“Burn After Reading”

“Burn After Reading” (photo)

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It doesn’t make a lot of sense to follow up a movie as dark as “No Country for Old Men” with one as downright silly as “Burn After Reading,” which is why it works for the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan have done this before — they made “Raising Arizona” after “Blood Simple”; “The Big Lebowski” followed “Fargo” — and if there’s one thing these brothers savor, it’s upending their audience’s expectations. The only thing people didn’t like about the almost uniformly beloved “No Country” was the film’s controversial ending and its handling of a sudden off-screen death of one of the main characters. In “Burn After Reading,” they push it farther, refusing to show you the chain of events that set the film’s entire blackmail plot into motion.

They’re not just messing with you; by taking their last film’s most significant criticism and making it even more noticeable, they’re also making fun of themselves, and that idea of self-parody reverberates through every frame of their latest movie. This is a spy picture in which nobody does any actual spying (at least not for the government; plenty of people are snooping around on their spouses) and where the intelligence community is portrayed as a world inhabited wholly by people without intelligence. Just about everybody whose name appears on the poster is skewering their onscreen persona, the most obvious being the picture’s two biggest stars, George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Pitt actually has a small supporting role. When his name shows up in the credits, it reads “And Brad Pitt.” The very notion that any movie might have such an important cast that one of the world’s biggest movie stars would get tossed in as an afterthought seems like a joke in and of itself. He plays Chad Feldheimer, a personal trainer that’s the very antithesis of the characters Pitt typically plays onscreen — not the slightest bit cool or suave, with no sense of personal style, nor even a whiff of intelligence, and a truly obnoxious haircut. Chad works at a Hardbodies gym in Washington D.C., where he finds a CD full of “intelligence shit” in the women’s locker room and starts dreaming of a big finder’s fee. The top-billed Clooney plays Harry Pfarrer, a philandering U.S. marshal swept up completely by accident into the world of espionage. When you see the movie, you may note that Clooney, sporting a thick beard, looks very much like Bob Barnes, the CIA agent he played in “Syriana,” a very serious spy movie. That surely is no accident.

09112008_burnafterreading2.jpgPfarrer is involved in two affairs at the film’s outset: one with Katie (Tilda Swinton), the wife of CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich, the cast’s true standout), who loses his classified information-laden memoirs, and Linda (Frances McDormand), the plastic surgery-obsessed Hardbodies employee who recovers them along with Chad. (We never do see the disc being lost or recovered.) Linda and Chad want to blackmail Cox but they’re not exactly the sharpest crayons in the box. And despite his bowties and his drunken behavior and the ridiculous way he pronounces the word “chèvre,” Cox isn’t a pushover.

I like that the Coens don’t take themselves seriously. They made a serious, brutal movie and didn’t feel like making another one just yet. Winning a Best Picture Oscar has gone to the heads of many filmmakers, but that’s clearly not the case here; this is one of their zaniest, most immature films in the best possible way. There’s a looseness to their work in “Burn After Reading,” and with it comes a sense of unpredictability as well, and if a comedy is going to work, it had better catch us by surprise.

And yet the movie does have some things on its mind behind cracking jokes. The “Enemy of the State” knockoff credits sequence, where the camera gives us a spy satellite view of the earth and slowly zooms in until it’s at ground level in Langley, Virginia, suggests “Burn After Reading” will be a parody of paranoia thrillers where innocent people are done in by a corrupt and egregiously powerful government. Not so; in fact, in the Coens’ view, humanity is more than capable of destroying themselves without the assistance of power-mad governmental evil (who, in their eyes, are too clueless to pose a real threat). Paranoia is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy; one moment you’re seeing unmarked sedans everywhere, the next you’ve killed someone with that firearm you swore you’d never have to discharge on the job.

McDormand’s character Linda has the most important lines in the movie. “I’m reinventing myself,” she says. “I’ve gone just as far as I can go with this body!” (Linda, who works in a gym, never even considers the idea that she could work out to improve her figure). Like a lot of people in this country, Linda and the rest of the characters of “Burn After Reading” are plagued with the disease of free-floating dissatisfaction: they’re not happy in their lives and they’re constantly searching for that one missing thing — whether it’s sex or a new job or a facelift — they think will magically solve everything. The movie really nails that vibe and why shouldn’t it? Who knows the art of reinvention better than the Coen brothers? They do it to themselves every movie.


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.