DID YOU READ

“A Better Life,” Reviewed

“A Better Life,” Reviewed (photo)

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It shouldn’t be a consideration while watching “A Better Life” that it came into being as a form of payback for Chris Weitz, who last directed “Twilight: New Moon” for Summit Entertainment and was rewarded with a greenlight for that all-too-rare creature these days – the studio film for adults. But it has to be since it isn’t just the filmmaker who’s allowed to enjoy telling a story closer to his own heart, but the audience who benefits the most.

If “A Better Life” has a fault, it may be that it isn’t adult enough, that its story of an illegal immigrant (Demian Bichir) whose been toiling out as a gardener on the lawns of the rich in Los Angeles to make ends meet is a bit too simple, though that would be ignoring its elegance. Carlos, the gardener, is beyond reproach, though life has been unquestionably unfair to him. His wife passed away, leaving him to take care their now-teenage son Luis (José Julián), while the lawyer who promised him immigration papers has left him broke. Things begin to look up when his boss offers Carlos his truck, so he can retire to a farm, but it’ll come at a cost of $12,000, which would be unthinkable except for a possible loan from his sister, who can also ill afford it.

ABetterLife2_06242011.jpgThrough it all, Bichir is never any less stoic than Gregory Peck, nor is Carlos any less principled than Moses, with obstacle after obstacle testing his resolve in such succession that “A Better Life” would strain credibility if it weren’t so tender and well-executed. In some ways, a remake of Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” reimagined as a thriller, the film takes off once Carlos is joined by Luis after the former is robbed and must track down the thief, an exercise that leads to the fringes of South Central and brings the father and son together to a proximity they haven’t shared since the boy was an infant. Luis, all but orphaned by his father’s endless days at work, has gravitated towards the gangs that rule his school without actually joining one, but now is at the age where he must either be with them or against them.

Aided by a soaring score from Alexandre Desplat (“The Tree of Life”), Weitz elevates the story to near-epic levels, imagining Los Angeles as a land vast enough for ample opportunity and endless swaths of treacherous terrain. After once proving his strength at capturing an unorthodox father-son relationship in “About a Boy,” Weitz’s real achievement with “A Better Life” is teasing out the suspense of not only Carlos and Luis’ fractured relationship, but of the journey that they’re on together that’s fraught with all the uncertainty of being in a place they never can really call home. Every time they speak to a stranger, there’s the possibility for misinterpretation and every encounter with a police officer is a chance to be deported.

Even if the story itself is broad, streamlined for maximized emotional potency as it was in the days of De Sica, “A Better Life” is rich enough with detail to be immune to false moments, whether it’s between Bichir and Julián, whose characters gradually let their guard down as they feel each other out, or in the scenes that push the mystery forward through crowded apartments, chop shops and rodeos. With its story of struggle, “A Better Life” may not entirely live up to its title in a literal sense, but it’s a better movie than we’ve come to expect.

“A Better Life” opens in limited release on June 24th.

Will you want to see “A Better Life”? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

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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.