Opening This Week: Indie superheroes, teen vampires and Russian shysters

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11172008_thebetrayal.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Superpowers, real or imagined, along with a bevy of culture clash dominate this week’s offerings. Prince Caspian tries to score big in London, renowned cinematographer Ellen Kuras tells of a family who fled Laos, and a group of vampires run wild in Northern Washington, during the day – the day!

“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
Co-director Thavisouk Phrasavath teams up with veteran cinematographer Ellen Kuras to bring his heart-wrenching story to the screen, a film about courage and survival that’s been 23 years in the making. Recounting the bitter memories of the U.S withdrawal from Laos that left the communists in power and his family in tatters, Phrasavath describes how he swam to a Thai refugee camp after his father, a CIA operative, was branded an enemy of the state, and subsequently moved to a Brooklyn slum with his ailing mother and nine siblings in tow. In English and Lao with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Bigga Than Ben”
With immigration still a contentious issue on both sides of the pond, Brit writer/director Suzie Halewood’s latest effort will no doubt have the Fox News audience waking up in cold sweats in the middle of the night. “The Chronicles of Narnia”‘s Prince Caspian, Ben Barnes and Andrei Chadov star as two wily Russian shysters who wash up on London’s shoreline with the aim of fleecing the welfare system for all they can, spending their days hard at work ensuring they’ll never have to be hard at work, one state benefit scam at a time.
Opens in limited release.

After a lengthy spell in development that saw at least one “start over” decree from the powers that be, Disney’s latest animated outing has a synopsis that reads like “Underdog” by way of “Tropic Thunder.” Badly in need of a Robert Downey Jr.-sized comeback himself, John Travolta lends his voice to Bolt, a courageous canine who plays a superhero on TV, but finds that his special-effects-aided superpowers don’t work when he’s mistakenly shipped cross-country to New York City. With the help of a cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) and his biggest fan, Rhino the hamster (Mark Walton), Bolt attempts to return to the creature comforts of Hollywood and his owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus).
Opens wide.

“Harvard Beats Yale 29-29”
One of the most storied rivalries in all of college sports, the annual football game between the Harvard Crimson and the Yale Bulldogs carries a fierce tradition stretching back over 130 years. Documentary filmmaker Kevin Rafferty casts us back to 1968 to an epic encounter considered by many amongst the inner circles of the Ivy League powerhouses as the greatest of all time. Rafferty, the co-director of “The Atomic Café” and the first cousin of a certain Yale cheerleader (who’d become the 43rd U.S. president), blends archival footage with testimony from players involved (including defensive tackle Tommy Lee Jones) and others who were there to witness Harvard’s historic comeback to score 16 points in the final 42 seconds to reach the unlikeliest of outcomes.
Opens in limited release.

“I Can’t Think Straight”
After turning her debut autobiographical novel into her debut film with “The World Unseen,” writer/director Shamim Sarif again mines her own life experience for this tender coming-of-age culture clash drama centered on an immigrant Palestinian family now living in England. Former model Lisa Ray stars as Tala, the rebellious daughter of traditionalist parents who lament her habit of breaking off engagements to well-to-do local boys. Imagine their surprise when Tala finds a girlfriend in Leyla (Sheetal Sheth), an aspiring writer who stirs some long repressed feelings in Tala and forces her to finally reveal her true self to her disapproving family.
Opens in limited release.

Considering how much time and money major studios pump into ramming this particular wish fulfillment fantasy down our throats year after year, it’s surprising the indie world hasn’t seized upon the genre. In this decidedly oddball comedy from writer/director team Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore, Michael Rapaport stars as Les, a comic book geek who signs up to be part of a trial for a new anti-depressant for a big pharmaceutical company. Believing the drug has gifted him with superpowers, Les takes to the streets to fight crime to the chagrin of the drug corporation who, fearful of bad publicity, dispatches its own agents, “The Suits,” to take Les down.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

Noting both its tiny legion of pre-packaged followers combined with some impressive advanced ticket sales, there are unusually high hopes for director Catherine Hardwicke’s screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s supernatural romance, with one or two quiet rumblings going so far as to anoint it the heir apparent to “Harry Potter.” Kristen Stewart takes the role of Bella, a new arrival to a sleepy Washington town who finds herself irresistibly drawn to classmate Edward (Robert Pattinson), a benign and reclusive vampire. Finding comfort with one another, their brief moment of bliss is shattered when a rival clan comes to town in search of a fresh feeding ground.
Opens wide.

Known throughout Bollywood for his grand scale epics, director Subhash Ghai offers something a little more intimate with this prim and proper tale of three squabbling aristocratic brothers who reunite around their ailing father to feud over the family fortune. Set to a number of rousing routines orchestrated by “Slumdog Millionaire” composer A.R. Rahman, the film features Salman Kahn as Deven, a struggling singer caught in a contract with his girlfriend’s father that states he cannot marry her until he becomes a billionaire. Only his two brothers, Gyanesh (Anil Kapoor) and Danny (Zayed Kahn), now stand between him and his dreams. In Hindi with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: “The Betrayal (Nerakhoon,” Cinema Guild, 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.