DID YOU READ

Why James Cameron is no Cecil B. DeMille.

Why James Cameron is no Cecil B. DeMille. (photo)

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We’re approaching the awards season home stretch — the Golden Globes are done, the Oscar announcements are in two weeks.

Some previously surefire contenders have fallen by the wayside since critics’ associations started putting out their lists in December. “Precious” — which I wasn’t alone in thinking a “Slumdog Millionaire”-esque Best Picture contender — has topped off at just under $45 million at the box office, and no one but Mo’Nique seems to be still gunning for Oscar glory (though a friend of mine enmeshed in graduate school academia assures me black studies will be grappling with the film for years, so there’s that).

The biggest Globes news (beside the fact that host Ricky Gervais was funny but inexplicably poorly reviewed) was that “Avatar” appears on track for Best Picture, though its Golden Globe victory hardly makes that a certainty. As Xan Brooks at the Guardian points out, in the last five years only “Slumdog” got Best Picture both at the Globes and Oscars.

But you can sense the buzz around “Avatar” as an indicator of a major shift in awardsland, thought what it means depends on where you’re standing. For the cranky Brooks, the win “tarnishes” the Globes (um, they can be tarnished? I thought we just tuned in to watch the drinks manifest themselves onstage) because it’s a Hollywood circle-jerk. You really can’t win sometimes. Complain about the awards being out-of-touch with ordinary filmgoers, get awarded a populist victory and what happens? People start complaining about the self-congratulatory speeches.

Closer to home, people are thrilled — none more so than Betsy Sharkey in the Los Angeles Times, whose victory lap pretty gave me hives. Using the fact that Scorsese got the Cecil B. DeMille award as a starting point, Sharkey concludes that the awards exemplified the spirit of DeMille: “forever the populist, never the auteur.” Which is a good thing: unlike those huffy snots “De Sica, Welles, Hitchcock and the like” (the like? Would you like to try to group together three less similar filmmakers?), DeMille didn’t “push the artistic and intellectual boundaries of film.” Instead, he “never lost sight of his audience, mostly hardworking folks.”

Sometimes you have to wonder if it isn’t a good thing that the newspapers are dying; Sharkey’s language here is inadvertently pretty close to the worst kind of demagoguery. But what’s more interesting is the way the comparison becomes weirder and more instructive if you follow it. DeMille was so intensely conservative that while on the Screen Directors Guild in 1950, he tried to push through a bylaw requiring all members to sign a loyalty oath. Reflecting the climate of the ’50s, he conceived of “The Ten Commandments” as a political statement (Judeo-Christian values vs. the Communist threat) and had Ten Commandments monuments spread all over the land, as promotion and a proclamation of principles.

Cameron is the biggest showman of our time, and nothing if not an unapologetic populist. But he’s as liberal as DeMille was conservative — if you want to push that comparison to its logical conclusion, that would mean that Hollywood is every bit as liberal now as it was conservative 50 years ago. (Which, well, duh.)

Even more, DeMille’s early work (particularly the silents) has been enthusiastically reclaimed by avant-garde enthusiasts as pure, unfettered insanity, inadvertently deranged in its gonzo scale. As spectacle films decay with technological advances and the cracks start to show, excess starts to look downright surreal. So keep that in mind before blathering about populism — yesterday’s spectacle is tomorrow’s novelty.

[Photos: “Avatar,” 20th Century Fox, 2009; “The Ten Commandments,” Paramount, 1956]

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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.