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All In A Day’s Work

All In A Day’s Work (photo)

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Seen one, you’ve seen them all. That may be how you feel about zombie movies, but not me. I’ve been a happy, all-but-credulous consumer of the genre going as far back as the Val Lewton-Jacques Tournier gothic romance “I Walked With a Zombie” through George A. Romero’s epic “Living Dead” cycle of gory, apocalyptic satires of consumer culture. Matters not to me if the socio-political context is obtrusively embedded into its storyline (as in Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”) or if you have to bring whatever metaphorical baggage you can find to the party (“28 Days Later”). There are those who prefer vampires, psycho slashers, business executives or other marauding specters of our cinematic subconscious — I’m of the zombie species of horror freak.

I will admit, however, to some advance trepidation about “Pontypool” when I heard that Bruce McDonald’s zombies-in-the-Great-White-North movie unapologetically wears its social commentary on its stormy freakazoid sleeve. Its thematic premise seems to have spawned from William S. Burroughs’ notion of language as a malignancy, a “virus from outer space.” Knowing this makes you wish for even a little of Burroughs’ antic energy to dispel “Pontypool’s” dank, portent-laden staginess. But the movie sustains its momentum briskly enough to keep your head in the game, even when it decides to big-foot its ideas at the expense of real jolts.

So if we can’t have Burroughs’ whack-job clinician Doctor Benway, we’ll gladly settle for Stephen McHattie, decked out in seedy cowboy regalia, as Grant Mazzy, an Imus-esque shock jock who’s been exiled from the big city markets to the movie’s eponymous Ontario backwater. Condemned to a morning drive-time routine of small-town ephemera, Mazzy keeps trying to juice things up with veiled innuendo against the local cops and the occasional quote from Norman Mailer or Roland Barthes. His engineer, a winsome Army veteran named Laurel Ann (Georgina Riley) digs the older man’s shticks while his world-weary producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) wishes he’d stick to what the locals need as opposed to what will titillate them.

In the midst of this argument (the kind I remember from the back end of my newspaper days), details of an honest-to-God catastrophe ooze into the church-basement studio. There are hordes of desperately violent citizens cannibalizing each other and whoever happens to be unfortunate enough to drive into Pontypool. Explicit details are elusive to both the radio crew and the movie’s audience, but it becomes apparent that the source of infection isn’t anything toxic, radioactive or alien. It’s a tic in the English language that sticks words in its victims’ mouths to the point where they have to bite someone else really hard.

05282009_pontypool1.jpgParaphrasing George Carlin, anyone who has likewise been frustrated with the real-life debasement of public discourse, especially via the airwaves, doesn’t have to be Fellini or, for that matter, Cronenberg to figure out “Pontypool”‘s agenda. That the afflicted are to vapid baby talk or meaningless techno-babble literally hammers the message home to those with all-too-vivid memories of the last decade. Still, McDonald’s movie isn’t so caught up in its anti-bullshit fulminations that it misplaces its wit – as with Sydney’s off-the-cuff benediction towards a plague victim that discloses his unsavory character flaw. “Pontypool” is no “Dawn of the Dead” much less “Shaun of the Dead” (loved that one, too). But it’s a gnarly, affecting little goof that barely manages to keep its impulses toward gratuitous profundity at bay. Gratuitous violence? Sorry, you’ll have to check out Sam Raimi’s non-zombie “Drag Me to Hell” for the joy-buzzer shocks for which we zombie-connoisseurs shall forever pine.



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.”


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.