This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


“Year of the Dog,” “Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis”

Posted by on

By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Molly Shannon in “Year of the Dog,” Paramount Vantage, 2007]

Year of the Dog

Mike White’s characters are all cut from the same swatch of alienated cloth: prone to obsession and often a little touched in the head, they struggle to live within the norms of adult society. Even the most innocuous of White’s characters — like a Nacho Libre, or Dewey Finn from “School of Rock” — are, at best, lovable eccentrics. Not for nothing was White a writer and supervising producer on the beloved television show “Freaks and Geeks.” He’s practically American film’s foremost authority on the subject.

His latest tour into personal peculiarity is also his directorial debut. “Year of the Dog” follows a particularly Whiteian heroine: a spinster named Peggy (Molly Shannon) who lives in perfect utopia with her darling beagle Pencil. But when her dog dies suddenly (of mysterious poisoning), Peggy’s life spirals into chaos. She tries to fill the void with a new dog (a much less cute, much meaner German Shepherd named Valentine) and with relationships with two diametrically opposed men: a schlubby part-time hunter named Al (John C. Reilly) and an animal shelter employee and vegan named Newt (Peter Sarsgaard). We can relate to Peggy’s pain — Pencil’s every glance is like a dagger to the heart of unadulterated cuteness — but at a certain point grief gives way to scary, even dangerous behavior.

White’s produced more mainstream films, like his Jack Black collaborations, but “Year of the Dog” is a lot closer in tone to his breakthrough screenplay, 2000’s “Chuck & Buck,” in which an emotionally immature man reconnects with a childhood friend with stalkerish results. Both films begin with the sudden death of character that upends the apple cart that is the hero’s existence (in “Chuck & Buck,” it’s Buck’s mom that croaks) and both films start with humor that gives way to more uncomfortable chuckles until you’re fidgeting in your seat. Though “Year of the Dog”‘s trailer sells the film as a sweet romantic comedy, be forewarned: this film goes to some dark places.

That’s not a criticism, mind you, merely an observation. Grief can do terrible things to people, and it certainly does to Peggy. That’s not to discount the obvious affection White has for her, and really all of his characters, which never wavers, even when the audience begins to: he loves them for their flaws, not in spite of them. As “Year of the Dog” progresses, it becomes more clear that Pencil’s death didn’t cause the problems in Peggy’s life, it merely uncovered them. When she becomes a vegan in response to her growing obsession with protecting animals, Peggy tells her sister-in-law (Laura Dern), “It’s nice to have a word that describes you. I’ve never had that before.”

As a first-time director, White’s technique is relaxed and assured, and he pulls good, understated performances from Shannon and Reilly (and an appropriately exaggerated one from Sarsgaard). I particularly liked his use of close-ups in dialogue scenes that aren’t as close as they should or would typically be. As a result, Peggy is put at a distance, not only from the audience but from the other characters in the film. She is always at a remove from people, who, she remarks on more than one occasion, always let her down in ways that animals don’t. Once Pencil is gone, no one can get close to her.

The movie has a few good laughs (particularly from Peggy’s excitable co-worker Layla, who announces her engagement with the line, “I guess all my whining paid off — and I’m not even pregnant!”) but this is White undiluted by collaborators who might want to push him more towards the mainstream. Here, he’s allowed to be as prone to obsession and as touched in the head as he wants.

“Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis”

“Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis,” also opening this week, is another portrait of obsession. Smith was a member of the New York avant-garde art scene in the 1960s and 1970s who became infamous when his film “Flaming Creatures,” an orgy of glitter, chiffon and orgies, was deemed so obscene that public screenings were raided and prints confiscated by the police. Smith hated the notoriety and what he considered the monetary exploitation that followed in its wake, when cinephiles like Jonas Mekas started hosting screenings of “Flaming Creatures” without consent or compensation. As a result, he never truly finished another project for the rest of his career.

Most artists have their share of quirks, but Smith was a flat-out iconoclast, a rabid anti-capitalist with a fervid love of trash (literally — one friend recalls a story where the pair were walking down the street and Smith stopped to rearrange garbage in the gutter to make it more aesthetically pleasing). Throughout the 70s and 80s, Smith held endless improvisational plays in his loft; as the story goes, one night no one showed up and Smith went on and performed all night anyway (don’t ask me how they know that if no one showed up). In the years after “Flaming Creatures,” Smith kept his work in a constant state of flux. At the only public showing of one of his later films, he was editing the raw footage in the projection booth in the middle of the screening. “I want to be uncommercial film personified,” Smith said, and he meant it.

Mary Jordan’s doc includes tons of great Smith material, which, per the artist’s nature, has been difficult to see for years, even before his death from AIDS in 1989. Still, at 95 minutes, without any discussion of his life outside of his art, “Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis” is a little thin on material, and by the second hour it falls into a bit of a sour grapes rut. (For someone who was so uninterested in ownership, Smith was sure obsessed with other people’s money). I felt like I learned a great deal about Smith the artist, and only a little about Smith the man. Perhaps Jordan’s point is that to Smith, the two aspects were one and the same.

“Year of the Dog” opens in limited release on April 13th (official site); “Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis” opens in New York on April 11th (official site).



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

Posted by on
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

Posted by on

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.

Posted by on
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.