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DID YOU READ

“The King of Kong.”

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"It's absolute brutality."
If a whole universe of meaning and countless reams of undergrad theses can spring from a novel that tracks one day of the meanderings of a man in 1904 Dublin, then, in theory, there’s no reason why a documentary about crossword puzzles or Double Dutch can’t offer the same. But most of the films that have followed in the footsteps of "Spellbound," which found nail-biting suspense and a revealing cross-section of America in the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee, skate by on the preciousness of their subject matter, offering peeks into pockets of subculture that are almost uniformly entertaining if lightweight, innocuous enough that only the most grumpy of critics would grumble about them.

Grumble.

Seth Gordon‘s "The King of Kong" is set in the world of competitive classic video gaming, and it could have been another example of the quirkumentary, if Gordon hadn’t stumbled onto a struggle between two men that can only be described as epic. The battlefield is Donkey Kong, which we’re assured by a series of talking heads is among the most difficult 80s arcade games, the prize is the record for high score, and the competitors are so good they defy fiction (though they’ll get their chance at that, as Gordon is now attached to direct a narrative version of his film). On one side, there’s Billy Mitchell, the "Video Game Player of the Century" and classic gamers’ big celebrity/demigod. He set his first high score at Donkey Kong at a 1982 Life Magazine shoot, when he decided to punish a pretender to the throne (Steve Sanders, who becomes one of Mitchell’s best friends) by publicly challenging him and obliterating his score. The heavy-browed Mitchell has shoulder-length locks, a remarkably well-endowed wife who’s a sight gag unto herself, and a hot sauce empire. He is comically and fantastically villainous, holed up in Hollywood, FL, where he conducts the war to protect his record via covert phone calls and packages dispatched by minions.

His challenger is Steve Wiebe, a Seattle-area failed musician turned fired Boeing employee, a vague, good-natured family man who resembles a blurry Nathan Fillion, who has never distinguished himself at anything in his life, and who decided to work toward the Donkey Kong record during his unemployment to create some kind of goal in his nebulous day-to-day existence. Practicing in his garage while his children clamor around him, he records himself breaking Mitchell’s record and sends the tape in to Twin Galaxies, the Ottumwa, IA-based hall of video game records, calling down a small-scale firestorm of gamer drama and the roundabout opposition of Mitchell himself.

There are other memorable characters, among them Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day, who acknowledges that he’s running the organization now more out of sense of obligation to its small but dedicated community than out of any personal enjoyment. There’s Robert Mruczek, the put-upon referee who screens hours of tapes of people playing in order to confirm scores. And there’s our personal favorite, Roy Shildt, an agitator who goes by "Mr. Awesome" and who still harbors a grudge over an unacknowledged ’80s achievement at Missile Command.

Packaged with era-appropriate graphics, "The King of Kong" kicks off with a quick trip through the backgrounds of its two adversaries and of Twin Galaxies, but settles in to something less obtrusive as its story unfolds, with the exception of some funny but ham-handed music choices (including "You’re the Best"). What truly separates "The King of Kong" from films like it, and what makes it almost exceptional, is that it circumvents the tired homily recited by so many other doc directors getting a chuckle at the expense of their subjects — laughing with, not at, et cetera. There is never a question of or an apology for the imminent importance of gaming in the lives of these people, a fixation that, as one tells the camera, has nothing to do with enjoyment and everything to do with having one’s name on that record board. Gordon is unfailingly gentle with his subjects, even, in a way, with Mitchell, who comes across as a right bastard, but also as someone well aware of his role as the community’s larger than life superhero, the one who makes money, the one who got the girl. In challenging him, Wiebe posed a threat to entire fiercely protective group that bristled at the arrival of a self-taught ringer from out on the West Coast, someone they’d never heard of, someone who wasn’t one of them.

On his way out to Florida to prove himself in a tournament and hopefully face down his Kong nemesis, Wiebe is asked innocently by his young daughter about why people are willing to destroy themselves to get in the Guinness Book of World Records. There’s no reply — it is, on a larger scale, no lofty goal. But Wiebe, hunched over his arcade cabinet on a stool for hours, is a curiously noble figure, one who’s struggled against unlikely odds and long-haired adversaries to prove that there is something in his life at which he’s the best.

"The King of Kong" opens in limited release on August 17th.

+ "The King of Kong" (Picturehouse)

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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.