DID YOU READ

“The Good Heart” and a mind for mischief.

“The Good Heart” and a mind for mischief. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

The last time Paul Dano and Brian Cox shared the screen, it was for 2000’s “L.I.E.,” a film that not only used its Long Island setting for its title, but also employed the desperation of the suburbs and its eternally gray skies as integral story elements. With “The Good Heart,” Dano and Cox finally make it into the city — for a comedy, no less — but while the shabby little piece of real estate that Cox’s speakeasy occupies is in the 212 area code, Icelandic director Dagur Kári’s English-language debut is a Scandinavian import all the way.

In that sense, “The Good Heart” is slightly jarring initially for an American audience — there are recognizable actors in the leads, beautifully shot exteriors of Manhattan and a narrative rhythm that is as bullish on forward progress as a Michael Bay flick. And yet it’s got much more in common with the cinema of Aki Kaurismäki (“The Man Without a Past”) and Bent Hamer (“O’Horten”), full of deadpan humor, abrupt cuts and… a duck, which we’re told is to be served up for dinner eventually, but whose primary function is to offer Kári an extra bit of esoteric set dressing. This may sound like a criticism, it isn’t, but if you’re one who doesn’t enjoy duck on the menu (or off, in this case), be forewarned.

Still, “The Good Heart”‘s marriage of the two cultures bears quite a bit of fruit, beginning with the pairing of the pallid and pious Dano as a homeless man named Lucas and the brusque Cox as a barkeep named Jacques. The two first meet as bedmates in a hospital ward. It isn’t Jacques’ first visit, nor has he endeared himself to the hospital staff that wishes his fallible ticker would just give out and who tell him as much. Lucas, on the other hand, is admitted off the streets with a nasty scar on his left arm and released only after the nurses take up a collection for him (which he promptly gives away to others living on the street.) Neither can continue living the way they do, and Jacques takes the initiative to become a Henry Higgins-type patron to Lucas’ unpolished gentleman, believing that Lucas could inherit the bar as Jacques has alienated everyone ever close to him except for a coffee grower in Martinique. (He even plans for Lucas to marry the coffee grower’s nine-year-old daughter, “when she’s a little older.”)

03122010_GoodHeart2.jpgWhat follows is a Laurel and Hardy routine as imagined by Samuel Beckett. Jacques’ bar is a way station for lost souls of all stripes — an espresso-drinking mute who strongly believes in routine, a trashman who aspires to collect garbage in space, Jules Verne’s great-great grandson who has a case of writer’s block, and a frizzy-haired barfly with a strong resemblance to Julian Schnabel who picks fights with whatever eclectic company strides up to the stool beside him. Cox has no intention of changing the clientele — he says grimly, “we don’t do walk-ins” after pouring a stranger a ketchup-heavy Bloody Mary. And it’s no place for women either, which poses the film’s main complication when April (Islid Le Besco), a wet and sobbing French flight attendant, shuffles into the place asking for a place to stay.

Needless to say, Cox’s killjoy is none too thrilled with this turn of events and vies for Lucas’ attention as his protégé begins to drift away with April, and the narrative finally starts to take shape. While serviceable in that regard in spite of a questionable third act twist, “The Good Heart” works best when Dano and Cox are allowed to play off each other, where Cox’s obvious affection for his “L.I.E.” co-star makes his character’s relationship to Lucas understandable and finds the truth in a film where observations about human nature are abound but real humanity is elusive.

“The Good Heart” will open in New York on April 30th before expanding on May 14th.

[Photos: Brian Cox and Paul Dano in “The Good Heart,” Magnolia Pictures, 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.