Heavy Cargo

Heavy Cargo (photo)

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The unaccented, matter-of-fact tone of Aleksei Balabanov’s “Cargo 200” is deliberately disarming. The plain Jane approach leads us to expect story complexity, nuance, social relevance — anything, really, beside what we eventually get, which is a cold-eyed slide into the human hellpit. Based on “true events,” somewhat embroidered, Balabanov’s movie is a poison-pen letter sent to the heart of the failing Soviet society circa 1984, and you can appropriately read its sneaky, scalding tribulations as a face-slap to the Russians, young and old, who nostalgize the old regime. What’s often lamented is the passing of a sense of enforced order and control; Balabanov is here to remind everyone that bloodthirsty chaos ruled, and you forget that at your peril.

Context is applied lightly: we meet two middle-aged brothers — one an Army colonel, the other a “scientific atheism” professor — having lunch on a veranda, then the colonel’s daughter and her black-market smoothie of a boyfriend, whose alarming thirst for vodka is the first sign of trouble. Haphazardly, vectors cross: the professor’s car breaks down in the northern country outside of Leningrad, and he seeks help at a farmhouse, where the central figure seems to be a bellicose, gun-cleaning brute brimming with anti-atheist passion and a vague dream of building a Christian utopia. This odd, ramshackle home also harbors a Vietnamese worker and a skinny, seemingly mute man of untold provenance — and it’s this inexpressive sociopath who becomes the story’s agent of desolation, once the tanked black market hood shows up a little later to buy booze, accompanied by a girl he picked up at a roadside disco. What ensues is all step-by-step minutiae — and an undramatic rape with an empty vodka bottle is just the beginning.

From there, “Cargo 200” (which is the military euphemism for soldier coffins coming back from Afghanistan, a salient plot integer) becomes a feral ordeal, but Balabanov is careful not to overplay the hysteria and suffering; the filmmaking is cool, unemphatic, unhurried, and the tone is low-amp jaunty. The lack of explicit textural cues — music, close-ups, reaction shots, etc. — often and deliberately leaves us with a chuckle stuck like a bone in our throats. Balabanov, for his part, does not dictate response, and he leaves a good deal unsaid, under the film’s icy surface. I had to watch it twice to see the ligaments between plot threads and how they connect to subterranean statements about Russian life under Communism, and their subtlety, amidst this mayhem, is a thing to behold. Still, it’s hard to overlook the climactic series of tableaux, unselfconscious masterworks of grime, proliferating flies, pooling blood and Boris Yeltsin. I haven’t been a big fan of Balabanov (“Of Freaks and Men,” “Brother”), but this is the best and richest Russian film American screens have seen since Ilya Khrjanovsky’s “4.”

04282009_AndyWarholScreenTe.jpgNot being much of a Warholite, either — that is, not belonging to the cultural tribe that believes everything Andy Warhol touched is, by default, a masterful piece of postmod art simply because his insulating meta-irony deems it all so — I wouldn’t make great claims for his hundreds of one-reel “screen tests” by themselves, but no one really does. By being Warhols, they are seen as having an intrinsic meta-value that has nothing to do with aesthetics or “experimentation” or visual glamour or anything else, really. In the new compilation “13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests,” the creation of which is attributed only to Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum, a baker’s dozen of Warhol’s full-frontal one-shots (which he used to show arbitrarily in public shows in groups of 13) are scored with drowsy, “shoegazing” songs by the duo Dean & Britta. The upshot isn’t art but homage, a new, semi-permanent context for pieces of film Warhol never would’ve contextualized himself.

Warhol’s methodology was so simple — just sit and stare — that the primal voyeuristic attraction of cinema lands in your lap, and there’s no denying that many of the impassive portraits here — Nico, Mary Woronov, Paul America, Edie Sedgwick — are surpassingly beautiful. (Lou Reed, drinking a Coke in shades, not so much, but Jane Holzer’s energetic teeth-brushing is oddly invigorating.) But here’s why they’re beautiful now — like the first Lumière films, moviemaking is its own nostalgia machine, its own documentary about cultural history and its own inherent lament for a vanished past. Warhol just let the sadness roam free, without constriction. Whatever the thoroughly un-arty artiness meant in the mid-’60s (which doesn’t seem to be a very much; impish emptiness, self-mythologizing poseur cool, and that’s it), today it thrums with melancholy — so much gorgeous youth, just waiting to fall under time’s bulldozer. I don’t take that to be a minor chord to strike. The songs are agreeably ambient, if forgettable, though Britta Phillips herself, seen in the DVD supplements to be simply the most gorgeous 45-year-old bass player on Earth, seems ready even at her un-Warholian age for a loving close-up.

“Cargo 200” (The Disinformation Company) and “13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests” (Plexifilm) are now available on DVD.

[Additional photo: Jane Holzer brushing her teeth in “13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests,” Plexifilm, 2009]


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.