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“Diggers,” “Zoo”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Diggers,” Magnolia Pictures, 2007]


Given how silly his other project at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival was, it’s a bit of a surprise to see how mature and downright serious Ken Marino’s “Diggers” can be. Marino’s “The Ten,” in which he served as a co-star/producer/writer, is a collection of absurdist vignettes inspired by The Ten Commandments, and, tonally speaking, it’s not all that far removed from the sketch comedy show that Marino and his collaborators (including director David Wain) cut their teeth on. “Diggers,” in contrast, is a melancholy piece of nostalgia with a couple of laughs sprinkled in to leaven the drama.

By chance, or perhaps not by chance at all, Paul Rudd stars in both movies. In this one, he plays Hunt, a Long Island clam digger like his father before him. When his old man dies, Hunt gets the opportunity to reevaluate what he wants out of his life. Hunt’s story intertwines with those of three of his buddies, most importantly Frankie (Marino) who has a wife and a bunch of kids he’s struggling to feed. Now that a big corporate fishing interest called South Shell controls the waters of the Long Island Sound, it takes little fishermen like Frankie or Hunt three days to make what used to be a day’s pay, and times are getting tough. Even if they want to uphold a longstanding family tradition, it isn’t economically feasible anymore.

Both Hunt and Frankie are cornered by their respective familial responsibility: now that his dad’s passed away, Hunt should be able to finally move away from Long Island, but he still needs to look after his sister (Maura Tierney) and his father’s old boat; Frankie hates South Shell and everything it represents, but he’s forced to consider applying for a job there when he can’t support his large family on his miniscule income. He needs to save every penny, literally: one scene shows the whole family sitting around the kitchen table, rolling pennies.

For a movie about a bunch of hard-drinking buddies, “Diggers” is unusually sensitive to the women in their lives, no doubt due to the presence of director Katherine Dieckmann. Tierney is good, as is Lauren Ambrose as Hunt’s love interest from the big city, but best of all is Sarah Paulson (who’s great on the seemingly cancelled “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) as Frankie’s put-upon wife. The pair has an impressively lived-in onscreen relationship, one that oscillates with eerie accuracy between arguments and intimacy. Though Rudd’s the lead, Marino gave himself the meatiest role, as Frankie has both the funniest lines and the biggest emotional moments. In both ways, he completely steals the picture. Marino was always one of the most talented comedians from “The State” repertory company, but here he proves himself a fine actor to boot: the scene where Paulson and Marino discuss a shocking bit of news could not have been played better by either participant.

The ending is a bit too “Good Will Hunting” for my tastes, although a climactic, celebratory middle finger is a nice touch. According to Marino, “Diggers” is an autobiographical story (his father and grandfather were clam diggers on Long Island) and the picture is steeped in atmospheric authenticity, physically and emotionally. Having seen the movie, I feel like I’d visited the time and place it portrays. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. But, hey, neither would Hunt.


“Zoo” begins by invoking the imagery of the American West: glorious vistas, the open road, lush natural beauty. But this is a decidedly unusual horse opera. Here the animals aren’t mere conveyances — they’re the objects of their cowboys’ lust as well.

This restrained sorta-doc is based on a lurid real life scandal. In July of 2005, a businessman was dropped off at a hospital in the Pacific Northwest with a perforated colon. Ultimately, his death was attributed to an ill-fated lovemaking session with an Arabian stallion. During their investigation into his death, police found videotapes of the man (referred to in the film as “Mr. Hands”) performing acts of bestiality, and he wasn’t alone: in fact, Mr. Hands was part of a group of zoophiles who met to socialize with each other and the animals. Because bestiality wasn’t illegal in Washington at the time, no one was ever charged.

Director Robinson Devor (“Police Beat”) approaches the material as a poet rather than an investigator. Instead of trying to pump up the seamy details, he lets the surviving participants try to explain themselves and matches their stories up to dialogue-free reenactments. Two of the zoophiles, “H” and “The Happy Horseman,” appear only as disembodied voices, their physical appearances in the recreations provided by actors, while a third, named “Coyote,” appears as himself.

Devor’s restagings involve a few half-seen graphic details scattered around a host of abstract imagery and spacey, droning music. His pacing is slow and even, and the methodical march towards Mr. Hands’ death has the feel of a nightmare you’re aware of but can’t wake from. The actors are shot from behind or with their faces obscured by shadows. The overall mood is mysterious and ethereal; the tone is somber and thoughtful. There are no jokes at the zoophiles’ expense. It ultimately looks like the most lyrical episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” ever filmed. All that’s missing is Robert Stack’s voice.

Despite its palpable sense of atmosphere, Devor’s film has its flaws. With so few real names, and with so little visual information to go by, it’s easy to mix up the various participants and their roles in the Mr. Hands affair (a fact that, given Devor’s rather meticulous visual style, may be intended). Devor’s hands-off approach certainly yielded access to interview subjects who would otherwise have been hesitant to divulge the more intimate facets of their sexual preferences, but it also kept the film light on revelations. Much as we might want him to, Devor doesn’t probe men’s personal lives or this particular incident too deeply. As a result, “Zoo” feels mysterious but not especially curious.

Like another recent picture, Mike White’s fictional “Year of the Dog,” “Zoo” is about people who love their animals to a fault. Both filmmakers show a great deal of empathy towards their subjects though it would arguably be easier to treat them as objects of derision or scorn instead of misunderstood humanity. Still, “Zoo” is a short movie (at about 80 minutes), and I walked away from it feeling like I didn’t entirely understand these men and their motives. One of the animal rights workers says that investigating Mr. Hands’ case let her approach an understanding of these people without actually achieving one. Perhaps that’s exactly where Devor wanted to take us as well.

“Diggers” opens in limited release April 27th (official site); “Zoo” opens in New York on April 25th (official site).



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.