DID YOU READ

“Casino Jack,” Reviewed

“Casino Jack,” Reviewed (photo)

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We meet Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a public restroom. He’s brushing his teeth and looking at himself in the mirror when he suddenly bursts into a monologue, a statement of principles brimming with anger and defiance. “Mediocrity,” he tells himself, “is where most people live. It is the disease of the dull. I will not allow the world I touch to be vanilla!”

This is how the Abramoff biopic “Casino Jack” begins. It throws down the gauntlet and announces that it will not fall into the trap of so many bland ripped-from-the-headline biopics, and you have to admire the fact that director George Hickenlooper had the chutzpah to put himself and his film out there like that. But sadly, “Casino Jack” just doesn’t measure up to its own yardstick of success. Despite some decent performances and a great true story, it is a vanilla mediocrity. Certainly watchable, but also instantly forgettable.

If you follow the news or saw Alex Gibney’s Abramoff documentary from earlier this year you will not be surprised by the story. Hickenlooper focuses primarily on Abramoff’s final years in Washington, and fills in the earlier details with chunks of clunky expository dialogue. Despite his status as the highest paid lobbyist in D.C., Abramoff is always on the hunt for more cash, “liquid,” as he calls it. Along with his partner Mike Scanlon (Barry Pepper), he tries to squeeze exorbitant fees from Native American tribes and purchase a controlling interest in a fleet of casino cruise ships with a sleazy mattress salesman (Jon Lovitz). As his corruptions mount, the financial pressures surrounding him rise. Structurally, the movie falls into the category of films like “Bad Lieutenant” about corrupt people desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the falling dominos. The difference here is that we already know the film’s outcome ahead of time, which certainly diminishes the suspense.

The movie does give you the sense that Abramoff is a very complicated man; in real life, at least, he certainly didn’t succumb to the disease of the dull. He’s deeply committed to philanthropy work, but he’s also obsessed with materialistic comforts and symbols of status. He’s an Orthodox Jew but he seems most comfortable in the presence of conservative Christians. In insisting on his innocence – or at least his lack of guilt in excess of other Washington lobbyist — he possessed either a remarkable amount of defiance or a remarkable amount of delusion. And the role is perfect for Spacey, who’s always been great at portraying characters who’ve forgotten how to read their own moral compass.

But Spacey never quite congeals all those personality facets into a coherent whole. If only there were more moments like that opening monologue, that really gave him a chance to chew on the complexities of this man. Otherwise, most of “Casino Jack” just goes through the biopic motions with Cliff’s Notes versions of Abramoff’s schemes around Capitol Hill. A final confrontation between Abramoff and the senators who raised charges against him bears some interesting implications about the intersection of politics and media culture, but it’s also burdened by some incredibly didactic “shame on you, sir!”-style dialogue.

The director of “Casino Jack” is George Hickenlooper, who tragically passed away of an accidental drug overdose last October at the age of 47. Hickenlooper was obviously a man who loved to tell stories from real-life. Before he made biopics like “Factory Girl” and “Casino Jack” he was an extremely accomplished documentarian; his “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” about the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” is one of the best documentaries ever made about film. I liked his repeated use of low angles that frame people with desks or tables peeking into the lower foreground of shots; his camera is literally “under the table.” But that’s one clever motif in an otherwise underwhelming film. Mediocrity is where most people live, and what a lot of movies are.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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