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“The Interrupters,” reviewed

“The Interrupters,” reviewed (photo)

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I see a lot of bad documentaries about good people. Some of the most boring docs are about the most interesting people because their filmmakers simply assume that their subjects’ greatness will transfer to their documentary through some sort of cinematic osmosis. Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz, director and producer of the new documentary “The Interrupters,” do not make that mistake.

Their subjects are good people — flawed, but good — working to end the disease of violence in Chicago. But James and Kotlowitz don’t just get a couple talking head interviews with these men and women, throw in a few experts on crime and gang violence, and call it a day. They spent a year with these so-called “violence interrupters,” insinuating themselves into their lives and their work. We get to know who they are, what they’ve done, and what they continue to do for the city of Chicago. “The Interrupters” is about an important issue and important people, but it doesn’t parade its importance like a medal of honor. It never forgets it’s a movie first, and its job is to do more than educate: it must entertain and move as well as enlighten.

The violence interrupters work for a Chicago organization named CeaseFire. Founded by an epidemiologist, the violence interrupters’ work is founded on the idea that crime works like a viral infection and that the best way to defeat it is to combat it accordingly: by stopping it at its point of transmission. That’s why the interrupters work with their community to literally interrupt disputes: they interject themselves into arguments and mediate conflict or target the victims of violent crime and counsel them in the hopes of staving off retaliatory attacks. This is incredibly dangerous work; in one scene, an interrupter breaks up a dispute and winds up in the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds. Though their primary metaphor is disease, you might also say that the interrupters are also street-level bomb diffusers; every time they go out on the job lives, including their own, are on the line. But when the interrupters are successful they can not only save lives in the short-term, they can change them for the better in the long-term.

Perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of the interrupters’ work are the interrupters themselves, who are all former violent offenders. James and Kotlowitz’s three main subjects are all reformed criminals who have found a productive outlet for their experiences as gangsters, hustlers, and murderers as interrupters. Their experience and their history gives them an edge when talking to someone considering violence that you or I would never have. There’s Ameena, the daughter of an infamous Chicago gang leader, and a fearless woman who will interject herself into a group of twenty-five men and challenging their manhood. Jovial Cobe works his phone like a Hollywood agent, constantly looking for the next gig; he deflates incidents with common sense and absurd humor. And finally Eddie, the newest interrupter of the three, works to stop crime before it starts, by speaking with young children to teach them how to avoid and learn from gang violence at an early age. Any one of these interrupters would be a good enough subject for their own movie, but James and Kotlowitz expertly blend all three, along with some of their more troubled clients, into a massive and compelling tapestry of life on the streets of Chicago.

They accompany Ameena, Cobe, and Eddie on the job and capture some extraordinary footage: a fight raging out of control between some angry women; a young man, fresh out of prison, with the courage to confront the people he wronged and apologize to them; a man who wants to retaliate after police have wronged his family, convinced to drop the matter thanks to wise advice of an interrupter. With the richness of character of a great novel and the crackerjack suspense of a good thriller, “The Interrupters” is never less than totally engaging. The interrupters do good work, but that’s just one of many reasons why this is a very good film.

“The Interrupters” opens Friday in New York City. If you see it we want to hear what you think. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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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.