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“A Town Called Panic” and Loads of Noir on DVD

“A Town Called Panic” and Loads of Noir on DVD (photo)

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There seems to be no exhausting the raw eyeball pleasure to be had from old-fashioned handmade (or semi-handmade, or whatever) animation, and we may be well living through a pop renaissance of it.

The eruptions below the Pixar/Dreamworks budget tier have been spectacular and international, beginning perhaps with 2003’s “The Triplets of Belleville,” learning from Miyazaki, Oshii, Aardman and the Quays, moving on to Kim Moon-saeng’s “Sky Blue,” machinima, “The Corpse Bride,” “A Scanner Darkly,” “Persepolis,” “Coraline,” “Waltz with Bashir,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Mary & Max,” “Sita Sings the Blues,” “Fear(s) in the Dark,” “The Secret of Kells,” and now the Belgian nonpareil “A Town Called Panic.”

The variety of toolboxes and styles at work seem limitless (the seductive but uniform look of pure 3D computer animation is getting tiresome just as other approaches proliferate), but it’s the personal engagement that makes most of the films sing.

Many of the recent films naturally take the frame-by-frame scale of animation to eulogize the lost universe of childhood, but the wry obsessives behind “Panic” (Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar) go one step further — their free-associative, lunatic mini-landscape is peopled by toys, and the only thing missing from every shot is the presence of real kids’ hands manipulating the figures.

The filmmakers admit in the DVD supplements that they found materials at flea markets; the characters and props vary in sizes and provenance, as if the film emerged spontaneously from a ramshackle junk drawer. “Toy Story,” Schmoy Story — this is the movie that takes make-believe play as its form. It’s a giddy litany of foolishness, about almost nothing but its own good times, and its textures and sensibility are as high-spirited and zippy as a grade-schooler’s imaginings after a few bowls of Cap’n Crunch.

07202010_TownCalledPanic2.jpgHorse, Cowboy and Indian — often complete with green plastic patch attached to their feet so they can stand — live together in a house amid a tabletop farming community where the animals brush teeth, read and run errands. It’s Horse’s birthday — the realization of which initiates a catastrophic Rube Goldberg adventure for his roommates involving 50 million bricks, a family of frogmen, a romance with a horse piano teacher, a visit to the earth’s core, a giant robot penguin run by evil scientists, a war fought with flying swordfish and catapulted cows, and so on.

There’s a Gumby vibe happening, and a Wile E. Coyote inevitability rules the action, but forget the very idea of “story” — the point of the film is to embody the inspired runaway-train nature of juvenile make-believe. If you have ever spent substantial time in the company of miniature figures of any kind, this movie will infiltrate your memories.

The movie ignites a great deal of childlike good will — amid the chaos, there is always an unalloyed urge to rebuild and clean up. Life is good and no bad news matters if you can still get lost in play. But for the most part, “A Town Called Panic” is beguiling because of the speed, timing and eccentricity of its textures — like all good animation, its movement and visual panache spellbind in ways that cannot be articulated, and perhaps shouldn’t be. Just keep your eyes open.

07202010_Pushover.jpgIn another universe, the last few weeks has been witness to a deluge of DVD’d film noir, with no less than 16 films released by Warner, Sony and Olive, and so noiristes can revel yet again in America’s favorite die-hard film genre instead of trying to find satisfaction in new Hollywood. Just a few highlights:

“Pushover” (1954) — Richard Quine’s urban espionage chess game stars Kim Novak in her first credited role as a bank robber’s girlfriend, fucked and surveilled by Fred MacMurray’s wasted cop, “Rear Window”-ing her and eventually deciding to usurp the thief, grab the money and the girl, and fatefully tripling up the body count of “Double Indemnity.” Only in noir does death signify a happy ending, and movies end with lines like “We didn’t really need that money, did we?”

“Deadline at Dawn” (1946) — Clifford Odets wrote the screenplay from a Cornell Woolrich book, and theater master Harold Clurman directed (his only film), and Susan Hayward is a cynical whore/taxi dancer with a go-die look that decides to help dim sailor Bill Williams find out who really killed a woman in a flat somewhere in Manhattan. Clurman’s late-night spatial layouts are gorgeous, but the show here is Odets’ dark-poetic dialogue in the mouths of a superbly directed cast. Someone is said to have “a face like the back of a hairbrush,” and when Hayward and Williams are hiding in the corpse’s apartment, she hisses, “Do you hear anything?” “Your breathing,” he whispers back; “Is that what that is?” she replies…

“Union Station” (1950) — Rudolph Maté’s concise and character-packed kidnapping policier features Nancy Olson as a dame pulling into Chicago who sees a gun she shouldn’t have, and William Holden and Barry Fitzgerald as Windy City cops looking to foil a kidnapping plot. The titular station is captured in its mid-century glory, even if footage was also shot on New York and L.A. trains.

07202010_HumanDesire.jpg“Human Desire” (1954) — Fritz Lang remakes Renoir’s “La Bête Humaine,” with Broderick Crawford, Glenn Ford and of course Gloria Grahame, and it’s less paradigmatic noir than Zolaesque tragedy.

“Armored Car Robbery” (1950) — Richard Fleischer, an unsung noir champ, directed this crime thriller, which almost wastes Charles McGraw as a happy cop until his partner is gunned down in the titular heist (performed by lizardy sociopath William Talman with assistance from, among others, Sam Fuller buddy Gene Evans). After that, look out — McGraw could eat the entire cast of “The Expendables” in a single yawning bite. This double-biller is a brisk 67 minutes long and not a minute is squandered.

“The Phenix City Story” (1955) — A based-on-fact Phil Karlson corruption screed about the eponymous Alabama town, its controlling crime syndicate, the assassination of its attorney general and the martial law that followed. Jonathan Rosenbaum, who grew up in Alabama and was nine at the time, has always said this lurid, full-throated pulp is, in fact, how it was.

“Crime in the Streets” (1956) — A lesser known Don Siegel, introducing John Cassavetes as a street thug intent on killing a neighborhood snitch, despite social worker James Whitmore’s efforts to steer him clear. A good example of a noir sub-branch: the Actor’s Studio bell jar melodrama, on TV show sets and performed like a circus act (especially by Mark Rydell’s fey delinquent). Still, the portrait of Cassavetes’ miserable, poverty-beaten ghetto family is tough for the day.

07192010_brothersrico2.jpg“The Brothers Rico” (1957) — Karlson again, but not hyperbolic so much as novelistic, this Georges Simenon-based saga follows legit businessman Richard Conte as he gets dragged back into The Organization by his two brothers, both of whom are on the run after a hit. A dense web of familial and criminal alliances slowly reveals itself as Conte’s haunted player bounces across the country in search of his brothers, and the sense of America you get is as one huge criminal enterprise. The moral bullet in the heart of all three “Godfather” films is here, too, as is wads of untranslated Italian, an uncommonly brutal climactic shootout, and Harry Bellaver as an Arizona scumbag steering the movie into fatalistic waters.

“A Town Called Panic” (Zeitgeist Films) is now available on DVD; “Pushover,” “Human Desire” and “The Brothers Rico” are now available as part of “Columbia Film Noir Classics, Volume II” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), “Deadline at Dawn,” “Armored Car Robbery,” “The Phenix City Story” and “Crime in the Streets” are now available as part of “Film Noir Classics Collection, Volume 5” (Warner Home Video) and “Union Station” (Olive Films) is now available on DVD.

[Additional photos: “Pushover,” Columbia Pictures, 1954; “Human Desire,” Columbia Pictures, 1954; “The Brothers Rico,” Columbia Pictures, 1957]



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


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.