DID YOU READ

Carrie Brownstein tells us all about the third season of Portlandia

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As you have probably heard, the new season of Portlandia kicks off tonight at 10/9c with back-to-back episodes. We talked to Portlandia star, writer and creator Carrie Brownstein about what to expect this season:

Hi Carrie, as you embark on season three, did you ever think Portlandia would make it this far?

We didn’t go into season one with any expectations for the show We made one episode, one season at a time. It’s a pleasant surprise that people are responding positively to our creative effort.

Does the show get easier to write?

It’s just as challenging if not more challenging and, honestly, we never want it to feel easy. I’m always skeptical of things that feel too facile.

This time we were interested in season long narrative arcs, like what we were seeing in our favorite shows like Homeland and Game of Thrones. We wanted more conceptual entities, more story based ideas, more about ‘Who are these people?’ and then ‘Which of these scenarios do they lend themselves to?’ We spend a lot of more time being deliberate about endings and really making sure that there is a story. Those are all basic tenets of good story writing, but when you’re doing a sketch you can get wrapped up in improvising, so this season we really worked on having story arcs and endings in place. We focused on building an infrastructure in which we could improvise because the dialog is mostly improvised. There were some growing pains, but we all feel like it paid off. There’s more opening for the audience to relate.

Who else is in your writers’ room?

Along with Fred and Jonathan, there’s Bill Oakley, who writes and also produces. Last season we worked with Karey Dornetto who was at Community, but now she is writing for The New Normal. So then Chelsea Peretti came in as a consulting writer. We would love to have her as a regular contributors.

What’s the Portlandia writers’ room like?

It’s pretty traditional. There’s a bulletin board with index cards and we put everything up on it. Sometimes an idea will become a line in a different episode or show up as a character trait. Sometimes will come up with full-fledged sketches and have to determine which character that sketch is for. The room ends up covered in index cards and you think the season is written, but then you realize there are no endings, nothing is fleshed out. There are just momentary rewards. Then we start organizing things by episode, get wraparounds, going off and writing individual scripts. It’s very collaborative.

As someone who hasn’t written for other television shows before, what was the learning curve like for you?

The first year I was nervous. I knew what the process would involve pitching.
Being in a band and writing a riff has a some of that. The first year we had Alison Silverman working with us, she was a writer for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and I kind of operated under her tutelage that year and she was wonderful and supportive and Fred and I had a great rapport. Jonathan had done some writing but neither he nor Fred had really written for their own shows before, so while there was a learning curve, we were all on a similar kind of starting point. We weren’t trying to emulate another show we had worked on, because none of us had really done that before. There was no other set of rules or infrastructure.

What’s the difference in the creative process between being in a band vs writing for Portlandia?

It’s easier to describe the ways that they are analogous. One person comes up with an idea and someone says, “What if instead of …” and it goes from there. It’s like you have a song and you come up with an album. There really are more similarities than differences. The way you add on ideas is kind of similar. The main difference with Portlandia is that we don’t finish something until it’s shot. There’s so much improvisation that the sketch isn’t finalized until it’s shot.

You don’t write dialogue?

We write some as placeholders, but 90% of the show is improvised. When Fred and I go into a scheme we climb this scaffolding, we know where to end up in the scene. The first season we didn’t have that and we would get lost in the scene and they would build a story out of what was essentially us throwing words at the wall. Now there’s improvisation, but we have a goal in every scene. We spend a lot more time writing and being very deliberate about endings and really making sure that there is a story. What we have learned from each season to season is that the characters have to have a relationship within their setting. We can’t just be a situation or a concept. We have to have a goal. There has to be stakes.

After season one’s now ubiquitous Put A Bird On It! and season two produced “We Can Pickle That!” did you feel any pressure to come up with a catch phrase for season three?

Absolutely not. We are a television show not a marketing company. We leave that to the audience to use their imagination. Everybody has a different relationship to the show and it’s such an individual experience. You can’t try to guess or determine what people will be drawn to beforehand. To do that is to limit yourself and take less risks. It’s not our job to push an idea or a phrase onto the audience. I don’t know if this season has a catchphrase, but it’s always surprising what people relate to. We’ve really worked on that scaffolding within the scenes and within the story, so that we know where to go as we improvise.

What character do you most enjoy playing?

