A Tragicomedy, Split Down Its Center

A Tragicomedy, Split Down Its Center (photo)

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The palm-sized absurdist Lebanese film “The Kite” (2003) was never released to U.S. theaters, and it’s a piteous sign of the times — even a decade ago, such a deft and humane film, bearing an armload of festival awards, would’ve hit screens in at least a few cities, and appeared on critics’ top ten lists, and therein manage a footprint on American film culture consciousness. Perhaps the alt-distribution stream of DVD will suffice, in general; as it is, Randa Chahal Sabbag’s film deserves eyeballs, trafficking in the satiric-fable tradition of “West Beirut” (1998) and “In the Battlefields” (2004) that might stand as a particularly Lebanese idiom. For a country as savaged and riven by warfare, occupation, religious vendettas and geographic tumult, the sense of embracing humor in all three films must be hard won — the DNA of it shares genes with Jiří Menzel’s Czech élan and Kusturica’s Serbian hyperbole, but there’s also a subtle native sense of romance and rock ‘n’ roll.

“The Kite” is all about the ambiguous borderlands — the film is set in a Druze village split more or less down its mountainous middle by the ever-shifting Israeli occupation, so that marriages must be arranged and family arguments hashed out via megaphone and binoculars across an expanse of guarded desert valley. It’s a tragically comic set-up, politically genuine but simultaneously ridiculous, and it never gets old, especially since it’s enacted for the most part by middle-aged women in fluttering black abayas, broadcasting recriminations and, at one point, attesting to a new groom’s masculinity by hollering that when he was seven, “he mounted a goat!”, such was his erection.

The assigned bride in these negotiations is Lamia (the dewily gorgeous Flavia Béchara), a vaguely rebellious girl who has no compunctions about crossing a minefield to fetch a fallen kite, and who, it turns out, is actually in love with the local lad shanghaied into the Israeli forces to monitor the town from a watchtower. Boosted by rather spectacular widescreen photography (both D.P.s are French), Chahal Sabbag’s tone is gentle and generous (except with a single, astonishingly tasteless scene involving the discovery of an aborted fetus); she considers the points of view of virtually everybody on the ground, even the Israeli officers, who know their role is idiotic (transcribing the bellowed border conversations, partitioning different chunks of the village at night with barbed wire and thereby spontaneously separating family members). And then comes a climactic, transporting, magical realist flourish the filmmaker, who sadly died of cancer last August, had not prepared us for. Defiance and love, knotted together, it turns out, is the only way to face oppression.

04142009_Broken.jpgYou never know what you’ll find… as in, amid the usual screaming-slickness-digi-gore foofaraw that makes up Lionsgate’s multiple “8 Films to Die for” and “Ghost House Underground” series (signaling you with titles like “Autopsy” and “Slaughter”), Sean Ellis’ “The Broken” is a metaphysical whatzit that looks and sounds like a horror movie but may actually be something else — a body-snatcher parable on urban alienation? The film possesses that annoyingly gorgeous-cool cinematography so common to its type (and which is soothing, not anxiety-producing), and it indulges in moments of blood-soaked hooey. But it’s the upshot that’s subtly different — so note, here there be spoilers.

Suffice it to say that gorgeous London radiologist Lena Headey may be a victim of Capras syndrome (where you believe the people around you are doubles) as the result of a car accident, except that we know she saw herself driving by beforehand, only, if there are two of her, who’s the double? Exhausted ambassador dad Richard Jenkins, French boyfriend Melvil Poupaud and concerned shrink Ulrich Thomsen don’t know what to make of her dilemma, but they could be haunted/stalked by doubles, too. Where the doubles come from and why are not plot points (thank God) but dangling questions so mysterious that the film begs to be read metaphorically, as a physically articulated existential crisis. In fact, the film does work up a kind of Sartrean nausea — that is, if you can get past the grue-spattered bathtubs and constantly telegraphed menace.

“The Kite” (First Run Features) and “The Broken” (Lionsgate) are now available on DVD.

[Additional photo: Melvil Poupaud and Lena Headey in “The Broken,” After Dark Films, 2009]


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.