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Buzzed-about drama “The New Year” finds a new star in its outstanding lead actress.

Buzzed-about drama “The New Year” finds a new star in its outstanding lead actress. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival.

“The New Year” is not a film that benefits from high expectations, an unfortunate situation Brett Haley’s delicate debut finds itself in, having been hailed as the buzziest film at this year’s L.A. Film Festival. Shot for $8,000 in only 12 days, it’s a modest character study that looks every bit its budget, but has one of the few things money can’t buy — a genuine starmaking turn from Trieste Kelly Dunn.

Festivalgoers might already be familiar with Dunn, thanks to a supporting turn in Aaron Katz’s lo-fi mystery “Cold Weather,” playing Bacall to Cris Lakenau’s slacker Bogart (minus the sexual tension — they’re siblings) and blasting her way through second-banana status on snark and stoicism.

In “The New Year,” she’s presented a similar opportunity to plunge into the confusion and restlessness of a post-collegiate funk as Sunny, the diligent daughter of a cancer-stricken college professor. She returns home to tend to her father and sprays the insides of bowling shoes at the local alley to support herself. The alley itself is a dying reminder of her high school glory days, the ball polisher screaming “Make It Happen” in fluorescent red and orange lights, even though “it” obviously won’t any time soon.

06252010_TheNewYear2.jpgDunn can roll her eyes and unsheathe a sharp one-liner with the best of them, but her most impressive feat with Sunny is expressing frustration while never showing defeat. She’s strong, to be sure, jousting daily with her father over things as banal as his TV habits and demonstrating an uncanny knack for throwing strikes when she finally gives into trying bowling for the first time.

Yet in her more quiet moments, there’s searching behind her eyes and a certain smokiness in her voice that suggest even as she’s experiencing a quarterlife crisis, the worst is already behind her.

It’s this same strength that dogs “The New Year” — Sunny’s central dilemma is choosing between two guys who can hardly keep up with her. That they seem to know it is a credit to co-writer/director Haley, but as in so many small-town-set tales, Sunny is forced to pick between the guy who represents staying around and the guy who represents heading somewhere new.

In this case, the divide’s embodied by Jane Austen-reading Tae Kwon Do instructor (and local boy) Neal (Kevin Wheatley) and Isaac (Ryan Hunter), a friend from high school whose new life in New York intrigues her to the point of laughing extra hard at his largely unfunny routine as a stand-up comedian.

06252010_TheNewYear3.jpgAs choices, both are well-balanced, amiable fellows, not like the ne’er do well husband of Sunny’s chatty best friend (Linda Lee McBride) who is used as the film’s yardstick (and comic relief). However, neither can match Sunny for dimension or depth, nor can the actors playing them quite match Dunn.

Perhaps such is the curse of building a film around an actress who runs with her performance as stridently as Dunn does. Haley’s smart enough to step back and let her do her thing. Moments that could be treacly between Sunny and her ailing father are unusually touching, and although Haley’s attempts at humor are sometimes crude, he generally goes for subtlety without ever being solemn, which separates “The New Year” from much of its low-budget brethren.

Still, the film belongs to Dunn, who tellingly interrupted her director during the Q & A of “The New Year”‘s third screening at the L.A. Film Fest and sweetly apologized, “Sorry, did I steal your spotlight?”

She did, and I suspect she’s not letting go any time soon.

“The New Year” does not yet have U.S. distribution.



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.