Toback on “Tyson”

Toback on “Tyson” (photo)

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The old chestnut is that opposites attract, which might explain how maverick filmmaker James Toback (“Fingers,” “Two Girls and a Guy”) became such good buddies with Mike Tyson in 1985, long before the boxing legend had his face tattooed or threatened to eat anyone’s children. Toback even went so far as to give Iron Mike cameo roles in two of his films, “Black and White” and “When Will I Be Loved,” setting the stage for Toback’s ultimate cinematic gift to his friend: an eponymous documentary. More first-person confessional than standard doc portrait, “Tyson” does feature ring footage and other archival memories, but it mostly focuses on the champ, here and now, poignantly chronicling his own life to the camera. Recalling his troubled youth, his meteoric rise to the championship, his relationship with beloved mentor and coach Cus D’Amato, and even the ugly stuff (including his tumultuous marriage to Robin Givens, his three-year prison sentence for rape and the notorious ear-biting incident), Tyson proves an entertaining and brutally candid storyteller. Speaking by phone, Toback and I knocked around about Kid Dynamite, being an outsider, LSD madness and why he’s not at all bothered by people calling his new film one-sided.

I’m less interested in how you and Tyson first met, so much as how you two became friends.

The first night we met, we had a terrific, long conversation. He’d come by the set of [1987’s] “The Pick-up Artist,” which I was shooting at the Museum of Natural History. We went, at five in the morning, for a two-hour walk in Central Park. He was 19 years old and about to become Heavyweight Champion. We got into my experience at Jim Brown’s house in the Hollywood Hills, and we just had a bracing conversation. I felt, this is a guy I could spend a lot of time with, and I think he had a similar response. There was a feeling that we’ve each got a lot to learn from the other, a back-and-forth, rhythmic connection that you have when you each feel: “I’m in the presence of somebody whose friendship will be valuable.”

So what have you learned from him?

A great deal about the psychology of fighting, about early exposure to violent criminal life, the closeness to death and the acceptance of it at a very early age because of its sociological proximity. He was fascinated with my experience with madness on LSD, which he couldn’t get over. He kept saying, “What do you mean, ‘madness’?” I had a huge dose of LSD and eight days of insanity under it, and he was absolutely riveted by the notion that there was such a thing. Of course, years later, when he goes to solitary confinement in [the] penitentiary, he was lying in a corner one day and said to himself, suddenly, “This is what Toback meant. Now I’m insane.”

04152009_Tyson3.jpgWhat do you two ever disagree about?

It’s quite remarkable. In 24 years of friendship, the only unpleasant moment I had with him was when he was going to hire Don King as a manager. I said to him, “But you yourself have always said that you would never go with Don King because of things you’d heard from other fighters,” including Ali, who he idolized. He got very upset and angry, said he didn’t want to discuss Don King, and I insisted that he was the one who had said it. I was simply quoting him back to himself. He said he wouldn’t talk about it anymore. He was going to do it, and that was it. That’s the only time we had a moment like that.

I imagine he’s not someone to question after putting his foot down.

I never felt any physical fear in his presence. In fact, we were posing for photos a couple weeks ago, and we were facing each other. I looked right into his eyes, and he cracked up. He said, “You could frighten a lot of fighters with that look.” It’s funny in light of the section of the movie where he talks about staring into fighters’ eyes and crippling them with the fear he was feeling before. He seems to have fear as a sort of operative reality. It’s the thing he’s reacting to in himself, and his whole ability to function seems to be a driven reaction to his own fear.

He’s very candid about his trust issues in the film. Why do you think he trusts you?

Well, I’ve never taken anything from him. My interest has been in him, not in what I could get from him. We’ve had a collaborative, even-keel friendship. He talks about “leeches” in the movie — he’s even leeched off people, and he must like it, because he’s had these leech-like relationships. I’d say that I might be the only candidate for a non-leech relationship.


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.