“Dogtooth”: The ties that blind.

“Dogtooth”: The ties that blind. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

Rampaging out of Greece flashing some serious crazy-eye, Giorgos Lanthimos’ outrageous and excellent “Dogtooth” offers dark (and just as often darkly funny) commentary on overprotective parenting. Or is that isolationism at large? The film’s set in and scarcely budges from the rambling countryside estate where three children dawdle like they’re trapped in the dog days of their summer vacation. Only they’re not children — they’re in their late teens and 20s. They don’t have names, beyond designations as the elder daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia), son (Hristos Passalis) and younger daughter (Mary Tsoni). They don’t need them — they’ve never left the walled-in grounds of their home, and beside their mother (Michelle Valley) and father (Christos Stergioglou) seem to have only ever met one other person, Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), who works at their father’s factory and is brought in each week to sexually service the son.

There’s no TV, no radio, no internet and no awareness of the outside world beside what the extensive, fear mongering mythology created by Mom and Dad. It comes across as the extreme conclusion of the type of warnings parents throughout time have used to scare their young into obedience — “If you keep making that face, it’ll get stuck that way forever!” The only way to safely leave the grounds is in the car; a cat is a dangerous animal that will tear you to pieces; you become an adult and can go only after your canines fall out and are replaced for the second time — so, never. They’ve also schooled the three in an alternate vocabulary that’s part euphemism (“keyboard” is their word for female genitalia) and part falsified definition for terms likely let slip accidentally (“telephone” for salt shaker). When all facts come from you, you can dictate the reality of your world — and so the father insists a Frank Sinatra song the clan listens to is sung by the kids’ grandfather, and “translates” it into an affirmation of family and obedience.

03092010_dogtooth2.jpgThe children spend most of their time playing odd, invented games — competing to see who can hold their hand in hot water the longest, or inhaling anesthetic and racing to be the first to return to consciousness. While adults in the grip of crippling arrested development all but own their own genre these days (“Step Brothers” being a kind of apogee), there’s something terribly, mesmerizingly convincing about “Dogtooth”s trio as half-formed hothouse human beings, wandering around in bathing suits and sundresses, childlike and docile as cattle, but each manifesting his or her own form of stir-craziness.

Lanthimos, who also co-wrote “Dogtooth” with Efthymis Filippou, gives us no sense of time passing — this could be an endless loop of summer days, the white walls, green lawns and grubby pool an eternal, repressive Eden. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatatakis likes to frame fixed shots so that the children loom out the top, like limbs shooting past the confines of outgrown garments. Before there’s any actual incest — and “Dogtooth” has some shrinkingly disturbing sexual sequences — there’s the metaphorical sort. For entertainment, at night, the family watches videotapes of themselves doing the same thing nothing in particular they’ve done all day, footage apparently so familiar that the rapt youngest daughter can recite along with the action on screen.

03092010_dogtooth3.jpgWhat made the parents choose to keep their kids in such dictatorial, shrinkwrapped isolation? There is, gratifyingly, no easy explanation offered. They don’t impose this quarantine on themselves, talking on the phone behind the locked door of their room, and spicing up their love life with porn. When the father goes out to retrieve a dog he’s purchased and left with a trainer, he’s told he can’t take the animal home yet, that he’d interrupt the process of shaping the dog into the obedient pet it could be. He stares at the dog in his cage. The dog looks back at him. The dog, at least, will eventually be deemed appropriately conditioned and released. The children, who are only being shielded from the outside world, have no such end date to look forward to.

While sex is what sets in motion the events that burst the horrific bubble in which the “Dogtooth” denizens live, it’s blockbuster cinema that’s the unexpected apple in the garden. It arrives in the form of two loaned VHS tapes that lead the eldest daughter to become the second sheltered innocent I’ve seen on screen in the last few years (the first being Bill Milner’s character in “Son of Rambow”) to be spiritually transported by a Sylvester Stallone effort. What can’t that man do? Well, besides provide a pat ending. “Dogtooth” closes with an ellipsis that suits the film’s stubbornly insoluble, enduringly provocative world.

“Dogtooth” will be released by Kino later this year.

[Photos: “Dogtooth,” Kino, 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.