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“I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone,” “Provoked”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Left, “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone,” Strand, 2007; Below, “Provoked,” # Eros International, 2007]

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone

In 2002, Tsai Ming-liang told The Onion AV Club “It’s my belief that human beings are like plants. They can’t live without water or they’ll dry up. Human beings, without love or other nourishment, also dry up. The more water you see in my movies, the more the characters need to fill a gap in their lives, to get hydrated again.” That quote calls to mind the films Tsai’s made in the years since, including “Goodbye, Dragon Inn,” where an endless rainstorm threatens to drown the final night of an old Chinese movie theater, and “The Wayward Cloud,” about a dry world so thirsty for water that they’ve taken to collecting the rain in buckets and plastic bottles and fetishizing and even having sex with juicy watermelons.

Water isn’t quite as vital to Tsai’s new film, the evocatively titled “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone,” but it is present, most visually in the form of an enormous reflecting pool in the crumbling ruins of an unfinished building. The idea of reflection also plays a key role in the story. Tsai’s perpetual leading man, the De Niro to his Scorsese, is Lee Kang-sheng and in “Sleep Alone” he plays two different roles, as a comatose man cared for by two women, and as a homeless man who crosses the wrong con man, is badly beaten, and then rescued by a bunch of foreign workers who nurse him back to health.

Tsai’s films are typically quiet affairs, heavy on mood and mystery, light on dialogue, occasionally punctuated with glitzy musical numbers; “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” falls in to the director’s format of what could be termed “brooding and canoodling.” As always, he doesn’t skimp on the atmosphere; every dingy corridor or blind stairwell seems tinged with sexual dread. There’s even a scene that might top sex with watermelons; after nearby fires have filled the air with a “haze” worthy of a John Carpenter film, one of the Lees tries to make out with the other Lee’s nurse while both are wearing gas masks to protect them from the toxic fog. That is some erotic eco-horror.

The takes are as long as ever, whether to ponder an image of inexplicable beauty (like a set of glowing children’s toys that Lee encounters on the side of the road) or to confront us with the harsh realities of existence (as when one of the workers has to help the bruised Lee to the toilet). Because the images linger long enough to let your mind wander away, and because no one ever actually says anything, it’s easy to get a little lost in one of Tsai’s pictures; multiple viewings are a must for a full appreciation. But for those very same reasons, it’s tough to muster the stamina to do it, particularly for a film like “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone.” You’d almost rather go and have a drink of something a little stiffer than water.


What would Jack Hill, the king of women in prison movies, make of “Provoked”? Here is a movie about a women’s prison so empowering it’s practically transformative. Its heroine, Kiranjit Ahluwalia, kills her husband after a decade of abuse and winds up in jail, where she makes friends, learns English and pretty much has a grand old time. At the end of the film she says “I left my husband’s jail and entered the jail of the law and that is where I found my freedom.” In Hill’s movies jail was so hellish Pam Grier and the rest of the inmates would do anything to escape. When Kiranjit receives her release in “Provoked,” she doesn’t really want to leave.

“Provoked” occupies a queasy moral space. If it is faithful to its source — the on-screen title is “Provoked: A True Story” without even the benefit of a “based on” or “inspired by” — then Kiranjit murdered her husband in his sleep in cold blood. She was brutally abused, emotionally and physically, but does that justify murder in a manner that’s hard to describe as self-defense? “Provoked” says yes.

The film does its best to, yes, provoke the audience into adoring Kiranjit and despising her husband, Deepak (“Lost”‘s “Naveen Andrews). It’s not terribly difficult; Deepak is a loathsome fool who likes to brandish a hot iron and spit at his wife, “You’re a woman! You’re nothing! You’re a cunt! You’re less than nothing!” But some of these scenes still left a sour taste in my mouth than no amount of “true stories” could squelch. Consider the one where Kiranjit and her friends come to the defense of a prisoner who is being picked on because she accidentally killed her children in a drunken haze. Kiranjit stands up for her friend because she is her friend and because she hates bullies. So, bullies are bad but friendly alcoholics who involuntarily slaughter their children are good. That is some perverse prison logic.

Kiranjit is played by Bollywood megastar Aishwarya Rai, the so-called “most beautiful woman in the world” (here, her looks are toned down because, friendly as they may be, British prisons still aren’t very glamorous). Rai’s won numerous acting awards in India, but if this one-dimensional performance is any indication, her English acting has a ways to go. She staggers through most of the movie with a singular expression of watery-eyed terror and sputters in broken English completely free of prepositions or articles (“I want see my children!”), which might be accurate but also infantilizes the character to unbelievable lengths and constantly grates on the viewer’s nerves.

With its theatrical acting and cartoonish villains, “Provoked” looks like an after school special about spousal abuse. That means either after school specials are far more accurate than we’ve given them credit, or the actual telling of this story is as true as a Jack Hill movie.

“I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” opens in New York May 9th (official site); “Provoked” opens in limited release May 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.

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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.