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Can’t Be At Cannes 2011, Tuesday Edition

Can’t Be At Cannes 2011, Tuesday Edition (photo)

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It sucks not being at the Cannes Film Festival. To keep you up-to-speed on all the latest developments with the minimum amount of pain and jealousy, we’ll be providing frequent roundups of all the biggest news and best reviews. This is the third; for additional installments, along with all our Cannes coverage, can be found here.

Drew McWeeny’s lead to his review of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” on HitFix is a perfect summary of the press corps’ reaction to the long-awaited, deified-before-it-was-even-released film:

“This is what happens when we turn our filmmakers into religious figures.”

Indeed, critical response to Malick’s fifth film has divided Cannes into true believers and atheists. McWeeny falls into the later category, describing “Tree of Life” as “a pretty crushing disappointment” that’s “a beautiful, at times infuriating, undeniably indulgent new effort that comes dangerously close to self-parody.” He is not alone either. J. Hoberman from The Village Voice wrote one of the earliest and harshest critiques of the film so far:

“‘The Tree of Life’ has plenty of incident but, despite Pitt’s memorably bullying performance, very little human interest. (The best bit has a bunch of boys launching a frog in a bottle rocket.) Malick’s craftsmanship may be everywhere evident but, however flashy and intermittently beautiful, his filmmaking can be shockingly banal. Inspired scenes (a toddler relating to a baby) or shots (a mega close-up of a can kicked out of the frame) arrive as morsels floating in the movie’s primeval soup… ‘The Tree of Life’ is less profound than profoundly eccentric, while too solemn, pompous, and genteel to be truly crazy. The movie disengages the mind, even as it dulls the senses.”

All the the religious metaphors are particularly apt here because the film itself is apparently something of a cinematic prayer. In The New York Times, Manohla Dargis says Malick “seeks to affirm the beauty of a world in which God is present in all things.” She also gives us more of a plot description without encroaching into too many specifics.

“Running 2 hours 18 minutes, it is a personal, impressionistic work — beautiful, nonlinear, trippy, flawed — that unfolds largely in fragmented flashbacks, tracing not only the arc of a single life but also that of creation itself. As the title suggests, Mr. Malick has nothing less in mind than the origin of life, a beginning (or Beginning) in which vaporous swirls, gurgling lava and fiery explosions give way to the sight of a meteor hitting a planet (presumably Earth), an explosive vision that Mr. Malick audaciously, riskily, joins with the image of a pregnant woman’s belly.”

Given the intensity of people’s excitement, vitriol was inevitable. Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir has one of the more refreshingly measured responses to the film, which includes an acknowledgement that “‘Tree of Life’ was bid up way too high in pre-Cannes speculation, and was bound to disappoint many people.” He also addresses the film’s parallels to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which has been a point of comparison in many early reviews:

“One of the many reasons to admire Malick is that he is far less reliant than other major directors on other people’s movies. I mean, I’m sure he’s seen plenty of them, but he never seems obsessed with quoting obscure genre films or sequences out of Eisenstein or Michael Powell, or making work aimed at fellow directors and their legions of fans and followers. So the fact that ‘The Tree of Life’ clearly has a relationship to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ feels both deliberate and carefully considered. You could almost call it a remake or a reverse-engineered version of Kubrick’s massive head-trip, one in which humanity begins in space and then returns to Earth. I’d put it this way: If the cosmic astronaut God-baby from the end of ‘2001’ came back to earth and made a movie, this would be it.”

As O’Hehir also notes, it’s not just the film itself that’s being fiercely debated. Immediately following the screening, the conversation shifted to exactly how the press reacted to the film. O’Hehir says that first press screening was met “by a small but lustful chorus of booing… which was then drowned out by applause.” Hoberman’s piece mentions boos, as does David Fear’s in Time Out New York: “A symphony of loud boos, emanating from somewhere along the right side of the Théâtre Lumière’s orchestra section. A round of shushing followed, then more boos, then sporadic applause.” McWeeny, though tweeted earlier today his own perspective on the crowd’s response: “When people say “Cannes booed ‘The Tree Of Life,” that’s not true. I was in that screening. ONE GUY at Cannes booed the movie.”

Having attended controversial screenings at the Lumiere Theatre in Cannes, I can say from experience that there is often a surprising amount of disagreement about crowd reactions to movies. After “Antichrist”‘s first Cannes screening, people compared what they heard — smatterings of boos or applause or laughter — like they were examining the Zapruder film for a second gunman. And because that theater is so large, where you sit can influence the sort of reaction you hear (or have, I would argue, but that’s a conversation for another time).

Let’s get back to McWeeny’s intro, because I think he summed the whole thing up so well. People revere Terrence Malick in a way I find slightly crazy; I spoke with several colleagues in recent months who told me, in all seriousness, that they had already pencilled in “The Tree of Life” as their favorite movie of the year. With that attitude, anything less than an absolutely masterpiece becomes a disaster.

After you wait as feverishly for a film as these Malick partisans have for “The Tree of Life,” there’s only a few possible reactions: genuine love; convincing yourself you loved it because you’ve expended so much energy in anticipation (see: many geek’s initial reaction to “Star Wars: Episode I”); or disappointment at the film not living up to expectations. Though it’s slightly soul-crushing not to get to be at the Cannes Film Festival, I’m kind of glad I’m getting to see “Tree of Life” after this first wave of backlash. Now that the discourse has evened out I get to see “Tree of Life” as a movie, not the movie.

Back with more tomorrow because, contrary to what Twitter might have you believe, other films have screened at Cannes in the last few days.

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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.