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New Directors/New Films Never Fails to Please

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By Andrea Meyer

IFC News

Another New Directors/New Films has come and gone. At the annual festival hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, 25 up-and-coming feature film directors from around the globe screened their darlings for New York, and now they’ve packed up their press notes and party clothes and returned to Denmark, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines, Iran, Russia… Or in some cases they’ve gone back to whatever other United State then came from or to a studio in Brooklyn, where they’ll begin dreaming up the next flick. Any common themes or trends to be found there this year? Not really. The only generalizations that can be made about the films is that they’re eclectic, and, by and large, very, very good. Lucky for those New Yorkers not lucky enough to catch them at the festival, many were picked up for distribution and will appear on theaters in the upcoming year.

“Half Nelson” (directed by Ryan Fleck): One of the more talked-about films stars Ryan Gosling, the guy with the best face and possibly the strongest acting chops of his generation, in a heartbreaking performance as a passionate, committed high school teacher and coach who on his own time is battling a major crack habit. When one of his students, Drey (the astounding Shareeka Epps), catches him wasted in a school bathroom stall, an unlikely friendship is born. While director Fleck leads audiences on a seemingly familiar path toward lessons learned and expected redemption, every stumble feels painfully real, every gentle moment is earned. Opens in August.

“October 17, 1961” (Alain Tasma): Most Americans have a cursory knowledge of the French-Algerian conflict at best. This thoroughly disturbing docu-drama explores the ways in which the violence crept onto French soil in the 60s, as Algerian residents were targeted for humiliation and violence at the hands of Parisian policemen and Algerian activists retaliated with attacks on the police. Expertly building tension, the film interweaves several stories — of good cops afraid for their lives, viciously racist cops driven to perverse acts arguably sanctioned by the government, French officials trying to play tough in uncharted political territory and innocent civilians afraid to walk the streets — and culminates in a demonstration (also referred to in last year’s “Caché”) that led peaceful protestors to a horrific and inevitable tragedy that history has largely obscured.

“Look Both Ways” (Sarah Watt): Is it a predictable rom-com or a deeply moving philosophical treatise on death and its sneaky habit of biting people on the ass when they least expect it? Actually, it’s both. Australian animator Watt makes her live action feature debut with a bittersweet story about a man and a woman who are both obsessed with death but nonetheless prefer to spend whatever days, weeks and years they have left with another warm body in their bed. Meryl (Justine Clarke), a cranky painter on the way home from her father’s funeral, imagines her own death constantly (in scenes that animate her artwork), while Nick (William McInnes), a newspaper photographer, has just learned that he has cancer. When Meryl witnesses an actual accident, the pair meets and cautiously explores romantic possibilities. Thought provoking, a bit gooey and stylistically experimental at the same time. Opens on April 14.

“Quinceañera” (Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland): In the Mexican-American community in L.A.’s Echo Park, Magdalena’s (Emily Rios) dreams of the perfect 15th birthday celebration are interrupted when she becomes pregnant — even though she’s never had sex. Meanwhile, her gay cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) has been ousted from his father’s house. The two shameful exiles shack up together at the home of their aging uncle, a modern-day saint. While the film, winner of the Sundance Grand Prize and Audience Award, at times becomes saccharine, at others infuriating, overall the film offers a textured and enormously likeable window into a community many of us cruise by on the freeway without much attention. Opens in August.

“John & Jane Toll-Free” (Ashim Ahluwalia): This surprising doc points a camera at an unlikely subject: the men and women who field customer service questions and try to sell you better, cheaper phone service from an overseas call center in India. This diverse group has taken on American names and learned to sleep by day and work by night to perform the jobs that have been outsourced to them. The film opens our eyes to the many ways that Glen, Naomi and Nikki have happily sacrificed their own culture for an imposed belief system that worships money, individual success, consumerism and all things American. The film will be broadcast on HBO/Cinemax in 2007.

“In Bed” (Matías Bize): With his camera glued to the same pretty pair for the length of his film, the Chilean director dissects a one-night love affair, taking its participants from sweaty sex with a stranger to flighty conversations loaded with pop-psychology and pop-cultural references, to goofy pillow fights, to something deeper. Secrets are revealed, emotions touched, future prospects explored, dismissed, explored again, and more meaningful love is made. This playful experiment that could have been slight and predictable is actually entertaining, at times touching, and — amazingly for 85 minutes of footage of the same two people in the same cheesy motel room — never boring.

“Iron Island” (Mohammad Rasoulof): On an enormous, abandoned oil tanker off the coast of Iran, a community has been established, with a fragile economy, a semi-functional government headed by Captain Nemat (Ali Nasirian) — an old man with a cell phone who acts as if he’s got it all under control — and a host of problems from insufficient medical care to inappropriate love affairs. When a company lays claim to the ship just as it becomes increasingly clear that the vessel is sinking, other plans must be made. The film plays like an enigmatic fable with Biblical undertones and an intriguing tug-of-war between optimism and hopelessness. Opened on March 31.

“13 Tzameti” (Gela Babluani): It’s hard to believe that this taut, outrageously tense thriller was made by a 26-year-old first-time filmmaker. The Georgian-born, Paris-based Babluani tells the story of Sébastian (played by his intensely beautiful brother Georges), an immigrant fixing the roof of an aging drug addict who suddenly dies, leaving a hotel reservation and train ticket leading to a mysterious get-rich-quick scheme. Without any financial prospects, Sébastian snags the goods, figuring he’ll follow directions to the pot of gold he expects to find at the end of the rainbow. What he finds is a house in the woods that might as well be hell. Opens in August.

“Twelve and Holding” (Michael Cuesta): Following his acclaimed debut “L.I.E.,” Cuesta again enters the realm of adolescence and again digs into the disturbing conflicts and urges that lie beneath the giggling, picnics and bike rides in the woods. After young Rudy Carges (Conor Donovan) is accidentally killed by the neighborhood bullies, his quieter twin brother Jacob plots revenge. His friend Malee (Zoë Weizenbaum) develops a crush on her therapist mom’s patient. And the third in the trio, overweight Leonard (Jesse Camacho) goes on a health kick after losing his sense of taste in the accident and tries to convince his whole fat family to diet with him. It is painfully obvious that these kids’ journeys, fueled by hormones and emotions they are too young to handle, are sorting through the muck on their own. Their parents are too self-absorbed to have a clue. Opens on May 19.



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.