DID YOU READ

“Tony Manero” and “The Girl on the Train” on DVD

“Tony Manero” and “The Girl on the Train” on DVD (photo)

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As close to a gritty American New Wave film as a 2008 Chilean movie is likely to get, Pablo Larraín’s “Tony Manero” plays like equal parts “Taxi Driver,” “Scarecrow,” “Badlands” and “Saturday Night Fever,” which is no coincidence, as it’s set in 1978 and the protagonist — a short, glowering 50-ish crook living in Santiago — is obsessed with the “Fever,” John Travolta and somehow reproducing the film’s disco glamour in his own life. Before long, though, right around the time he impulsively beats a feeble old woman to death with his fists and steals her TV, we understand that he is not merely a misfit but a sociopath. Anything can happen.

The film has an early Scorsese-ian set of factors — our hero Raúl’s impenetrable showbiz obsession echoes “The King of Comedy,” too — but it also feels very 21st century-indie, all handheld grit, impatient jump cuts and brooding urban malaise. Yet the ironies belong to the ’70s, when Pinochet had freshly taken over Chile and the impact of a violent military dictatorship had already squashed the populace’s spirit, particularly the lower classes.

As he strides around the back alleys and grubby dives of the city’s slums like a pint-sized rooster, struggling to put on a cheap disco show in a café (a soccer ball glued with mirror shards does duty as the hanging disco ball), Raúl (Alfredo Castro) is virtually a walking metaphor, a one-man Chile driven mad by oppression and the allure of bullshit Hollywood dreams. Of course, the Travolta film itself is about a working class loser trying to escape his dreary life on the dance floor, and so Raúl is a mirror effect, a compounded reflection of nowhere men striving for an empty dream.

05282010_TonyManero2.jpgWe first meet Raúl showing up to audition for a TV show where Chileans line up and impersonate stars (he’s a week early, when they’re looking at Chuck Norris stand-ins). His Tony Manero monomania eventually gets him on TV, and at the same time compels him to run roughshod over everyone in his small circle (including a prostitute with a teen slattern of a daughter) in order to perfect the café performance.

All the while, Larraín’s camera looks in at this leathery little sprig of a man (Castro resembles Hank Azaria far more than Travolta) and sees nothing, not a glimmer of communication. We never learn about his past, recent or distant. The emptiness can be sort of spectacular; all we see in the moment is a robotic pursuit of a meaningless, populist American movie idea, which has been leaked out to the world’s scrounger cultures like pollution.

Larraín has said that his film was intended as a commentary on contemporary Chile, which he sees as still doped on imported American lies. But whatever discreet political teeth the film has belong to the Pinochet years, since the General’s junta succeeded thanks to the funding and support of the Nixon administration.

Chile has plenty to be bitter about — untold mass graves’ worth. “Tony Manero” makes only implicit statements, in any case; it is otherwise an absurdly simple film, a cold eye cast upon one lost man in the middle of a forgotten society just getting more lost.

05282010_GirlontheTrain.jpgOur relationship to Émilie Dequenne’s heroine in André Téchiné’s “The Girl on the Train” is only marginally more intimate — Téchiné’s camera rarely strays very far from her, and often sits in her lap. And yet, her green eyes are never ours, she has the withholding demeanor of a surly teen, and her big crooked grin is far from ever being completely trustworthy.

It’s sharp casting, because this is a film about lies, and Dequenne’s Jeanne comes off as a masked girl, a grown-up version of the traumatized waif the actress played in the Dardenne brothers’ “Rosetta” in 1999, never given the chance to open up to the world. She’s indelible here, but also always at a distance — the film never gives her the dramatic opportunity to expose herself, quite realistically, so we’re never sure of much about her except that she’s lost, too.

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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.