DID YOU READ

“El Cantante”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Marc Anthony in “El Cantante,” Picturehouse Entertainment, 2007]

“El Cantante” is a love letter from its stars, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, to themselves. Though it is a biopic about a talented singer, salsa pioneer Hector Lavoe, celebrating his life, his music and his fans takes a backseat to celebrating the great off-screen romance between Mr. and Mrs. J.Lo. Their love will last a lifetime, or at least as long as it takes you to sit through this muddled vanity project.

Lavoe (Anthony), who was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City in the 1960s, was a crucial member of the early salsa scene. His loyal wife Puchi (Lopez) was always by his side. In classic biopic storytelling fashion, we get only the most crucial information about these two people and we get it delivered in the most economical, least dramatic way possible. For instance, we meet Lavoe in Puerto Rico, where he is a street performer. Cut to Lavoe and his father, begging his son not to go to America. Cut to Lavoe in America. Cut to “Four Months Later” and Lavoe is already an emerging talent on the club scene. Soon Hector is an enormous star, and later he will get washed away in a sea of druggy excess, but the life lived between these moments is never present. The film is a series of actions without motivations.

What, after all, do we know about Hector? We know he’s Puerto Rican, that he has a “one-in-a-million voice” — and he does, or at least Anthony does — and that he loves to smoke crack, especially before a big performance. Director Leon Ichaso and writers David Darmstaeder and Todd Bello never address Hector’s desires or goals, at least those beyond drink and drugs. They make shockingly quick work of what is typically the most interesting part of this kind of story, the subject’s meteoric rise, and make frustratingly slow work of the least interesting part, his inevitable fall. Everyone tells Lavoe that he’s so talented that his success is guaranteed, and that could very well be accurate. But accurate or not, guaranteed success is also guaranteed lack of drama.

For sure, the soundtrack (along with Anthony’s musical performance) is terrific, but the songs feel disconnected from the narrative they support with their infectious energy. Music is performed but it is never created. Montages show us concert posters and album covers, but we don’t see most of the concerts and we see none of the albums being written, recorded or discussed. “El Cantante” credits Lavoe and his trumpeter, Willie Colón (John Ortiz) as the originators of salsa music but the two spend remarkably little time actually developing their sound. Naming the genre they create is as easy as Willie saying “Call it salsa — it’s a musical sauce!”

No matter how badly Hector behaves, Puchi’s there to clean him up and shove him out on stage, where he can perform and she can dance and sing along from the wings. “El Cantante” is, as much as anything, about the sheer thrill Lopez gets out of watching Anthony on stage — the accumulated adoring imagery of her gazing appreciatively at her man reminded me of Amber Waves’ documentary about Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights.” The co-stars passion for one another is always evident. Their passion for their audience, a great deal less so.

A note: Though the film spans decades in the characters’ lives, Lopez and Anthony never seem to age physically outside of “El Cantante”‘s framing story epilogue. Their child grows in front of our eyes from infant to toddler to troubled teenager but his parents stay a well-preserved 35. Could these two simply not bear the thought of looking old on camera?

“El Cantante” opens in wide release on August 3rd (official site).

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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.