Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment (photo)

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At 155 minutes, French prison film “A Prophet” is a long movie. That makes sense: prison is long. To give an audience a taste of what that feels like, a prison movie needs to be long too. It’s awfully tough to capture the feeling of being locked up, alone and isolated, for years or decades, in an hour-and-a-half. So “A Prophet”‘s flaws are ones of focus rather than length. When it narrows in on the harsh realities of this prison, it’s good enough to rank with greats of the genre like Jules Dassin’s “Brute Force,” “Escape From Alcatraz” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” But eventually, the incarcerated hero of “A Prophet” gets a bit comfortable in prison, and at that point, the film does too. Once that happens, all that pent-up nervous energy, all that ethnographic detail about life on the inside, seeps out of the film.

That hero we join on his journey through the French correctional system is named Malik (Tahar Rahim). Before he arrives at prison, he tells his lawyer he didn’t commit the crime — assaulting a police officer — he is about to be imprisoned for. Whether that is true or not, Malik quickly realizes he’ll have to commit acts even worse than that if he’s going to survive. If there’s a single clear message to take away from director Jacques Audiard’s film, it’s that jail doesn’t produce better men, it produces better criminals.

02252010_Prophet2.jpgAt first, Malik is a loner, which makes him an easy target for sneak attacks in the yard from guys looking for a new pair of sneakers. He’s a man with little sense of self — we’ll learn later he dropped out of school at age 11 and never knew his parents — and he has no preconceived allegiance to either of the jail’s two warring factions: the Muslims and the Corsicans, led by César (Niels Arestrup).

César gives the new fish an assignment: gain the trust of a new Muslim prisoner awaiting trial, get close to him with an offer of oral sex, and then murder him during the act with a straight razor he must learn to conceal in his mouth. If Malik refuses, César will have him killed. Faced with no alternative — even the warden is on César’s payroll — Malik goes through with the assassination in a messy, unglamorous, harrowing scene that is one of the film’s best. Afterward, the ghost of Malik’s victim haunts his cell. Malik’s not particularly scared of him — really, he’s just glad to have the company.

After proving his worth, Malik is welcomed into César’s gang, though his Muslim heritage means he’s never fully accepted into the group. Later, he rises up through the Corsican organization in a modern-day, jail-set iteration of old gangster classics like “Scarface” or “The Public Enemy.” And though these scenes are just as well-directed and acted as the earlier ones, they’re lacking in anxiety and danger as Audiard trades in the skillful observations that made the film unique for some set-pieces we’ve seen many times before.

02252010_Prophet3.jpgFrom there, “A Prophet” becomes a bit repetitive. César engineers a work release program for Malik, sending him out on a variety of errands beyond the prison gates, and sending the film off on a perpetual cycle of travel, dirty deeds and return. Repetition can be good for a prison movie — prison life is certainly repetitive — but not if it comes at the expense of its carefully constructed atmosphere of claustrophobia.

This solid, if overhyped, film — it won the Grand Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival — works best in those early ethnographic sequences that are so well done that we feel like we’re the ones who’ve been thrown to the wolves, locked inside this world at a point where the end seems like a very long way off.



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.