Nance, who was in the first season at the cult farm and in the motorcycle sketch in the second season with Peter. This season they open up a bed and breakfast. They are very syrupy unctuous couple. Everything is very comfortable and cozy with them, but there is always a small vibration of tension and underlying acrimony and every once in a while it oscillates so quickly. I like vacillating between those two extremes. They are a fun couple to play. You see so many couples like that, who are so benign on the surface. Then Fred came up with this very strange stutter. We love writing for them. We spend a lot of time as Peter and Nance.

Which costume do you enjoy wearing the most?

Toni from the feminist bookstore. I don’t understand clothes that feel like a small apartment. There’s so roomy and ridiculous and strange. As unattractive as they are, they are a much bolder sartorial choices than I make on my own.

Do you have a favorite sketch from this upcoming season?

The birthday episode. It’s one single sketch, one theme, one event. I don’t love playing Lance, but I love Fred as Nina. I loved exploring the adult birthday and how gratuitous and strange that is. Riding in on a horse was weird. There were balloons. Just a stream of ridiculousness that I liked.

Back in season one when Kumail Nanjiani came on the show for the first time as a clerk, did you immediately know you wanted to make him a permanent resident of Portlandia?

He was just so awesome we kept inviting him back. He’s brilliant and he’s an amazing improviser and we were completely fine with him playing these characters who have the same objective, which is to flummox and confound whoever he is up against. We want him back all the time. He crops up a few more times this season.

Do you consider yourself a comedian?

No, no I don’t. I consider myself a writer.

Want the latest news from Portlandia? Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter@ifcPortlandia and use the hashtag #portlandia.

Portlandia returns to IFC tonight at 10/9c

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Mr. Roboto

5 Reasons Rocky IV Is Too Rotten to Miss

Catch Rocky IV Friday at 8P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: MGM/UA/YouTube

When Rocky IV was released in 1985, the critics were not kind. (While it wasn’t around back then, the film’s 39% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself.) Less of a movie than a jingoistic music video starring a robot and a steroid-addled, monosyllabic Russian baddie, Rocky IV is a far cry from the Italian Stallion’s humble origins.

Still, more than any movie ever made, it exemplifies the whole “so bad its good” genre. This movie was made for us, the great-unwashed masses of the 1980s, who loved the band Survivor and hated those Commie bastards. Before you catch Rocky IV on IFC’s Rotten Fridays, let’s take a look at some moments that make this flick a “too rotten to miss” classic.

5. That Opening Shot

Rocky IV
United Artists

It takes all of 30 seconds for the audience to know they’re in for one ridiculous rollercoaster ride through a Cold War conniption fit of good vs. evil. Gone is the subtle tone and grounded reality of the first Rocky. In its place we see two gloves, one emblazoned with the American flag, the other with the Soviets’, hurtling toward each other. When they collide, sparks fly, and we witness an explosion decades in the making.

In case the symbolism is too subtle for you, director/writer/star Sylvester Stallone is trying to hint that this movie will be the clash of civilizations we’d all been waiting for, but instead of nuclear bombs, a humble palooka from the streets would be duking it out in the ring with the ultimate representation of coldhearted Communism. If it were up to us, this opening shot would’ve won Best Picture all by itself.


4. So Many Montages

Rocky IV has a running time of 91 minutes and 20 seconds. Its eight montages (yes, EIGHT) run a total of 29 minutes and 10 seconds. That is one third of the movie solely dedicated to montages. (Considering Stallone’s contempt for all things Soviet, we have to wonder if he knows it was a dirty Ruskie who invented the montage.)

During one of the many, many montages, director Stallone actually flashes back to a scene that had happened a minute and half prior, creating the impression that he might actually flashback to the montage we were just watching in the same montage. Stallone clearly loves a good montage set to an inspirational ’80s song, and so do we. Which brings us to…


3. A Soundtrack Full of Pumped Up ’80s Jams

Speaking of montages, they are set to the score of some of the cheesiest hits from the mid-’80s. For once, we’re spared tracks from Frank Stallone, with Stallone replacing his rocker brother with synth-y singles from Survivor, John Cafferty and Kenny Loggins. And of course, Robert Tepper, possessor of an ’80s mullet that could topple empires, crooning “No Easy Way Out.” The music in this movie is one step away from being a parody of the music in this movie. If you ever want to know what cocaine can do to the human mind, just listen to this soundtrack.


