Fear and Learning

Fear and Learning (photo)

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Evil is a bitch in “Paranormal Activity.” Notwithstanding a few things that go bump in the night, Paramount’s supernaturally successful Slamdance pickup — promoted this week from midnight cult-film spooking to a limited release in normal business hours — might more accurately be called “Scenes From a Hellish Relationship.”

Living sinfully in San Diego, young day trader Micah (Micah Sloat) and his English-majoring girlfriend Katie (Katie Featherston) bicker over how to deal with ghosts in the house — otherwise known as skeletons in the closet. Asserting in various ways that the place is his to protect (he paid for it, etc.), manly Micah hooks up a camcorder and keeps it trained on the bed after dark. This makes Katie increasingly uncomfortable, not only because her beau naturally hopes to capture some late-night nookie along with the paranormal action. Meanwhile, Katie, armed with lower-tech tools, scares Micah silly with her nagging demeanor — as unemployed live-in girlfriends are presumably wont to do.

With frights like these, who needs horror? Certainly not Oren Peli, whose minimalist mock-doc tease mostly limits its nightmare to unsettling sounds, a swinging door and footprints in baking powder — give or take Katie and her, uh, possessive habit of keeping an eye on Micah at all hours. Nervously at first, then impatiently (or with a yawn), the viewer scans Micah’s milky black-and-white surveillance-cam footage for something that might go boo — until it’s plain as day that nothing dangerous is going to appear that hasn’t already been introduced.

Far more ingenious as a work of economic crisis-era penny-pinching than of genre (or gender) play, “Paranormal Activity” is virtually unimaginable without an earlier low-budget horror sensation (take a wild guess), to which it pales in comparison. The film’s one and only opening credit has Paramount thanking Micah and Katie along with the San Diego Police Department — the “real” source of the feature presentation. But the studio’s true debt, like Peli’s, is to “The Blair Witch Project.” If Katie were any more wicked, she’d know enough to pin this particular haunting on poor Heather Donahue.

10072009_AnEducation.jpgAs you may have heard, a star is born in “An Education.” As Jenny, an early ’60s suburban London teen who considers giving up Oxford for a man almost twice her age, Carey Mulligan is a stunner — quick-witted and graceful in the old school rom-com tradition. The movie, too, is a snappy throwback to earlier charms — part of the current pre-sexual revolution revival, along with “Mad Men” and the Beatles reissues (the first half of them, anyway). Pleasingly conventional, “An Education” teaches us again that there’s almost nothing harder to resist in movies than a girl’s makeover, particularly when the change is philosophical as well as cosmetic.

In Danish director Lone Scherfig’s believably bright frame, Mulligan’s prep-schooled Jenny goes from balancing books on her head and reading Camus to singing along with Juliette Gréco LPs and dating David (Peter Sarsgaard), who coaxes her out of the rain and into his car under the guise of deep concern for her cello. With the reluctant approval of Dad (Alfred Molina), Jenny attends a concert with dreamy David, who could be referring to “An Education” when he calls the performance “as classical as you can get.”

And predictable, too, is this trifle, as adapted by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s memoir — but so what? Jenny, who starts skipping school to attend auctions of pre-Raphaelite art and the like, falters in her studies, but excels at receiving David’s too-good-to-be-true courtship — no surprises there. David, telling little white lies alongside bigger ones, charms the pants off Dad before doing the same, but literally, with Jenny, whose devirginized deadpan quip is one for the ages: “All that poetry and all those songs about something that lasts no time at all?”

Indeed, it doesn’t take long before Jenny gets her diploma from the school of hard knocks, her education bumping hard against those pre-revolutionary gender codes. If, Oxford or no, all she’s expected to do is marry well, then why not have a little fun first? It’s a credit to Scherfig and Hornby — and Mulligan — that “An Education” remains enjoyable even as it’s administering its profoundly simple lessons.



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.