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Toronto 2010: “Julia’s Eyes” and “Vanishing on 7th Street,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “Julia’s Eyes” and “Vanishing on 7th Street,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

As admirable as it is that Guillermo Del Toro has been supporting new Spanish filmmakers, I’m beginning to worry the steady stream of talented writer/directors he’s been throwing his weight behind might ultimately become competitors. They’re certainly good enough. Like J.A. Bayona, the director of 2007’s “The Orphanage,” Guillem Morales proves with “Julia’s Eyes” that the most exciting horror films in the world right now are being produced in Spain, where a Baroque, classical style has been reinvented with a touch of the desaturated austerity of J-horror to birth some seriously freaky shit.

Whereas “The Orphanage” had one of the scariest jump scares of recent memory, “Julia’s Eyes” would be worth seeing alone for two of the creepiest sequences I can remember using found light, with one scene using just the intermittent light of a Blackberry down a hallway of pipes to build the tension. The smartphone belongs to Julia (Belén Rueda), whose blind sister Sara dies at the beginning of the film, leading Julia to return home, unconvinced by local authorities that her sister’s death was a suicide. Julia is also starting to lose her vision, and along with her skeptical husband (Lluís Homar), she’s being pulled into the same life that led to her sister’s demise, with a suspicious caretaker to help her and eccentric neighbors who can’t be trusted, either. To say much more would give way to massive spoilers, but the audience is aware from the very beginning that Sara’s death wasn’t a suicide and the other murders that follow are committed by someone in the neighborhood.

09132010_JuliaEyes2.jpgThe primary flaw of “Julia’s Eyes” is there may actually be too many neighbors since Morales’ film is occasionally slowgoing, even in a genre known for taking its time. Sometimes this is successful, like a particularly unsettling early scene where Julia visits her late sister’s gym locker room and finds a group of undressed women changing clothes and talking to each other with no awareness that Julia is standing amongst them – it lasts nearly five minutes and gradually gets more and more uncomfortable. But it is less interesting in the moments where Morales excessively sets up the mysterious caretaker without ever showing his face or some of the meandering conversations Julia has with anyone other than her husband, which add needless complications to the plot and seem to bide time until the next big scare.

Which there are in spades. If Morales took anything from Del Toro, it’s an appreciation for sound design and a belief in building towards the big scene. In “Julia’s Eyes,” it’s the crackle of an antique camera’s flash bulb that makes one’s blood curdle, often punctuated by how Morales turns whatever light source is organic to any particular scene into the pulse of the film. “Julia’s Eyes” doesn’t deviate enough from other Spanish thrillers of late to consider it a breakthrough, but it is a more than solid entry into the genre with some truly extraordinary thrills to be had.

09132010_Vanishingon7thStreet.jpgLight is also the pulse of Brad Anderson’s “Vanishing on 7th Street,” but in a way that’s far more literal than “Julia’s Eyes.” Hayden Christensen (in one of his best performances to date), Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo and the young Jacob Latimore star as a group of strangers who are drawn towards the light of a speakeasy after an unexplained power outage leaves Detroit, and likely the rest of the world, cloaked in darkness that disappears anyone who isn’t holding a flashlight, a lighter or something that can keep away the shade. The film plays out almost like a small-scale version of “I Am Legend,” minus the CG zombies and putting in their place the creepier echoes of the unknown in the shadows to terrorize the quartet as they escape onto the empty streets around the bar, a safe haven thanks to its persnickety power generator, to try and find a way to prolong their lives and not evaporate into the piles of empty clothes they see around them.

In introducing the screening Monday, Christensen told TIFF’s Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes that he was drawn to the film’s “metaphors and subtext of what isn’t going on” and believe me, some will think there won’t be a lot going on. Fans of Anderson’s might liken it to “Session 9,” which impressed not with its threadbare storyline but its evocation of dread. There aren’t really character arcs so much as there are varying levels of fear and desperation in “Vanishing on 7th Street” amongst Christensen’s proactive newsman Luke, Newton’s frightened nurse Rosemary, Leguizamo’s crippled projectionist Paul, and Latimore’s fickle James.

09132010_Vanishingon7thStreet2.jpgEven though there are flashbacks to their lives pre-eclipse, you don’t get to know them in any meaningful way, nor do you ever learn what caused the darkness. Still, Anderson remains committed to challenging himself, this time shooting nearly an entire movie in the dark, and even if “Vanishing on 7th Street” never delivers the knockout blow that’s usually crucial to films as suspenseful as this aspires to be, it’s a testament to its director that it remains engaging throughout and puts an extra spring into your step once you leave the darkened theater.

“Julia’s Eyes” and “Vanishing on 7th Street” do not yet 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.