You should see “The Box.”

You should see “The Box.” (photo)

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In an interview right here on IFC.com last week, Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko,” “Southland Tales”) claimed his new movie “The Box” — which came out last Friday — was intended to be more linear and commercial, paving the way for future studio work. The fact that Kelly actually believes this is tribute to the fact that he’s living in another world, possibly one of the many alternate universes that always seem to pop up in his movies. The film I saw in a nearly deserted auditorium last night is not, by any stretch of the imagination, “normal.” It is completely unhinged and — despite the fact that it’s received mostly mixed-to-negative reviews — you should consider seeing it, partly because there’s not much else out right now, partly because it’s a truly unique experience and it’s not boring. WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW.

In terms of unexpected plot developments, the only thing I’ve heard of this year that could compare for nonsensical surprises is “Knowing”. “The Box”‘s theme is embarrassingly simple: the American middle class, as represented by the married Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, is built on the selfish, destructive impulses of consumerism that can be pursued at the peril of humanity, powered by mechanisms that aren’t readily apparent. End. What’s curious are the lengths Kelly will go to dress up this fairly-standard anti-capitalist critique. In mechanics more complicated than I can recount in this space, what basically happens is a bunch of aliens (or maybe gods, OMG) inhabiting human bodies proceed to run morality tests on guileless humans to figure out whether or not they should destroy the planet. These aliens are extremely humorless and like to quote Sartre: at one point, I seriously thought Diaz and Marsden were just being hounded by remarkably well-coordinated rogue existentialists.

In “Donnie Darko” and “Southland Tales,” Kelly could justify his plots to a point — which invariably involve wormholes and time travel — by claiming they were more or less grounded in the parts of quantum physics he got from reading Stephen Hawking. “The Box” is beyond science, if not good and evil; it not only presupposes wormholes and time travel, but aliens and an afterlife as well. Which is what makes Kelly interesting: like Oliver Stone’s “JFK” and “Nixon,” he’s arranging a narrative of American life where dark undercurrents are being manipulated by many swaths of the government working together. But for Kelly, in all three movies, the agencies aren’t actually conspiring against the public; they’re just trying to keep up with larger forces way outside their control (a really odd conclusion for a movie set in 1976 — prime post-Watergate fall-out time — to reach).

He’s consistent to a fault: all three of Kelly’s movies begin with someone waking up and end with someone who’s been through all of the movie’s events but doesn’t really comprehend what they just experienced, staring out into space traumatized. Kelly uses wormholes the same way Wes Anderson uses ridiculously intricate sets and P.T. Anderson uses lens flare; he just doesn’t know how to build a story without sci-fi grammar. If that means he winds up with an ending that splits the difference between the finales of “The Abyss” and “Se7en” (box and all, har har), he’s still trying to process the world through a set of fixations that are unique, kind of stupid and more successful at integrating genuinely creepy Lynchian moments into glossy production values than anyone yet.

If that doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time — well, sure. This is basically an insane morality play that isn’t “good” in any real sense. But we’re staring down a winter of “Invictus” and “It’s Complicated” and Lord knows what else; a little mad ambition (minus “Southland Tales”‘ jejune “political commentary”) is pretty much all that’s left this year, and your ironic inner pop scholar will inevitably end up watching it on TNT in three years’ time anyway, staring in the same WTF daze you could be getting right now.

[Frank Langella and Cameron Diaz in “The Box,” Warner Bros., 2009]



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.