DID YOU READ

Hey, someone’s gotta come to the defense of M. Night Shyamalan.

Hey, someone’s gotta come to the defense of M. Night Shyamalan. (photo)

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Before we all had Lindsay Lohan to beat up on, there was M. Night Shyamalan, Hollywood’s very own prodigal son. Master of twist endings and cursed with less modesty about his directing gifts than even Quentin Tarantino, Shyamalan’s fall from grace was swift and almost karmically vengeful. At least — if you buy the overall narrative that after “The Sixth Sense,” every movie he made was a case of increasingly diminishing returns and financial failure, culminating in the rock-bottom nadir of “The Happening.”

The truth, as always, is more interesting and complicated.

Shyamalan’s complacency about himself has been a factor from the start. Talking up “Unbreakable” to Time in 2000, he noted his long-term career goals as being “just say my name, and it represents a body of work.” On the cusp of the disastrous release of “Lady in the Water,” he’d upped his shit-talking game: “If you’re not betting on me, then nobody should get money. I’ve made profit a mathematical certainty. I’m the safest bet you got.”

He was, at that point, correct — but no one likes to hear that kind of thing even if it’s true, and it certainly didn’t help when “Lady” came more-or-less packaged with “The Man Who Heard Voices,” an inadvertently hubristic account of the making of the film, with Shyamalan coming across as the fragile visionary willing to pitch a fit if an executive delayed reading his script to take her son to a birthday party.

This was on top of the three hour-long (with commercials) Sci-Fi mockumentary for “The Village” — which was admittedly hilarious, but only to the 1% of the audience that realized that Nathaniel Kahn was basically parodying the indulgences of his last film, “My Architect.” To everyone else, it just looked like one stupid joke about how Shyamalan really does see dead people.

06282010_unbreakable.jpgTarantino does this kind of thing all the time too — but he’s got the movies to back it up, so most people are able to separate his work from his persona. And it’s not like Shyamalan intentionally set out to be dubbed “the next Spielberg” — it’s a thing that happened, and then fell apart with a speed gratifying to anyone who’d found his work insufferable.

There was reason for that: with “The Sixth Sense” and (especially) “Unbreakable,” Shyamalan made some of the slowest genre movies on record. “Unbreakable” creeps like a Taiwanese art film. That’s barely an exaggeration — if you’re into the style, it’s hypnotic, but otherwise you’d be hard-pressed to wonder why the subject matter deserved quite that much gravity.

Shyamalan then entered what might loosely be deemed his Lars von Trier phase, in which he made didactic allegories (given that the blank-faced Bryce Dallas Howard starred in “The Village” right before replacing Nicole Kidman in “Manderlay,” the link is less tenuous than it seems). “Signs” is a cool, effective thriller that morphs into a stupid religious tract at the last second, while “The Village” is like the recently released “Dogtooth” without the intellectual bona-fides.

Both are, despite their flaws, interesting — “The Village” certainly has one of the ballsier premises you’ll find in a recent summer film, even if it’s not as provocative as it’d like to believe and features the unappetizing sight of Adrien Brody playing developmentally disabled — but they ultimately don’t work because Shyamalan subsumes what he’s good at (narrative, pacing, framing) for a Higher Concept.

06282010_lady.jpgHaving (presumably) learned from these errors, Shyamalan graced the world with the incredibly goofy “Lady in the Water.” This is a movie in which Paul Giamatti has to get a milk mustache and curl up in the fetal position on a couch so that an old Korean woman can tell him a mythological fable that makes no sense whatsoever.

For consumers of the consciously absurd (and no movie this messed-up yet carefully filmed could be an accident), it’s a treasure trove. The public and critics hated it, although most reviews focused on the hubris of Shyamalan casting himself as a prophetic story-teller and/or the fact that Bob Balaban’s film critic characters gets gleefully slaughtered (even though he gets all the best lines).

That’s a decade’s worth of work that, for all its flaws, is strenuously idiosyncratic, something not to be despised in this summer of woe. (And even if “The Happening” is horrible, it actually turned a profit worldwide — Shyamalan’s only lost money once during his career in the majors.) Expensive perversities are rare (though the “Toy Story 3” reviews suggest we’ve got at least two this summer, along with “Inception”).

Whatever his flaws, Shyamalan may be complacent, but he’s not lazy. Even if “The Last Airbender”‘s just a bad sell-out (early word is, to put it mildly, devastating), he’s earned this one. If all his formal skills haven’t completely atrophied, he still has something to offer, even it’s mostly just having one of the strangest blockbuster minds around.

[Photos: “The Last Airbender,” Paramount, 2010; “Unbreakable,” Buena Vista, 2000; “Lady In The Water,” Warner Bros., 2006]

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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.