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“Slackistan,” Reviewed

“Slackistan,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

“Slackistan,” the first feature from Hammad Khan, belongs to that familiar breed of film about life as someone young, aimless and under- or unemployed, with too much time to fill in the company of funny friends — think “Reality Bites,” or “Swingers” (a film given more than one tip of the hat here), or “Kicking and Screaming,” or countless others. What sets “Slackistan” apart from the pack is the fact that it’s centered in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan and “the city that always sleeps,” according to our hero and sometimes narrator Hasan (Shahbaz Hamid Shigri), a would-be filmmaker who’s managed to obtain an HDV camera but has so far left it sitting in its box.

The post-collegiate twentysomethings in “Slackistan” are wealthy, and there’s no question in the movie that their standard issue quarterlife issues about identity, how to get started on adulthood and whether they really want to do that in the first place are luxurious ones compared to most everyone else around them. Their houses are staffed with servants, and the streets they roam are filled with the unnoticed laboring and less well-off. But Hasan and his friends are likable, recognizable types. There’s slick Sherry (Ali Rehman Khan), nice guy Saad (Osman Khalid Butt), unlucky in love Zara (Shahana Khan Khalil) and pensive Aisha (Aisha Linnea Akthar), Hasan’s best friend and longterm crush. (Most of the actors are non-pros, and some are more comfortable on camera than others.) The five classmates graduated a year ago, around the time democracy returned to the country, and their stagnation is paralleled to a larger national disillusionment felt in the aftermath of those raised hopes. Now they wander the city in different configurations, cruising in a borrowed car, stopping by cafes and restaurants and each other’s houses, congregating at the occasional party.

“Slackistan” has the ragged look and feel of a ’90s indie, with flat visuals, title cards announcing the start of each new anecdote and heavy use of music from local bands. But the slack style and pacing don’t get in the way of the fascinating locale, a place where the characters’ boredom legitimately springs from a lack of opportunities, but leaving also feels like admitting defeat. Hasan and his friends often have more in common with western culture than with the average Islamabad resident. They live in a comfortable bubble of financial ease, they drink, surf the web and speak to each other in a mix of English and Urdu, and the lure of getting out of town is ever present — Hasan’s brother lives in New York, and Aisha’s readying herself for grad school in Boston. Hasan feels increasingly despondent about what he should do next, and about his creative opportunities — the city has no cinema, and he can’t even locate a copy of “Mean Streets” at the DVD store (“There’s not enough piracy of ’70s movies,” he sighs).

Hasan’s malaise may be of the conventional post-college variety — he loves Aisha but can’t bring himself to tell her, he wants to make a movie but can’t actually get started, and he realizes and is frustrated by these things — and his voiceover observations more self-pitying than profound, but the realities of the country he lives add pungency to the narrative, because who else is in a better place to rebuild and to affect change than these intelligent, worldly characters? Getting out of town may be the obvious and easiest option as an individual, but, as “Slackistan” suggests in its ending, there’s a bravery and worthiness to trying to hack it at home.

“Slackistan” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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.