The Anti-Blockbuster

The Anti-Blockbuster (photo)

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Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” has been the most discussed film of 2009, and so I’ll assume you’re fluent with its narrative’s yards of entwining taffy and with Christoph Waltz’s entrancing piece of supporting-perf gamesmanship, and so on, and move on toward simply saying it is the best American movie of the year, and an impossible-to-dislike rocket of fuming movie love. (The legions of teenagers who went expecting… whatever the Brad Pitt-heavy advertisements led them to expect, came out surprised and delighted.)

Still, I think it’s an only mildly understood movie, one that, in Tarantino’s obsessive way, entertains blithely as it subverts the conveniences American audiences ordinarily crave. You ask the average filmgoer what the movie’s about, and they won’t say The Movies (in Umberto Eco’s definition of “Casablanca”), which is the stone-cold truth, but Nazis or WWII, or a playground-fun alternate version of them, which isn’t far from the truth, either. They might not get most of Tarantino’s allusions, or grasp the larger meanings at hand, but they will have rocked out, and such is Tarantino’s genius.

Cut “Basterds” open, and you’ll find the Godard gland pulsing, secreting, hyper-charged. It is exactly this reality about the film, and about Tarantino and so much of the best modern movies, that goes unacknowledged in our culture; a paradigm shift is required that’s feared by the broader populace, not unlike the manner in which they fear learning anything substantial about public policy and choose their political alliances instead by way of “liking” Bush or Obama or Sarah Palin. Trying teaching “Breathless” to undergrads — they will not abandon the idea of a clean-cut diegetic “reality” within the film itself.

12152009_basterds9.jpgOf course, commercial culture is on their side, and never favors the Godardians, because hundreds of millions of dollars stand to be made with loud, distractive, digitized movies about giant robots or earthquakes or aliens. As with food production and environmental poisoning, commerce rolls happily forward the more we are oblivious to what’s really going on. Godard himself was terribly aware of this conflict, of course; he may have begun as a radical, but his four-dimensional mode of cinema through the ’60s pushed him inevitably toward full-on anti-narrative activism, whether or not the films in question were political at all.

What we’re talking about, simply, is redefining cinema away from an enveloping half-dream you have in the dark that encourages you to forget life, and toward a modern artwork that embraces life as it unwinds. It’s simple, really. Comatosity vs. wakefulness. Tarantino isn’t the only Godardian at play in the fields of movies today — Gerardo Naranjo’s “I’m Gonna Explode” and Hong Sang-soo’s “Night and Day” made 2009 a knockout bout of neo-JLG — but he is the most passionate, and the most guileless.

No other living director exudes such adolescent joy with what Orson Welles called “the biggest train set a boy ever had” as Tarantino, and his palpable élan behind the camera is part of the whole equation, as much as the actors’ enjoyment, the anarchic glee of narrative breaks, the intersection of “Basterds” with the living legacy of movies in dozens of different ways, the deliberately protracted bolero-like elongation of suspense sequences, what you had for lunch, the weather outside, and so on. Making himself, as the director, obtrusive to “the story” isn’t the point — Tarantino is the story, and so are we, because the story is about making and watching cinema, inside the movie and out, and therefore about real life experienced and observed, and the sooner we accept the fact that movies are not separate from our experiences but part of them, then we can be free.

Freedom is the question at hand — it’s no mistake that Tarantino’s filmography, like Godard’s, is filthy with parables of open rebellion and endearing chaos. These are not alternate realities we’re intended to “believe,” but conversations we have with the filmmakers, full of modesty, vanity, digressions, duplicity, self-destructing jokes and a context that’s big as history.

12152009_basterds8.jpgBut even as these perspective-rupturing statements are intrinsic to the thrust of “Basterds,” Tarantino also fashions the “normal” aspects of his film with an old-fashioned maturity that’s impossible to find in new films anymore. Can you think of an American filmmaker whose films are less visually like video games (the genre-borrowed martial arts of “Kill Bill” notwithstanding)? “Basterds” is in no hurry, trifles not with digital effects, contains rafts of long shots encompassing two or three characters at a time, never opts for overdesigned coolness over character or copious dialogue, respects its audience’s cognitive abilities, never exploits violence, rarely manipulates our reactions and never cuts or moves when it doesn’t need to.


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.