DID YOU READ

Reports of the death of the intelligent blockbuster have been greatly exaggerated.

Reports of the death of the intelligent blockbuster have been greatly exaggerated. (photo)

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Around this time every year, the blame for the death of the intelligent Hollywood film is laid at the feet of “Jaws” and/or “Star Wars.” Richard Brody over at the New Yorker rounds up this week’s batch of articles, patiently noting that “It’s always the end of the world, and things were always better before.” (As Wallace Stevens once said, the imagination is “always at the end of an era.”)

This time around, the most interesting variation on this complaint comes from Ross Douthat, the on-call Tea Party advocate of the New York Times‘ op-ed board. Taking a sort of reverse tack, Douthat argues that “An awful lot of the middlebrow blockbusters of the 1980s were really, really good,” like “the Indiana Jones saga, the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy, ‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘Top Gun,’ ‘Beverly Hills Cop,’ ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens,’ Tim Burton’s Batman movies, ‘Die Hard,’ ‘The Hunt for Red October’ and ‘E.T.'” “There’s no necessary reason that big-budget summer movies have to be as lousy and derivative as ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,’ or ‘Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,’ or ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.’ “

Over at the AV Club, Leonard Pierce advances a case that we’re living in a “cultural golden age,” where the democratization of access to self-expression has made people feel harried about how much there is to take in, when instead they should be grateful. But then he says this: “Mainstream movies may be in dire straits, but the chances of a small, independent project getting released is greater than ever before.” And here I have a bone to pick.

There’s still plenty of worth to be found in blockbuster land, post-’80s: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Fifth Element,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Blade II,” “X2,” “Spider-Man 2,” the “Hellboy” saga, “The Dark Knight.” Populist entertainment did not, at some recent point, start being entirely worthless, or even go through five-year patches of the strictly horrendous. I don’t believe the state of the average Hollywood blockbuster is noticeably more dire than it was 20 years ago. The goalposts have shifted — the CGI-less action-fest is out, the buddy action-comedy barely kicking — but the best big summer movies remain as strange, idiosyncratic and well-crafted as ever.

The last 15 years have seen overqualified directors (Sam Raimi, Steven Soderbergh, Guillermo Del Toro, Christopher Nolan) put their best top-spin on a potentially weary product and walk away in a stronger commercial position than ever, able to ping back and forth between that and smaller projects. There are reasons to be cheerful right there.

[Photos: “Star Wars,” 20th Century Fox, 1977; “The Dark Knight,” Warner Bros., 2008]

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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.