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Toronto 2010: “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

There’s something unusually fitting about the way “Client 9” will advertise itself on the promise of Eliot Spitzer showing some recalcitrance or regret in his first major interview since resigning as the Governor of New York when in fact that’s not what Alex Gibney’s documentary is really about. Longtime supporters of Spitzer will likely know this in advance, having understood long ago that the same intellectualism that powered his crusade as a state attorney general to bring transparency to Wall Street would also render him nearly emotionless when trying to rationalize something personal.

As Gibney tries to pry in “Client 9,” you’ll hear Spitzer toss off comparisons to Icarus and boilerplate contrition, but what’s far more telling is how the ex-governor can barely suppress a smile when talking about bringing down former AIG chairman Hank Greenberg or facing off with disgraced New York politician Joe Bruno.

A born brawler, Spitzer was meant for greater battles than those with the tabloids, or so reasons Gibney, a master of takedowns in previous docs about Enron and Jack Abramoff who it’s fascinating to see recount the downfall of someone he clearly admires. Such admiration for Spitzer extends to the prostitutes he frequented too – not necessarily Ashley Dupré, who Gibney outs as a publicity-starved “one-night stand” who fit conveniently into the media’s narrative — but primarily “Angelina,” the escort who insisted on having conversations before sex because “he was so smart, so interesting.”

That Angelina was willing to talk to Gibney is likely a testament to her regard for Spitzer, but the fact that Gibney waits until midway through the film to acknowledge the bubbly, sandy-haired twentysomething with pouty red lips and porcelain skin not unlike Amanda Seyfried in “Chloe,” is actually an actress (Wrenn Schmidt) reenacting a transcript of an interview is part of the deception that Gibney simulates as the key to Spitzer’s ultimate undoing. (As a practical matter, “Angelina” wouldn’t speak on camera, but Gibney acknowledges this well after she first appears onscreen.)

09122010_SpitzerClient9-2.jpgThe irony, of course, is that Spitzer’s primary issue as a politician was transparency in business and political affairs, and although Gibney doesn’t gloss over the contradiction this created personally for Spitzer by his personal indiscretions, he seizes upon it for the structure of “Client 9,” which jumps back and forth in time to parallel Spitzer’s rise on the back of fierce legal fights with financial giants Merrill Lynch and AIG to rectify corrupt corporate culture, with his ouster engineered in the shadows by those who became his enemies.

Incidentally, the same point about Spitzer is made far more concisely in another documentary at Toronto, Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job,” but Gibney’s doc is rich in characters that are every bit as compelling as the main subject. Gibney doesn’t short-change Spitzer’s considerable adversaries — Greenberg, Bruno, the gregarious Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, all of whom don’t mince words in painting Spitzer as a fly in the ointment — and gives equal weight to less esteemed players who figured in the governor’s fall from grace like Cecil Suwal, the giggly then-22-year-old madam whose love of a 60-year-old pimp put her in the position of arranging dates for Spitzer, and Roger Stone, the brash, overtanned political consultant whose conversation at a Miami strip club while trolling for potential swinging partners led to the discovery of Spitzer as a john.

Given that Gibney’s last film “Casino Jack” didn’t come together as seamlessly in spite of a similarly colorful cast, the secret to “Client 9” may rest with the involvement of Peter Elkind, the Fortune journalist whose book “The Smartest Guys in the Room” (with Bethany McLean) previously laid the groundwork for “Enron” and serves as a producer and interviewee here since the film is based on his Spitzer tome “Rough Justice.”

The focus is sharper here and what digressions it has — asides about everyone who came into contact with Spitzer, the arcane nature of New York politics, the increasing legitimization of high-priced call girls and the decreasing notion that they are victims, the montage of politicians who’ve lost far less for their sexual dalliances — are interesting without being overwhelming.

Still, for a film about his life, Spitzer feels only but a minor player in “Client 9.” Sitting alone on an off-white couch — his wife Silda declined to be interviewed — the once-indefatigable litigator is left to articulate his meticulous legal wrangling for the public good in a direct, hopeful manner that too few are blessed as his friends and foes wonder aloud about his future and what could have been. The fire is clearly not gone, and the film is not above suggesting it won’t be used towards a meaningful end, but for now, Spitzer is confined to the sidelines, outfoxed by forces as old as the world’s oldest profession and, in Gibney’s eye, far more shameful.

“Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” will be released by Magnolia Pictures on November 5th in New York and Los Angeles.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.