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“Deliver Us from Evil,” “David and Lisa”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Deliver Us from Evil,” Lionsgate, 2006]

The decision to make a documentary — which even today is almost always a personal decision, not a corporate one — is contingent on a number of things, but arguably foremost among them is the sense that your subject matter will produce honest-to-God fireworks. Being politically relevant or socially informative is hardly enough; you want human explosions and earthquakes, even if they’re the subtle, ironic variety found in politicking docs like Rachel Boynton’s “Our Brand Is Crisis” and Laura Poitras’s “My Country, My Country,” to pick just two recent examples. I’m not talking about psychodramatics in the film itself, but the sense of appalled outrage you as the audience experience when a film explores material ordinary passed over by the mass media, in depth and with attention the media never musters. (That’s what non-fiction film is for, no?) Still, no new-ish documentary will set fire to your house quite like Amy Berg’s “Deliver Us from Evil.” Only one contemporary non-fiction topic will boil the blood faster than pedophilia (as it did in “Capturing the Friedmans”), and that is, in a far-too-fervently Christian nation, pedophilia as it has been perpetrated and enabled by the Catholic Church.

Berg pulls the mother of all documentary tropes — getting the guilty monster at the core of her controversy to not only cooperate with the film but to virtually assist in its making. Gaining the complicity of the morality-challenged makes for jaw-dropping cinema, just as it has since 1975’s “The California Reich” and its dumbfounded portrait of all-American neo-Nazis. Why would these people — be they pedophiles, politicians, fascists or just plain assholes — consent to a documentary crew shining a camera light on their actions? Perhaps it’s ego, or perhaps they often assume the default power of the Stockholm syndrome, which did in fact muddy the inquisitive waters, for example, of Ellen Perry’s “The Fall of Fujimori,” enjoying as it did hanging in exiled plutocrat Alberto Fujimori’s limo a little too much. But that’s the exception, and even Perry’s film emerged as something Fujimori, if he didn’t already have far larger problems, should have regretted.

In Berg’s remarkable film, the still-at-large ex-priest Oliver O’Grady speaks frankly and even engagingly about his sexual hunger for small children, and the literal decades he spent as a working clergyman in California, molesting, raping and sodomizing preadolescents as young as nine months. A kindly, soft-spoken, even leprechaun-ish Irishman, O’Grady is a walking cognitive dissonance — he is in demeanor as far from a sneaky, creepy sex ogre as you could imagine. But there’s no getting around his relaxed shamelessness, or his actions, which are so universally abhorred by every culture on Earth that only within the rotten, power-mad bell jar of the Catholic Church could they be tolerated and even ignored. Which is what happened: Berg’s real story is in tracing exactly how O’Grady’s crimes were covered up by the Church, how he was bounced from parish to nearby parish for years, and how various archbishops — and even the current Pope, in his old administrative role in the Vatican — conspired to minimize the damage O’Grady wrought after the victims began speaking out.

The gone-public victims, all grown adults now, are appropriately lost in their own landscapes; the father of one, an aging Japanese-American man howling in recrimination, can barely keep the lid clamped on his furnace of rage. But somehow more stinging is the thorough case erected by the filmmaker and various activists (some of them ex-priests) around the utter self-defensive turpitude with which the Catholic Church, at almost every level, behaved in regards to O’Grady and thousands of predators just like him. The Church comes out of the facts bearing the ethical integrity of a corporation grown fat on the ruined lives of its customers — in other words, as demonstratively criminal. Where’s the lawyer bringing it to The Hague?

If O’Grady is mentally ill, it’s in a way science hasn’t really figured out to address yet; we’re far afield from the old ideas of Freudian psychology, represented in the pop consciousness by Frank Perry’s classic 60s indie “David and Lisa” (1962). Nominated for Oscars (as was Berg’s film, 45 years later), “David and Lisa” is old-school, old-book gray-sky melodrama, in which two near-psychotic teenagers in an old-estate sanitarium overcome their inner barriers and connect. Keir Dullea is a wealthy, unbearably snooty anal-compulsive whose social tools are restricted to derision and dashing from the room; Janet Margolin is a chatterbox schizophrenic who must rhyme to prevent sinking into a complete dolorousness. Something of a sensation at the time among sensitive middle-classers, Perry’s film (written by his wife, Eleanor) does date, clearing the feverish, mannered stage where the committed portrayal of mental disturbance ends and sheer, unfettered overacting begins. But it’s exactly that stage that’s interesting today — part Twilight Zone hysteria, part earnest Actors’ Studio “method,” part fashionable psychobabble, the movie is something like an act of healing made in response to Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” released two years earlier. (The sources of both films’ sicknesses are horribly maternal.) Watching it is not unlike viewing the black and white home movies of American cinema’s maturation, from pure and innocent Golden Age dream machine to struggling but hopeful realism of the American New Wave.

“Deliver Us From Evil” (Lionsgate) and “David and Lisa” (Homevision) are 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.