DID YOU READ

“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” Reviewed

“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” Reviewed (photo)

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Can he recall his past lives, though?

There are two non sequiturs in “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” that could be read as windows into the title character’s past lives — a prologue about a lost bull and a later digression about a princess and an overly friendly catfish — but no attempt is made, beyond that mouthful of a title, to connect to them to the narrative at large. Such are the mysterious ways of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul: he makes a movie with an insanely specific title but doesn’t specify any further than that. As with any Weerasethakul film, audience interpretation and participation is essential. Nothing is spelled out, at least not in any language that people on this plane of existence can understand.

Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) is an aging farmer and beekeeper living in the lush jungles of Northern Thailand. He’s suffering from kidney failure so his sister-in-law Jen and nephew Tong (Weerasethakul regulars Jenjira Pongpas and Sakda Kaewbuadee) come for a visit. As the days roll along, other ghostly visitors begin to arrive, including, in one bravura sequence, Boonmee’s dead wife Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk) and his dead son Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong), who appears in the form of a “monkey ghost.” In the light, Boonsong looks like a furry ape-man. In the dark, he takes on the form of a giant walking shadow with eerie, glowing red eyes. Rather than alarm, these guests are met with curiosity. Instead of running from terror from the beast with LEDs for eyeballs, Boonmee asks his son questions. Where have you been? How did you die? Why did you disappear? And why have you returned now? With Weerasethakul, there are always more questions than answers.

The film is not so much about what happens to Boonmee in these final days, as the mood those final days evoke. Weerasethakul — Joe to his friends and American journalists who butcher his name — invites us into a world that relies less on narrative logic than dream logic, where monkey ghosts joining you for a meal seems perfectly reasonable. His story bends the rules of time and space, and the film itself bears similarly transportive qualities. It takes so deep into the Thai jungle that we feel like we’re actually there. Many scenes are so dimly lit that it took me about four pages of notes to notice my pen had ran out of ink.

With “Uncle Boonmee,” Joe returns to some many of the tropes that have driven past works like “Tropical Malady” and “Syndromes and a Century,” including the contrast between the verdant natural world and the antiseptic environs of the modern city, the symbiotic relationship between man and nature, and the simultaneity of past and present. It’s not just past and present that merge; life and death are fused as well, as Boonmee’s past lives swirl through his current one, and the end of his story gives way to a fresh start for Jen and Tong. In a way, the callbacks to the director’s earlier work show Weerasethakul recalling his own past lives. “Uncle Boonmee” itself becomes the ultimate fusion of filmmaker’s past and present.

If this all sounds a bit pretentious well, frankly, at times it is. But nobody in modern cinema is better at crafting intoxicatingly enigmatic images than Weerasethakul. The introduction of Huay and Boonsong’s ghosts showcases a director using every tool of filmmaking, from acting to lighting to sound to montage to mise en scene, with total and complete control. That scene is perfect. The stillness, the silence between the characters is almost overwhelming. It is the quietest horror movie you’ve ever seen. Or maybe the quietest fantasy comedy you’ve ever seen. Or maybe both.

The rest of the movie similarly defies description. The image of monkey ghosts, their brake light glare cutting through the murk of the jungle, staring down the barrel of the lens, is terrifying in some moments and comforting in others. Some scenes, as when Boonmee hugs his dead wife’s ghost — literally comforting himself with the memory of days past — are heartbreakingly sad. Others, like the one with the princess who regains her youth and her sexual mojo from a horny magical catfish, are hysterical. “Uncle Boonmee” is totally uncategorizable. The only genre this movie belongs to is the funky, freaky, fascinating films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

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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.