“Harry Brown,” “The Duel” and “Ghost Bird”

“Harry Brown,” “The Duel” and “Ghost Bird” (photo)

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Daniel Barber’s “Harry Brown” will provoke justifiable comparisons to 2008’s surprise hit “Gran Torino” — geezer with a past decides to clean his neighborhood of punks — but in some ways, it feels closer to that winter’s other surprise hit “Taken” — likable actor kills legions of faceless hoods.

Michael Caine is the geezer in question — a former British soldier who was stationed in Northern Ireland, now widowed and living in a rundown council estate (the UK equivalent of a housing project) that’s going to the dogs. Mild-mannered Harry minds his own business, preferring to spend time in his local pub playing chess with his friend Leonard (David Bradley), even as drug transactions and acts of senseless violence increasingly swirl around him. When Leonard is killed, Harry loses it, deciding to take justice into his own hands. And… well, he does.

04282010_MichaelCaineHarryBrown2.jpgThis is pretty straightforward vigilante justice stuff — lean, mean, but also dispiritingly disposable. There are some nice touches — if you look closely, you might notice during a fleeting cemetery scene that Harry lost his daughter at a young age.

But they’re undercut by more significant moments of craven obviousness — when Harry goes to the local drug dealer’s door for the simple transaction of buying a gun, he is, for some reason, led into the comically deranged baddie’s ghastly pot/heroin/techno/homemade-porn/nearly-dead-naked-junkie-sex-slave den. (I half expected a Rastafarian Gary Oldman to jump out from behind one of the cannabis bushes.)

All that said, I’m not sure there’s a right way to do a movie like this. I could harp on screenwriter Gary Young and director Barber’s refusal to give the young punks Harry battles any kind of humanity — but do we really want the maudlin “good-kid-almost-gone-bad” storyline of “Gran Torino”? I could take them to task for giving Harry a background fighting in Northern Ireland without addressing the loaded questions it raises about that war, but would some sob scene monologue about all the horrid things Harry had to do in his youth be any better? I could complain about the film’s refusal to address the broader social or political context of crime among British youth — but would I be happier if the film suddenly detoured into excuses about The System or whatever?

The truth is that “Harry Brown”‘s main problem is also its main asset: Caine is just too good and too real for material this nasty. He brings too much humanity and radiates too much intelligence to play a killing machine. There’s a reason Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson were making these kinds of films back when Caine was doing his Thinking Man’s Spy bit in films like “The Holcroft Covenant” and “The Black Windmill.” He commands the screen, to be sure — and while that makes “Harry Brown” occasionally quite compelling, it results in a fundamental disconnect.

04282010_AntonChekhovTheDuel.jpgThe Georgian-Israeli director Dover Koshashvili directed one of 2001’s strangest and most subtly electrifying films, “Late Marriage,” about a weak-willed Israeli bachelor whose relationship with a divorced single mother wreaked havoc in his old-fashioned family. You wouldn’t immediately think of him as the ideal director for “Anton Chekhov’s The Duel,” a film based on the dramatist/storyteller’s 1891 novella.

True, Chekhov also specialized in generally unlikable protagonists — a curious feature that lent his comedies of manners a certain Olympian perspective. But one needs some warmth and humor to pull him off; as with Kafka, too many adaptations have been hamstrung by their inability to tap into the inherent humor of the source material. And “Late Marriage,” though billed as a comedy, was a strangely unforgiving piece of work.


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.