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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 (

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.”


Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…