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“The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” “From Beyond” and “The Return of the Living Dead”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” IFC Films, 2006]

By now Ken Loach is no longer merely the last of the red-hot neo-realist British-Marxist filmmakers, but an international master, having rebounded from his ’80s semi-blacklisting with 12 features in 16 years (and more awards than Loach retains hairs on his aging head) that have become the world standard for doc-style naturalism and for the unvarnished depiction of working-class life, British socioeconomics and life-or-death social struggle. There is virtually no major issue Loach hasn’t touched upon, from homelessness (1966’s policy-influencing “Cathy Come Home”), to child abuse (1969’s “Kes”) to day labor (1990’s “Riff Raff”) to the civil war in Nicaragua (“Carla’s Song,” released in 1996), and he remains an uncompromised activist voice, and the Anglo lower-class’s most dogged champion. (My favorite Loach remains 1971’s “Family Life,” a family passion that may be the greatest movie ever about generational gaps, and which follows the downward emotional spiral of a teenage girl badly attended to by her overbearing, painfully repressed parents, played to brittle, insidious perfection by Bill Dean and Grace Cave. The film’s familial firefights could make the average dysfunctional-clan survivor break down with shuddering flashbacks.)

It’s taken Loach this long to address the Irish Troubles (beyond the based-on-a-true-story Belfast context for 1990’s political cover-up thriller “Hidden Agenda”), and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is a kind of brother film to the ordinarily contemporary-minded Loach’s period portrait of the Spanish Civil War, “Land and Freedom” (1995). Set in 1920, the movie is fairly methodical in its march through history: we begin with Cillian Murphy’s young doctor-to-be looking to flee Ireland to finish med school, before he is confronted too many times with British troops assaulting his countrymen. Once he takes his oath of allegiance to a Free Ireland, Loach’s film (written by longtime comrade Paul Laverty) follows this earnest naïf from plotter to guerrilla assassin to low-rung politician, refusing to obey the Government of Ireland Act treaty that would soon enough pit Irish against Irish. The story takes classic shape: Murphy’s Damien sees family torn apart and fellow patriots and childhood friends felled in the fight, making him more and more resistant to compromise and more resolved to die for his cause. (Sound familiar?) Loach’s objective, natural-lighting filmmaking is its own eloquent, humane statement, about history viewed as ordinary people’s lives, not as grand melodramas of the rich and powerful — why would anyone want to shoot period films any other way? Loach being Loach, the film is filled with revolutionary leftist cant, all of it sound and true and unimpeachable, and much of it concerned with Irish industry and economics — which is largely what the Republicans knew quite well they were fighting for, not merely for vengeance or justice. It’s safe to say that “The Wind” is the greatest, most observant and most authentic-feeling film ever made about the civil war (not that very many filmmakers have dared to begin with), and that Loach is a virtual godsend as a cultural voice, in these days of pernicious spin, political mercenariness and neo-imperial slaughter.

And for an aperitif, finally Stuart Gordon’s “From Beyond” (1986) and Dan O’Bannon’s “The Return of the Living Dead” (1985) arrive on DVD, blasts from the not-so-distant, Reagan-befouled past when horror farce wasn’t harmlessly Mel Brooks or “Scary Movie,” but something much more perverse and bizarre. Gordon, riding the mystery train that he started up in 1985 with the seminal “Re-Animator,” extrapolates on a Lovecraft story once again (this time, it’s pineal glands gone horribly, phallically amok) and strides happily into mucky, self-destructive territories otherwise only visited by Frank Henenlotter. (Frank, where art thou?) With the spectacularly game Barbara Crampton again as his accomplice, Gordon may’ve finished up the most audacious double whammy in modern horror. Dan O’Bannon, on the other hand, is an old-school genre freak who has largely rolled around for decades now in the cash being a co-creator of the “Alien” franchise has brought him. But his 1985 zombie satire — almost 20 years before “Shaun of the Dead” — is a ripping, grue-slicked riot, complete with schlock princess Linnea Quigley as a nihilistic punkette named Trash (“Hey, somebody get some light over here, Trash is taking off her clothes again!”), James Karen overacting, a plethora of Nazi in-jokes and cinema’s first sprinting, dashing, leaping flesh-eaters (17 years before “28 Days Later”). I know, zombies both grim and risible are glutting the mediascape right now, and if you see another, your head will messily, gorily explode. But O’Bannon’s film is the microgenre’s first slap in the face, and it’s still a hoot.

“The Wind That Shakes The Barley” (IFC Films), “From Beyond” and “The Return of the Living Dead” (MGM) 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.