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DID YOU READ

“Zodiac.”

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"They're already making movies about it."
Of the countless shows based around the hypnotic and reliable rhythms of the crime procedural, our personal favorite, the relatively recent "Criminal Minds," is the likely apex (or nadir). While other shows have staked out their own fields of expertise — sex crimes, Las Vegas, missing persons — "Criminal Minds" wants for itself only the Most Dangerous of Criminals, more often or not that foie gras of the villainous world, the serial killer with a shtick. Its team of diversely attractive FBI agents darts around the country in a private jet, applying their profiling skills wherever needed ("That’s the second murder in a month. He’s escalating!") in order to wrap up a case in 44 minutes. It’s wretchedly silly and absurdly compelling, a show that presumes a world with such a surfeit of psychobabble-enabled malefactors that it necessitates a special government division.

"Zodiac," David Fincher‘s first film since 2002’s "Panic Room," is a procedural in the true sense of the word — it chronicles, in exhausting detail, the minutiae of the investigation into the Zodiac Killer in the late 60s and 70s, a case that remains unsolved. It is also, less successfully, an examination of obsession, of our fascination with and longing for the plotlines and the looming villains so easy to find in film, TV and airport novels, their unhinged minds ready to be unlocked by some intrepid investigator with the right insights. Life is not a paragraph; neither, at two hours and 40 minutes, is "Zodiac," a film that’s more interesting to write about than it is to watch. The real world may well fail to cohere to a convenient narrative; seeing this demonstrated on screen is, as you’d guess, unsatisfying.

"Zodiac" begins with a brutal make-out point murder that chills with its meticulously recreated details, a crime the killer takes credit for when he writes to the San Francisco Chronicle and two other Bay Area papers in August of 1969, demanding they publish a cipher. Political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is at the paper when the letter arrives; his interest is immediate — cryptography and puzzles are his hobby. But he jostles at the sidelines of the film for a long time; the investigation belongs to the competent, slightly showboating Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his long-suffering partner Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), and to reporter Paul Avery (the always fun Robert Downey Jr.). By the time Graysmith emerges as the main character, he seems to have won by virtue of sticking it out the longest; Toschi drifts away to other cases, Armstrong to other departments, Avery to obscurity, living on a houseboat, wallowing in drugs and alcohol. Graysmith, the Eagle Scout, the cartoonist turned amateur sleuth, can’t put the puzzle down, and so he gets to grace the film with the themes of obsession to which it eventually comes round as a seeming afterthought — after all, the real Robert Graysmith wrote the two books on which the film is based.

The Zodiac Killer loomed large in the imagination; he had San Francisco trembling in his shadow. But it’s likely he only actually killed five people, though he took credit for other murders he didn’t commit — a fact that Avery informs Graysmith, after which he observes "You almost look disappointed." Whatever prompted his first murders is unknown; what kept him going and kept him writing to the papers, on the other hand, is easily apparent. He enjoyed creating his own mythology, and the media was happy to help. A scene involving the killer’s proposed call-in to speak to a local lawyer (played by Brian Cox) on a live morning show could prompt nervous giggles — talking to the killer, on a live broadcast! Frightening, but great TV. It was good business for all involved — Graysmith is the only one without an angle, and the only one unable to put the case down when everyone else was ready to move on.

Fincher, himself responsible for one of pop culture’s most grandly gothic serial killers in "Se7en"‘s John Doe, does takes an ax to the conventions of the crime genre, if such a dramatic phrase can be used for a film that avoids all easy provocations. The murders, along with one late night roadside kidnapping, are all brilliantly staged, chilling in their unfeigned details, and over and done with early in the film. The point is not the killings themselves, nor the murderer, whose possible identity seems so diffuse by the end that everyone and no one could be a suspect. The grind is the point, the weeks passing until they’ve added up to years, the case resting not on dramatic interrogations but on handwriting analysis, evidence spread over four counties not prone to much communication. Fincher keeps his whiz-bang bag of camera tricks closed, keeping his direction unobtrusive save for the occasional flashy shot — one, overhead on the Golden Gate Bridge, has the untethered feel of a dream.

We’re given all of the details, the dead ends, the backtracking, and yet the cumulative effect is not a portrait of obsession, merely evidence of it. The Zodiac Killer, pinned down with the weight of all these documented facts, seems small, not worth dedicating decades to, and that revelation is hardly the equivalent of a one liner before the credits roll.

"Zodiac" opens wide today.

+ "Zodiac" (Paramount)

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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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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.