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DID YOU READ

“Hannah Takes the Stairs,” “The World According to Shorts”

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04222008_hannahtakesthestairs.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

Though it may seem unfair at first, let’s pick up Joe Swanberg’s “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” heft it in our grips for a moment, and then use it to beat this thing called “mumblecore” to a pulp. Implicitly a kind of low-budge, ultra-spontaneous, all-HDV answer to the glossy fatuousness of current American film, mumblecore has a number of inherent problems (the least of which is its inherited moniker; using “-core” as a suffix in this way has no meaning). The fad’s general strategy — naturally lit shaky-cam coverage of semi-inarticulate twentysomethings with bedhead speaking entirely in casual small talk and having or ruining relationships — is easy to peg as narcissistic and lazy, if you’re not finely attuned to the genre’s nonchalant sense of cool. But more than that, mumblecore movies strive for an interpersonal intimacy they never achieve, because intimacy requires skill, real acting and visual wisdom, not merely amateurishness. In the pursuit of realism, mumblecore characters spend enormous amounts of time amusing themselves in variously immature ways, the upshot of which is less realistic than, well, immature. No one is actually witty, sex isn’t on anyone’s mind, and everyone, even when they’re being goofy, is tediously earnest.

Is it even a movement? Is anyone outside of the ticket buyers at a handful of smallish American film festivals passionate about these movies, and if not, why are they getting so much press? Still, any cost-benefit analysis of the genre must admit that flowers do arise out of the sludge, and in “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” it’s the title character, as conceived by Swanberg’s ensemble and defined by Greta Gerwig’s performance. Hannah is a lovely-but-not-too-lovely production assistant at some kind of small-time production company, sharing an office with two geeky writers (Kent Osborne and Andrew Bujalski). Swanberg’s story merely follows her as she bounces from an unemployed boyfriend through relationships with her officemates, but Hannah herself is a fascinating concoction: she’s sweet and thoughtful, but at a loss in her own life, a little dull (and painfully aware of it), never the smartest person in the room and hardly at grips with what she wants out of a man. Gerwig has a dazzlingly guileless smile and big startled eyes (she’s more than a little DeGeneres-esque), and she imbues Hannah with an essential insecurity that remains mostly hidden — as in real life, you detect the weakness and uncertainty by way of the defenses propped up to cover them. Watch Gerwig’s hands — Hannah never knows where to put them. Organically, a clear sense of Hannah’s situation dawns: she can’t articulate her frustration, but she’s condemned to play second fiddle to every man she knows, because though she’s beautiful, she’s not creative or dynamic enough to dominate them. You don’t go to Swanberg’s movie because the cast is a veritable who’s who of mumblecore filmmakers (all of whom get screenplay credit as improvisers), or because it’s the genre entry the industry [including IFC.com’s sister company IFC First Take] thought would break through to the mainstream. You go for Hannah.

04222008_unitedwestand.jpgAnother sort of ultra-indie phenom, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual program “The World According to Shorts” (eight years and running) simply makes the world’s festivals’ commercially unviable short films available on the big screen for New Yorkers, and now a sampling has been packaged on DVD. Appropriately, it’s a mixed bag: I thought Daniel Askill’s digital trickery “We Have Decided Not to Die” (2004) was crashingly pretentious, but Hans Petter Moland’s “United We Stand” (2002), a deadpan Norwegian comedy about old men and quicksand, was refreshing and sharp. Hugo Maza’s “La Perra” (2002) — a Chilean bourgeois farce — may be obvious, but Adam Guzinski’s “Antichrist” (2002) fiercely and mysteriously limns a landscape of feral children self-destructing in a post-industrial wilderness, and it’s mesmerizing. Best of all is Andreas Hykade’s “Ring of Fire” (2000), a German-made gout of black and white vaginal psychedelia that riffs on the Western’s clichés and the aura of Johnny Cash just as it suggests the impact of a new mind-altering substance you didn’t know you took.

[Photos: “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” IFC First Take, 2007; “United We Stand,” New Yorker, 2008]

“Hannah Takes the Stairs” (Genius Products) and “The World According to Shorts” (New Yorker Video) are now available on DVD.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.