DID YOU READ

Bad Boys Grow Up

Bad Boys Grow Up (photo)

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Let’s start with a few images: A psycho jive artist dancing around as he cuts a man’s ear off. A retired bullfighter slumped in front of a television set, masturbating furiously to slasher movies. Scenes like those, from Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and Pedro Almodóvar’s “Matador,” pretty much secured the bad-boy reputations of their creators. Tarantino came to be regarded as a hyped-up pop culture junkie spritzing bloodshed and movie references in equal measure. And Almodóvar was thought of as something like the post-Franco John Waters, mixing ’50s Hollywood-style melodrama with cheerful hedonism awash in sex and drugs.

But at this year’s New York Film Festival, it was Almodóvar’s latest, “Broken Embraces,” that was chosen for the stately closing night slot. And about a month or so before the festival, Tarantino’s latest film, the epic World War II adventure “Inglourious Basterds,” became the unlikeliest hit of the year. What links both of these films is that, for each filmmaker, they represent a point at which they demonstrate a mastery of craft equal to the Hollywood films that inspired them.

It’s not to take away anything from Tarantino or Almodóvar to say that their affinity to classic Hollywood narrative is more obvious right now because Hollywood movies are in such lousy shape. Spectacle, juvenilia and movies that look as though they were made by someone with ADD have taken over. Stories don’t make sense, action sequences are incoherently shot and edited (there’s often no telling where characters are in relation to each other) and by the time audiences go in on opening weekend, they’ve been so saturated by trailers and ads that they’ve already seen the most surprising moments of the movie they’re about to watch dozens of times. And then, after the hype and the weekend grosses, everything becomes old news on Monday morning and the next week’s round of hype begins.

11182009_KillBill1.jpgIt wasn’t always clear that Quentin Tarantino was going to stand apart from the shallowness of contemporary American movies. But the “Kill Bill” movies, though containing more action set-pieces than all his previous work put together, showed a mature confidence that was new. The story was a quest for revenge, but the movie worked as an extended metaphor for putting away the past. Uma Thurman’s Bride isn’t just killing her enemies; she’s parting with almost everything that’s made her who she is — which is why the entire epic climaxes with a breakup scene. Tarantino has always used nonlinear storytelling and multilayered narratives. By “Kill Bill, Vol. 2,” he’s come to rely almost completely on dialogue, and not compendiums of pop culture references but long, character-driven interrogations.

Even “Death Proof,” Tarantino’s half of the trash-movie homage “Grindhouse,” was a declaration of independence from the current movie scene. It’d be wrong to say that the movies Tarantino referenced were in any way innocent — they were too calculated, too sadistic for that. But there was less bullshit to them. Put it this way: the exploitation filmmakers who lured in audiences with promises of the leading lady taking her shirt off or blood-splattered action seem to be scamming a buck with a lot more honesty than the studio merchandising execs who sell toys at Burger King, or the publicists who get correspondents on the networks the studios own to interview a new movie’s stars as if that constituted news.

A popular movie that doesn’t follow that pattern is an anomaly. This summer, at J.J. Abrams’ retelling of “Star Trek,” you could almost hear the audience sigh over the luxury of seeing beloved characters given the chance to talk to one another, and at having a story with a coherent emotional arc. As they did a few years before at “Casino Royale,” moviegoers were watching something that wasn’t going to evaporate the moment they left the theater.

Disposable junk is largely what Hollywood makes now. The pictures nominated for Oscars, the ones the studios have always pointed to as evidence of their interest in making quality films, have become, in terms of the audience they attract and how they figure on balance sheets, niche movies. Even an expensive picture like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” isn’t thought of as having potential to break out. The days when the big hits, like “In the Heat of the Night” or “The Godfather,” could also be Oscar winners are far in the past.

11182009_Motherhood.jpgAnd American indie movies haven’t filled the void. To submit yourself to the half-baked whimsy of yet another ensemble comedy with patented quirky characters, or to another 90 minutes of shaky-cam and characters who look as if they can’t be bothered to shave or iron their clothes, seems like a denial of the wit and style and beauty that drew us to movies in the first place. I couldn’t face Katherine Dieckmann’s “Motherhood.” The trailer depressed me. I didn’t want to watch Uma Thurman, one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the screen, reduced to a frazzled frump dealing with strollers and playdates. I can see that in Park Slope.

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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.