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“Eastern Promises.”

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"Stay away from people like me."
The summer of the awkward teenage boy is over: bring on the rough-jawed paragons of manhood. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in "3:10 to Yuma" did dapper & deadly and noble & haggard so well they almost made the film’s preposterous conclusion work, while Clive Owen in "Shoot ‘Em Up" showed off an ability to repel bullets with the force of his bad attitude. But none have anything on Viggo Mortensen as Russian mob enforcer Nikolai in "Eastern Promises," a man pickled in Slavic world-weariness, a man who can put a cigarette out on his tongue while cutting the fingers off a corpse before dumping it and make the gesture look nigh charming, a man who turns out to have a squishily honorable heart.

"Eastern Promises" is a sleek, claustrophobic thriller that’s disappointing only because it’s the follow-up to "A History of Violence," David Cronenberg‘s brilliant, bruising genre-smasher about our love affair with righteous brutality. Like "A History of Violence," "Eastern Promises" finds Cronenberg making only half an effort to color within the lines of a mainstream film, in this case one about how Anna (Naomi Watts), a London midwife, follows information in the diary left behind by a 14-year-old Russian girl who dies giving birth in the emergency room, and find herself tangling with a circle of Russian mobsters, the vory v zakone. The tone is once again intriguingly off, removed and almost arch, though this time without any placeable purpose — whatever is underneath the surface of "Eastern Empire," it stays there, out of reach.

Anna is the film’s wide-eyed Alice, stumbling into an Russian expat underground of both flesh and blood and crime families headed by deceptively twinkly patriarch Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), whose son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel),
is an unpredictable, sodden mess relying heavily on the help and
enforced friendship of his driver, Nikolai. Anna, still yearning for her late father, himself Russian, is at first
drawn to Semyon, who spots her vulnerability but not her reckless
determination. He learns that the diary includes incriminating tales
about himself and his son, and dispatches Nikolai to retrieve it.

Nikolai is nursing a few agendas of his own — how apparent they are was a point of debate amongst those we saw the film with, but we’d seen them coming from further off than we’d have liked. Kirill is Nikolai’s in with the vory v zakone — Cassel, not one to leave scenery unchewed, presents Kirill as both
demanding and dramatically insecure, his sexuality an unspoken barrier
to his success, and Nikolai must be at once his confidante, servant and sublimated lover while simultaneously proving his value to Semyon. The hypermasculine old world of the Russian mafia is a kind of sterile marriage, a point hammered in with no excess of subtlety in the film. Nikolai is presented to the family heads in nothing but briefs so that they can scrutinize his tattoos, and his cautious courting of Kirill is rewarded by the nude bathhouse assassination attempt scene that’s justifiably talked-about, a scene exhilarating in its corporeal clumsiness, men grappling each other to the death without the benefit of elegant choreography.

No one does violence like Cronenberg, and from the opening scene, in which a throat is sloppily sawed open, "Eastern Promises" is alive with an agitated awareness that people are all just assailable, fragile flesh. That fact, along with Mortensen’s slyly soulful performance, make it more of a shame that story and screenplay, written by "Dirty Pretty Things"Steven Knight, is so unexceptional, a workmanlike passage through another of London’s unseen microcosms underlined by the film’s strangest choice, segments from the diary of the dead Russian girl describing her descent into forced prostitution and drug use, dictated in a heavily accented voice-over backed with sad string music. These moments are so blunderous you suspect that Cronenberg has some other, more subversive agenda in mind. But what? The title turns out to be accurate; "Eastern Promises" presages more than it delivers.

"Eastern Promises" opens September 14th.

+ "Eastern Promises" (Focus Features)



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.