DID YOU READ

“Louder Than a Bomb,” Reviewed

“Louder Than a Bomb,” Reviewed (photo)

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I own hundreds of books and not a single one of or about poetry. I have no favorite poets or poems. I can’t and don’t write poetry. Basically, there are few things I enjoy less in this world than poetry, something that will probably come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the assortment of poop jokes, “Seinfeld” references, and comic book-isms that I call writing. I am such a Philistine, I may as well be from Philistia. I say this not to boast (I’m frankly a little ashamed), but so you understand my approach to the documentary “Louder Than a Bomb,” a film about high school poets. And that approach was this: an open mind and complete and total disinterest. So if this movie can win me over, it can win anyone over.

This movie won me over.

And, yes, much of these kids’ poetry is good; some of it very good, some of it transcendently good. But even before I connected with their words, I connected to their struggle, which is a universal one for kids of a certain affliction, namely awkwardness, sensitivity, empathy, a love of art, and all the assorted other characteristics that make certain kids outsiders. Some of the teenagers in the film come from privilege, others from poverty. But they all share the same passion to find their voice and their place in the world. I could relate to that. I never wrote poetry in high school — other than that really awkward one about Spider-Man written from the perspective of his identical clone — but I could relate to that.

The film’s structure will look familiar to anyone who’s seen “Spellbound,” “Wordplay,” or any of the other recent documentaries about the fascinating and sometimes eccentric personalities that coalesce around unusual intellectual competitions. In this case that competition is Louder Than a Bomb, the world’s largest high school poetry slam contest. Directors Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs focus on four students from four different high schools battling for top prize, exploring their lives and motivations and then follow their journey through said competition. I don’t know how they found this topic or selected their subjects, but they did a phenomenal job. These kids are brilliant, charming wordsmiths, passionate performers and wise beyond their years.

My favorite was Nate Marshall, who truly embodies LTAB’s philosophy that “the point is not the points; the point is the poetry.” Marshall, from “as South as you can possibly be” in South Chicago, in a neighborhood where he can stand in one place and point out the places where he’s been jumped, has spent six years competing in poetry slams, not for the adulation or thrill of victory, but for the sheer love of the art form. Now in his senior year of high school, Marshall worries less about his chance to finally win Louder Than a Bomb than instilling his passion for and knowledge of slam in the next generation of poets at his school, Whitney Young Magnet High. In the way that he generously gives to others, cares for his family, acts as surrogate father or big brother or uncle for whoever needs him, and expresses himself with beauty and clarity, Marshall is an mensch. I’ve got maybe a dozen years on this kid and sat watching him in this film, jaw dropped, eyes moist, thinking to myself, “I want to be Nate Marshall when I grow up.”

I would bet that most people who see this film will feel a similar way. My only critique of Siskel and Jacobs’ work would be their time management. Any slam poet knows pacing is key, and Siskel and Jacobs’ isn’t always ideal. They follow four high schools, but they lose a couple of them for long stretches of the film. Their clear favorites are Lamar Jordan and the rest of the team from Steinmetz High, who channel their experiences living in a rough neighborhood into poems of startling ferocity. I suppose the Steinmetz team is the most cinematic — they suffer from the worst bouts of writers’ block and have the most intense battles with their coach — but they also seem to unbalance what begins as an ensemble film. The young men and women of Steinmetz are fantastic, but I would have liked to have seen more of Nate Marshall, Nova Venerable from Oak Park and River High (who uses poetry to release all of her rage about her alcoholic father and to share all of her love about her diabetic, autistic brother), and Adam Gottlieb from Northside Prep (an ebullient personality with another wise-beyond-his-years perspective on life).

A full half of this 100 minute movie takes place during the various rounds of Louder Than a Bomb. Siskel and Jacobs’ approach isn’t overtly cinematic — there aren’t tons of angles or quick cuts or elaborate camera movements — but the poets and poems themselves are. As I listened to these teenagers express themselves, I realized how rarely you get to hear a poet read their own work outside the world of poetry slams. Even for someone as allergic to poetry as I am, it felt like a privilege to get to witness that, and to see young people take the disadvantages they’ve been handed by life and flip them into advantages.

That’s what Nate and the rest of his peers do. And they do it not to win, but to inspire and be inspired. Some of the characters are more obsessed with winning than others, but by the end they all realize the friendships they’ve made and art they’ve witnessed transcends where they placed in the competition. Remember, at Louder Than a Bomb the point is not the points, the point is the poems. In “Louder Than a Bomb,” poems aren’t the point either. The point is the poets.

“Louder Than a Bomb” opens Wednesday in New York City.

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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.