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Opening This Week

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04072008_bodyofwar.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Prom queens and street kings hold court this week at the multiplexes while the college professors of “Smart People” and “The Visitor” preside at the art houses.

“Body of War”
Talk show legend Phil Donahue hands over the mic to Iraqi war veteran Tomas Young in this hard-hitting documentary that contrasts Young’s struggle to re-enter civilian life as a paraplegic and anti-war activist with archival footage of an overeager U.S. Congress and what the filmmakers view as their hasty decision to greenlight the invasion. Although the film, co-directed by Donahue and Ellen Spiro, was named best documentary of 2007 by the National Board of Review, “Body of War” has earned equal attention for its soundtrack led by two tracks from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, with all proceeds going to the non-profit organization Iraq Veterans Against The War. (Check out our interview with Spiro and Donahue.)
Opens in New York.

“Chaos Theory”
Van Wilder continues to grow up, as Ryan Reynolds plays a neurotic control freak at the center of this colorful comedy from Marcos Siega, the man who brought us the provocative “Pretty Persuasion.” When his compulsive organizing only succeeds in bringing his carefully ordered world crashing down around him, an efficiency expert (Reynolds) decides to live his life entirely in the moment by transforming his much-prized index cards that outline his daily routine into a random deck of chance. Stuart Townsend and Emily Mortimer co-star.
Opens in limited release.

“Dark Matter”
Premiering at the 2007 Sundance Festival where it picked up the Alfred P. Sloan Prize, “Dark Matter” follows Liu Xing (Liu Ye), an exceptionally gifted cosmology student from China who takes the U.S. scientific community by storm with his origins of the universe theories, but encounters unexpected resistance in the form of his jealous professor (Aidan Quinn), leading to events eerily reminiscent of the tragedies at the University of Iowa (which provided the inspiration for the film) and Virginia Tech. The controversial subject matter has led to more than a few changes for the film’s opening date, but its pedigree is undeniable with Chinese opera and theater director Chen Shi-Zheng at the helm and Meryl Streep in a supporting role.
Opens in limited release.

“The Dhamma Brothers”
Filmmakers Jenny Phillips, Andrew Kukura and Anne Marie Stein head down to an Alabama maximum security prison to follow the “Dhamma Brothers,” a group of inmates who undertake a 10-day Vipassana retreat involving silent meditation, introspection and self-discovery. While the effects of “dhamma” (the Pali term for “Dharma,” or enlightenment) work to startling effect on the prisoners, the film also documents the valiant efforts to keep the program running in the heart of America’s bible belt.
Opens in New York.

“Prom Night”
Nestled somewhere between non-alcoholic beer and solar-powered flashlights on God’s desk, one might find this equally unnecessary PG-13 semi-remake of the 1980 slasher cult classic. Brittany Snow fills in for Jamie Lee Curtis as the platinum angel whose dreams of limos and corsages are hacked to pieces by a recently escaped sadist from her past who shows up looking for a little romance. Veteran television director Nelson McCormick helms from a script by J.S. Cardone, who last brought us “The Craft” for dudes with 2005’s “Covenant.”
Opens wide.

“Smart People”
After wisely dropping out of the less than impressive “Ring Two,” acclaimed commercial director Noam Murro made this oddball comedy his feature directorial debut. Dennis Quaid stars as a pompous English professor who receives an extended visit from his estranged brother (Thomas Haden Church) that spurs him to try to rebuild his dysfunctional family, which includes a pre-“Juno” Ellen Page as Quaid’s preppy, genius daughter and Sarah Jessica Parker as a fragile former student who finds her way back into her old professor’s life.
Opens wide.

Financial journalist turned documentary filmmaker Ari Libsker explores one of Israel’s dirty little secrets and the 50-year-old misconceptions surrounding it with this investigation of “Stalags,” a notorious series of 1960s dime novels (named after the German P.O.W. camps) that depicted pornographic S&M stories centering around the abuse of allied soldiers at the hands of luscious female Nazi officers. Libsker’s film explores the origins of the books and their cultural impact on a generation of adolescents growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust.
Opens in New York.

“Street Kings”
With everyone from Oliver Stone to Spike Lee attached to the project at one point or another, it finally fell to “Training Day” scribe David Ayer to follow up his directorial debut, “Harsh Times,” with another stylish tale of gangland Los Angeles, sprinkled with a dash of noir mystery. Keanu Reeves stars as Tom Ludlow, a cop devastated by his wife’s death who is forced to turn to the criminal world for help when he is framed for the murder of a fellow officer. Reeves is front and center of a strong ensemble boasting the likes of Forest Whitaker, The Game, Common, and, er, Hugh Laurie.
Opens wide.

“The Take”
Reportedly shot guerrilla-style with no sets in the Latino neighborhoods of Los Angeles for a mere $800,000, “The Take” follows Felix De La Pena (John Leguizamo), an affable armored car driver shot in the head during a heist. Waking up brain-damaged and more than a little unhappy that he’s apparently the robbery’s chief suspect, De La Pena vows to track down those responsible. Josh and Jonas Pate, who first hit the indie scene in 1997 with “Deceiver,” collaborated on the script for the film, which is directed by first-timer Brad Furman.
Opens in Los Angeles and New York.

“The Visitor”
Thomas McCarthy, the acclaimed writer/director of the 2003 indie smash “The Station Agent” returns for his second feature with this tender tale of Walter Vale, an isolated, aging academic from Connecticut whose weekend trip to New York becomes a life-changing experience when he discovers an illegal immigrant couple that has taken up residence in his apartment. Coen brothers regular Richard Jenkins takes the lead as Vale in a film that manages to both serve as an intimate character study and questions America’s priorities in a post-9/11 world. (Check out our interview with Jenkins.)
Opens in limited release; expands on April 18th.

Everyone at some point or another has dreams of being a pop star on the world stage. Stephen Walker’s curious documentary shows that some of us harbor that dream a little longer than others. “Young@Heart” takes us inside the singular world of a New England chorale populated entirely by senior citizens who regularly rock out hits from the likes of The Rolling Stones, James Brown and Sonic Youth, to name but a few. Walker tags along on for the final weeks of rehearsal before this truly inspirational group and their musical director, Bob Cilman, hold a concert in their hometown of Northampton, MA.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: “Body of War,” Film Sales Company, 2007]



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.