DID YOU READ

“35 Shots of Rum” and “Mammoth” on DVD

“35 Shots of Rum” and “Mammoth” on DVD (photo)

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Just as most intelligent critics already said last year, the kind that know their Wong from their Bong and can find their Warhol with both hands, Claire Denis’ “35 Shots of Rum” is a lovely, ruminative, impressionistic, elusive, sensitive beaut, rich in the director’s signature brand of elliptical hodgepodge and brimming with the-state-of-us-now immediacy. The problem is, I’m not sure there’s much to it.

What I’m coming up against is, I think, the gray zone in film criticism, between recognizing a film’s intelligence and artfulness, and wanting it to correspond in some meaningful way with what we as individuals conceive to be substantial or original or resonant cinema. Every time you read a critic saying “it just doesn’t work,” or, equally, praising a film in evasive ways that don’t fit with your idea of a good movie, then you’re in the zone. Some filmmakers speak to our inner ear with a confidante’s whisper, while others rock ‘n’ roll around in ways we don’t respond to, and who can blame us for taking the former as a kindred spirit? It’s a common no man’s land that few writers dare to acknowledge, but we’re all liable to get lost in it occasionally. What do we expect from a film? What do we need from a film?

Of course, what distinguishes a critic is the breadth and depth of his or her expectations of the medium’s possibilities. The worst critics, and viewers, like movies that assault them in a narrow, formulaic way, whether that way be James Cameron-esque or Pedro Costa-ish. The best are catholic in their perceptions, but no one is immune to their own ideas of what’s rewarding and powerful about the medium. And oh, how I’d like to wax testily on the idea of what a “bad viewer” is. Some other time.

04202010_35ShotsofRum2.jpgThe zone between desire and reality becomes especially broad and inhospitable when you’re dealing with the modern “art film,” which is lately all about elision and stylized emptiness. However savvy a viewer you may be, there will be for you, eventually, a filmmaker that simply goes too far into non-communication and nothingness, and comes out the other end, into vapidity or, worse, pretension.

We all have blind spots, and Denis seems to be one of mine. Her films, from “Chocolat” (1988) to “L’Intrus” (2004), always seem to me to be gorgeous, visually inventive contexts that flirt with substance and invention but never consummate the relationship. Is there a there there, I keep wondering? I’ve had friends show serious disappointment with me when I shrugged over “Beau Travail” (1999), a disarmingly centerless film the supposed greatness of which no critic’s review could clarify (I read them all).

It’s not a matter of one critic being immune to the wonders of form over content — I am reliably entranced by the sludgy, style-heavy films of Aleksandr Sokurov, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lucrecia Martel, etc. — and this may be where my gray zone differs from so many others’. Denis has a characteristic way of shaping her characters’ lives around an idea but never, it seems to me, targeting the idea itself.

“35 Shots of Rum” is essentially an Ozuian love story between a working father (the great brooder Alex Descas) and his commuter-student daughter (Mati Diop), as they live happily together in a rather comfortable apartment but naturally sense a teetering toward the inevitable moment of separation. She attracts men (including far-too-cool nomadic hipster Grégoire Colin), he resists a neighbor’s romantic pressure, and eventually their co-existence suffers from enough unspoken feelings that the two are compelled to drive together to Germany, and visit the dead mother’s family.

04202010_35Shotsofrum3.jpgOzu this is not — the Japanese master’s films are bustling with information as well as strict eloquence — but Denis is masterful at laying out a place and time via fragments coalescing into a whole. We get an acute sense of life on the Paris suburb rail lines (on which Descas’ Gibraltar of a man works, amidst a crowd of mixed émigré compatriots) and in the characters’ unremarkable banlieue, which seems to be completely free of crime or conflict.

Large swatches of the film are taken up with life, not story — a central set-piece involves the whole group heading to a concert in the rain, only to have the car break down and the evening salvaged in a local café, where everybody gets a little drunk and jealous glares fly like boomerangs. That’s it for incident, and the texture is paramount — most of what we know about the characters is expressed in silent looks, not dialogue.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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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.