DID YOU READ

“The American,” Reviewed

“The American,” Reviewed (photo)

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The melancholic killer, the hooker with a heart of gold, the sinister boss pulling strings from afar, the man of the cloth confidant — the deeper you get into “The American,” the second film from Dutch photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn, the more it seems like a moving museum of movie archetypes than anything that quite finds its own footing. Underneath the luster of its Euro tailoring, it’s a subdued neo-Western run aground in an Italian hill town — a neo-Spaghetti Western, then, a point underlined, should you have missed it, by a bartender pointing out the Sergio Leone film playing on his TV.

Fortunately, it has George Clooney, glowing at full movie star wattage in the role of Jack, sometimes Edward, who is as far as is gleanable an assassin (“you won’t even have to pull the trigger,” he’s assured when coaxed into that always inauspicious one last job) and manufacturer of custom weapons forced to go to ground in Abruzzo after an incident in Sweden ends messily. It’s not necessarily beauty or talent, that quality, though Clooney has never been short on either — it’s a magnetic ability to draw focus, to make us want to watch him. And we do, despite the minimal lines with which his character is drawn, a man who seems to have suddenly grown a conscience and awareness of the consequences of his actions after years spent in shadowy, violent industries.

09012010_theamerican4.jpgJack is a craftsman, as the town’s genially prying priest Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) observes, and, like other characters Clooney has played recently, from “Up in the Air”‘s Ryan Bingham to the titular fixed in “Michael Clayton,” competence at his job is his foremost trait, whether dispatching the men who keep trying to kill him, handling a meeting with an coolly professional woman (Thekla Reuten) who needs a high-powered gun for reasons Jack doesn’t question, or assembling that specialized weapon for her with scavenged parts and precision tools. He works alone and is good at what he does, but doesn’t seems to take any pleasure from it, which raises a distracting question I realize I’m not supposed to ask about why he’s in this field that costs so much with so little apparent return in the first place.

But never mind. What’s pressing is that Jack’s “lost his edge,” as his handler Pavel (Johan Leysen) puts it — he’s paranoid and jumpy, not for good reason, he’s haunted by what happened in Sweden, and he’s lonely, which is how he gets skittishly drawn into a romance with a vibrant prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) he first encounters as a customer. Love, the downfall of all professional killers! With a pretty girl pleading to be taken away from all this on his arm, Jack develops a reason to live right when others step up their efforts to murder him.

Castel del Monte, the lovely medieval town where the film is set, seems like a terrible place to hide (when everyone knows you as “the American,” you’re hardly inconspicuous) but a great place in which to shoot action sequences — its narrow, twisting cobbled streets lends themselves well to clever chase scenes and shootouts down the steps and in the squares.

09012010_theamerican5.jpgShot by Martin Ruhe, who Corbijn’s first film “Control,” “The American” often places its star alone in the corner of the frame as if the world is pulling away from him, the forlorn subject of an especially dismal Edward Hopper painting.

“The American” doesn’t, in the end, add up to much, but it’s a pleasing exercise, teasing tension from it’s own quiet and from the gifts of its cast, all of whom make a solid impression with scant material, from Reuten’s icily blue-eyed calculation to Placido’s voluptuous vulnerability to Leysen’s barely concealed exasperation with Jack’s signs of softness. And Clooney manages a fiercely human moment in what’s otherwise a remote thriller, pounding on his steering wheel in frustration when things have gone wrong. It doesn’t sound like much, but the understatement of the gesture, in context, is deeply affecting, speaking volumes about someone who hasn’t let himself make many mistakes.

“The American” is now playing in theaters.

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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.