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“Senna,” Reviewed

“Senna,” Reviewed (photo)

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There’s some poetic justice in the fact that it takes at least a half-hour, if at all, into “Senna” to realize director Asif Kapadia is only going to use archival footage to tell the story of the legendary Formula One driver since of course Ayrton Senna’s own feats on the racetrack were always best appreciated when he was miles ahead. It’s one of the many ways that the doc is modeled after Senna’s approach to driving — Kapadia’s film is relentless, occasionally idiosyncratic and bound to be wildly popular as it commemorates one of Brazil’s most celebrated exports.

However, “Senna” is an interesting biography not only because it limits itself to 15,000 hours of video already on record with interviews sporadically used as voiceover throughout, but also since it is far less about the man than the driver, which expands its entertainment value considerably while marginalizing in some sense the actual amount you learn about the title character. There are bits and pieces about his personal life, highlighted by clips of him on yachts or motorcycling with a new girlfriend, his charity work for his home country (alluded to with a tossed off mention by his sister and a card in the end credits about its success), or allusions to his strong religious beliefs, but for the most part, the film shares the same view as Senna did behind the wheel, with only the asphalt in front of him.

Indeed, that might be the most accurate way to tell Senna’s life story since his commitment to racing is unquestioned. We’re first introduced to the driver as a teen in a speed suit and a bright yellow helmet, racing around a track in a go-kart and talking over the clip about “pure racing [when there was] never any politics.” As we soon find out, politics were just about the only thing that could beat Senna after he entered Formula One and became an instant sensation. And the other, Senna’s great rival, the French driver Alain Prost, is what really gives the film its drive.

Racing fans are already familiar with the impact of Senna’s sparring with Prost had on the sport’s popularity during the mid to late ’80s and for the film, it conveniently provides an enemy to root against, even if you’re completely uninterested in Formula One. Known as “the professor” for his extensive planning and shrewd politicking of race officials, Prost is quickly established as Senna’s opposite, whether it was in the measured way he raced or, as is pointed out in parallel clips, his lack of game with the ladies as demonstrated by his come-ons to a BBC reporter that come off a bit lecherous when compared with Senna’s innocent flirtations with a Japanese reporter. (That the two are eventually paired on the same McLaren racing team only further fuels their rivalry.)

Kapadia, whose previous experience as a director has largely been with narrative features like the sumptuous epic “The Warrior” and the forgettable Sarah Michelle Gellar thriller “The Return,” isn’t exactly subtle in how he forecasts the ways he’s going to please his audience, either. But “Senna” is so well-crafted, from its emotionally wrenching bookends to the seamless way the film simplifies the unexpectedly byzantine backroom machinations of the sport that the driver was so frustrated by (many of which are caught with almost shocking fly-on-the-wall footage), it’s hard to argue the director and a team of editors hasn’t achieved the closest approximation of Senna’s dream of “pure racing” onscreen.

Speed nuts will definitely be wowed by the over-the-shoulder shots of Senna cruising on an open track at a velocity unknown to most mere mortals, but it’s the film’s ability to move in other ways that make it a special film for all audiences.

“Senna” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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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.

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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.