steven Drozd) who sets about cheering up his demoralized crew by staging a Christmas pageant to celebrate the birth of the colony’s first baby. But when Santa commits suicide, it’s up to an enigmatic martian (Coyne) to pick up the slack.
Opens in New York.

“Flow: For Love of Water”
Given that we’ve just narrowly avoided another potentially catastrophic flood in the New Orleans area, and the fact that there’s increasing fervid hand wringing over the polar ice cap situation, there are those who might scoff at the idea of a worldwide water shortage. But Irena Salina’s documentary highlights the stealthy but steady privatization of the world’s fresh water supply by a cartel of multinational corporations silently backed by global financial institutions. The latest in a series of alarming activist docs to come out of this year’s Sundance, “Flow” counts the cost in terms of indigenous livelihoods in forgotten parts of the world where countries are too poor and people to desperate to adequately defend what is rightfully theirs.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; expands on Sept. 19th.

Israeli writer/director Udi Aloni explores his country’s culpability in the War of Independence, delivering a kaleidoscopic, genre-splicing tale of trauma and atonement with his first narrative feature. Itay Tiran plays David, an Israeli-American whose exasperating efforts to please his overbearing father lead him back to Israel for a tour in the army. Once there, he learns he’s unprepared for the harsh realities of military life amidst daily sectarian violence and lands in a mental institution built on the site of a devastated Palestinian village where he must confront ghosts of his past and of the Holocaust while he is under the treatment of an experimental anti-memory drug program.
Opens in limited release.

“Moving Midway”
It’s not easy being a critic. Yes, filmmakers pour years of their lives into passion projects and imbue them with their hopes, blood and tears. But what about the poor critic who has to go and see the film for free and then devote upwards of a whole half hour to render that all important verdict of “it’s crap”? Legendary New York film critic Godfrey Cheshire duly puts his money where his typewriter is with this deeply personal exploration of his Southern family history. Returning to his family’s old Tara-esque plantation in Raleigh, N.C., Cheshire discovers a new lineage as he witnesses a massive undertaking to transport the goliath antebellum structure to a new site to make way for property development.
Opens in New York.

“Phoebe in Wonderland”
Nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the feature debut from writer/director Daniel Barnz takes us down the rabbit hole in this surrealist coming-of-age drama that sees young Elle Fanning follow her sister in transitioning from bit-part cutie to diminutive leading lady. As the perennially misunderstood outsider struggling to reign in her boredom-fueled classroom antics, the Alice-obsessed Phoebe (Fanning) is thrilled at the chance to star in the school’s production of “Alice in Wonderland.” Desperate to control her behavioral issues and keep the part, Phoebe’s imagination brings forth beloved characters from the book to help her find her way. Patricia Clarkson, Bill Pullman and Felicity Huffman co-star.
Opens in limited release.

“Righteous Kill”
More than a decade on from Michael Mann’s underworld epic “Heat,” the hairs on the back of your neck still stand on end just a little when talk turns to that cup of coffee. So even though the names Pacino and De Niro may not have as much currency as they did pre-“88 Minutes” and “Hide and Seek,” it’s with reasonable fanfare that two of cinema’s greatest living actors switch locales from a Los Angeles diner booth to the whiskey-stained mahogany of an NYPD homicide desk in their third film together. With a killer on the loose targeting criminals and teasing police with cryptic clues, two aging detectives reopen a case they closed years ago in hopes of confirming they were right and that the killer isn’t one of their own.
Open wide.

With this darkly comic adaptation of Alicia Erian’s somewhat tragic tale of innocence lost, Academy Award winning screenwriter and “Six Feet Under” creator Alan Ball once more vaults the white picket fences of dysfunctional, suburban America and voyeuristically peeks in through the window. Summer Bishil makes her big screen debut as Jasira, a 13-year-old Arab-American girl bounced from her workaholic secular mother in New York to her strict Lebanese father in Houston, and finds herself amidst a clash of cultures she doesn’t quite comprehend while attracting the attention of her next door neighbor (Aaron Eckhart). Maria Bello, Toni Collette and Peter Macdissi welcome her into the neighborhood.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; expands on Sept. 19th.

“The Tree of Life”
Not to be confused with Terrence Malick’s upcoming film of the same name, this documentary from Los Angeleno Hava Volterra follows the filmmaker’s travels to Italy in search of her lost ancestry after the death of her immigrant Italian Jewish father. With her tireless 82-year-old aunt in tow, Volterra cleverly punctuates her journey with playful marionette reenactments and Python style animation, as the filmmaker cathartically pieces together the scattered family tree and reconnects with her heritage. In English and Italian with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys”
With his second film of the year, the tireless Tyler Perry once again delivers a patented ensemble family drama that once again addresses the terminally forgotten African-American middle class. In the first of Perry’s films to feature an interracial cast, Alfre Woodward and Kathy Bates star as longtime friends from opposite ends of the class spectrum who find their worlds colliding when their children become embroiled in allegations of extramarital affairs, shady business dealings and potentially devastating paternity suits. Sanaa Lathan, Cole Hauser, Taraji P. Henson and a resurgent Robin Givens co-star.
Opens wide.

“The Women”
“Sex and the City” showed that while Hollywood might be a little light on leading ladies these days (just give the Fannings a few more years), ladies are always up for a little light comedy. In the wake of the “Sex” revolution, Diane English’s remake of the 1939 George Cukor classic suddenly seems hip, but it didn’t come easy. After more than a decade in development hell with everyone from Julia Roberts to Whitney Houston rumored to be on board, the former “Murphy Brown” showrunner joined forces with Mick Jagger to update the tale of a well-to-do New Yorker (Meg Ryan) who discovers her husband is cheating on her with a salesgirl (Eva Mendes) and takes comfort in the company of her friends (Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith). And despite Jagger’s attachment as a producer, don’t look for a cameo — both this and the 1939 film have no roles for men.
Opens wide.

[Photo: “Able Danger,” Collective, 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.