“Mary and Max” and “Burma VJ” on DVD

“Mary and Max” and “Burma VJ” on DVD (photo)

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There’s something unearthly and hilarious, all too familiar and vividly unhuman, about caricatured claymation when it’s done well, and that qualmy, hypnotizing something oozes out of Adam Elliot’s “Mary and Max” like a ruptured yolk. Elliott, an Oscar winner for animated shorts, is easily the peer of the Aardman herd, and his textures and visual wit are relentlessly fascinating, scene after scene — if he could claymate my credit card bill, I’d pay it twice.

But “Mary and Max” is also rather shocking in the depth of its story and the frankness of its scalding subject matter. The film was given a minimal theatrical release in the U.S., and despite its dazzling ingenuity it is not difficult to see why — this is a movie focused on a child, but it is not for children, and without a reliable Pixar demographic spread, to whom would it be sold? An epic, bittersweet tall tale about child neglect and alcoholism and New Globalism and Asperger’s and loneliness and death, Elliott’s film is based on a true story — it would have to be true, to be this unlikely and specific and grim. Is this the first claymation film based on a real-life news item? Why would there ever be another?

06142010_MaryMax2.jpgElliott’s strategy is Aesop-like — the entire story is told as a river of wizened, sympathetic narration (read by Barry Humphries), rich with an understatement and irony that complements the film’s handmade visuals like sugar in very black coffee. Mary (voiced by Bethany Whitmore) is an eight-year-old Australian girl lost on her own in a scruffy suburb with a drunkard kleptomaniac mom, no money and no friends.

She has an overactive imagination, and she cares for herself, badly, and is eventually motivated to make a friend by picking a name out of the Manhattan phone book at the post office. The name she nabs, sending off a letter of questions and a candy bar, belongs to Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an obese, isolated 44-year-old with debilitating Asperger’s and eating habits (chocolate bar hot dogs) that make Mary’s (condensed milk with a spoon) look robust. A correspondence, as they say, begins, and lasts years.

So far so good, but look at Elliott’s bum’s rush of visual ideas — Mary is a pear-shaped midget with button eyes, but Max is a masterpiece, a squashed pumpkin of a man with a pin head, the jaw of a humpback, a visage stricken in a permanent state of nervous worry, and giant, sweaty, shuddery eyeballs that run the risk, when the world becomes a little unpredictable, of rolling right out of their loose sockets. Elliott has a gift for luridly intense portrayals of anxiety, and his puppets have fabulously neurotic faces.

06142010_MaryMax3.jpgEvery character and animal is “drawn” for maximum impact (Elliott’s cats, chickens and fish are all just as baffled at the world as the humans), and while Australia comes in 15 shades of excrement, Manhattan is a colorless urban nightmare that would fit in to a chapter of “Sin City.”

Add to this Hoffman’s brilliantly affected, disjointed Noo Yawk reading of Max’s letters, which are just as learned and wordy as they are gnarled up with Max’s handicapped worldview, and “Mary and Max” is nothing if not an accumulation of a thousand eloquent, wickedly imagined textural details, and those details are just as funny as they are convincing and resonant.

Mary grows up, of course (into Toni Collette’s sparely used voice), and the epistolary relationship expands, deepens, complicates, self-destructs and heals, and life deals both of the eponymous misfits a big ration of shit. Best not to spoil it — but be prepared for nastiness and cruelty, depicted as if it were a fairy tale. Though tragic, the film ends up exhilarating and buoyant, thanks to Elliott’s unfailing inventive energy.


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.