NYFF: “Paradise Now.”

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Ali Suliman as KhaledHere’s the thing: there’s nothing we dread more than a film that’s been labeled "important," one that "everyone should see" (well, ones that are "based on a true story" come close). Who wants to see something that’s presented like a recommended daily serving of vegetables? So ignore the way they’ll inevitably promote "Paradise Now" as a chore, a didactic missive — it’s a startlingly good film on its own; at the very least, it’s the most emotionally profound and heartbreaking of the festival.

Maybe it’s not fair to compare them — Hany Abu-Assad‘s tale of suicide bombers in the West Bank deals with a subject matter so raw and relevant to global politics that it sears the screen. Abu-Assad, a Palestinian living in the Netherlands, actually shot much of "Paradise Now" in Nablus, the unstable city in which the film is set, setting up in refugee camps and filming in the midst of gun- and missile fire until several of his crewmembers quit and another was kidnapped. This isn’t filmmaking like you’ve seen before — often, when the actors quiver with nervousness or distress, it seems more genuine than perhaps is comfortable to watch.

The film follows two twenty-something friends, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), who work together as mechanics. They hang out, they smoke a hookah; Said has an ongoing flirtation with the pretty, cosmopolitan Suha (Lubna Azabal), who seems to come in to get her car fixed more often than necessary just to talk to him. And then, suddenly, they’re both called upon for the "honor" of serving in the first suicide bombing mission in the area in two years, a retaliation strike in response to a Mossad assassination. They’d clearly agreed to this years ago, requesting to go together — the man who comes to claim Said, staying at his family’s house with him throughout the night, taught the boys when they were younger ("A good education is important," he, smiling, tells Said’s mother, who isn’t informed that he’s sending her son off to die the next day). We see all of the steps leading up to the pair clambering through a hole in the fence close to Tel Aviv, outfitted in trim black suits and explosives — at which point, something goes wrong, and the two are separated, left to spend the day searching for each other and questioning what they’re doing.

Abu-Assad set out to make a film that, while certainly not condoning suicide bombers, does attempt to humanize them, which means that there are quite a few discussions of different points of view on the matter of Palestinian oppression: impulsive Khaled tows the extremist party line and doesn’t seem to have given the issue much thought beyond how heroic he’ll appear; Suha, who’s works as a Palestinian rights activist, finds the act harmful to their cause and, when she figures out what’s going on, attempts to save the two; handsome, sad-eyed Said has the most complicated motivations of all, a mixture of the political and personal that he lays out in a devastating monologue towards the end of the film. For the most part, these dialogues seem unforced — lord knows, it’s a topic that would be on your mind most of the time.

Beyond a revelatory performance from Kais Nashef in what is his feature debut, the film’s highlight is its gentle, all-encompassing sympathy for its characters’ fundamental humanity, while refusing to pull punches as to the terrible nature of what they’re going to do. In one scene, Khaled, holding an automatic weapon, gives a pre-written martyr speech to a camcorder, to be distributed after the bombing. His delivery is frightening — and then he remembers something he never had a chance to tell his mother, and starts in that he saw cheaper water filters at another store, and that she should start buying them there. It’s a singular moment (not the least because that’s a hell of a ballsy place to slip in comedy) — but it works. Dare we say it? Everyone should see this film.

"Paradise Now" opens in New York and L.A. on October 28.

Click here for all the NY Film Festival reviews thus far.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.