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“Able Edwards,” “Black Test Car “

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Able Edwards,” Heretic Films, 2007]

Once upon a time, cinema was — whatever else it may have been — a factory that manufactured dreams out of the raw materials of reality. 99.99% of the time, the basic lumber for movies consisted of human beings, physical places, physical laws, gravity, weather, real light and shadow, all caught chemically on thermoplastic. The only notable exception — cel animations, or cartoons — were intended largely for children, and have only been very occasionally palatable to adults. On the whole, we’ve required the form to traffic in the tangible and the earthly, for better or worse, even if the movies in question involve unicorns, ghosts, the Wizard of Oz, Wookies or Stan Brakhage’s baby.

That was then: we’re on the verge, like it or not, of a new sub-subgenre of techno-movie, and if you’ve seen “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” “Sin City” or “300,” you’ve done time on Planet Greenscreen, where absolutely everything but the actors is a make-believe, crazed-art-department blitz of pixels and bits. Even if you were thrilled by these films, you have to admit there’s something missing in each of them — specifically, a convincing middle ground, a believable relationship between the foreground actors and the lovingly rendered background hijinks. No wonder the movies all retreat into the idealized past for their stories — they already inhabit a disembodied, self-conscious non-world into which viewers have a tough time entering. Which feature film actually hit the starting gate first (all in the spring of 2004) is still subject to debate — some say it was Enki Bilal’s Frenchified fantasy “Immortel (ad vitam),” some say it was the Japanese “live anime” “Casshern.” (It sure wasn’t “Sky Captain.”) But most agree it was Graham Robertson’s “Able Edwards,” a modest, L.A.-shot indie filmed with a mini-DV camera on 12-square-foot patch of studio floor, in front of an optical effects screen. Robertson’s movie also has another advantage over the competition: it’s a thoughtful, thematically adventurous piece of work, a virtual remake of “Citizen Kane” that scrambles in Walt Disney’s bio (the hero is a cartoon tycoon branching out into visionary theme parks) and then launches into a claustrophobic future of cryogenics, orbital colonies, cloning and environmental devastation.

Robertson’s movie cost less than a week of catering on “Spider-Man 3,” and so you don’t get that style orgasm you get in the bigger-budgeted films. (The acting, too, is roundly unaccomplished, but as Gwyneth Paltrow and Bruce Willis can attest, fluid performances are not easy under the circumstances.) The weird distance inherent in this kind of movie actually serves “Able Edwards” well: it creates an expressive visual context for the story, which is all about the lost authenticity of the modern human. Tangible sets and locations wouldn’t’ve added nothing.

Then again, the wide-screen cinematography and no-holds-barred ratpit drama of a Yasuzo Masumura movie makes a staunch case for the tangible and the verities of real light and shadow. Running neck and neck with notorious auteur maudit Seijun Suzuki as the most outrageous and breakneck Japanese pulp force of the ’60s, Masumura is an all but unknown figure here. The two men, both in their own ways suggesting samurai Samuel Fullers with crank habits, had careers that ran roughly parallel from the mid-’50s; whereas rock ‘n roll gangsta Suzuki has survived into eccentric lionhood, nihilistic sex fiend Masumura died, after scrounging for TV work, in 1986. In the DVD epoch, no geyser of movie love is kept secret for long, and cult-specialty house Fantoma has been busy sending Masumura’s best films — 1958’s “Giants & Toys,” 1964’s “Manji,” 1966’s “Red Angel,” 1969’s “Blind Beast,” etc. — out into the hungry void. The newest entry is “Black Test Car” (1962), a ridiculously feverish thriller about industrial espionage — automobile makers trying to fuck each other over in the run up to releasing a new sports car. As cynical as any American noir, the film has nothing nice to say about the ways postwar Japanese culture does business, and it says it in baroque black-&-white compositions that makes the film look like a bastard child of Kurosawa’s “High and Low” and Welles’s “Touch of Evil.” The best of the extras include an essay by — who else? — critic/wordsmith/Asian film maven Chuck Stephens.

“Able Edwards” (Heretic) will be available on DVD May 29th; “Black Test Car” (Fantoma) 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.