“Once,” “Feed”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Once,” Fox Searchlight, 2007]

Even before I’d seen “Once,” the tiny Irish musical that could, it was apparent that those who had seen it and loved it — which was all of them — constituted a kind of epiphanic tribe, attempting unconfidently to communicate to the rest of us their magical experience. Once I saw it, I helplessly joined their frustrated company and word of mouth, handicapped by “just go” inexpressiveness, has kept the film in theaters for seven lovely months (so far, amounting to a roughly 100-to-one profit-to-budget ratio). Of course, John Carney’s modest movie can suffer as any movie could from the toxicity of hype surplus, which may be one of the reasons why articulation of “Once”‘s pleasures has been so difficult. The other reasons, I suspect, have something to do with “Once”‘s essential sincerity, unvarnished simplicity and basic movieness — why else have people been drawn to cinema since 1890, if not for the empathic connection for fellow humans and bearing witness to their expressive dramas?

“Once” is nothing more than a romance-that-never-happened idyll, set in Dublin and taking place entirely between an itinerant busker (full-time folk rocker Glen Hansard) and a Czech immigrant (real-life folkie Markéta Irglová) as they meet and, simply, begin to make music. Of course, Hansard’s keening, aching songs (several of which were culled from his years as front man to The Frames, of which Carney was also a member) work their peculiar magic, and Hansard sings them with selfless passion. But what makes this aspect of “Once” so powerful is the songs’ context: Hansard’s earnest, nameless street musician is, under his friendly surface, virtually boiling with grief over the betrayal and loss of his girlfriend, now in London. He only expresses himself in the songs, and once they begin to explode into such naked wailing, it’s hard to imagine any viewer remaining untrammeled by their visceral thrust.

In conjunction with that, there’s Irglová playing a completely disingenuous single mom with an errant husband, and her rapport with Hansard comes so easily that while neither can embrace the other, the film plays much like the “In the Mood for Love” of folkie indies. Its grown-up assumptions about adult behavior and history are bracing. (No one in the film resembles a stock dramatic character — even Hansard’s gruff vacuum shop “da” is revealed to be matter-of-factly gracious and generous, introvertedly bowled over by his son’s first effort at recording). It may be a film that’s impossible to dislike, despite the fact that it’s formally and visually the cruddiest movie released to American screens since “Chuck & Buck.” But like Miguel Arteta’s film, it hardly mattered — the honest glimpse of lost humanity did the work. It’s also, for what it’s worth, a perfect answer to the question of what happened to the musical. Instead of attempting to reconstitute the naïve tropes of the ’30s-’60s musicals, tropes which were themselves leftover constructions from vaudeville or fall into the camp abyss, “Once” integrates the songs into the action realistically with not only the timeworn but sensible let’s-put-on-a-show numbers, but also otherwise — as with the exquisite long traveling shot of Irglová walking home at night listening to one of Hansard’s lyricless tunes on earphones and singing her own words to it as she goes. Everyone will have a personal reaction to the film, and everyone will respond from their stomachs to different moments, but I’ll say this: the first impromptu of Hansard’s “Falling Slowly,” pieced together by the two musicians in a piano store, convulsed me and may be the most transportive moment I’ve had at the movies since I can’t remember when. There, I’ve overhyped it.

Hype is as hype does: We’re well into election season these days, although it’s not even the election year yet, and for this, political documentaries are an essential antidote. Indeed, what could deflate the rhetoric and posturing quicker than film visions of past campaigns, successful or failed, and the sight of long forgotten pasty-faced aging white men in white shorts and ties struggling to convince everyone they meet that they’re not weaselly goldbrickers? No film does this as concisely as Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway’s “Feed” (1992), a found footage portrait of the 1991 campaign circus, in and around the New Hampshire primaries, that eventually led to Bill Clinton’s party nomination and presidency.

The primary visual tool at work here is the satellite feed, the video footage sent out to the networks (and therefore out into space, only to be captured by satellite geeks) during the unbroadcast moments of the candidates — Clinton, Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, George H.W. Bush, Bob Kerrey — combing their hair, making lame jokes, picking their noses, chatting inanely with makeup people, and often sitting and doing nothing at all. The upshot is access to precious visions of our ostensible leaders, whose political machines work so hard to exalt them as leaders, as little more than opportunists, showbiz canards and empty-headed buffoons. The film goes a certain way towards demonstrating that, in many ways, Bush II is something of a culmination of tendencies in American politics — one could only dream about what his stray satellite footage looked like, and the measures taken somewhere to prevent it from reaching public eyes. Rafferty and Ridgeway fill out the movie with public appearance footage of all kinds, much of which, 15 years later, has its own lessons to tell about the catastrophic distance between why we elect certain types of men to office (and what types of men want to be), and exactly what the job might require. A few years from now, when it’s not profitable news but appalling history, the Obama-Clinton-Guiliani-Romney-Huckabee-etc. carnival will offer the same sort of spectacle.

“Once” (Fox Searchlight) will be available on December 18th; “Feed” (First Run Features) is now available on DVD.


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.