DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: Two pre-Oscar docs.

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"...a resplendently color- coordinated (and inexplicably pink) rally..."
+ "Our Brand Is Crisis": "Call it spin-meisters abroad," says the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman of Rachel Boynton‘s highly praised documentary about American political consultants hired by Bolivian presidential candidate Gonzalo "Goni" Sánchez de Lozada. Hoberman points out the film is a kind of sequel to 1993’s "The War Room," not the least because it features an appearance by James Carville — about which David Edelstein at New York writes: "It’s hard to know whether to marvel or weep when James Carville goes into his Bill Clinton–meets–Looney Tunes act…the context is so morally topsy-turvy." Edelstein marvels at the "extraordinary access—bewildering access" that Boynton is given to the campaign,  and sums the films lesson up as "One American ideal (representation for all) has been trumped by another (win, win, win)." David Denby of the New Yorker makes a further (and more melancholy) point:

Among other things, "Our Brand Is Crisis" is about the failure of good intentions—a potent American theme at the moment. As the movie suggests, this failure, born of American arrogance, embraces liberals as well as neocons, though the liberals, to their credit, do occasionally take responsibility for their mistakes. In a long, unhappy interview, [the film’s focus,] Jeremy Rosner, pondering the futility of his actions in Bolivia, looks like an animal eating its young.

Of this week’s Reverse Shot reviewers at indieWIRE, Michael Joshua Rowin writes that "certain moments so
perfectly capture the absurdity of the political process that if
written as fiction they would be deemed exaggeration or ham-fisted
satire"; Michael Koresky suggests that the film is "feels like more of a revelation" than a campaign doc; and Chris Wisniewski likes that Boynton doesn’t appear to show a bias. And Laura Kern at the New York Times, in a tragic blurb of a review (surely a column more could have been spared from the Oscar coverage?), proposes that "the only thing left to be desired from this momentous documentary is a reference to the size of the consultants’ paycheck — or their consciences."

 

"[H]e's not a musician, but has devoted his whole life to 'Round Midnight'"
+ "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party"
: How much do we love Dave Chappelle? A lot, but not enough to be prepared for the avalanche of adulation for the comedian greeting this easy-going doc, directed by Michel Gondry, about a free Bed-Stuy concert Chappelle organizes with musical guests that include Dead Prez, Jill Scott, Kanye West and the surprise reuniting of the Fugees. "The first and last thing you need to know about ‘Dave Chappelle’s Block Party’ is that it’s a ’70s film," writes the New York PressMatt Zoller Seitz, who’s among many who compare the film to 1973’s "Wattstax," and who shares this tidbit:

"Do you like hip hop?" Chappelle asks a 50-something white lady. "I like you," she beams.

Even Roger Ebert, while playing up his terminally sweater-vested unhipness, is charmed by what he sees as "a fairly disorganized film about a fairly disorganized concert, redeemed by the good feeling Chappelle sheds like a sunbeam on every scene." Ebert touches on the fact that the concert was filmed a little over a month after Chappelle signed his $50 million contract with Comedy Central, and suggests that "you can see those millions nagging at him. His block party seems like an apology or an amends for the $50 million, an effort to reach out to people, to protect his ability to walk down the street like an ordinary man." Manohla Dargis at the New York Times similarly sees the film as "a tantalizing sketch-portrait of the artist amid an outpouring of hard beats and soul," and points out that, compared to "Wattstax"’s overt politicizing, "Block Party" "appears fairly tame by comparison. It is and it isn’t." She sees the film as a more savvy in its portrayal of celebrity, an aspect the Village Voice‘s Ed Halter also highlights:

[W]hile the mostly black and Latino Brooklyn audience may be demographically pre-planned, it is also an act of momentary utopia; as Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots remarks to Chappelle backstage, both performers share the frequent experience of playing to audiences that don’t look like them. Unfiltered observations like these give a critical edge to what otherwise would simply be a well-crafted concert doc shot during one gently sundowning autumn day.

Stephanie Zacharek, whose long review may be the most enchanted of them all, writes that:

At a time when our country feels divided to the point of cracking, "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party" feels like a salve. It’s a defiant act of optimistic patriotism. This is what Dave Chappelle’s America looks like, and now that we get the idea, there’s no reason we can’t live in it too.

The only complaint, voiced by Dargis and by Ernest Hardy at LA Weekly, is that Gondry cuts away halfway through many of the performances, not allowing the songs to finish — Hardy suggests that "you can’t help but feel that it is in the unhurried, option-laden possibilities of DVD bonuses that the real Block Party lies."

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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.