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Opening This Week: A Will Smith weeper, this year’s Cannes winner and Mickey Rourke

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12152008_theclass.jpgBy Neil Pedley

There’s a noticeably European flavor this week, combined with some good old-fashioned work-a-day miserablism just in time for the holidays. Laurent Cantet’s Palme d’Or-winning doc shows a French school in minor crisis, Mickey Rourke battles his demons and Jim Carrey flails about — all in good festive fun!

“The Class”
Considering that the ongoing debate over the education system approaches a national pastime in France, it’s not difficult to see why Laurent Cantet’s pseudo-documentary chronicling a year in a Paris classroom took home the Palme d’Or on its home turf in Cannes. Based on a semi-autobiographical account from former lit teacher François Bégaudeau, playing a similar role here for the cameras, Cantet delivers a studied microcosm of French society via a multiethnic school with an administration run by committee. During the course of a turbulent school year, every aspect of the human social dynamic is played out with points made, points scored, ideologies formed and doctrines rejected, all within the stifling confines of that most formative of environments. In French with subtitles.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles for a weeklong Oscar qualifying run; opens in limited release on January 30th.

“Moscow, Belgium”
Lacking the star attractions of “In Bruges,” this quirky, kitchen sink romcom from television director Christophe van Rompaey nonetheless offers another sunny stroll around a country best known for its waffles and as the place people pass through on their way to Holland. Barbara Sarafian (“8 ½ Women”) stars as Matty, a mother of three who finds herself at the center of an unconventional love triangle after her husband Werner (Johan Heldenbergh) leaves her for a nympho schoolgirl. As Werner’s affair/midlife crisis persists, Matty decides she deserves one of her own and hooks up with the young and rugged Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet), but when Werner returns with his tail between his legs, Matty is forced to make a decision. In Dutch with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Nothing But the Truth”
Hot on the heels of “Frost/Nixon” comes another story eager to paint the free press as the last bastion of moral courage and integral fortitude in a tainted world. Yet where Ron Howard might have embellished a few truths, former film critic-turned-writer/director Rod Lurie just out and out cheats, if the title of this thriller, loosely based on the Valerie Plame saga, is to be believed. Kate Beckinsale steps into the Judith Miller role (renamed here as Rachel Armstrong) as a journalist who goes to prison for refusing to reveal her source on a story that exposed high-level shenanigans, though whereas Miller was protecting her source to help the sitting administration, Beckinsale’s Rachel is intent on “bringing down the White House.” Still, it’s hard to blame Lurie — “Nothing Like the Truth” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Vera Farmiga, Matt Dillon and Alan Alda co-star.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; expands on January 9th.

“Scott Walker: 30 Century Man”
Director Stephen Kijak turns his attention from the obsessed film buffs of “Cinemania” to the reclusive and enigmatic musician whose work has been endlessly obsessed over by music fans. Detailing Walker’s transformation from 1960s boy band pin-up to avant-garde experimentalist, Kijak assembles a who’s who of British hipster icons (Blur, Pulp, David Bowie) to regale us with their tales of Walker’s impact and influence, not to mention a rare and extremely candid interview with the man himself. Though Kijak seems almost uninterested in Walker’s darker side — his alcoholism and much publicized battles with the fame monster — he does shed light on the musician’s creative process as he records his most recent album, “The Drift.”
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on February 27th.

“Seven Pounds”
Picking up where “The Pursuit of Happyness” left off, Will Smith reunites with director Gabriele Muccino for what might be the most depressing film of 2008, which is quite an achievement even after the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” was pushed into next year. As Ben Thomas, a tortured former aeronautical engineer consumed by guilt over a dark secret from his past, Smith dutifully seeks out seven unfortunate souls to bequeath them each a gift that will radically transform their lives, while secretly plotting to end his own. Rosario Dawson co-stars as a young artist on the transplant list who falls for Tim not knowing what his true intentions are. ‘Tis the season to be jolly?
Opens wide.

“The Tale of Despereaux”
In a December crammed to the gills with Holocaust allegories and suicide dramas (see above), we look to the usually family-friendly genre of animation for a little respite, though given the title we could be forgiven for bracing ourselves for some digital depression. Still, that doesn’t appear to be what “Seabiscuit” scribe Gary Ross and “Flushed Away” director Sam Fell are up to with this adventure film, despite having a lead that looks like the result of some genetic experiment involving Dumbo and Fievel. Our plucky titular hero (voiced by Matthew Broderick) defies Mouseworld and joins forces with fellow outcast Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) to save his beloved Princess Pea (Emma Watson) from a plot by an army of vengeful sewer rats who plan to take over the kingdom.
Opens wide.

“The Wrestler”
Never one to shy away from big risks, Darren Aronofsky — the man who brought us a bald Hugh Jackman floating through space in a bubble — chose to wager his next project against his ability to resurrect the career of an actor that no major financier wanted to touch. Going to the mat for his director and garnering some well-deserved Oscar buzz in the process, Mickey Rourke stars as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a one-time superstar now battling aches, breaks and faltering will on the indie grappling circuit. Trying to patch things up with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), while clumsily courting aging stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), Ram prepares for one last shot at glory in a high-profile rematch against his former nemesis “The Ayatollah.”
Opens in limited release.

“Yes Man”
Searching for a little of his old box office mojo, Jim Carrey teams with “The Break-Up” director Peyton Reed to trot out the familiar rubber-limbed hysteria that made him a star with this retread of “Liar Liar” with a slight twist. Loosely inspired by an autobiographical yarn from British humorist Danny Wallace that was itself born out of a drunken bet in a pub, Carrey plays a conservative square with strong risk aversion who is suddenly inspired to say yes to any and all suggestions, no matter how potentially catastrophic they might be. If this were in any way true of some of Carrey’s career choices, it could go a long way towards explaining “The Number 23.”
Opens wide.

[Photo: “The Class,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2008]



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


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.