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Interesting Talk About Boring Movies

Interesting Talk About Boring Movies (photo)

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You might remember Dan Kois’ notorious piece in The New York Times Magazine about “cultural vegetables,” in which the author admitted to suffering “a kind of culture fatigue” when dealing with movies he found slow, or deliberate, or flat-out boring. I wrote my own response at the time; now, Times critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott have weighed in with their own piece entitled “In Defense of Slow and Boring.” CRITIC FIGHT! (Say it like Cartman from “South Park.”)

As their title suggests, Dargis and Scott do not side with Kois on the issue of cultural vegetables. Dargis connects his use of the word “boring” with her use of the word “thinking,” as in any movie that requires you to think a little, that doesn’t deaden your senses into submission with an assault of noise and light, is labeled as boring. Here is more:

“So, is boring bad? Is thinking? In Chantal Akerman’s 1975 film ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles’ there is a scene in which the title character, a housewife who turns tricks in her fastidiously neat home, makes a meatloaf in real time. It’s a tedious task that as neither a fan of meatloaf or cooking, I find difficult to watch. Which is the point: During the film’s 201 minutes Ms. Akerman puts you in that tomb of a home with Jeanne, makes you hear the wet squish-squish of the meat between her fingers, makes you feel the tedium of a colorless existence that you can’t literally share but become intimate with (you endure, like Jeanne) until the film’s punctuating shock of violence. It makes you think.”

This is not far from the argument I made in my own piece on cultural vegetables; while acknowledging that some deliberate films are tedious, I noted that in the worthwhile ones, form follows function. A quick cut montage of Jeanne Dielman making meatloaf set to the sound of Donna Summers’ “She Works Hard For the Money” might be entertaining (get on it, YouTube!), but it wouldn’t allow you to experience the soul-deadening desperation of the protagonist in the same way as that a lengthy real-time depiction of the meatloaf cooking.

Scott spends a lot of his section responding to critic Richard Schickel’s review of “The Tree of Life” (which, while far from mainstream, is hardly a cultural vegetable in my opinion; too many viscerally exciting visuals. Also, dinosaurs). But his conclusion raises an interesting question about the issue of cultural vegetables:

“Why is it, though, that ‘serious’ is a bad word in cultural conversations, or at least in discussions of film? Why is thinking about a movie an activity to be avoided, and a movie that seems to require thinking a source of suspicion? It seems unlikely, to say the least, that films like ‘Uncle Boonmee,’ ‘Meek’s Cutoff,’ ‘The Tree of Life’ or Jean-Luc Godard’s recently and belatedly opened ‘Film Socialisme’ will threaten the hegemony of the blockbusters, so why is so much energy expended in defending the prerogatives of entertainment from the supposed threat of seriousness? …I would like to think there is room in the cinematic diet for various flavors, including some that may seem, on first encounter, unfamiliar or even unpleasant.

On the one hand, I can understand the point of view of someone who reads Scott’s piece and is confused by his love of unpleasantness in cinema. After all, we judge most movies, even many smarter ones, by gauging their pleasantness: the cleverness of their dialogue, the rapidity of their pacing, the intensity of their scares or thrills. A movie that lacks those things is typically described as unsuccessful, so it sounds a little weird on the surface to recommend a movie on the basis that nothing happens and what little does happens, happens really slowly.

Scott’s question reminds me of issues I heard discussed during George W. Bush’s presidency, and the question of why many modern Americans seem to dismiss or even distrust intellectuals while preferring political leaders who position themselves as “average Joes” (here’s an example of the sort of article I’m talking about). Perhaps the two are connected. Maybe we distrust intellectual movies in the same way. Maybe dumb Hollywood entertainment feels more American somehow.

Or maybe there’s a much less nefarious conspiracy at work. Maybe it’s just a matter of brain chemistry. On a daily basis, we’re being more and more deeply conditioned to expect instant gratification. No need to watch three minutes of commercials during your favorite TV show; your DVR box will fast-forward through them. No need to watch the highlights of the NBA playoffs when you get home from a date; you can watch or listen to the game right on your phone (the date might not go so well, but some things are more important than romance). Some people I know are incapable of going to the bathroom without using the four or five free seconds of privacy to check their email. It’s not even a choice at this point for a lot of people. It’s a reflex. In a world so heavily committed to instant gratification a movie like Andy Warhol’s “Empire” — an eight hour shot of the Empire State Building — isn’t just a tough sell; it’s an impossible one. “Eight hours straight? Without checking my cell phone?”

To those that feel that way, let me suggest something: try it once. As my impossibly patient wife can attest, I’m on my own phone way too much (in my defense, I’m doing really well in fantasy baseball this year). Sometimes it can feel like an addiction: I have to stay connected, I need to make sure I don’t have any new emails. So I view cultural vegetables at a welcome escape from the intensity and insistence of modern technology. I look forward to turning off my cell phone and disconnecting myself from the grid, losing myself for a few hours and thinking about something other than when I can next check Twitter. In that way, these movies really can be cultural vegetables: something genuinely nourishing.

What’s your favorite “cultural vegetable?” Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter and Facebook!

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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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.