DID YOU READ

“Ride with the Devil” and “Ex Drummer” on DVD

“Ride with the Devil” and “Ex Drummer” on DVD (photo)

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Fanatically eclectic as he is, Ang Lee seems destined to eventually make a Judd Apatow raunch comedy, simply because he hasn’t made one yet. You name it: sci-fi comic book, wuxia pian, “Classics Illustrated” costume romance, gritty bromance indie, earnest family schmaltz, woozy rock musical (sort of), and oh yeah, a war film, easily the most ambivalent battle epic ever made about the Civil War, “Ride with the Devil” (1999), which came and went with barely a whisper of notice.

In several ways, it’s not surprising that this lavish, big-country saga was overlooked (“Like, six people saw it,” co-star Jeffrey Wright says in an interview included in Criterion’s special features). It takes place exclusively in the war-fringe arena of Missouri and Kansas, where North/South, good/bad dichotomies were so muddied by South-sympathizing Northerners and ex-slaves fighting on the rebel side and immigrants being targeted for their nationality alone that it amounted to a free-kill zone, and clear narrative propulsion would therefore be hard to come by. I’ve seen “Ride with the Devil” several times, and I’m still not clear on the characters’ motivational politics, or at least what they’re supposed to mean to the film’s thrust, and this despite an ample amount of expository chitchat.

04272010_RideWithDevil3.jpgToday, 11 years after its release, this historical ambiguity seems to be the point that Lee and producer/writer James Schamus were making — to take the most tribal and ethically fraught conflict in American history and open it up beyond the cable TV thumbnail sketches, so that whether we are good slavery-hating, Lincoln-loving liberals or unreconstructed reactionary bigots, we don’t know exactly how to feel about the carnage.

The film’s heroes, as in Buster Keaton’s “The General,” are Union-hating rebels, but in Lee’s film, the boyos — including lovable farm-boy Bushwhackers played by stars Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich — also slaughter innocents and raze homesteads. If they sound like terrorists, that’s because they are — the climactic decimation of Lawrence, Kansas stood as the bloodiest homegrown terrorist act in U.S. history up until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and in this film, it’s a wanton act of impulsive fury, little else. What are we to make of it? The textures of Lee’s film are classically stirring and sympathetic, oozing with heroism and tearful sympathy, but the politics of what goes on is another story. We’re not supposed to suspend judgment, are we?

Hence the title? While we’re wondering, the details of “Ride with the Devil” are seductive — the constant letter-reading, the twisty slangy-slash-schoolhouse patois of the era, the relentless confrontation with teenage boys mutilated and converted by fate into homicidal maniacs, the galloping battle scenes that rival Michael Mann’s “The Last of the Mohicans” for playing-war-in-the-woods excitement. Much of the time “Ride with the Devil” acts like an ordinary, bombastically scored period film, with Maguire and Ulrich rather beautifully limning out a boyhood friendship and cultivating our sympathies despite their guerrilla warfare, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers occupying the opposite ground as a nasty Bushwhacker with so little conscience he’s on the verge of killing his comrades as well. (We meet no Union characters in any depth.)

But it’s not ordinary, in that its ideas about war and the Civil War and terrorism are not expressed on the surface of the film, but somewhere beneath, implicit but always mysterious. It does no good to say, as the filmmakers might, that they were just focused on the characters’ coming-of-age and historical plight – especially as those protagonists are joyfully, enthusiastically blowing civilians’ heads off and betting human scalps in a campfire card game.

04272010_RideWithDevil4.jpgIt remains a grand, gorgeous pickle of a film, perpetually fascinating for its determination to resist ethical categories. It’s also narratively sludgy — bushwhacking per se had no overriding purpose other than to haphazardly bushwhack, and so Schamus’s script does a good deal of wandering and waiting and then impulsively fighting. Even so, Maguire became a star here, though most people didn’t see it — his cute-crackling delivery of the old dialect (much of it from Daniel Woodrell’s source novel “Woe to Live On”) and huge guileless eyes consistently disarm you, and ground the film with conviction. (There’s never a moment where you catch Maguire trying to be cool, which of course the entire cast is, in their woolen waistcoats, trail-beaten dusters and Metallica haircuts.)

But despite Maguire and the stunt casting of the perfectly adept, butter-almond-ice-cream visage of Jewel as a rural love interest (Rhys-Meyers’s absurdly swishy sociopath doesn’t fare as well), the real prize is Wright, as an ex-slave dragged into fighting against the Union by a childhood friendship, cagey and glowering and slowly discovering what his next step must be as an emancipated man. Lee’s film is large but its small things are what catch you, like Wright’s guttural, secretive concept of how to deliver his ex-slave’s shrugging speech patterns, which fall out in such distinctive rhythms that you suspect that the actor had somehow learned it firsthand.

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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.