DID YOU READ

Italian cinema on American shores.

Italian cinema on American shores. (photo)

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There’s never been a better time to indulge in a little Italian cinema, at least if you live on the coasts. For New Yorkers, that’s meant classics from the likes of Visconti, Rossellini and Pietro Germi at the Italian Neo-Realism series at the Lincoln Center, and a new 35mm print of Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

If you live on the west coast, mid-November means Cinema Italian Style in Los Angeles and New Italian Cinema in San Francisco and Seattle, where contemporary crime thrillers and comedies straight from Sicily have been the order of the day.

For some of these films, the latter three series will be the only times they’ll screen in the U.S. I still remember seeing Michele Placido’s spellbinding mafia saga “Romanzo Criminale” in 2006 and having to buy a crummy region-free, pan-and-scan Thai DVD for repeat viewings. So rare are the screenings that people at the Aero Theatre in Los Angeles applauded when it was announced that a screening of the recent Toronto hit “Giulia Doesn’t Date at Night,” a romantic dramedy starring Valeria Golino, was canceled because the film got a U.S. distribution deal.

Another film with a U.S. distribution deal, Marco Bellocchio’s “Vincere” is the closing night for the just-concluding L.A. festival and will play San Francisco on November 22nd, well in advance of its March U.S. release date. It’s the kind of grand, propulsive epic that justifies having its American title (“Win!”) translated with an exclamation point. Of course, the exclamation point is also a reference to the mantra of Benito Mussolini, whose rise to power obscures and eventually obliterates the existence of his first wife Ida Dalser and their son, Benito Albino, in order to reshape his public image.

11172009_Vincere.jpgFor Americans, the film will draw comparisons to Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,” as Dalser begins the film as a wide-eyed revolutionary willing to sell all her belongings and quite literally, the clothes on her back to help fund Mussolini’s newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia. She’s rewarded for her devotion with a trip to the mental asylum, where she’s separated from her young son and will introduce herself as the wife of “Il Duce” to anyone who will listen after all her official government records have been wiped out by the dictatorship. Giovanna Mezzogiorno is fearless in the role of Dalser, though her scheduled appearance in Los Angeles was cut because she fell ill, leaving her co-star Filippo Timi to pick up the slack, which he did ably with stories of cramped hotel rooms in Cannes and working with George Clooney on the upcoming Anton Corbijn thriller “The Assassin.”

The other film to overlap between Los Angeles, San Francisco (where it will play on November 19th) and Seattle (where it will play November 21st) is “The Sicilian Girl,” a credible potboiler from writer/director Marco Amenta, who adapted his own documentary into a thriller about Rita Atria. The 17-year-old daughter of a mafia don, Atria turns to the police after the murders of her father and brother to bring down the crime syndicate whose drug ring operations involve the local mayor. The film largely resembles a Hollywood B-picture of the 1940s, and lead Veronica d’Agostino does her best impression of Susan Hayward as the young woman facing incredible odds (even her mother tells her that she wanted to have an abortion), retaining only a clenched forehead as she moves from town to town as part of the witness protection program awaiting her chance to testify in court against the mob.

Even if you’re not a Californian, Cinema Italian Style and New Italian Cinema schedules offer a worthwhile primer of some off-shore titles to keep an eye out for.

[Photos: “The Sicilian Girl,” Roissy Films, 2009; “Vincere,” IFC Films, 2009]

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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.