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“Old Joy,” The Jean Renoir Collection

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Old Joy,” Kino, 2006]

American indies should, it is legended, do what mainstream Hollywood movies can’t — and sorry, that does not include crazy violence or eccentric comedy, both of which the studios can do well enough, thank you. (If only independent filmmakers who think exclusively in those terms would fill out their resumes shooting commercials like their supposed to, instead of turkey-stuffing the indie niche with recycled dross and tired “dependies”…) Of course, as Kelly Reichardt’s film “Old Joy” amply demonstrated last year, a real, unique, originally voiced indie appears on the radar and, despite unanimous critical hosannas, it is all but ignored by a supposedly authenticity-hungry audience. American movies don’t come much smaller, subtler or swoonier with tactile experience than Reichardt’s festival hit — a rare commitment to heartfelt naturalism, the most difficult special effect of all, keeps the movie free of bull and cool-indie toxins. The narrative (from a short story by Oregon author Jon Raymond, which was published as an coffee-table book illustrated by photographs) is almost absurdly simple. In Portland, one old college friend calls another: let’s get lost, just for a few days, in the Cascades. Mark (Daniel London) is a watchful, even-tempered father-to-be with a high-pressure job; Kurt (Will Oldham) is an unmarried searcher, still living the West Coast dorm paradigm with odd jobs, a headful of weed and unconvincing stories of spiritual awakenings. Their post-hippie pasts are behind them, and the future appears either stressful or non-existent. They head for a hot-springs retreat in the forest, can’t find it, camp elsewhere, hit a diner, then arrive and kick back.

That’s it, but we see much more: “Old Joy” might be the only film ever specifically made about that universal moment when the bonds of youth begin to rust and fade and become irrelevant against the bombardments of age and responsibility. Not that anyone in the film says as much — Reichardt’s strategy is entirely a matter of looks, pauses and unvoiced subtexts, making it a film by and for wide-awake grown-ups. (The acting, in what is essentially a duet, is so genuine and low-key it makes you sit forward and listen carefully.) The moist wilderness around the protagonists is unforgettably sensual, but it’s the men’s unspoken conflict, with the onslaught of time as much as with each other, that haunts your thoughts afterwards.

In many ways, it’s a tradition in film that began with Jean Renoir — humane camaraderie, the plain beauty of social respect and unexpected mutual empathies, the painful distance between the poles of a friendship under pressure. Saying that Renoir is one of maybe seven unassailable masters in the history of cinema is not unlike saying the ocean is large and blue; demonstrating a shrugging nonchalance for his best films should and will peg you to those that know as a pretender. You can never have too much Renoir in your life, and, in what might be the season’s premier DVD launch for die-hard cinephiles, Lionsgate has released a lovely three-disc Renoir set, much-needed context for the well-known masterpieces (“Grand Illusion,” “Rules of the Game”) that should be permanent furniture in every educated person’s cultural boudoir. In addition to two rare featurettes (1927’s bizarre jazz-sci-fi “Charleston Parade” and 1928’s “The Little Match Girl,” both starring then-Mrs. Renoir Catherine Hessling), we get five features, from either end of the maestro’s career. Renoir’s first film, “Whirlpool of Fate” (1925), is a class-conscious melodrama, and “Nana” (1926) is a robust, roomy adaptation of Zola; both prefigure Renoir’s spacious use of mise-en-scène later in his talkies, and both star Hessling, a beady-eyed beauty the Renoir divorced, thankfully, in 1930. “La Marseillaise” (1938), smack in the middle of his richest period, is a fabulous, boisterous, joyous account of the French Revolution from the peasant’s point of view (Renoir’s always hunting for the most modest perspective).

“Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier” (1959), on the other hand, is a document from Renoir’s aging years, a strangely self-conscious made-for-TV version of the Jekyll/Hyde scenario that features famed pantomime Jean-Louis Barrault as the proper doctor and his bestial alter ego, played here as a medical-fuck-up mix between Lon Chaney’s ape man from “A Blind Bargain” and Harpo Marx. The capper is “The Elusive Corporal” (1962), Renoir’s last full-on feature film and a refreshing, buoyant compatriot-film to “Grand Illusion,” tracing the escape-happy travails of three French soldiers (led by the late Jean-Pierre Cassel) held as POWs in German camps during the Occupation. For Renoir, even the Nazi guards are people boggled by duty, amusement, guilt and love, and his essential humanism is, as it has always been in a public sphere that prefers cut-and-dried good and evil, a balm for the soul.

“Old Joy” (Kino) will be available on May 1st; The Jean Renoir Collection (Lionsgate) 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.