“Tsotsi”: Steal a baby, redeem your soul.

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“Tsotsi” opens with a group of hoods playing dice. They bicker, one making a particularly compelling argument by slamming his knife into the table. The three turn to their leader, the title character (the name simply mean “thug”), who’s brooding by the window: “What are we doing tonight, Tsotsi?” And Presley Chweneyagae turns to the camera, and a throbbing kwaito track kicks in as the gang swings off to saunter down the street of the township, a sprawling shantytown on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

It’s gleefully, guiltily enjoyable. It’s unavoidably reminiscent of “City of God.” But director Gavin Hood’s film quickly parts ways with Fernando Meirelles’ slick epic of favela stylishness — “Tsotsi” has more intimate concerns. It’s the sometimes simplistic, urgently earnest story of how a violent criminal ends up accidentally kidnapping a baby and eventually finding redemption.

Chweneyagae has a striking, catlike face, which, for much of the duration of “Tsotsi,” is either fixed in a glower of repressed rage or quivering with uneasiness. It’s not a handsome face, which is a good thing — if his Tsotsi were at all charming, this film would be unbearably sentimental. As is, he’s both frightening and clueless — he commits acts of violence and acts of something approaching compassion (or at least, basic humanity) without thought. He beats one of his fellow gang members half to death because he dared ask about Tsotsi’s past; he shoots a woman and steals her car on impulse; when he finds a baby in the back, he puts it in a shopping bag and carries it home simply because it smiled at him. After failing miserably at caring for the infant, he follows a young mother (Terry Pheto) home and forces her, at gunpoint, to feed “his baby.” Half of Tsotsi’s redemptive journey is less an emotional one than one of his learning to act on something other than pure instinct.

Cinematographer Lance Gewer keeps the township in seeming perpetual dusk, a smoky, mazelike collection of corrugated metal shacks that stretches out to the horizon like a settlement at the end of the world. There’s a sense that the fragile civilization is barely holding out against entropy — an abandoned car is totally stripped by the next day, and one a memorably disturbing scene, Tsotsi leaves the baby with some condensed milk, only to come back to find it covered in ants. The rest of Johannesburg is confined to being a scenic skyline, save the main train station, prime hunting ground for Tsotsi and his gang. AIDS posters loom above, and the disease figures in to Tsotsi’s backstory, one that’s ultimately unsatisfying as an explanation for his violent present.

Athol Fugard was only in his late 20s when he wrote the novel on which “Tsotsi” is based, and you can feel it in the story, though the ending is Hood’s own. Kwaito gives way to soaring African vocals, tears are shed, atonement is found, and you can imagine Academy voters nodding and dabbing their eyes — this is what a foreign film should be! The rest of us can take pleasure in the complexities and vitality of the first half of the film, before a fascinating look at life in the townships becomes a mere fable.

“Tsotsi” opens in limited release on February 24. For more on the film, see the official site.


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.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

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.


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.


Forget Public Wifi

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



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.


Self Defense

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


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