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Reconsidering “Anchorman”

Reconsidering “Anchorman” (photo)

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As I walked into 92YTribeca for a special screening and panel discussion of the 2004 film “Anchorman” last night, I asked one of the panelists, my friend and IFC News contributor R. Emmet Sweeney, if I was in the right place to complain about how “Anchorman” is a terrible, overrated film. I was making a joke: I’d assumed that if you took the trouble to schlep to a theater and paid $12 for a movie you could rent for less in any video store or watch on basic cable for free, you were probably a big fan. I’d anticipated “‘Anchorman’ Reconsidered” to turn into a love fest for the film and its creators, director and co-writer Adam McKay and star and co-writer Will Ferrell.

Boy, was I wrong.

To my great shock, this was the place where people came to complain that “Anchorman” is a terrible, overrated film. That’s not to say that the film was without its defenders. Four out of the five critics on the panel were all staunch pro-McKay/Ferrell advocates, and they all made thoughtful comments about why “Anchorman” is such a special film. But they were frequently overshadowed by the fifth and most vocal panelist, senior editor at The New York Observer Christian Lorentzen. Lorentzen, who described himself as full-time literary critic who dabbles in film criticism, was brought to provide the counterpoint to the panel’s four “Anchor”-fans — O‘s Jessica Winter, The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Scott Foundas, FilmInFocus.com’s Nick Dawson, and Sweeney — and he fulfilled his job smashingly.

His assessment of the film was swift and merciless. “It feels to me like another string in the line of ‘Saturday Night Live’ alumni pictures. It’s surprising that they never got around to making ‘Weekend Update: The Movie’ until they got to this movie,” Lorentzen said. He also bashed “Anchorman” producer Judd Apatow (“It just goes to [his] default genitalia fascination. It’s not offensive to me at all, it’s just boring.”). And he rejected McKay and Apatow’s improvisational style as “insufficient.” At one point, he worried that “this reliance on improv [might] signify a sort of giving up on writing and giving up on scripts that are able to zing in the way that scripts in the ’40s, or whenever you might point to as the golden age of highly written comedy did.” It’s not terribly shocking that a literary critic isn’t a huge fan of comedy that doesn’t rely on the writing process. But who cares about technique if the results are funny?

Lorentzen’s comments weren’t inappropriate or unexpected — after all, he was introduced as the guy who would be arguing against the film — but I was surprised to see how many people in the audience seemed to agree with him. The woman sitting directly in front of me took great pride in announcing that she’d loved “Anchorman” when it came out in 2004, but had since come to realize that it “wasn’t funny.” The woman next to her wondered if “Anchorman” had been bad for American comedy because it had inspired so many knockoffs, even from its own creators. Another audience member faulted the film’s inability to blend comedy with true drama. This despite the fact that he’d watched it, in his estimation, fifty or sixty times.

Personally, I’ve always believed that if a movie compels you to watch it several dozen times, it doesn’t matter whether it’s “truly dramatic” or not. There’s got to be something valuable in there, right? As I watched “Anchorman” at 92YTribeca for what was probably my fifteenth time, I remain convinced that it is the funniest comedy of the last decade. Naysayers be damned, it is a masterpiece.

Obviously, these things are subjective. And I’ll confess: the first time I watched “Anchorman” I didn’t really get it. But like the other gentlemen who was inexorably drawn to it again and again, I found myself watching it whenever it came on television, handing the DVD off to friends, quoting it with anyone who knew Papa Burgundy. I became a fan almost without realizing it. “Anchorman” is seductive; winning you over with its charmingly Neanderthal vision of the 1970s, feisty battle of the sexes, and deranged dream logic.

Lorentzen repeatedly cited the newscaster rumble as the worst part of the film, because it’s a needless and pointless scene with no connection to the rest of the movie.

I love this sequence for the exact same reason. It’s needless and pointless and wild and mad and ludicrous (it does also take the film’s critique of excessive machismo to its wildest extreme). McKay and Ferrell will follow their comic impulses wherever they lead, and their moves hum with a sense of anarchic freedom that is absent from other mainstream comedies. As their contemporaries have retreated to formula, regurgitating meet cutes and false breakups and quirky diner conversations, McKay and Ferrell have remained delightfully unpredictable; their last film, the underrated “The Other Guys” featured arguably the best rug-pulling shock death scene in any movie since Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” It was certainly the funniest.

One of the real pleasures of the night was the fact that 92YTribeca didn’t simply screen the stellar new “Anchorman” Blu-ray and instead projected a well-travelled 35mm print of the film. That also meant they screened the original theatrical cut, and after years of watching the “Unrated, Uncut, & Uncalled For” edition on DVD, it was like watching the movie again for the first time. Considering the differences between the two cuts, it occurred to me that in addition to all his other strengths, McKay is one of the savviest directors when it comes to making movies in the era of DVD and Blu-ray. You can watch his movies again and again, because he designed them to be appreciated in all their different incarnations. On most discs, deleted scenes are special features filler; you might watch them once, if at all. They were deleted for a reason. On Adam McKay films, the deleted scenes are essential viewing. This is especially true of “Anchorman,” which had so many deleted scenes, McKay cut them together into a second feature called “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy” that is better and funnier than most Hollywood comedies released this year. On McKay’s films, nothing goes to waste. He eats the whole buffalo, cinematically speaking.

Of course the movie isn’t a rich dramatic experience (it does smell like rich mahogany though). The movie is literally laughing at the idea of movies as rich, dramatic experiences. If you read about McKay, his history in Chicago co-founding the Uprights Citizens Brigade as a bomb-throwing improv and performance art troupe, you see that he’s a guy who loves deconstruct; he even took credit for naming the improv game “The Deconstruction” on a recent episode of the WTF Podcast. He loves to mess with preconceived notions of how a movie should look, and sound, and behave. Which is why McKay should remain in the Hollywood studio system despite the protests from some at the 92YTribeca last night who believe he needs to make a tiny Robert Altman-style indie. Would you ask James Bond to quit spying on the Russians and so he could do anti-Communist activism at a small non-profit organization? We need McKay, modern Hollywood’s cleverest saboteur, right where he is.

Lorentzen wasn’t buying that either. “It’s a different and higher ambition to make art for a smaller audience that’s truer to certain values,” he said before asking “Does [“Anchorman”] really elevate anything beyond “Airplane!” or “Caddyshack” or “Wayne’s World?” At last, we agreed on something. No, “Anchorman” doesn’t do anything beyond stand comparison to maybe the three funniest comedies of the last thirty years. Being one of the funniest movies of our lifetime isn’t enough? As Brick Tamland said, I don’t know what we’re yelling about.

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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.