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“A Dangerous Method,” reviewed

“A Dangerous Method,” reviewed (photo)

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A version of this review originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2011 New Orleans Film Festival.

Here is a director talking about a subject he’s covered many times before in a totally new way. The filmmaker is David Cronenberg and his topic is the mysterious world of sexuality. From “Videodrome” to “Dead Ringers” to “Crash,” Cronenberg has repeatedly returned to the mysteries of the human body and its basest urges. But where those earlier works were all luridly and wonderfully heated, “A Dangerous Method” is cold and dispassionate. The film takes its cues from its subjects, the pioneering psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, who appear to be quite coldly dispassionate themselves. Like Freud and Jung, “A Dangerous Method” approaches sex from a distinctly clinical perspective.

Jung, played by Michael Fassbender, is the focal point. As the film begins he acquires a new patient named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a young woman prone to uncontrollable physical and verbal outbursts. Using the so-called “talking cure” pioneered by Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Jung uncovers the roots of Sabina’s mania: a combination of childhood abuse and masochistic sexual desires. At the start of their sessions together, Sabina tells Jung (between grunts and moans) “I’m vile and filthy and corrupt. I must never be let out of here.” Two years (and just a few brief scenes) later, though, her condition has improved greatly. Sabina enrolls at a local academy and studies to become a psychiatrist herself while Jung becomes more of her mentor than her psychiatrist (he also becomes more and more attracted to her, forcing him to consider an affair behind the back of his wealthy but uninteresting wife). Meanwhile Jung’s work brings him to Freud’s attention, and the two begin an ongoing dialogue about the nature of their field. The more traditional Freud wants to keep psychoanalysis rooted in science; Jung believes a more free-thinking and possibly supernatural strategy may be required.

Those hoping the triangle between Freud, Jung, and Spielrein might lead Cronenberg down some aggressively kinky paths will be disappointed by “A Dangerous Method” which, a few S&M tinged sex scenes between Fassbender and Knightey aside, is a fiercely reserved look at the nature of sexual desire; the camerawork and the narrative are as immune to wild, florid gestures as Jung and Freud. Cronenberg based his film on a play (and screenplay) by Christopher Hampton, but instead of “opening up” the drama he seems to have closed it off even further; whole sequences are built entirely out of back-and-forth montages of increasingly catty letters sent between Freud and Jung as they grow more and more disillusioned with each other’s attitude and behavior. The buttoned-up characters and their diagnostic conversations (or one-sided monologues) about topics like “the self-annihilating nature of the sexual act” rarely make for dramatic fireworks; don’t expect a movie full of rat-a-tat therapist-and-patient dialogue a la Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi. “A Dangerous Method” is much closer to Martin Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence,” another film about a man bound by the rigors of society to reject his sexual desires on behalf of familial responsibilities. Pulling off that sort of ultra-restrained melodrama is no easy feat, and requires the work of actors capable of conveying characters with inner lives totally separate from their outward appearance. Fortunately, Cronenberg’s cast is beyond capable, they’re exceptional; particularly Mortensen, who nails Freud’s haughty dismissiveness perfectly.

Like its repressed characters, “A Dangerous Method” is often about the things that are left unspoken. Though the film follows the rivalry between Freud and Jung I think Cronenberg isn’t really making a movie about who was ultimately right or wrong, but rather using their squabbles to illustrate the fact that psychoanalysts are just as nuts as the rest of us. Some of us may look more composed than others — not all of us have crazy twins or guns growing out of orifices in our chests — but we’ve all got something to hide. The coldest, most dispassionate exteriors often disguise the most wildly emotional souls. Look closely and you’ll see “A Dangerous Method” works exactly the same way. If you see just one movie this year about psychoanalysts writing snippy letters to one another, make it this one.

“A Dangerous Method” opens today in limited release. If you see it, tell us what you think. Leave us a comment or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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