Doing It to Death

Doing It to Death (photo)

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Smooth criminal or fragile humanitarian? Eternally childlike or mortally flawed? Black or white? Might not the late Michael Jackson have been all of the above? As for Kenny Ortega, the longtime MJ associate entrusted to whittle three-and-a-half hours of rehearsal footage down to less than two, he was obviously never going to be Barbara Kopple or Albert Maysles, much less Pedro Costa or Frederick Wiseman. But at least Ortega’s “This Is It” allows us to see the self-anointed King of Pop as a moonwalking mass of contradictions right to the end, which is about as much as one could reasonably want from a posthumous cash-in whose printed prologue rushes to praise MJ’s “passionate gift,” a work of literal deadline journalism whose stated responsibility is to “the fans.”

Still, for some — that is, roughly a smidgen of the zillions who’ll flock to “This” — as much as one could reasonably want will be more than they can bear. Driven to protect their late idol even after he’s gone, a subset of die-hards have boycotted the movie for presumably rewarding those close collaborators who didn’t do enough to save their heavily medicated and rail-thin boss between early March and June 25. As if addressing this very constituency, Ortega includes himself in the film asking Jackson — perturbed by a pesky headset whose sound is “like a fist in my ear” — whether there’s anything the crew can do for him, gently reminding the superstar that all he needs to do for help is ask.

However unintended, “This Is It” testifies to a truth older than “HIStory”: Faced with the untimely death of a loved one, the grief-stricken can find it more comforting to pin the tragedy on others (in this case, Ortega, et al.), even or especially when, on some level, the deceased could be said to have done it to himself. Another thing is more certain still: Fist in his ear, machine-gun blazing for “Smooth Criminal,” a digital army at his command in “They Don’t Care About Us,” the MJ of “This” is a man whose metaphors are exceedingly violent — at least until the world-healing finale, wherein we learn that the King of Pop loved trees, too.

Those teeming undead of “Thriller,” ordered by Jackson to terrorize the concert crowd in 3D, are nothing if not the artist’s personal demons, resurrected more or less intact from their first appearance in 1982 — when, it must be said, they appeared a helluva lot fresher. Supernatural energy he had, indeed, but the vision of nostalgia MJ mustered for his comeback shows looks exceedingly tired. No wonder his other notable metaphor — issued as an instruction to his keyboardist — likens the obligatory opening of “The Way You Make Me Feel” to “dragging yourself out of bed.”

So yeah, despite its salutary intentions, “This Is It” works plenty well as a psychological study of a pop star at or near the end of his microphone cord. The film’s unmistakable high point — it gave me goose bumps, to be honest — is MJ’s pained falsetto on a rough run-through of “Human Nature”: The singing is unspeakably beautiful, for starters, added to which is the poignancy of the lyrics, as human nature is obviously something the perfectionist performer often found difficult or impossible to emulate.

Beyond that haunting passage, no longer than a minute or two, “This Is It” generously accommodates one’s desire to view Jackson’s self-described “final curtain call” as, well, overwhelmingly pathetic — weird but never kinky, downright tacky in conception as well as costuming, and, above all, extremely familiar. Reprising even Bob Giraldi’s line-dance choreography for the “Beat It” video, Jackson seems to want to have shown that, at 50, he could do it exactly the same as he did it at 25 — as if art is an exercise in taxidermic (or surgical) preservation rather than a natural evolution, what you and I would consider human nature.

10272009_thisisit2.jpgIn all fairness to Ortega (or maybe it’s an insult, I don’t know), it should be said that his work on “This” had largely been done even before he entered the editing room. If Entertainment Weekly‘s recent curtain-peeling cover story is to be believed, a “team of editors” (or lawyers?) selected Ortega’s usable material from a whopping 120 hours of footage. A countless number of radically dissimilar films could’ve been sculpted out of that mountain; one can only fantasize about, say, Nick Broomfield’s brilliantly bottom-feeding cut, wherein the fans camped outside L.A.’s Staples Center are somehow implicated in the “murder.”

Maybe it’s even fairer to say that the great MJ documentary had already been made more than a decade ago — that is, “Living With Michael Jackson,” the prime-time network special-cum-all-access shocker that Martin Bashir amazingly delivered with at least some degree of his subject’s consent. The ultimate measure of Jackson’s combustible mix of vulnerability and control, resolved only through his death, “Living With Michael Jackson” (check the Internet for “showtimes”) stands as a pricelessly rare rebuttal of the formula by which celebrity docs amount to little more than products of carefully controlled PR. Maybe MJ, in that screening room in the sky, could begin to forgive Bashir for his guerrilla infiltration of Neverland and see “Living” as something valuably closer than “This” to the real deal.


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.