Health care in the movies.

Health care in the movies. (photo)

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Listening to the conflicting chatter about the recent health care reform bill sometimes reminds me of that old “Simpsons” bit where aliens Kang and Kodos are running for president. As “Bob Dole,” Kang tackles abortion: “Abortions for all.” Boos. “Very well, no abortions for anyone.” Boos. “Hmm… Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.” And the crowd goes wild. That’s pretty much as coherent as public debate on the matter has been so far.

Everyone like to slag off their hospital system, no matter your country — and even in the movies. There’s 1982’s “Brittannia Hospital,” Lindsay Anderson’s strikingly literal-minded diagnosis of the UK that insists upon a hospital that contains everything wrong with the country, down to a “Rudyard Kipling ward.” There are also lots of arrogant, indifferent-to-life union workers — the film opens with a man in an ambulance dying because the workers won’t admit him on their tea break — the Tea Party folks would love it. If that’s not emphatic enough, there’s 2004’s “The Barbarian Invasions,” a movie I like quite a bit but which couldn’t have emphasized (demonized?) every single problem with Canadian health care harder if it’d tried.

American traditions of portraying medical care on-screen are a bit messier, and increasingly frustrated. There was the “Young Dr. Kildare” series of the ’30s and ’40s, though they didn’t place much of an emphasis on verisimilitude — 1940’s “Dr. Kildare’s Crisis” posits that epilepsy is curable and can lead to insanity.

But you can trace some passing references and increasing disgruntlement down through the years. An early example that comes to mind is James Mason in 1956’s “Bigger Than Life,” just before he goes crazy on cortisone and starts tormenting his family. First come the discussions about the costs of treatment, though. “I’m a teacher,” Mason cracks. “I can’t afford to get sick more.” The joke’s not that funny, if it ever was.

03242010_johnq.jpgThere’s more overt irritability in the ’70s: one of the surprises about Frederick Wiseman’s 1970 “Hospital” is how hard-pressed circumstance equalizes racial tension real fast, even as the treatment seems harried at best. 1971’s “The Hospital” was blunter, as you’d expect from the writer of “Network”: “We cure nothing!” rants Dr. Herbert Hock (George C. Scott, no surprise). “We heal nothing!”

But for real frustration turn to recent years, like the hysterical salvo that was 2002’s “John Q,” in which a callous HMO won’t pay for Denzel Washington’s son’s heart transplant, so he takes the hospital hostage. (Must’ve struck a nerve with someone — it made $71 million, no matter how bad the reviews were.) The alternative is to treat hospitals as a playground for soap opera and clever diagnoses (the way “House” or “Gray’s Anatomy” do). And of course there was Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” which came three years early and without any real facts employed an emotionally distorted argument with carefully selected and weighted statistics. Nonetheless, heroic doctors in any form — save the disease-of-the-week TV movie — are pretty rare.

What really got me thinking about all this, oddly, was finally catching up with “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” — not American, granted, but hang on. Park Chan-wook’s breakthrough was just as violent and elegant as promised (and significantly less stupid than what came after), but watching it the Tuesday night after the bill seemed appropriate. Seeing vague revolutionary Cha Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae) rant about the importance of having affordable health care for everyone and pass out leaflets is one thing; watching a dude try to get a kidney on the black market and then killing a whole lot of people when things go wrong is an entirely different matter. See what happens when people can’t have affordable health care?

[Photos: “The Hospital,” MGM Home Entertainment, 1971; “John Q,” New Line, 2002]


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.