DID YOU READ

Chuck Norris needs to kick America’s action film into shape.

Chuck Norris needs to kick America’s action film into shape. (photo)

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Tomorrow will kick off the inaugural edition of Actionfest — “the film festival with a body count,” as it announces itself, complete with a mini Chuck Norris retrospective. It’s billed as the first action film festival, which seems strange considering how many fests exist to serve niches — for documentaries, for genre fanboys, for those obsessed with broadly categorized “Asian films” (they don’t mean Ozu) and so on. Perhaps only the action film could be both so ubiquitous and disreputably populist as to wait this long for its own festival.

Only the snottiest festivals positively exclude all action fare. Nearly all have at least a midnight section (which tends to be rowdier, and frequently better attended, than the smaller art films that get more highbrow love). And these days foreign action films are a celebrated staple of every fest, ever since the ’80s when the West discovered that Hong Kong was producing remarkably inventive action movies that could be profitably championed and canonized. John Woo, Tsui Hark and selected others were invited to join the highbrow pantheon; subsequently, even the once disreputable likes of films produced by the Shaw Brothers have had (deserved) retrospectives and respect once the cheesy English dubs were taken off and some context was given.

04142010_b13.jpgPlus, it’s always cool to champion action movies if they have social commentary to dig into — like the banlieue-burning “District B13” — or simply inform us that action filmmaking has finally taken root in another country, the reason for the lavish reception given to the Thai asskicker “Ong-Bak” a few years back. These are almost exclusively the only action movies to make it to the arthouse — and, attendantly, too often discouraging serious critical attention. Michael Mann may make artier films than anything Ed Burns has ever attempted, but he’s still using a lot of expensive firepower to get there.

It is, nonetheless, a puzzling anomaly that the American action film — the biggest and baddest of them all, or at least the most routinely expensive — can’t get even those token festival slots. Okay, it’s not that puzzling: a big action movie needs a festival launch like a nuclear missile needs an automated squirt gun on top. Better question: where are the Americans whose artistic ambitions lie in the direction of making smart, low-budget action movies? It’s a worthy formal challenge, after all.

04142010_undisputed3.jpg If you look at the top of Actionfest’s front page, there’s a gallery of iconic action films, almost exclusively homegrown. However, if you look at the lineup, the overwhelming majority of the 22 new films being presented are from abroad — just five are American, including the latest from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “Undisputed III,” each of which are going direct-to-DVD following their premieres in North Carolina. That’s notable since DVD shelves have become the provenance of most low-budget American action films while international action films get the red carpet treatment from festivals around the world.

Earlier this year at Rotterdam, The Auteurs‘ Daniel Kasman ducked into a screening of Tsui Hark’s third film and was blown away. “Being stilled all week by the measured, the thoughtful, I forgot that cinema can leave you breathless,” he noted. “There’s something about the culture of film festivals and the kinds of films it encourages that strenuously denies these kinds of films exist, are art.” Indeed — though that seems to go double for American festival films, which could use a dose of something totally different.

Surely, this isn’t just a case of elitist programmers shutting out genius works uniformly, nor could it be that no one in America is capable of making a better low-budget action movie than “El Mariachi.” (It’s not even that good.) If foreign filmmakers can wow the world with parkour, Muay Thai and wu xia, there have to be similarly resourceful filmmakers in the U.S. — they just might’ve needed to have their ass kicked first.

[Photos: “Braddock: Missing in Action III,” MGM/UA Home Entertainment, 1988, which is showing at Actionfest; “District B13,” Magnolia Pictures, 2004; “Undisputed III,” New Line Home Video, 2010]

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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.