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“My Country, My Country” and “Bloody Reunion”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “My Country, My Country,” Zeitgeist Films, 2006]

We should all be “fair and balanced” when it comes to characterizations of the current Iraq war, which would mean — you’d think — an ethical approach for documentaries that would entail prioritizing the suffering, deaths, injustice and damage as endured by invadees over that of the invaders. Right? Poles over Nazis, Afghanis over Russians? During the American-Vietnam War, the documentaries (from Emile de Antonio’s “In the Year of the Pig” to Peter Davis’s “Hearts and Minds” and beyond) guiltily mourned the bloodcurdling horror inflicted upon the Indochinese. (Only years later did Hollywood dare to portray that absurd conflict exclusively as an American trauma.) In Iraq today, there doesn’t seem to be any bones about it: we invaded and occupied the crumbling nation à propos of nothing, killed anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 civilians (the high number is courtesy of UK medical journal The Lancet, which has little history of politically gaming stats), and argue at home about whether we’re sufficiently “supporting” the troops as they “surge,” and not about how we paid and are still paying for all of that blood and ruin with our tax dollars, and why our elected leaders shouldn’t be prosecuted as war criminals.

The documentaries we’ve gotten, however, have tended to shed sympathetic tears only for the American soldiers, compelled by who knows what propagandized baloney to sacrifice their lives and limbs (in relatively minor numbers), and to kill Arab men, women and children in their own streets. (Prime example: Deborah Scranton’s award-winning “The War Tapes,” which, being soldier-shot, weeps and shudders for the Yanks but disdainfully observes the indigenous populace from a distance as if they were hyenas on the veldt.) The best exception to this xenophobia is still Laura Poitras’ “My Country, My Country” (2006), the most sensible film yet about the occupation, and as a counterpoint against acres of corporate-spun non-news, it is indispensable. Time and again, in the months leading up to the 2005 elections, Poitras manages to be where platoons of U.S. telejournalists were afraid to go. Her hero is a Sunni activist-doctor named Riyadh, a clear-thinking, educated everyman on a quiet crusade in and around the Triangle to repair whatever damage he can, and to get as many Sunnis to vote as possible — even if it’s not for him. (Anti-secularist that he is, he deserves a bumper magnet.) It’s a project that even takes him to the fences around Abu Ghraib: “We’re an occupied country with a puppet government,” Dr. Riyadh says to the pleading prisoners, “what do you expect?”

But Poitras, traveling alone, also rides with the Kurdish militia, records U.S. military briefings, attends outraged public hearings, listens in on security contractors trying to make sense out of chaos and sits in Sunni living rooms as shells fall in the street. She never intrudes on her own movie; what we see, remarkably, has the electric heat of a new experience, of seeing what has been heretofore officially proscribed. Best of all, the film is so immaculately constructed that it cannot be dismissed with charges of partisan subjectivity — Poitras covers the waterfront as she avoids ideology and cant, and yet everything that unfolds, from the combat-copter rides over Baghdad to the Arab TV footage of the Fallujah bombing, is first-hand evidence of an illegal occupation, an oppressed native people, and an abundance of needless pain and decimation. Without uttering a word herself, she calls the cards on every prevaricating pundit and politician blathering about “the enemy.”

In other news: if you love Asian pulp — Japanese, Korean, Thai, what have you — sooner or later you’re going to find yourself pondering what life must be like in East Asian public schools. While the predominant crucible at work in the heart of American pulp may be the family, in Japan etc. the tribulation of the classroom haunts the cultural psyche. I couldn’t begin to count the number of recent Asian horror films, thrillers, fantasies and heartbroken melodramas fueled at their center by the slights and wounds of their countries’ respective educational systems, the primal traumas of which spawn endless explosions of slaughter, chaos, derangement, infinite woe and evil craziness. (You might begin with “Battle Royale,” “Oldboy,” “Peppermint Candy,” “The Power of Kangwon Province,” “Memento Mori,” “Bounce Ko Gals,” “Ringu,” “Bungee Jumping of Their Own” and so on.) Which brings us to the unpretentious glories of Lim Dae-woong’s “Bloody Reunion” (also known as “Seuseung-ui eunhye,” and “To Sir with Love,” and “The Teacher”), a simple but full-blooded Korean slasher film that probes the high-school-memories dynamic with a laser. Schoolmates now in their 20s collect at the secluded home of a beloved, ailing teacher for an ad-hoc reunion; when the truth slowly emerges from underneath the Asian sense of propriety (the teacher was in fact an abusive horror, and all of the kids are scarred for life), a killer begins kidnapping them and torturing them to death. If you’re looking for a metaphor for what may well be a real and pervasive social wound, you can hardly get more outraged and mournful. The movie may not be terribly scary — who’s titillated by slasher films anymore? — but as yet another elegy for a generation of Asian walking wounded, it’s fascinating.

“My Country, My Country” (Zeitgeist) will be released on DVD on March 20th; “Bloody Reunion” (Tartan Video) is now available on DVD.



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.