2. Rocky Ends the Cold War

Rocky IV speech
United Artists

In one of the most misguided, self-congratulatory, and immediately dated moments in cinema history, good ol’ galoot Rocky Balboa single-handedly ended the Cold War four years before the Berlin Wall came down.

To quote the Italian Stallion himself: “In here…there were two guys… killing each other. But I guess that’s better than millions. What I’m trying to say is… if I can change… and you can change…everybody can change!” And just like that the Soviet public, generals and even the Premier himself rose to their feet in applause, realizing what fools they’d been. This guy beat Mr. T for Heaven’s sake. He knows what he’s talking about!


1. Paulie’s Robot

Okay, let’s all take a deep breath and really consider this for a moment. Rocky IV has a robot butler in it. A movie franchise that began back in 1976 exploring the gritty reality of a bum fighter trying to prove himself somehow limped along long enough to turn into a weak Short Circuit rip-off in which an alcoholic mooch with a history of domestic abuse now gets his coffee served to him by a robot. A robot that he has programmed with a “sultry” lady voice!

Stallone was inspired to include the real life robot Sico in Rocky IV because of the work it did to help autistic children like his son Seargeoh. That’s all very moving, but doesn’t explain why he decided to write a scene where Paulie dubs poor Sico “the love of my life.” It’s a testament to Rocky IV‘s “too rotten to miss” status that Paulie’s robot girlfriend/personal servant isn’t even the craziest thing that happens to Rock and the gang.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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Gray's Anatomy

Everything You Need to Know About the Movie That Inspired “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”

Brand new Documentary Now! airs Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom Pictures

This week Documentary Now! spotlights a master monologist with “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything.” Before you tune in at 10P this Wednesday on IFC, check out our guide to Swimming to Cambodia, the 1987 film that captured writer/performer Spalding Gray’s acclaimed one-person show.

Spalding Gray 101

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures

Actor and renowned monologist Spalding Gray spent two years on stage perfecting his Obie Award-winning “Swimming to Cambodia” monologue. In it, Gray tells the story of his eight weeks in Southeast Asia while shooting the 1984 Academy Award-winning movie The Killing Fields. He had a small role, but the experience gave him several anecdotes about hanging out with the film crew and experiencing the local culture, all while searching for “the perfect moment.”

Directed by the Silence of the Lambs Guy

Hannibal Lecter
Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

Acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Demme took Gray’s two-night, four hour performance and crafted it down to 85 minutes. His use of dramatic lighting, stylish camerawork and a score by performance artist Laurie Anderson was praised by critics and earned the film a cult following. No stranger to groundbreaking docs, Demme also directed the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which Documentary Now! pays tribute to in this season’s episode “Final Transmission.”

All about the Voices

While it may have been a one-man show, Gray created a repertoire of characters all with distinctive accents. (He portrayed conversations between himself and others just by turning his head.) Our favorite impressions are of his demanding girlfriend Renee and Ivan Strasberg, the South African director of photography on The Killing Fields who, as depicted by Gray, sounds a bit like a Jamaican surfer.

The Original Cranky New Yorker

In one memorable scene, Gray rants about how his noisy upstairs artist neighbors are driving him and Renee crazy. Even in the mid-’80s, there were New Yorkers complaining that the city wasn’t what it used to be.

Show and Tell

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures/YouTube

A big fan of visual aids, Gray used pull-down maps to illustrate his travels. This helped to bring Swimming to Cambodia to life, since he’s basically sitting at a desk the entire time.

Inspired One-Person Shows

Gray’s groundbreaking performances in Swimming and other documentaries like Monster in a Box and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Gray’s Anatomy (about Gray’s struggle with a rare eye condition) paved the way for future one-person shows. (We wouldn’t have everything from Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” to Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” without him.) Even Doc Now! star Fred Armisen got into the one-person show act for his recent SNL monologue.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Spalding Gray when “Parker Gail: Location Is Everything” premieres Wednesday, September 28th at 10P on IFC. 

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Burning Heart

10 Reasons Why Rocky IV Is the Ultimate Rocky Movie

Catch an all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC.

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Photo Credit: United Artists/Everett Collection

Sure, most people love the first Rocky for its heart, gripping boxing scenes and the classic training montage. Or, you might love Creed for being both a return-to-form and a new exploration of the Rocky mythology. Maybe the thrill of seeing Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in the same movie makes Rocky III your top pick. Well, sorry, you’re wrong: Rocky IV is the greatest of all the “Italian Stallion”‘s movies.

