The Island of Lost Souls

The Island of Lost Souls (photo)

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It’s a good week for fans of movies about paranoid loners who stumble on enormous conspiracies while investigating seemingly innocuous crimes on remote, stormy islands filled with figurative ghosts. Funny how two movies that fit that basic description might be released in the same week. Funnier still that the films are from two master directors — Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski — which means it’s a good week for fans of movies, period. For cinephiles, this is the equivalent of the Super Bowl and Game 7 of the World Series being played on the same day. And for the most part, both sides of the double bill live up to expectations — and would, in fact, make a really good double bill together. These are two strong films from two icons who, coincidentally enough, have used a lot of the same raw setting and story materials to make two very different thrillers.

Scorsese’s is “Shutter Island,” named after a small, rocky speck of land off the coast of Boston that houses the Ashecliffe Mental Hospital. Foreboding and impossible to escape, it makes Alcatraz look like Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure. Standard operating procedure for movies about seemingly benevolent institutions that might be hiding dark secrets demands you begin with the picture perfect exterior that covers the evil hiding beneath, and slowly tease the audiences with glimpses of horror. Scorsese takes the opposite tact by making the dangerousness of the island clear from the first very first moment Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at Ashecliffe, with the ominous, practically operatic music pulsating through the soundtrack like an alarm warning them not to enter as the two drive through the hospital’s enormous gates.

02182010_ShutterIsland2.jpgThe atmosphere only gets darker from there. Teddy and Chuck go to Ashecliffe to investigate an unusual mystery. A delusional inmate somehow managed to escape her locked cell and vanish without a trace. How did she get past the staff? Where did she go? And most importantly, what is the meaning of the note she left hidden under her bed that reads “The Law of 4. Who Is 67?” This piece of evidence is of particular interest to Teddy, who has personal reasons for taking the case and coming to Ashecliffe. Cagey psychiatrist Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) claims to have no idea of the significance of either number, but later mentions that there are 66 patients currently undergoing treatment on Shutter Island. Could the note be a reference to a 67th?

Teddy’s investigation is important to “Shutter Island,” but in some ways, it’s just the window dressing on Scorsese’s own investigation into Teddy’s damaged soul. Hounded by migraines, burdened by dark dreams of his dead wife (Michelle Williams) and war atrocities, Teddy is literally haunted by memories of the bad things he’s done and the worse things he did not prevent. At age 67, Scorsese’s got a big bag of tricks, and he reaches deep into it to bring the audience into Teddy’s fragile psyche. Some of the visual techniques are demonstrative — like the elaborate, gorgeous dream sequence where Teddy holds his dying wife in his arms as she turns to ash and crumbles through his fingers — and some are more subtle. Teddy suffers from migraines and light sensitivity; observe how Scorsese places a fire in between Teddy and another character during their key dialogue scene so that the flames kick up through the bottom of the frame. The unpredictable pattern of flickering and flashing is disorienting, and gives the audience their own feeling of light sensitivity.

02182010_ShutterIsland3.jpgIn the character of Teddy, Scorsese and DiCaprio have created an even more powerful portrait of the debilitating nature of guilt than they did in their last collaboration, 2006’s “The Departed” (at the same time, they’ve also made a more disturbing portrait of mental illness than their collaboration before that, 2003’s “The Aviator.”). And that’s ultimately the reason to see “Shutter Island.” The main mystery turns out to be something of a bust — with a conclusion that was pretty easy to spot from the film’s very first trailer — but the character study is worthy of comparison to classic Scorsese. Fans will spot affinities with “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” and “The King of Comedy” amongst the many references to other directors’ work ranging from Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.” The ending will definitely divide audiences; I’m a bit divided on it myself. I was initially disappointed, but the more I consider it, the more I admire how it reinforces the fact that the movie is less about a woman’s disappearance or a murder or a conspiracy than it is about one man’s struggle to cope with his guilt. That might frustrate viewers who are just looking for a simple crime story. But a Scorsese film is rarely just one thing, and “Shutter Island” is no exception.



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.