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First Impressionism

First Impressionism (photo)

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Already justly celebrated everywhere, Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” is a historical scald, a chillingly powerful portrait of state violence, a serious import about authentic political rebellion that frankly contemplates the psyches of both the oppressed and the victimizers, and one of last year’s best films by any measure. But how to write about it so that it seems like the electromagnetic experience it is, without making it sound like just another in a long line of recent elliptical art films?

Honestly, efforts to evoke McQueen’s idiosyncratic choices make them sound not so idiosyncratic at all, more or less in the wheelhouse of “Ballast,” “Still Life,” “Silent Light,” “Gomorrah,” “The Headless Woman,” “Three Monkeys,” “Lorna’s Silence,” “Tulpan,” “The Sun,” “Import/Export,” and even genre films like “The Broken,” “Vinyan,” “Grace” and “Revanche.” Which makes “Hunger” sound, gulp, derivative, which it simply ain’t.

All we need to do, I think, is stop defining all of these films by what they aren’t. From the first landings of Kiarostami in the late ’80s, and Hou and Tsai and Tarr in the ’90s, and the subsequent influx of neo-realist enigmatists like the Dardennes, Dumont, Denis, Lodge Kerrigan and, most vitally, Jia Zhangke, these rarefied movies have been categorized largely by the orthodox movie ingredients they lack — exposition, omniscience, narrative transparency, familiar structure, loads of dialogue. Tough as it may seem, these movies should be extolled to a lay audience for their own richness, not for their resistance to showbiz reflexes.

02232010_Hunger3.jpgI wouldn’t want to suggest that it’s a unified global style (not any more or less than the New Wave antics that circled the Earth in the ’60s), but insofar as it has roots in Antonioni’s rocky soil, it’s also a new vibe, one that prioritizes rawness of experience over clarity, silence over explanations, impressionistic impact over plot. Ellipses are only a means to their own discombobulating end. Can we call this Impressionism? (Cinema’s had expressionisms and modernisms and abstractionisms, but never an Impressionism.) Should we label it at all? Why not?

McQueen’s movie is a masterpiece of the movement — chronicling the life of the IRA prisoners in the Maze Prison in 1981 that led to the hunger strike led by Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), “Hunger” is a harrowing ordeal broken up so you’re never able to anticipate how the violence and the timeline will present themselves. The details are practically odiferous, but the form of the movie is a model of cause-effect political cinema — it’s divided to three distinct sections, and the first, in which the guards brutalize the prisoners inside and out and the prisoners respond with acts of defiance that mostly entail shit and piss, is practically a movie onto itself. Then Sands, whom we’ve met only briefly, sits down with a Belfast priest (Liam Cunningham) over cigarettes and for nearly a solid half-hour (including an initial single take that lasts over 16 minutes) discusses his plans for the hunger strike. Then the strike is underway, and we see in a dreamy but distressing montage Sands waste away to a bedsore-ridden skeleton, before simply shutting down.

It may seem sparse as narrative, but not while you’re watching it, and in terms of “content,” McQueen’s film bursts with political fire, implied backstory and conviction born out of suffering and persecution. The toll taken on the human body in the Maze is serious, and perhaps the most and the least you could say about the film as an experience is that it compels you to consider the reality outside of it and investigate the knotted politics of Irish-British warfare for yourself. “Hunger” is nothing if not a movie in which every frame is meant. If our tendency as jaded cinephiles is to sniff out the bullshit in whatever we’re watching — an occupation that doesn’t interest most moviegoers, who seem to like swallowing said bullshit in large, fluorescent heaps — then McQueen’s movie comes out smelling like roses.



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.