Minor Tinkering

Minor Tinkering (photo)

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You’ve heard it already, how Wes Anderson’s model railroad-making and Tinker Toy-like narrative constructions, emotionally unmediated characters, pleasure with antiqued surfaces and visual tableaux-love would’ve led him eventually to making an animated film, more probably a stop motion animation, and thus we have “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” a frame-by-frame expression of the single man’s passion for particular detail that’s no less obsessive than your average Jan Švankmajer. So, Andersonites will kvell, and those on whom the filmmaker’s whimsical vision has been lost or squandered will wonder what in hell their children are supposed to make of the thing.

I belong to a third borderland camp, never convinced that Anderson’s bric-a-brac notionalism has yet produced a masterpiece, but nevertheless thankful for the presence of his personality in my head, seething with the joy to be had in hyper-devising human terrariums that reek faintly of yesteryear and pulse with gentle irony. I’m also not worried for my children, who know irony and obsession and vice, all Anderson axioms, like a dog knows fleas, thanks not so much to me, but to SpongeBob SquarePants.

“Fox” is of course a terrarium — a Roald Dahl-derived moon-landing recon of the formidable land known as childhood, and because it is buoyant and life-force-loving and fierce, like a healthy child, it is twice the film of “Where the Wild Things Are,” which mistook the mopiness of personal nostalgia for the affection and brio of nostalgia rooted in our shared history. Anderson makes no such mistake — his film is a fast-talking, zesty riot, in which the George Clooney-voiced egomaniac hero jeopardizes his tabletop country’s animal denizens by stepping outside of his tamed middle-class life and succumbing to his essential fox-ness, looting the local corporate farmers’ hen houses and cider bins for sheer fun and thereby inviting the full wrath of angry human profit-privilege to lay siege.

Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach have, of course, added in Fox’s inner conflict (Dahl’s book was simply about stealing food to survive), and though the character arc is pleasantly dark for an animated film, it’s also rather routine and eventually, predictably, consumes the movie’s latter section with rescue-plot contrivance (and action-movie farce).

Pills mixed into the porridge are standard, but the rest of Anderson’s concoction is not, and as long as it’s inventing furry character tics or roving-shot mini-panoramas or droll animal conversations or meta-cricket sports rules or Rube Goldberg story cascades, we’re comfortably in the realm of the inspired. That’s one thing that’s easy to overlook about “Fox,” particularly for those that have seen most or all of the recent digital kid features — it’s a film that remembers and does not mourn childhood, in all of its cobbled-together, dirt-digging, plan-hatching dizziness. The supply of high spirits, in the characters’ miniature world and in Anderson’s creative play, cannot be corked, and with its rambunctious mix of Brit and American modes and its deliberately unpolished animation, it evokes the actual afternoon daydream of an old-school third-grader far more distinctly than any American film in recent memory.

11112009_FantasticMrFox2.jpgWhich is to say, if movies are only experiences for you, and not objects, and if the antiquarian buzz to be had from attic rummagings like Anderson’s don’t ring your bell (a quiz: was “Sky Captain” a bookplate swoon for you or a strange old-hat snooze?), then “Fox” might seem to be merely a self-conscious exercise masquerading as a kids’ film. With choppy animation, yet. We will leave such impatient and forgetful perspectives with their petulant owners, and note that movies themselves are, at their moviest, cubes of frozen time, elegies for what is taken away from us, every day, as the sub-seconds tick by. Nostalgia is a dirty word these days, but human culture has no now, only a departed then — and cinema is that passage’s most vivid capture system. “Fox” straddles the divide, implicitly engaging in both the everlasting present of children, and the respect for vintage children’s culture like Dahl’s and the very different (and more interesting) world in which it once thrived.

Painted the colors of leaves you notice only if you’re close to the October ground, “Fox” is, for all that, something of a trifle, a candy corn and not a Marathon bar, because ambition and scope wouldn’t make sense in this universe. It harbors statements about human greed, family life, domestication (of men, not just animals), parenthood and heroism, but they’re never serious matters, at least compared to the dry yocks to be had from a possum’s petrified stare of incomprehension.

The actors, from Clooney to badger Bill Murray and petulant teen fox Jason Schwartzman, are all jacked into Anderson’s trademarked deadpan delivery style, but perhaps they didn’t even need to be, given the beguiling physicality of the film — it’s made of toys more convincing than those of the sheeny “Toy Story” films, and evokes most of all the landscape of the old Lutheran TV show “Davey and Goliath,” watched by my generation for its Lilliputian topography and not its message, on very early Saturday mornings before the grown-ups woke up. Again, there’s that “old” thing. “Fox” may escape the attention span of a consumer population acclimated from infancy to plasma TV, Xbox and “Idol” nowness, but it made me want to build a treehouse.


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.