DID YOU READ

“13 Assassins,” Reviewed

“13 Assassins,” Reviewed (photo)

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A samurai doesn’t fear death; he welcomes it. What the samurai does fear is obsolescence, and that is precisely the peril that faces the heroes of “13 Assassins.” They live in the mid-1800s, a few decades before the end of Japan’s Edo period and their way of life. When the leader of the assassins, a samurai named Shinzaemon, is presented with his suicidal assignment, a sort of black op hit for feudal swordsmen, he is pleased. “As a samurai in this era of peace,” he tells the governor who orders him to kill, “I’ve been wishing for a noble death.” Like Western gunslingers, particularly the ones from the films of director Sam Peckinpah, are out of place and out of time.

Shinzaemon’s mission, based on a historical battle and previously told in the 1966 film of the same name by Kudo Eiichi, is to assassinate the powerful and despicable Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki). As the brother of the Shogun, Naritsugu is untouchable through official channels. But his behavior — raping, murdering, torturing, and not necessarily in that order — threatens a delicate peace. So Sir Do (Mikijiro Hira) secretly tasks Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) with Naritsugu’s murder. The plan calls for Shinzaemon and his samurai to ambush Naritsugu during his next trip home from the capital city. Success is a longshot at best: Shinzaemon eventually recruits a dozen samurai to his cause; Naritsugu has hundreds of swordsmen in his employ. The odds against him don’t faze Shinzaemon. As he tells his men, “he who values his life dies a dog’s death.”

“13 Assassins” was directed by Takashi Miike, the incredibly prolific Japanese director who has made almost 50 films in 18 years. Though he’s directed everything from westerns to childrens’ fantasy, he’s best known in the United States for ultra-violent horror and gangster pictures like “Audition” and “Ichii the Killer.” Fans looking for a violent Miike film won’t be disappointed by “13 Assassins,” which culminates with a 40-minute sequence of blood and blades. The scene is a triumph of escalating tension and a bravura fusion of complex action choreography and stylish camerawork, but its orgiastic celebration of death also seems to glorify the same values the assassins are working so hard to destroy.

Contradictions like that one linger as much as “13 Assassins”‘ unforgettable visuals (flaming cattle stampede, anyone?). The critic in me wants to analyze the film’s depiction of women (victims, one and all) and its attitude toward violence (a total massacre for a total massacre, as it were) while the dudely action fan in me must acknowledge the scene where a samurai swats arrows out of the air with his sword because it’s just so freaking cool (on the Scale Of Ultimate Movie Coolness, deflecting arrows with a sword ranks just between fedora hats and James Dean). “13 Assassins” is cool all right, maybe too cool. After an intensely emotionally charged opening, it devolves into pure spectacle, bloody and bloodless all at once.

Miike himself doesn’t seem entirely sure whether, as in the words of the one assassin, “samurai brawls are crazy fun!” or whether, in the words of another, “being a samurai is truly a burden.” “13 Assassins” raises such provocative questions about duty and honor and violence that it challenges the morality of its own undeniably outstanding action sequences. The massive battle is exhilarating but the images of its aftermath throw Shinzaemon’s philosophy into relief: these men died honorably, but it’s hard to see the honor in a hacked up corpse covered in blood and mud. True, they died for ideals. But those ideals may already be obsolete.

“13 Assassins” is now available On Demand. It opens in limited release on April 29.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
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Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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