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DID YOU READ

On DVD: “Times and Winds,” “Chop Shop”

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07142008_timesandwinds.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

It’s amazing to contemplate, but world cinema didn’t really make serious feature films about children until after WWII; Vittorio De Sica’s “Shoeshine” (1946) might’ve been the first. (You could stretch and consider Hal Roach’s vivid and roughhewn “Our Gang” shorts as qualifying, and I wouldn’t argue.) After the New Waves got rolling, of course, juveniles proliferated like rabbits on screen, but prior to that nearly the first half of cinema history had little or nothing to say about the bedeviled, often neglected, wide-eyed life of the pre-adult. Did cinema change with the war, or did we? Two new movies to DVD, Reha Erdem’s “Times and Winds” (2006) and Ramin Bahrani’s “Chop Shop” (2007), make their individual cases that little outside of the movie dynamic has changed at all, and that life as a 12-year-old in any corner of the globe is still subject to the grinding, merciless self-involvement of the adult world.

Erdem’s movie is a native Turkish art film, more elliptical and allusively observant even than the recent films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The setting is a remote Pontic Mountain village, the time is unspecified, the cultural climate is post-medieval and Muslim (the hamlet has little, but possesses its own minaret), the characters are two preteen boys who live out their lives in a state of embittered, anticipatory stasis. They watch animals copulate, they steal cigarettes, they work, but they also hate their parents: the sickly imam’s son relentlessly plots all manner of surreptitious patricide, while his friend, entranced by a crush on their young and serene schoolteacher, is revolted to find his righteous father spying on her. Other fathers beat and humiliate other sons and daughters and orphans; “shithead” is the label passed down from each generation to the next. But the action of Erdem’s film belongs to the quotidian, to the relationship between moon and clouds, to the unrolling of each day (and its prayer cycle) and of the seasonal process. Sure, there’s a coming-of-age primal scene, but the girl in question retreats to her bed and weeps after seeing her parents in flagrante. Aching with the Górecki-like symphonic throbs of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, the film suggests a version of Victor Erice’s “The Spirit of the Beehive” for the new millennium, even if its poetry outpaces Erice’s — Erdem punctuates his semi-narrative with surreal tableaux of his cast of children slumbering (or dead?) buried in pine needles, covered with the debris of a demolished house, in leaves, nearly subsumed by undergrowth, etc. You’re never sure what’s going on in these enigmatic images, or, really, between them (the characters do not express themselves openly), you’re just sure you’ve never quite seen this particular brand of mysterious poetry before.

07142008_chopshop.jpgBahrani’s “Chop Shop” takes place in the unmistakable present, but its setting exudes sociopolitical commentary without anyone saying a word: it’s the hunk of Flushing, Queens known as Willets Point, a resident-free neighborhood that floods routinely and is comprised entirely of auto repair shops, junk dealers and the titular stolen-car-processing outfits. Seen from the orphaned 12-year-old hero’s perspective, it’s a lawless frontier of make-it-on-your-own American Dreamism; for us, it’s the asshole of the global economy, a squalid proto-slum that’s indistinguishable from unremarkable slices of Bombay or Rio, thriving on manufactured leftovers and cannibalized industry. But there’s Shea Stadium looming in the near distance, and there are the airliners flying out of LaGuardia overhead — this is an America we don’t see in movies, and Bahrani, whose “Man Push Cart” (2005) had a similar torque to it, knows how to make his semi-doc ultra-realism jump out at you as neo-Kafka-esque metaphor.

We’re in the tradition of Satyajit Ray and Ken Loach, but we’re in New York, and for that overdue transplantation, we should be thankful. It’s unfortunate, then, that Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco) is a relatively simple character — bullet-headed and ambitious, but still only a kid, wrestling with his love and shame for his older sister (Isamar Gonzales), who moonlights blowjobbing at night, and becoming obsessive about his own get-rich schemes. (We never learn what became of their parents.) How could Alejandro’s dreams, and his coffee can of cash, end up except in anti-climactic disappointment? Chin-deep in convincing texture, Bahrani never takes the daring next step for which his symbolic realism cries out — into a realm (epic, absurdist, satiric, visionary, what have you) where the broader meaning of his narratives overtakes his oppressive everyday details. When he does, he might make a masterpiece.

[Photo: “Times and Winds,” Kino, 2007; “Chop Shop,” Koch Lorber, 2007]

“Times and Winds” (Kino Video) and “Chop Shop” (Koch Lorber Films) 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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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.