DID YOU READ

What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath (photo)

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With its embrace of genre and slick production values, “Chloe” represents director Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter”) and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson’s (“Secretary” and “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus”) most mainstream efforts to date. Cue the “not there’s anything wrong with that.” In fact, in many ways this chilly romantic thriller does provide a welcome break from Wilson’s standard envelope-pushing head-scratchers. The problem is that her queasy sexual politics remain front and center.

“Chloe” is based upon the 2003 French film “Nathalie…,” and its premise is pretty much the stuff of which French films are made. When music professor David Stewart (Liam Neeson) misses the surprise birthday thrown by his wife, gynecologist Catherine (Julianne Moore), she hires Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a hotel prostitute, to test his fidelity. Naturally, she finds out more than she really wants to know, and develops a mutual obsession with Chloe that escalates into a dynamic that disrupts the entire veneer of her life, including her already-fragile relationship with her teenage son (Max Thieriot).

And what a veneer it is. The entire look of this film issues from Moore’s pale luminosity, punctuated by bold shots of color and impossible to resist. The Stewarts’ life has been crystallized into forms that allow for no flesh and blood. They literally inhabit a house of glass that shines on every surface: Even their computers seem to gleam more than most people’s. They eat in high-ceilinged restaurants staffed by beautiful young women who meet men’s eyes for a little too long, their sheets boast a kazillion thread count, and Catherine’s office is miraculously glamorous for a business where stirrups are the name of the game. But no one seems to like or even listen to each other, a fact that viscerally descends upon Catherine with the revelation that her husband is mostly likely stepping out.

03242010_Chloe3.jpgIt’s in that revelation that you’re most grateful Moore hasn’t succumbed to the botox blues gripping most of her peers. She’s always been a compelling actress to watch, but in her 40s has ripened into a woman who both looks her age, and looks wonderful — a far more common phenomenon among French actresses than American, appropriately enough. Hers is a beauty borne of experience, which means that, as Catherine, her grief hollows out the moons of her cheeks and thins her sensual mouth, carving a great divide between herself and young Chloe’s soft, wide features.

Neeson may turn in the innocent perpetrator that has been his M.O. since “Husbands and Wives” (does he just get hired because he’s tall with a posh accent?) but it is Seyfried, gentle and forceful at once, who rises nearly as far above the material as Moore does. For a while Chloe and Catherine’s scenes together supply enough subtle surprises that their tension overrides the clunky formula. But once the film’s bluff is called and they embark upon a love affair, it devolves into a lesbo-as-psycho shtick that is even duller than it is offensive.

Despite some intriguing elements, by its end, “Chloe”‘s been so far reeled in that you may as well be watching a Lifetime TV movie sponsored by the American Teabag Party. Are meaty female roles so hard to come by in the US these days that even actresses as formidable as Moore choose such compromises?

03242010_Bluebeard3.jpgI’m starting to think that even mediocre contemporary French films, with their myriad question marks, outstrip most American fare — and Catherine Breillat’s “Bluebeard” is hardly mediocre, though it is modest in scale. Shuttling between the1950s and medieval France, it tells the story of two young sisters reading the tale of Marie-Catherine (Lola Creton), the child bride to Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas), the wealthy aristocrat whose reputation was as ugly as his countenance.

The fable itself is a mere three pages though it’s spawned countless variations, and the film packs a similar, swift punch. Too many movies set in the Middle Ages try to prove their mettle with a squalid harshness, but Breillat treats her subject as if it were a moving still life painted in rich oils. In her version, life is so brutal that a whimsy matter-of-factly emerges amongst the fatality that abounds everywhere.

In the opening scene, convent students Marie-Catherine and her older sister Anne (Daphne Baiwir) stand before their Mother Superior. In one breath, she criticizes their bad manners, announces their father has been killed, and expels them as “their circumstances have changed.” As the sisters ride off into the sunset, they careen between gales of laughter and tears — but of course neither response changes a thing, which is the point. The girls now have no future to speak of unless one marries, and the only possible suitor seems to be good old Bluebeard, whose bizarre facial hair poses the least of his love objects’ problems. His wives have a mysterious, unexamined habit of disappearing without a trace.

It is tiny Marie-Catherine, tired of her sister’s shadow, who wraps her fingers around his massive paws and gazes upon him with an interest that is as disarmingly sweet as it is appraising. He responds like the wounded lion he fancies himself to be, and for a time creates a bubble of love that, quiet and droll, protects them from his worst instincts and us from the repulsion such a coupling would normally trigger. Indirectly, it is the sisters’ love that bursts it, but Breillat saves her unhappy ending for her more modern pair of sisters. The balance of light and dark — of avarice and pure love — has never truly changed, she suggests, and she presents a convincing case.

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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.