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The week’s critic wrangle: “Alpha Dog,” “Tears of the Black Tiger”

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"So you're like... ransom."
+ "Alpha Dog": Oh, tragic poorly parented youth! Oh, Justin Timberlake! Nick Cassavetes‘ "inspired by a true story" teen crime drama shakes off lawsuits to arrive in theaters just about a year after it premiered at Sundance in 2006. Most aren’t so fond.

"Alpha Dog doesn’t seem to have any feelings about its characters’ misdeeds one way or another—it’s intermittently bemused or tragic, but utterly lacking a conscience or a point of view," writes Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club. He adds that "writer-director Cassavetes never picks a direction, so his look at a pointless tragedy wallows in pointlessness." At the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum capsulize-compares the film to the work of Larry Clark
(a comparison made by several others) but also finds that Cassavetes
"doesn’t know what to leave out, and the movie becomes excessively
complicated with ancillary agendas."

Liza Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly sums that film up as "noisy," and shrugs that "The implication is that too much video culture and too little parental supervision make Johnny a danger — and that it sure is fun to play at being Johnnies in movies." Similar thoughts from Manohla Dargis at the New York Times, who writes that the film "has much the same entertainment value you get from watching monkeys fling scat at one another in a zoo or reading the latest issue of Star magazine. Of course a little of that nasty stuff may land on you, but such are the perils of voyeurism." Nick Schager at Slant adds that "Cassavetes is less interested in investigating such conduct’s origins than in exploiting the crime’s particulars for cheap thrills."

Armond White at the New York Press compares the film, lengthily and unfavorably, to "Mean Streets": "[T]he starkness of youth experience that went largely unspoken until Mean Streets summarized several generations of ambivalent teenage morality is updated here, but it also gets transformed into the latest So-Cal, MTV clichés." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon sighs that as a director, "Cassavetes’ method seems to be to turn on the camera and let it suck up all the air around it — it’s the Dyson vacuum school of filmmaking."

On the fond side, Scott Foundas at LA Weekly declares the film Cassavetes’ best yet, one in which he "directs with ferocious energy, taking scenes past their logical stopping points and pushing his actors…to, but never over, the precipice of absurdity." And Robert Wilonsky at the Village Voice writes that while Cassavetes may get "overly enthusiastic with the docudrama form at times," he’s "tempted to forgive his excesses because the guy knows tension."

Great ‘lake:

Dargis: "Adorned in tattoos, Mr. Timberlake holds the screen
effortlessly, delivering a gestural performance that, whether he’s
loping across a room or executing a goofy little dance for his buddies,
legs rapidly slicing back and forth, reveals as much about Frankie —
his need to please, his need to perform — as his lines."

Schwartzbaum: "As a career enhancer, Justin Timberlake’s recent
rendition of ”D— in a Box” on SNL takes the gold. But I’d give his
tattooed turn as Frankie, a junior gangsta straight outta L.A.’s comfy
San Gabriel Valley, at least the bronze — the guy is that charming in
Nick Cassavetes’ flashy bad-boy drama Alpha Dog."

Tobias: "For an untrained actor, Timberlake acquits himself reasonably well in quieter moments…"

Wilonsky: "Already a gifted comic actor—his  Saturday Night Live
appearances are now anticipated events—he proves himself able to go to
a pitch-black place. Frankie, covered in tats, is less a gangsta with a
heart of gold than a nice guy capable of doing some very bad shit—like
every last one of the rabid pups in Alpha Dog."

Zacharek: "He’s a charismatic, believable presence; unlike almost everyone else here, he relaxes into his character instead of trying to wrest it into a faux-dramatic shape. In this mess of a picture, he may be the rookie actor, but he’s also the one to watch, the movie’s North Star."


"Danger? I love danger!"
+ "Tears of the Black Tiger": As David Edelstein at New York observes, "Tears of the Black Tiger arrives with many critics prejudiced in its favor: It had a triumphant screening at Cannes in 2001, was promptly snapped up by the voracious Harvey Weinstein, and then disappeared into the Miramax abyss." And indeed, many have nice things to say about the film, which is a pastiche of 60s Thai genre films from director Wisit Sasanatieng, while others are just bewildered (as were we). Edelstein judges it "no buried postmodern masterpiece, but it certainly is a jaw-dropper: a delirium-inducing crash course in international trash." At Slant, Nick Schager finds that it’s difficult to tell when the film "is merely being faithful to its cheesy forerunners and when it’s deliberately exaggerating their tacky tropes for comedic and/or analytic effect."

Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club argues that while it’s silly to write the film off as being inaccessible because of the obscurity of the films it references, he’ll allow that it’ll never have broad appeal: "Though Sasanatieng makes a few swings at real poignancy—which don’t really connect—mostly this is the kind of relentlessly postmodern ‘fun’ best served in small portions, and preferably on dessert plates." At the New York Times, A.O. Scott claims he can’t think of another film "that is quite so mad about its own craziness"; while he quite likes the film, ultimately, he declares that "the intoxicating madness of ‘Tears of the Black Tiger’ is in the end too willed, too deliberate, to be entirely divine."

Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE enjoys the film’s resurrection of dusty tropes, writing "the more cliches fulfilled – from the Morricone-style music cues to the final showdown in the rain – the more fun it is." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon hopes the film finds an audience outside of its built-in Asian film fandom; she finds the movies "sometimes seems powered by sheer conviction," and concludes that "Sasanatieng, like a reckless race-car driver, often swerves closer to sentimentality than anyone should dare. Then again, one person’s sentimentality is another’s deeply felt emotion."

And at the Village Voice, Nathan Lee waxes ecstatic over the film’s colors and cinematography. He calls the film a "delightfully unabashed affair," and writes that "[y]ou need no primer in obscure Thai cinema to relish the Black Tiger effect, only eyes wide open and a taste for transcendental camp."

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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