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Toronto 2010: “Stone,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “Stone,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

To say “Stone” requires faith – both from its audience and as a recurring theme – would be an incredible understatement. That it made this agnostic care would be another.

Already established to some as the “Edward Norton in cornrows” movie, it’s a serious drama that I entered with understandable skepticism, whether it’s seeing the Millenium/Nu Image logo and wondering if this was just another paycheck job for Robert De Niro or if Milla Jovovich can play someone of this earth – the answer to those questions is no, and sort of, but then that’s where “Stone” becomes something special.

It’s during Jack Mabry’s (De Niro) first interview with prospective parolee Gerald “Stone” Creeson (Norton) that Jovovich’s Lucetta is called an “alien” by her lover Creeson and despite not appearing onscreen until later, one might agree knowing “The Fifth Element” actress is playing the part. Weeks from retirement, Mabry appears to think Creeson’s cornrows are pulled to tight, yet learns himself the strange power Lucetta holds when she injects herself into his life on the outside, pleading on him to release her husband on countless voicemails, in the prison parking lot, and ultimately, when Mabry succumbs to her advances, her apartment.

09052010_DeNiroStone1.jpgLucetta is indeed an other, one who takes immense pleasure in the pursuit, but has little interest in the end result, something both Mabry and Creeson know very little of since they’re both serving out life sentences in different ways. Mabry chose his incarceration in the country with a wife (Frances Conroy) that doesn’t love him and going into the city only for a thankless job that rarely holds surprises; the film shows early how Mabry sunk himself into this rut, but it is a rare opening scene that sends shockwaves through the rest of “Stone,” so I won’t spoil it here. Creeson, on the other hand, came by his time in prison the old fashioned way, helping to burn down his grandparents’ house while they were inside.

However, Creeson embraces spirituality in the pen, which isn’t necessarily the key to an early release, but the start of a search for something more profound that actually complicates matters as Lucetta pleads for her husband’s parole while her husband begins to question his culpability. Like an angel and a devil sitting on his shoulder, Lucetta and Creeson plunge Mabry into a moral quandary and if “Stone” were simply about whether prison actually has the ability to rehabilitate its denizens, it would be a thoughtful examination.

Yet director John Curran and writer Angus MacLachlan are after something far more elusive in meditating on the nature of evil in a way that would make it compelling bookend with “No Country for Old Men,” reversing that film’s emphasis on the crimes to the perspective of the punishment received. “Stone” may not be considered quite as accomplished as the Coen brothers’ effort, but that likely depends on whether you appreciate Curran and MacLachlan being more overt in asking the question

Certainly, it is no less provocative, thanks in large part to its trio of actors. Contrary to what the poster reads, Jovovich is the film’s main attraction, putting her husky voice and withering frame to use as a slippery slope of ethical backpedaling for De Niro’s Mabry. She is one of the most memorable femme fatales in some time, made all the more interesting by the fact Jovovich’s slinky charms have rarely been tapped in such a way.

09052010_DeNiroJovovichStone.jpgDe Niro, meanwhile, is gifted with a character with a rich inner life that so many of his recent films haven’t allowed for. He remains a curmudgeon here, but one that has earned it not by holding vomiting babies a tad too close or dealing with an unwanted in-law, but by being asked to be something more than a dispassionate observer and De Niro comes alive in the role, with his considerable gravitas used for far more than selling the prestige of the movie.

As for Norton, he plays the title character of the film, but it’s a part that largely resembles a MacGuffin. In spite of his southern-fried accent and prison yard swagger, Norton impressively takes an outwardly ostentatious character and lets him fade into the background slightly as the man whose fate is being debated, but is only a part of a far larger debate. “Stone” isn’t just interested in spurring that discussion, it deserves it.

“Stone” opens wide on October 8th.

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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.