DID YOU READ

The potetry of “Leaves of Grass.”

The potetry of “Leaves of Grass.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

At the intersection of pot and poetry, at a place we might as well dub “potetry,” lies Tim Blake Nelson’s “Leaves of Grass.” Pot movies, like potheads, have a tendency to wax philosophical — this one has an actual philosophy lecture. In it, Brown classics professor Bill Kincaid (Edward Norton) argues for Socratic ideals of self-discipline and control. He practices what he preaches, too; in the next scene, a young female student throws herself at Bill, and his restraint would make Socrates proud. Meanwhile, down in Bill’s home state of Oklahoma, Bill’s identical twin brother Brady (also Norton) operates on the opposite end of the spectrum as an unhinged agent of chaos, running a marijuana growing operation dubbed “the Taj Mahal of hydroponics.”

Brady needs Bill back in Oklahoma to help him with a drug-dealing scheme, so he decides to fake his own death, forcing his brother to reluctantly head home to one honey of a culture clash. Nelson, returning to Oklahoma for the first time as a director since his 1997 debut “Eye of God,” revels in the awkward collision between high art and getting high. That friction exists both between Bill and Brady and within the film as a whole, which oscillates, sometimes within a matter of seconds, from sincere poetry readings to hillbilly jokes, or from cutesy fight scenes to intense, bloody violence. The shifts in tone are entirely intentional and, at least from my perspective, entirely off-putting. Nelson wants to make jokes and points simultaneously; too often, one cancels the other out. It’s hard to take a movie seriously when it features Three Stooges-style chase sequences and it’s hard to laugh at jokes, even inspired ones, moments after you watch someone get brutally murdered.

03122010_leavesofgrass2.jpgMuch of the task of selling the humor and the pathos falls to Norton as both Kincaid twins. Since he’s one actor playing two brothers, that means lots of trick shots in which the two brothers appear in a single shot together. If the “Leaves of Grass” approach to the twin interplay (twinterplay?) doesn’t have as much innovation (twinnovation?) as last year’s “Moon,” Norton still does a marvelous job fleshing out Bill and Brady as believable brothers, different in many ways, connected in others. Still, his best work in the film might be the stuff he does at the end, when the twins are separated again, and one of the brothers reveals how he truly felt for the other after all their years apart. He also has some nice chemistry, of both the sexual and intellectual varieties, with Keri Russell, who plays the one woman in rural Oklahoma interesting enough to make Bill consider sticking around for even a second longer than familial obligation requires. The idea of a woman gutting a fish while quoting Walt Whitman poems might not sound sexy, but Russell proves it can be when done by the right woman.

The rest of the impressive cast is squandered on go-nowhere roles: Susan Sarandon as the Kincaids’ depressed mother, Melanie Lynskey as Brady’s pregnant fiancée and Richard Dreyfuss in basically a glorified cameo as the drug kingpin of Oklahoma. Nelson might have had more time to showcase these very talented actors if he didn’t get so wrapped up in every single development of his overly intricate drug plot, or in a series of increasingly implausible endings. “Leaves of Grass” has some genuinely funny moments and two actors giving three very good performances, but it’s just too overstuffed, like a joint that’s so full that everything just falls out the sides when you try to roll it.

“Leaves of Grass” will be released by First Look on April 2nd.

[Photos: “Leaves of Grass,” First Look Studios, 2010]

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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.