DID YOU READ

“Hesher,” Reviewed

“Hesher,” Reviewed (photo)

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Hesher is a strangely forgettable film, made even more strange since its final shot is of graffiti that reads “Hesher Was Here.” That’s not a spoiler – Hesher leaves an impression everywhere he goes whether he’s going to return or not. As played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he’s a nihilist who breaks into people’s houses to trash their backyard without reason yet abides by a moral code all his own, making it especially difficult for the 13-year-old TJ (Devin Brochu) to consider him a friend or foe.

For the sake of his father (Rainn Wilson) and his grandmother (Piper Laurie), TJ calls him a friend, though no member of the Forney family really knows why Hesher starts sleeping on their couch for days on end. TJ can only suspect it has something to do with accidentally stumbling into the stringy-haired drifter days earlier while trying to escape a schoolyard bully, and after suffering the loss of their matriarch, no one in the household can muster up the courage to kick Hesher out.

This contrivance gives Spencer Susser’s directorial debut its greatest strength and its biggest weakness as Gordon-Levitt is at the top of his game as the film’s titular character even if the film around him falls apart like so many ashes Hesher has left behind him. Hesher’s gravitational pull isn’t questioned as he heaves tables and sets fires, acts that the Forneys and their local ineffectual supermarket clerk (Natalie Portman), who also befriends TJ, only wish they could do in polite society. But Hesher, the film and the character, is defined by extremes, so having a strong center only magnifies what a dull world that’s created around him, insisted upon by Susser’s eternally sepia-tinged color palette and the characters’ eternal refrain from actually taking action.

Ironically, the foundation of the style here was also present in “Animal Kingdom,” the crime family saga made by David Michôd, one of Susser’s partners in the Blue Tongue Collective, the Australian group of filmmakers who are exciting thus far precisely because of their interest in upsetting the mundane. But Michôd, who is credited as a co-screenwriter on “Hesher,” had a far more interesting setting for his directorial debut, making a slow burn thriller where the outbursts of violence in an otherwise sedate tale of backroom manuevering worked as an interesting contrast to genre conventions, whereas when “Hesher” goes for the profound, it falls into the traps of indie quirk.

There are knowing nods in that direction – Hesher says at one point, “People always ask if I’m speaking in metaphors” after launching into an explanation of why he has only one testicle, and indeed, the testicle that’s gone missing could be an allusion to all the lost souls in “Hesher” with a missing piece. Unfortunately, by speaking around the truth, it feels like truth is absent from the film, an ambiguous search for meaning that disconnects from reality and never really creates a fully-formed alternative. There are lapses in logic — a subplot involving TJ’s interactions with a scrapyard dealer for his mother’s wrecked Volvo is one of the most glaring, and while it’s fun to see Hesher randomly pop up at any time as an apparition would, the lack of storytelling rules begins to drain the film of any narrative tension.

Besides squandering Wilson, who dealt with grief in far more intriguing ways recently in “Super,” “Hesher” is also a missed opportunity for its director Susser, a clearly skilled filmmaker with a sharp eye for composition and a potentially stronger one for observation. Little details sprinkled throughout the film, which gets fine performances out of nearly all its cast, suggest he understands the ripple effects of the smallest gestures – a gentle “whoa” from Portman’s Nicole as Hesher sets a diving board ablaze may be the film’s finest moment. But befitting of a story about a tempermental outsider, “Hesher” is wildly uneven, capable of a few whoa moments of its own when it isn’t getting lost in its cockeyed stab at spirituality.

“Hesher” is now open in limited release.

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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.