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Toronto 2010: “In a Better World,” “Three,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “In a Better World,” “Three,” Reviewed (photo)

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When an audience member wondered aloud at the Toronto Film Festival why Susanne Bier decided to change the English title of her latest film “In a Better World” from its original Danish translation “The Revenge,” the director of “After the Wedding” and “Brothers” told the crowd that she was concerned it would be perceived as a horror film. In a way, “In a Better World” actually fits that bill nicely, not as part of that particular genre, but instead as a well-told parable about on the futile perpetuation of violence.

To date, the only explosions in Bier’s work have occurred figuratively, the product of slow-simmering spats between lovers or people at an emotional crossroads of one kind or another that come to a head. Here, they become literal in the story of Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), a pair of middle school classmates who seek out retribution after witnessing Elias’ father Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) get slapped by a local mechanic after trying to separate his son from a potential fight. For Anton, it’s an action not worth responding to, especially since he’s seen far worse things in Kenya at the hands of local warlords where he provides medical support as a doctor.

09192010_InaBetterWorld2.jpgSince Anton spends most of his time in Kenya, it’s a rare opportunity to set an example for his son and his friend. Yet Christian, the new kid on the block who becomes Elias’ friend after protecting him from the school’s bully, doesn’t see things the same way. Both children are outcasts at school and the sons of distant fathers, though only Christian resorts to his fists (or more appropriately a bicycle pump) as taunts and threats turn into random physical aggression against them both. When Christian’s father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) insists that hitting someone isn’t the best way to respond to getting hit, Christian fires back, “Not if you hit hard enough.”

The wonderful thing about that exchange is the bitter humor that comes out of the gap between reality and principle, something “In a Better World” explores to its fullest. As a director, Bier presents the villains of the film in no uncertain terms: Sofus, the blonde bully who tortures Elias with catcalls of “ratface,” clearly deserves some comeuppence, as does the racist oaf of a mechanic who incites Anton.

However, whatever lack of sophistication exists for the aggressors in the film is reserved for the conversation that Bier and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen would like to inspire about violence begetting violence and where the line should be drawn. “In a Better World” is compelling because Bier once again proves her precision as a keen observer of human relationships, but for many filmmakers, greater scope doesn’t always portend a greater impact – Bier may not believe in hitting back, but she’s a big believer in hitting hard.

09192010_TomTykwerThree.jpgLike Bier, Tom Tykwer has also headed back to his home country after an English-language vacation of “Perfume” and “The International” and I’d be surprised if I ever see the uncut version of his latest, “Drei (Three),” arrive in the U.S. intact. This isn’t for quality reasons – the film is a welcome return to Tykwer’s unusually structured thrillers from the turn of the century, but given its share of explicit sex scenes (involving both sexes) shown matter-of-factly, it would take a brave distributor to take a chance on “Drei,”

If someone does, they’ll get a stylish drama with a wicked sense of humor on the order of Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe,” pulsating with the kind of visual panache and subversion that only a first class director can deliver, even though it tells a rather contrived and slightly sleazy story. Your appreciation of “Drei” will somewhat rely on how much you accept the coincidence involved in the story of Simon (Sebastian Schipper) and Hanna (Sophie Rois), a longtime couple who unbeknownst to each other find themselves having an affair with the same man, Adam (David Striesow), the head of a stem cell research center that Anna has become intrigued by, in her job as a TV news anchor, and is a member of the same swimming club as Simon.

09192010_TomTykwerThree2.jpgAs I’ve found with my favorite Tykwer films besides his breakthrough “Run Lola Run,” it takes nearly an hour into “Drei” to get its bearings and a little longer for the endgame to begin to expose itself, as the director is all over the place in setting up the circumstances that have led to the dual affair – Simon is diagnosed with testicular cancer, Hanna is fantasizing about other men, and their relationship has fallen into a predictable and all-too relaxed stasis that arrives with middle age restlessness.

Meanwhile, Adam doesn’t receive nearly as much attention from Tykwer, but he’s largely a cipher for the film’s larger point about not fitting into the accepted societal order of things and while his occupation involving genetics leads to a overarching motif that seems a bit silly, Tykwer is too busy dazzling your eye and appealing to primal instinct of a story well told for it to matter. With “Drei,” Tykwer asks audiences to think differently, but why the film works is because at its core, it’s pitching an old idea in a completely new way.

“In a Better World” will be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics early next year; “Drei (Three)” currently does not have U.S. distribution.

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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.