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“The Boss of It All,” “Red Road”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “The Boss of It All,” IFC Films, 2007]

The Danish-slash-global mini-revolution known as the Dogme movement, initiated by bratboy-auteur Lars von Trier and a few cineastes, lasted only a few years — ostensibly a pledge of bullshit-free purity in moviemaking, it was always a questionable set of strictures, and von Trier himself put the decisive nail in its coffin with “Dancer in the Dark,” which featured decidedly impure musical dance numbers. It was quite obviously von Trier’s ship to sail from the beginning, because he has revealed himself in the long haul to be not only an ingenious artist and master of melodrama (meant in a good, Aeschylus-Hardy-Sirk-Fassbinder kind of way), but also a self-flagellating imp who loves struggling with a straitjacket (and loves watching others struggle as well). “Breaking the Waves,” “Dogville,” “The Idiots,” “The Five Obstructions” — each are defined by formal restrictions von Trier himself imposed on the filmmaking process. “The Boss of It All” is a Dogme film in most particulars — no music, natural lighting, etc. — but it’s also got an extra set of thumbscrews: this time, von Trier’s decided to semi-automate the creative procedure, and leave the camera angles and placement up to a computer program, nicknamed Automavision. The director only imposes his will upon it when the software produces a wholly unusable image; as it is, Von Trier gives the machine pretty free reign, and the film is filled with oddball angles and absurd cutaways, ostensibly revealing the perspective of a binary-code brain on a visually simple modern comedy scenario.

Of course, that’s not entirely the case; whatever brilliance and idiocy went into the programming just comes out again on the other side, like food. But for “The Boss of It All”, the affect works wonders: however “unmotivated,” the movie’s disruptive, off-kilter syntax fits the story like a rubber glove. Von Trier was of course careful to concoct a plot in which hierarchal social structures, like boss over employee, are never what they seem. Von Trier vet Jens Albinus plays a self-obsessed but not terribly bright actor hired by the true owner of what might be the world’s most neurotic IT firm (Peter Gantzler) to masquerade as the company’s mythical CEO, a canard he contrived to maintain a sense of warm camaraderie that has evolved into a workplace prone to outbursts, indulgences, fistfights and desk sex. The reason for the sudden need for a big boss in the flesh is a plan to sell the company to a Dane-hating Icelandic businessman (a hilariously gruff perf from Reykjavik filmmaker Friðrik Þór Friðriksson), which in itself creates emotional turmoil and ethical compromise every which way. It’s savagely clever down to the sound of the copy machine, and suggests yet again that von Trier’s yen for experimental penitence may be merely the smoke of his sideshow, obscuring his real achievements in storytelling and directing actors (there hasn’t been a misjudged performance in a von Trier film in the two decades since “Medea,” and there’s been a wealth of world-beaters). Has anyone told him?

Andrea Arnold’s “Red Road” is also a post-Dogme entity, borne out of an idea by Dogmatists Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen (three films by first-time filmmakers, using the same set of preordained characters), and it also involves the action of robotized camera visuals. This time, it’s in the sauce: we’re introduced to Jackie (Kate Dickie), a bony, haunted middle-aged woman working as a monitor to Glasgow’s plethora of CCTV surveillance cameras. Think of it as “Rear Window,” exponentially expanded — with as much echo of our experience sitting in the dark, feverishly watching. Her life is otherwise an empty shell; her tether to humankind is in being an official voyeur, taking pleasure in children, sympathizing with the owner of an ailing dog and getting off surreptitiously observing back-alley sex. Things shift into high gear, plotwise, when Jackie spots a familiar face — the post-coital mug of a man she’d hoped never to see again. So she keeps watching, and begins entering the frame herself, as it were, revisiting places where she’d seen him and eventually crossing over into his social sphere.

Resonant and atmosphere-saturated, “Red Road” withholds its heroine’s motivations and thoughts for a very long time, gratifyingly — not knowing reflects eloquently back on how much she doesn’t know about the lives she watches on her bank of video monitors. When the subterranean story surfaces, the film loses a lot of its gas, partly because arousing mysteries are being demystified, and also because the backstory revealed is close to cliché. To circumvent that eventuality, Arnold would’ve had to go out on an art-film tangent all her own — metaphysical, post-modernist, or otherwise — and it’s a shame she didn’t. But had she, “Red Road” may not’ve won its trunkful of fest awards, including a Jury Prize at Cannes.

“The Boss of It All” (IFC Films) and “Red Road” (Tartan) 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.