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“Flannel Pajamas,” “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Flannel Pajamas,” Hart Sharp, 2007]

Despite the hoopla, genuine indies, the kind of passion-made, personal film without slumming stars or boutique-studio funding, are rarer than we think, and often just as difficult to define as such. (Indie cachet is a vital marketing factor, after all.) Here’s one way to tell: if a film eschews the compromises required in being bought up and shipped into theaters by Fox Searchlight or Sony Pictures Classics or Lionsgate, and is instead — gasp — self-distributed. It’s hard to question the authentic indie-ness of a filmmaker who shoulders the Herculean task of self-promoting, self-selling and self-financing his or her film’s theatrical run. 2006 saw a few, among them David Lynch’s “Inland Empire,” Andrew Bujalski’s “Mutual Appreciation” and Jeff Lipsky’s “Flannel Pajamas.” Lipsky, a principal figure in the post-Reagan rise of “independent film” (an experienced executive, he co-founded the now-defunct distributors October Films and Lot 49), isn’t a rising young hotshot ready to defect to the Industry once his resume film is recognized at Sundance (think about how quickly Darren Aronofsky, David Gordon Green, Jared Hess and Gavin O’Connor surrendered their careers to the machine). “Flannel Pajamas” — his sophomore feature as a writer/director — is instead an eagle-eyed, mature, true-to-thyself piece of cinema made for the sheer making, a film in which the people count more than the PR footprint the movie might make in the Park City snow.

The material is simple: two New York singles (Julianne Nicholson and Justin Kirk) meet, woo, fuck, fall in love, move in together, mix up with each others’ messy families, marry, grow disillusioned and break up. That’s it — Lipsky’s entire intent is to tell the truth, to examine the arc that virtually everyone endures at least once in our lives and yet films (American films, anyway) always ignore. Even so, the movie doesn’t feel generalized or iconic — the textures of the characters’ lives are specific, thorny, culturally alert and thrumming with surprise. These people talk, like you and your friends do, to entertain each other and to cover up their weaknesses. Kirk’s slightly goofy theatrical marketeer is so forthcoming and generous you begin to look for secretive chinks in his White Knight armor; Nicholson’s country girl is utterly beguiling except when she is moody and hypersensitive. (A busy but yet-to-be-discovered wonder best known for the 2000 indie “Tully” and plenty of episodic TV, Nicholson is one of the most addictively watchable actresses of her generation.) Egos bump and grind, sexual politics create emotional blisters, the matter of children never gets resolved, family darkness emerges from the background, all of it orchestrated in an off-hand way that evokes how real lives plow forward and intersect, not how movie plotlines rise and fall with oceanic predictability. Did Lipsky try and fail to get distributors interested in “Flannel Pajamas”? If so, the state of Indieville is far more dire and anemic than we ordinarily think.

On the other hand, Stanley Nelson’s documentary “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple” found a theatrical distributor — in many ways, non-fiction is the new indie — and the day you see it in any context might be the darkest day of your year. Entirely orthodox in its ways and means, “Jonestown” has a truly apocalyptic story to tell: of how a lonely, poor and mildly disturbed Indiana boy named Jim Jones adopted the Pentecostal business plan of his Midwestern outlands and created the Peoples Temple, a socialist, multi-racial, utopian ministry that drew in thousands of starry-eyed devotees before it began to go crashingly, sickeningly wrong. In the years since its immolation via cyanide and Kool-Aid in 1978, Jonestown has become something like a cultural scar we can only chuckle about if we dare to think on it at all. But Nelson’s film matter-of-factly reiterates the details, interviewing dozens of Temple survivors, who recall both their rapturous experience finding love and community as a member of the congregation, and their eventual awareness of their abused, delusional state of near-slavery under the increasingly deranged Jones. Today, the tale plays as a proto-fascist/totalitarian paradigm in miniature, with Jones employing the gamut of Stalinist tactics (informant dread, paranoia, threats, limited media, work-worship, etc.) to maintain his control. It’s a revolting parable on power, as well as a devastating inquiry into the religious impulse, ending with the modern era’s most spectacular auto-da-fé. You may learn all there is that is known about the Jonestown phenomenon, but the central mystery — how could intelligent, loving parents be persuaded to pour cyanide down their own toddlers’ throats, and then drink it themselves while holding their cold children? — remains imponderable, chilling and all-American.

“Flannel Pajamas” (Hart Sharp) and “Jonestown: The Life & Death of Peoples Temple” will be available on DVD on April 10th.



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.