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DID YOU READ

Dear Moviegoers: Happy Holocaust! Love, Hollywood

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12152008_boyinthestripedpajamas.jpgBy Nick Schager

The Holocaust is a serious subject. And November and December is serious subject matter time in Hollywood. No surprise, then, that every awards season sees its fair share of dramas set in and around WWII concentration camps. But even in light of this predictable pattern, 2008 has, to put it diplomatically, lost its freakin’ mind. In the last two months of this year, there will have been six — SIX?!? — films released that, in one way or another, deal with Nazis. Part of the problem is simply quality, as all of these releases barely rise to the level of mediocre. Yet the issue of quantity seems just as troubling, as their basic, simultaneous existence calls into question not only the continuing viability of extracting drama from this most momentous (and, consequently, well-trod) of historical tragedies, but also, fundamentally, the growing absence of originality or ingenuity in mainstream cinema, especially during the Oscar-hungry stretch run.

To even suggest putting Holocaust dramas on hiatus is probably going to be taken by some as an example of insulting ignorance on the part of yours truly. Yet when viewed in the context of 15 years worth of post-“Schindler’s List” cinema, the recent preponderance of highfalutin’ cinematic sagas about the “Final Solution” has created a situation in which there’s virtually nothing left to say about anything — about heroism, sacrifice, cowardliness, treachery, collusion, intolerance, mass hysteria, etc. — through the prism of Nazi Germany. What we’re left with are stories that either regurgitate familiar lessons about the Holocaust, or ones that use the genocide to give added weight and importance to their stock morality play lessons. The following sextet is a collection of such functional, faux-prestigious dullness that the greatest moviegoing tribute one could pay to those who perished in (or survived) the death camps would be to skip this dispiriting lot and instead rent “The Sorrow and the Pity.”

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”

In Mark Herman’s adaptation of John Boyne’s novel, an eight-year-old German boy befriends a Jewish kid through a concentration camp’s fence, wholly oblivious — as the title implies — to the fact that the former is a prisoner rather than simply too lazy to get dressed for the day. This premise is, ahem, problematic on a number of levels (is the German kid dim? Since when could Jews loiter about camps’ barbed wire fences?), and its child’s perspective hardly enhances truths apparent to anyone over the age of, well, eight. The result is an overwrought clunker that comes off like a parody being played straight.

12152008_adamresurrected.jpg“Adam Resurrected”

This film is in effect Paul Schrader’s “Dog People”; Jeff Goldblum’s popular German clown (shades of Jerry Lewis’ infamous “The Day the Clown Cried”) grapples with the trauma of having been made during the war to act like a pooch by Willem Dafoe’s concentration camp commandant. Lucky for him, a boy conveniently shows up in his cuckoo ward behaving just like a dog — redemptive healing, here we come! Schrader treats his material seriously, but between the canine role-playing, Goldblum’s unchecked overacting and the third-act appearance of a burning bush (don’t ask), it’s no wonder the film is tonally helter-skelter.

“Good”

Like “Adam Resurrected,” “Good”‘s most powerful moment involves a death-march serenade by violin. Other than helping to cement this as 2008’s defining Holocaust-movie image, however, Vicente Amorim’s film (an adaptation of C.P. Taylor’s 1981 play) merely uses Nazi Germany as an obvious, easy setting for its complicity-via-passive-acquiescence sermon. As the spineless professor who goes with the world-domination flow rather than standing up for his ideals, Viggo Mortensen effectively, and aptly, dials down the hunkiness. Once 20 minutes have passed and the central point about human behavior has been definitively made, however, the urge to see the “Lord of the Rings” star broadsword someone becomes overwhelming.

“The Reader”

There’s plenty of talk in Stephen Daldry’s film about a German teenage boy’s relationship with an older woman who, it turns out, was an SS guard years earlier. And it all amounts to: “Paging Mr. Oscar!” One of those prim-and-proper sub-“Masterpiece Theater” efforts that equates “tastefulness” with intelligence, Daldry’s follow-up to “The Hours” is ostensibly interested in the German population’s conflicted feelings over the horrific WWII actions of their ancestors, though the real focuses that emerge are Kate Winslet’s gawked-over nude body in Part I, and her lacking old-age makeup in Part II. Exploiting the Holocaust for shallow psychologizing and sexual MILF fantasies? Now there’s something to feel guilty about.

12152008_defiance.jpg“Defiance” and “Valkyrie”

Daniel Craig! Tom Cruise! Killing Nazis, or dyin’ tryin’! Phooey with moral complexity and ghastly tragedy — we need a hero, and preferably, he’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight. Directors Ed Zwick and Bryan Singer clearly agree, lavishing googly-eyed affection on their respective National Socialist haters — Craig’s freedom fighter, who created safe haven communities for his Jewish brethren in the Belarussian forest, and Cruise’s wannabe Hitler assassin — who can deliver guns-and-explosions action under a “true story” guise. And, in Cruise’s case, can do so while wearing an awesome eye patch to boot! Who said the Holocaust wasn’t fun?

[Photos: “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” Miramax Films, 2008; “Adam Resurrected,” Bleiberg Entertainment, 2008; “Defiance,” Paramount Vantage, 2008]

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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.