DID YOU READ

Opening This Week: Comedy in the Muslim world, infinite playlists and Jonathan Demme

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09292008_allahmademefunny.jpgBy Neil Pedley

At the multiplex this week, we have some pre-Halloween gothic fancy, films about the two things guaranteed to start a fight in any elevator — religion and politics — and a little music from Nick and Norah and Jonathan Demme’s infinite playlists.

“Allah Made Me Funny”
When Albert Brooks went looking for comedy in the Muslim world, he perhaps didn’t consider that it was alive and well inside our shores. Filmmaker Andrea Kalin picked up her camera and hit the road with Muslim American stand-up comics Azhar Usman, Mo Amer and Preacher Moss, who started the tour in 2004 to combat the negative stereotypes associated with their faith by sharing their unique brand of humor. The film intersperses their routines with personal vignettes that show how the comedians employ laughter as a tool of information to entertain, to educate and to show that a good mother-in-law gag simply knows no boundaries.
Opens in limited release.

“An American Carol”
He might have been pretty quiet this election cycle, but there are still those out there who believe Michael Moore to be a disingenuous, self-promoting, hypocritical windbag — and those include people who do like his movies. Produced and directed by David Zucker of “Airplane” (yay!) and the “Scary Movie” sequels (well, not so much), this unabashedly zany slap in the face of the anti-everything crowd stars Chris Farley’s younger brother Kevin as Michael Malone, an activist filmmaker campaigning to abolish the Fourth of July when he is visited by the spirits of America’s past (Jon Voight, Kelsey Grammer and Trace Adkins). The question remains whether this could possibly do any more damage to Moore than the documentarian’s poorly received foray into comedy, “Canadian Bacon.”
Opens wide.

“Ballast”
Winner of the dramatic directing award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this spare directorial debut might not seem like the work of a visual effects designer who helped create Gotham City for “Batman Forever,” but writer/director Lance Hammer captures an equally vast portrait of the Mississippi Delta in this tale of a fractured family rocked by tragedy and trying to make ends meet. Tarra Riggs, Micheal J. Smith Sr. and JimMyron Ross star as the trio forced to confront their mutual resentment as they struggle to piece their shattered lives back together.
Opens in New York; opens in limited release on October 17th.

“Beverly Hills Chihuahua”
In a world where animators have cornered the kiddie market with big green ogres and trundling dust busters, it seems as though the once mighty talking animal picture might be all but dead. Yet leave it up to Disney to create a renaissance in the anthropomorphic genre with the tale of an all-too-literal rich bitch named Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore, perhaps because Paris Hilton wasn’t available), who takes one wrong turn on Rodeo Drive and finds herself alone on the streets of Mexico. George Lopez voices Papi, a streetwise Chihuahua smitten with the pampered pooch who assembles a crack team of four-legged friends to save the day. Andy Garcia, Paul Rodriguez and Cheech Marin round out the voice cast. We’re just thanking our lucky stars we don’t have to watch the trailer again… or watch other people watch the trailer again.
Opens wide.

“Blindness”
The fact that Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago spent much of the last decade turning down offers to adapt his 1995 post-modernist novel for the screen before finally settling on writer Don McKellar and director Fernando Meirelles should’ve only inspired confidence and rightly so as Meirelles’ career output thus far has exhibited more layers than a wedding cake. Then the film premiered at Cannes where it wasn’t exactly a hit with the critics. Now, minus the film’s original narration from co-star Danny Glover, audiences will see for themselves the drama starring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo as a married couple trapped as part of a mass quarantine in the wake of an unexplained outbreak of blindness. As panic begins to take hold and supplies run short, the delicate situation begins to unravel as various factions vie for power.
Opens wide.

“Flash of Genius”
Combining the two things America is most fond of — underdogs and suing people — longtime producer and first-time director Marc Abraham chronicles the heart wrenching true story of engineer Robert W. Kearns and his bitter legal battle with the automobile industry after he learns they’ve stolen his invention of the intermittent windshield wiper. Greg Kinnear plays Bob Kearns, the earnest engineer who comes to discover that when it rains, it pours — his marriage collapses and he slowly descends into bankruptcy during the many years of litigation that followed. Lauren Graham and Alan Alda co-star.
Opens wide.

“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”
Simon Pegg looks to bounce back from the mixed comedic bag of “Run Fatboy Run” with this loose adaptation of Toby Young’s memoir of the same name that detailed his disastrous five-year excursion to the U.S. as a contributing editor of Vanity Fair. All names have been changed to protect the innocent, or at least keep open the career options of anyone associated with the film, so Toby has been rechristened Sidney Young, a bungling pond hopper lured with a job offer by Jeff Bridges’ high-flying publishing executive to the bright lights of the Big Apple where he finds the Devil apparently isn’t so discerning over his outfit. Kirsten Dunst, Gillian Anderson and Megan Fox make the transition a little harder for Pegg’s Sidney in the feature debut from frequent “Curb Your Enthusiasm” director Robert B. Weide.
Opens wide.

“Just Buried”
With the arrival of October, matters once again turn to the macabre, the diabolical becomes the delightful, and first-time writer/director Chaz Thorne delivers this black as coal comedy from the great white wilderness up north. If Napoleon Dynamite spent less time practicing dance moves and more time killing people, he might look a lot like Oliver Zinck (“Undelcared”‘s Jay Baruchel), a nerdy ne’er-do-well who inherits his estranged father’s failing funeral home. With bills piling up a lot faster than bodies, Oliver is railroaded into a diabolical scheme by his girlfriend/embalmer Roberta (Rose Byrne) to take a more pro-active approach to start rolling in the dough.
Opens in limited release.

“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”
Long before MySpace, the ritualistic making of the mix tape was the quintessential way to use other people’s poetry to define your own individuality. Armed with a soundtrack full of buzz bands such as Vampire Weekend and We Are Scientists, “Raising Victor Vargas” director Peter Sollett is putting his spin on the teen comedy. Michael Cera, the supreme master of the awkward pause, and Kat Dennings star as the titular duo that is forced into an evening together in pursuit of a secret concert of their favorite band when their exes (Jay Baruchel, Alexis Dziena) rear their no-so-ugly heads. Other familiar faces spotted throughout the night include John Cho, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Seth Meyers, Andy Samberg and Devendra Banhart.
Opens wide.

“Religulous”
Political satirist and known atheist Bill Maher unleashes himself on unsuspecting members of the public to religious officials and scholars in an effort to establish what makes the divine and raptured tick. Accompanied by “Borat” director Larry Charles, who knows a thing or two about ambushing people, Maher travels everywhere from the Vatican to Jerusalem to Washington D.C. asking people to expound their religious beliefs and then ponders aloud why they’re likely wrong.
Opens wide.

“Rachel Getting Married”
Described by director Jonathan Demme as a salute to the organized chaos of the late, great Robert Altman, this fragile, handheld portrait of familial dysfunction and squabbling siblings once again shows that nothing brings about despair like a wedding. Rosemarie DeWitt is Rachel, the overlooked eldest daughter who is thrilled to finally have a big day all to herself until the arrival of her jittery, maladjusted sister Kym, straight from rehab, threatens to steal the limelight. Anne Hathaway dirties up her porcelain good looks to play Kym, while Debra Winger and Demme regular Bill Irwin co-star as the exasperated parents caught in the middle, not to mention the five or six musical acts Demme booked to play at the ceremony, including Robyn Hitchcock.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

[Photo: “Allah Made Me Funny,” Truly Indie, 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.