DID YOU READ

Disc Covering: “The Experiment,” a Pissing Contest Between Oscar Winners. Literally.

Disc Covering: “The Experiment,” a Pissing Contest Between Oscar Winners. Literally. (photo)

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How often do two Oscar winners star together in a film?

Doesn’t happen a lot.

How often does one Oscar winner piss on another Oscar winner on camera? I know there’s that one notorious deleted scene in “The Lion in Winter” but other than that, “The Experiment” starring Adrien Brody (the piss-ee) and Forest Whitaker (the pisser) is a cinematic first. What kind of a world do we live in where this sort of epochal moment in the history of motion pictures can’t get a theatrical release? Dark times, my friends. We live in dark times.

“The Experiment
Directed by Paul Scheuring

092102010_experiment2.jpgTagline: When an experiment goes wrong, one man gets pissed off. (NOTE: This may only be the film’s tagline in my mind. Don’t quote me on it.)

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: An American remake of “Das Experiment,” a fictionalized version of the Stanford Prison Experiment (http://bit.ly/cSFl3S).

Salable Elements: Well-respected source material; a fascinating and infamous real life psychological experiment; two Academy Award winners facing off in a glorious scenery chewing contest.

Biggest Success: The Stanford Prison Experiment involved a bunch of people made to act like prisoners and guards in a jail. It was supposed to last for two weeks, but the people running it had to shut it down after just six days because all the participants basically lost their minds and started behaving like monsters. Which is a great jumping off point for a lurid movie about the evil that men do. And credit screenwriter and director Paul Scheuring for having the cojones not to pull his punches. Forest Whitaker’s Barris and the rest of the guards are almost cartoonishly despicable people. I’m sure at some point in the development process someone looked at Scheuring’s script and wanted more “explanation” for Barris’ swift transformation from meek churchgoer to brutal prison dictator. But it only took six days for real people to descend into chaos and madness, so Scheuring is only staying faithful to reality. Showing Barris pissing on the ringleader of the prisoners (Brody) might seem excessive. But the actual behavior of the Stanford subjects was excessive. Okay, maybe not pissing on each other excessive, but it’s a movie. It’s got to shock us somehow.

09212010_experiment4.jpgBiggest Failure: “The Experiment” kicks off with a really tired cliche, the montage of nature footage that showcases brutal animal behavior and then slowly gives way to documentary footage that showcases brutal human behavior. By this point, we all know the lesson we’re supposed to take away from scenes like this: that deep down, we are all like stock footage. Wait, that’s not right. Sorry, animals; we are all like animals. I’m not arguing that the theme doesn’t have bearing on the “The Experiment.” I just wish Scheuring had come up with a more creative way of introducing it.

Best Moment: Instead, Scheuring focused his creativity on coming up with outlandish ways to externalize Whitaker’s transformation. In the movie’s most memorable scene, Barris basks in the glory of quelling his first prisoner rebellion. Standing alone in the jailhouse bathroom he looks himself up and down in the mirror, reveling in his cruelty. At that moment, he notices something unexpected in his pants, and looks down to size it up: he has an erection.

Yes, threatening and intimidating innocent people gives this God-fearing man a murder boner, and though a couple of crotchways glances from Whitaker would have gotten the point across, Scheuring leaves nothing to the imagination and provides a helpful, hilarious closeup of Barris’ pitched tent.

Does the moment work in the film? Not quite, though it’s good for a laugh. But, again, putting it in in the first place requires some serious, erm, balls. And that I admire.

09212010_experiment3.jpgI Question: Scheuring’s decision not to show us the people running this experiment while it’s going on. In some ways, it makes sense to keep the camera away from Dr. Archaleta (Fisher Stevens) and the rest of the scientists. For one thing, it invites us to share in the inmates’ sense of claustrophobia. And it also enhances our identification with the guards, because they’ve been told they must keep the prisoners in line and respond to their outbursts with “commensurate punishment” without being provided any clear instructions what makes a punishment commensurate. Their only clue is a red light that will illuminate 30 minutes after prisoner misbehavior if said misbehavior hasn’t been adequately addressed. If the light goes on, the experiment is over and everyone involved forfeits the $14,000 owed to them for their participation. Never showing us Dr. Archaleta after the experiment begins feeds into our shared sense of anxiety over that red light and helps us understand, at least initially, the motivation of the guards.

But a movie that makes this many stabs at addressing the social and moral implications of this experiment — the animal stock footage, repeated conversations on the subject between Brody and his cellmate Nix (an underutilized Clifton Collins Jr.) — really ought to engage its who and why. Dr. Archaleta promises that the experiment will be terminated the instant any prisoner is injured, but that’s not ultimately how things work out. The audience can’t help but wonder why. “The Experiment” makes no attempt to explain.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release? Tough to say. On the one hand, this movie has several hallmarks of a good midnight movie: great actors giving big campy performances, tinges of horror and even torture porn; murder boners. On the other hand, “The Experiment”‘s pretensions — the “serious” investigation into the human condition, some better-than average cinematography and production design — wouldn’t do its any favors on the cult film circuit. What you’re left with is an entertaining but weird little movie that doesn’t really belong anywhere. Which is probably how a film starring two Oscar winners wound up going straight to DVD in the first place.

For Further Viewing: watch the trailer for the documentary about the real Stanford Prison Experiment, “Quiet Rage.”

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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…

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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. 

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.