DID YOU READ

“Babel.”

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Post-tower life.
You can’t fault "Babel" for its ambition — the far-reaching film ties together storylines in Morocco, Mexico and Japan to reassure us that we are all united in our human misery. Here’s what you can fault it for: grievous self-seriousness and self-importance, and the squandering of some of the year’s finer performances.

We’re tempted to lay the blame at the feet of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, who’s collaborated with director Alejandro González Iñárritu on three films now, and whose fondness for interlocking storylines may demand an intervention. In "Amores Perros," the first and best of the three, the trinity of storylines flowed from to another, their thematic ties at least as important as their narrative ones. "21 Grams" balanced out its more portentous ideas about fate with temporal trickery. In "Babel," the pieces snap together as neatly as a jigsaw puzzle, and for what? If you haven’t already guessed the connections by the final reveal, you still won’t get a whit of satisfaction from them. "Babel" wants to portray individuals lost and adrift in world in which they are unable to communicate, where they are left to rely on underlying human goodness and empathy to carry them through, but the film can’t just let these ideas emerge. Instead, they’re threaded together via awkward convulsions of narrative — if a butterfly flaps its wings in northern Africa, there will be five plot devices in San Diego the next day.

In Morocco, a vacationing American couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) are trying to patch up their marriage after the death of a child. A local family has just made a major purchase: a rifle, intended for keeping jackals away from their goats. The two adolescent sons impulsively decide to try out the gun’s range by firing at a bus rounding a turn on the road below, unintentionally wounding Blanchett’s character. The bus is halfway between towns — the nearest hospital is hours away. In San Diego, a housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) is stranded with her two tow-headed charges on the day of her son’s wedding. At a lost for what to do, she takes them with her across the border to Mexico, but trouble at the border on the way back leaves the three stranded in the desert. In Japan, a sullen deaf-mute schoolgirl (Rinko Kikuchi) rages inwardly against the place she’s been given in society, and struggles in her distant relationship with her father (Koji Yakusho).

"Babel" is an infuriating film because there are near-brilliant moments mixed in with all the ham-fisted storytelling and simplistic sentiment. Kikuchi is incandescent, particularly in a scene set in a crowded Tokyo nightclub where periodic point-of-view shots remind us that for her, everything is unfolding silently. Pitt is admirably anguished and meat-headed; his American is more a incoherent one than an ugly one — that duty falls to the (well, European) tourists on their bus and the border guards in Tecate. Barraza is very good in the most ridiculous of the storylines, one that relies on Gael García Bernal as a disreputable relative to do something so unbelievable it’s impossible to take what follows seriously.

The title of the film refers to the story in Genesis in which God renders mankind unable to communicate in a single language after a united attempt to build a tower to heaven, but it also brings to mind the fall of other, more recent towers. "Babel" is a less egregious example of congratulatory liberal self-flagellation than "Crash," but it does find its way up there, as the American government seizes upon the random gunshot as a terrorist attack and engages in diplomatic bullying with the Moroccans, which prevents any help actually reaching the couple in need. Pitt’s character, frantic on the phone with the embassy, tries to get an ambulance to his wife before she bleeds to death, but receives only assurances that whoever did this will be punished. We can flip on the news and hate ourselves in the comfort of our own home with more nuance, thank you — worth a thousand times more is the moment when he tries to thank the guide who has stayed with them, hosted them and helped them steadfastly throughout the ordeal. His face registers that the gesture is clumsy and tawdry, but he helplessly reaches into his wallet anyway and tries to hand the man a wad of cash.

Opens in New York and L.A. on October 27th.

+ "Babel" (Paramount Vantage)

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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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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.”

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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.