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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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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.