DID YOU READ

SXSW 2008: Going Cuckoo for Cannabis

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03092008_superhighme.jpgBy Stephen Saito

With 4/20 only a little more than a month away, SXSW kicked off an all-encompassing celebration of marijuana on Friday with the regional premiere of the Doug Benson doc “Super High Me” at the Paramount Theatre, shortly before other comedies about the herb made their premieres (officially: “Humboldt County”; unofficially: Jonathan Levine’s Sundance hit “The Wackness,” which played Saturday night as a secret screening). Part concert film culled from “Best Week Ever” regular Benson’s stand-up act and part social documentary about the ongoing battle in California between the feds and the newly created legalized “dispensaries,” which have been empowered by state law to sell medical marijuana, “Super High Me” sets its sights on being entertaining and informative and manages to do a little of both.

As Benson proves, it’s not difficult to procure a doctor’s note, and the film follows him as he detoxifies for 30 days from the substance before getting high for an entire month, inspired by Morgan Spurlock’s attack on the Big Mac, “Super Size Me.” On the surface, it would seem that the film is merely a vehicle for Benson’s aloof brand of comedy, which, only moments into the film, gets him recognized as High Times #2 favorite pot comic. But, like Spurlock’s seemingly self-serving doc, Benson’s 30-day binge becomes something much larger than the gimmick at its center. The comedian’s frequent trips to a doctor (who is merely high on life, providing an engaging dynamic) and director Michael Blieden’s capture of the public outcry that results from overzealous drug enforcement officers breaking into the marijuana stores that have cropped up since California passed its medical marijuana law make for an intriguing discourse about the health and social ramifications of legalizing the drug. (Still, the sight of Benson and Sarah Silverman sharing a toke while Dave Navarro strums his guitar in the background is a bit jarring to see on camera.)

At the post-screening Q & A, Benson was pleased that “Super High Me” worked for the audience as a concert film, saying thata lot of times, because the audience on screen laughs, the in-house audience won’t, which wasn’t a concern in Austin. Likewise, Morgan Spurlock won’t be filing suit for infringement, according to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, whose Red Envelope Entertainment produced “Super High Me.” He added that when he told Spurlock of the Benson film at Sundance, “[Spurlock] only wished he had seen it first.” Sarandos and Benson were joined on stage by editor Alexis Hanawalt, director Blieden and producer D.J. Paul, who probably inspired a few people in the audience to start making movies of their own when he said all the marijuana for the production was donated for free.

Although the second installment of the adventures of Harold and Kumar has a little more than just pot on its mind, the sequel to the instant stoner classic was the subject of a panel Saturday that featured actors John Cho, Kal Penn and Neil Patrick Harris, as well as writer/directors Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz. While moderator Robert Wilonsky and the panel generally steered talk away from the films’ drug element, one Austinite couldn’t help himself during the Q & A portion and ask if Cho and Penn did any research before making the first film, to which Cho deadpanned, “We did a lot of blow — and then I was told that was incorrect.” However, a beet red Harris was more surprised to learn that Penn actually had to research “Doogie Howser, M.D.” for Kumar’s obsession with the Steven Bochco series.

Despite the panel’s mostly light tone, with Cho going so far as to say, “I don’t think the movie has anything to say politically,” the social issues that have given weight to the “Harold and Kumar” comedies were also raised. Penn shared an anecdote about the TSA searching him frequently in airports during the first film’s press tour and how in one instance, his friend, who was in Penn’s words, “pinker,” was carrying a hunting knife on him after just getting back from a camping trip. “Racial profiling makes us all less safe,” said Penn, who also spoke of his first encounter with Schlossberg and Hurwitz at a mutual friend’s birthday party and being offended by Hurwitz when he said, “Wow, you don’t have an accent.” (Hurwitz countered, “We weren’t actor trained yet.”) But Penn and Cho reflected positively on what “Harold and Kumar” has done for their careers — Cho said the film was his “calling card at this point” while Penn said he only got an audition for Mira Nair’s adaptation of “The Namesake” when Nair’s 14-year-old son (a “Harold and Kumar” fan) bugged his mom to audition him. And for those already awaiting a third “Harold and Kumar,” Schlossberg jokingly teased, “We’ve planned a 12-part dodecology. What you find out is [“Guantanamo Bay”] is chapter four and five.”

If there was one shortcoming of the panel, it was the lack of input from Harris, who not surprisingly had all the best lines. When asked whether he was reluctant to come back for a second film, Harris cracked, “I was excited to finally cash in on a sequel… and [Schlossberg and Hurwitz] told me Anthony Michael Hall was on the other line.” But he saved his best for last when Wilonsky walked right into a gag by cutting off questions by saying, “I see the guy in the back giving me the ‘hi’ sign,” leading Harris to do his best Beavis impersonation, giggling, “high sign.”

[Photo: “Super High Me,” Screen Media Films, 2008]

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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.