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Seattle Film Fest 2011: “High Road,” Reviewed

Seattle Film Fest 2011: “High Road,” Reviewed (photo)

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“Maybe we could make a drinking game out of this,” Matt Walsh told the crowd at the Seattle Film Festival. “Every time you see a comedian onscreen you like, drink a beer.”

No one could legally take the Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder and Todd Phillips regular up on his offer, as the Neptune Theater doesn’t serve alcohol, but if they did, they’d be well past the legal limit about five minutes into Walsh’s directorial debut “High Road.” A comedy that Walsh admitted featured only one actor who wasn’t a good friend beforehand, the film surrounds its central character Fitz (James Pumphrey) with a cast of Ed Helms, Abby Elliott, “The Office”‘s Zach Woods, Lizzy Caplan, Joe Lo Truglio and Rob Riggle.

Before you ask, they all appear for longer than you might think for a low-budget endeavor such as this, ostensibly a road movie once Fitz, an aimless twentysomething drummer turns to dealing pot part-time after his band breaks up and heads to Oakland to see his father once he believes he’s being chased by the cops. He’s joined by Jimmy (Dylan O’Brien), a 16-year-old runaway from the next home over who fears his own father’s threats of military school. Despite there being no police cars in sight, Fitz’s paranoia is justified as Jimmy’s dad (Riggle) and a gym buddy named Fogerty (Lo Truglio) posing as a sheriff’s deputy follows them from pit stop to pit stop while a phone call home to his girlfriend (Elliott) who announces she’s expecting results in Fitz running away from more than just the law.

HighRoad2_05202011.jpgThroughout “High Road,” there’s no doubt that the film’s heart is in the right place even if its focus isn’t necessarily all the time. During the post-screening Q & A, Walsh explained that he developed a script over a number of years, but abandoned the dialogue he and Josh Weiner wrote once he started shooting, instead giving the actors a paragraph prompt for each of the film’s 70 scenes and letting them loose.

Of course, there are probably fewer improv comics more gifted than the UCB, SNL and The State alumni on display here, yet the energy of the performances doesn’t always escape from between the actors as it might during a live performance. For every wonderful digression like Fogerty’s exhaustive knowledge of Gary Glitter’s history of pedophilia or Fitz’s bizarre encounter with a hooker firmly in denial of what she does at a roadside diner, there are scenes where the banter doesn’t quite add up to much more than a few non sequiturs and an awkward transition to whatever’s next.

In his first feature, Walsh actually sidesteps the trap of most improv-heavy films with a determined pace and little to no slack, but with a predictable destination for Fitz and Jimmy, the workman-like approach to storytelling feels even more pronounced and comes at the expense of developing its characters beyond the gags they can pay off. Still, being funny can forgive quite a bit and here, it’s in the service of something sweet, if slight, and promising enough to look forward to Walsh’s next film, which he suggested after the screening could be a really “f’d up take on ‘A Christmas Carol.'”

“High Road” currently does not have U.S. distribution. It will play once more at the Seattle Film Festival on June 7th.

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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.