DID YOU READ

“The Forsaken Land,” “Team Picture”

“The Forsaken Land,” “Team Picture” (photo)

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Ah, minimalism, the miserable hairshirt pajamas so many critics still love to put on in the semi-privacy of their vocations, ostensibly separating them from the herd of passive filmgoers like enlightened monks separated from the peasantry — or, at least, so it may seem to the mainstream, who have been trained from the cradle to desire only distraction, and for whom a movie that deliberately fails to deliver narrative excitement is akin to water torture. Honestly, both are fair and comprehensible positions, and if you can decry the ignorant impatience of the many viewers intolerant of the new movie by Jia Zhangke or Pedro Costa or Tsai Ming-liang, you could also legitimately wonder when and where art film asecticism steps over the border into pretentious tedium. (Just because it’s not a terribly commercial gambit doesn’t mean it can’t be overexploited by filmmakers — take Costa’s “Colossal Youth,” please.)

Everyone has to draw their own line, naturally, even if, let’s face it, minimalist art film, done insightfully, rewards attentive viewing with transformative experience in ways cluttered, noisy, manipulative narrative films can’t. A prime core sample, Vimukthi Jayasundara’s “The Forsaken Land” (2005) is a Sri Lankan ode to desolation, set in a dune-beset desert range and haunted by the memories and present-moment traces of war. New Yorker Video is framing the film in the context of the 2001 cease-fire between the Sinhalese government and the Tamil Tigers, the result of which was increased military presence in the country, but Jayasundara is so sparse with cultural or historical cues you could imagine it takes place anywhere, or nowhere. What we get mostly is the flat Sri Lankan wilderness, magnificently photographed in various stages of thunderhead menace and shining dusklight. A civilian guardsman lives in an outland shack with his young and unfaithful wife and unmarried sister, other guardsman dally, the army comes and goes in trucks, tanks patrol the weeds (and always, slowly, retarget their gun barrels at the camera), a dead body is found, a monsoon breaks, sexual frustration percolates. Spent artillery shells are glimpsed lost in the sand, visits to an outhouse are observed in their entirety, impulsive copulation and voyeurism tempts nearly everyone. Late in the game, the uneasy protagonist is taken by the soldiers to a wasteland where he is instructed to finish beating a sheet-wrapped prisoner to death, which he does.

There is less a story here than an unassuming, aimless ramble of images and incidents, and ample opportunities for the characters to brood at the landscape while thinking about things we haven’t seen. My sense of it is that Jayasundara was not as careful as he could have been about allowing enervation to flow from the mostly mute characters to the audience. But his use of off-screen sound and incident are powerful (those alone are quantities the average moviewatcher has to be trained to notice), and once the ellipses and silences add up, “The Forsaken Land” comes off as having an undeniable sense of suspended apprehension that seems to be evocatively Sri Lankan, of waiting both for the war to resume and for life, such as it may be, to begin again. What’s that worth to you? Less or more than CGI explosions and costumed superheroes?

09162008_teampicture.jpgIn homegrown America, the paradigm is more like “mumblism,” and as cynical as I’d like to be about the new run of D.I.Y., HD twentysomething shrug-&-hangout features (a world, you could say, where no one owns a bed, just a mattress), I still find myself appreciating the low volume and the 4-D characters and non-stories they offer. Andrew Nenninger’s “Team Picture” (2007) is a new fave, differentiated from the Swanberg-Katz-Bujalski pack by being decidedly Southern-suburban (the low-rent Tennessee neighborhoods here are one heavy rain from simply being decaying weed jungles), and by being decidedly unhip. Nenninger (who directed the film as “Kentucker Audley,” supposedly to shield his family from the shame of it) plays himself, essentially, a nowhere guy in the Middle Earth of rotten farmhouses, blow-up lawn pools, no-business strip malls and routines for time killing. Skinny, dull and completely affectless, Nenninger’s hero avoids college, quits his job working for his aging jock stepfather (a caricature possibility which is instead treated, like all of Nenninger’s people, with gentle respect), watches his live-in girlfriend walk out, opts out of his friends’ weekend trivialities, meets another girl, dabbles in songwriting, drives to see his father in Arkansas. No conclusions are reached, but moments are found amid the barely audible deadpan comedy — “Do you like enjoyment?” he asks the new girl, right before we’re gifted with the real-to-touch tableau of the lanky Nenninger lounging in the three inches of pool water as the girl (Amanda Harris) sips a beer on the twilight lawn and a train passes in the distance.

On one level, both Nenninger and his co-star/co-cinematographer Timothy Morton (who plays a gabby, loafy roommate) seem ready for their own MTV slacker anti-sitcom; on another, we cannot be prosecuted for wondering why we’re hanging out with these people, if they can’t even decide what to do with themselves as a real, ordinary person routinely does, day to day. Movies at their most basic are about rewardingly occupying our time with something other than own our lives, right? Charming as it is, maybe like Jayasundara’s film, “Team Picture” isn’t realism but rather a heightened Beckettian void, emptied of purpose or action or cause, reducing life to the downtime between words and vital events… maybe.

[Additional photo: “Team Picture,” Benten, 2007]

“The Forsaken Land” (New Yorker Video) and “Team Picture” (Benten Films) 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.