Before you watch the all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC (with Rocky IV airing at 8P as part of Rotten Fridays), check out a few reasons to appreciate the fourth installment as the king of the series.

1. The Greatest Opening Ever

How many openings are able to sum up the entire conflict of the film in less than a minute and without a single line of dialogue? And how many of those movies have exploding boxing gloves? Just try to watch the opening sequence above and not be completely psyched for the pumped-up flick to come.


2. Montages!

We all know that the best part of any sports movie is the montage, and Rocky IV doesn’t give you one measly montage. There’s a recap of the previous films montage, a getting to Russia Montage, two training montages and an ending fight montage. That’s five montages! There’s probably a montage of montages snuck in there, too.


3. There’s a Full James Brown Musical Number

This movie is so packed with memorable moments, it’s easy to forget one of the first things that happens in the film: Apollo comes out to fight Drago dressed as a shirtless Uncle Sam, while James Brown and a full band play “Living in America.” To drive home the number’s patriotism, there are dancers in tuxedos and top hats, weird unitards and bowler caps, and bedazzled showgirls with headpieces for miles. Oh, and don’t forget the giant tentacled dragon statue on the stage. This is how every boxing match should start. Heck, this is how we always want to enter a room.


4. The Soundtrack

The Rocky IV soundtrack doesn’t just feature James Brown — it has rock anthems galore, all of which make you immediately want to hit the gym. From “Heart’s on Fire” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band to “Sweetest Victory” by Touch to multiple Survivor jams, you’ll get pumped and stay pumped. Even the instrumental score rocks! Sure, sometimes it sounds like it was made on a kids Casio, but this soundtrack never quits and — to quote Robert Tepper — never takes the easy way out.


5. Abs!

Rocky IV weights

Every Rocky movie shows off Stallone’s incredible physique, but Rocky IV really ups the game. Not only do we get Dolph Lundgren mostly shirtless looking like a man machine, but we get a wide variety of scenes of Stallone doing impossible tasks. Stallone’s crazy dragon fly crunches, aka a thing no human should be able to do, automatically take this movie to the top.


6. Two words: Ivan Drago

Ivan Drago
United Artists

Not only does Rocky IV explore the global conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, but it encapsulates all of our fears of the Cold War in one perfect villain. Ivan Drago only trains with machines and science and looks like he stepped out of an Aryan Nations recruitment poster. He also only responds in short, cold phrases like “If he dies, he dies,” or “I must break you.” There’s never been a villain who we so clearly want to get the crap beat out of than Ivan Drago.


7. Rocky Makes Chores Look Badass

Rocky saw
United Artists

Rocky doesn’t need to be hooked up to machines to become the perfect fighter. All he needs are huge tires and some outdoor chores to do. No one’s ever looked cooler chopping wood and using tractor parts. Half of his training is lifting an old wagon, probably to fix a broken axle. If anything, this film inspires us to take care of that gardening work we’ve been neglecting.


8. Rocky’s Beard

Rocky IV Beard

Stallone’s beard game is truly on point in Rocky IV. And this isn’t some “I forgot to shave, here’s a little stubble” look. No, we get full out, lumberjack-style beard action. Does any other Rocky movie have our hero looking like an old Russian aristocrat? Another point for Rocky IV.


9. There’s a robot!

Again, there’s so much to Rocky IV, you probably forgot about the robot. Well, Rocky has some money now and he’s not going to spend it on frivolous things for himself. He’s going to buy Paulie a robot! The best part of this scene is how truly disturbed Paulie is by this new technology until he gives it a sexy lady voice.


10. Rocky Ends the Cold War

If you’re still not convinced that Rocky IV is the greatest, answer this question: Does any other Rocky movie bring peace between the US and Russia?

By the end of the film, Rocky rises up to beat the seemingly undefeatable Drago. He fights so well, that even the Russians begin to appreciate his skills. Then, instead of using his victory to prove America’s superiority, he gives a rousing speech of “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change!” The whole crowd goes wild, including all of the Russian government, who we assume give up Communism immediately based solely on Rocky’s words. Stallone’s call for international reconciliation through brutal fighting and a variety of montages makes this if not one of the greatest films of all time, certainly the greatest Rocky of them all.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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