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Doing It to Death

Doing It to Death (photo)

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Smooth criminal or fragile humanitarian? Eternally childlike or mortally flawed? Black or white? Might not the late Michael Jackson have been all of the above? As for Kenny Ortega, the longtime MJ associate entrusted to whittle three-and-a-half hours of rehearsal footage down to less than two, he was obviously never going to be Barbara Kopple or Albert Maysles, much less Pedro Costa or Frederick Wiseman. But at least Ortega’s “This Is It” allows us to see the self-anointed King of Pop as a moonwalking mass of contradictions right to the end, which is about as much as one could reasonably want from a posthumous cash-in whose printed prologue rushes to praise MJ’s “passionate gift,” a work of literal deadline journalism whose stated responsibility is to “the fans.”

Still, for some — that is, roughly a smidgen of the zillions who’ll flock to “This” — as much as one could reasonably want will be more than they can bear. Driven to protect their late idol even after he’s gone, a subset of die-hards have boycotted the movie for presumably rewarding those close collaborators who didn’t do enough to save their heavily medicated and rail-thin boss between early March and June 25. As if addressing this very constituency, Ortega includes himself in the film asking Jackson — perturbed by a pesky headset whose sound is “like a fist in my ear” — whether there’s anything the crew can do for him, gently reminding the superstar that all he needs to do for help is ask.

However unintended, “This Is It” testifies to a truth older than “HIStory”: Faced with the untimely death of a loved one, the grief-stricken can find it more comforting to pin the tragedy on others (in this case, Ortega, et al.), even or especially when, on some level, the deceased could be said to have done it to himself. Another thing is more certain still: Fist in his ear, machine-gun blazing for “Smooth Criminal,” a digital army at his command in “They Don’t Care About Us,” the MJ of “This” is a man whose metaphors are exceedingly violent — at least until the world-healing finale, wherein we learn that the King of Pop loved trees, too.

Those teeming undead of “Thriller,” ordered by Jackson to terrorize the concert crowd in 3D, are nothing if not the artist’s personal demons, resurrected more or less intact from their first appearance in 1982 — when, it must be said, they appeared a helluva lot fresher. Supernatural energy he had, indeed, but the vision of nostalgia MJ mustered for his comeback shows looks exceedingly tired. No wonder his other notable metaphor — issued as an instruction to his keyboardist — likens the obligatory opening of “The Way You Make Me Feel” to “dragging yourself out of bed.”

So yeah, despite its salutary intentions, “This Is It” works plenty well as a psychological study of a pop star at or near the end of his microphone cord. The film’s unmistakable high point — it gave me goose bumps, to be honest — is MJ’s pained falsetto on a rough run-through of “Human Nature”: The singing is unspeakably beautiful, for starters, added to which is the poignancy of the lyrics, as human nature is obviously something the perfectionist performer often found difficult or impossible to emulate.

Beyond that haunting passage, no longer than a minute or two, “This Is It” generously accommodates one’s desire to view Jackson’s self-described “final curtain call” as, well, overwhelmingly pathetic — weird but never kinky, downright tacky in conception as well as costuming, and, above all, extremely familiar. Reprising even Bob Giraldi’s line-dance choreography for the “Beat It” video, Jackson seems to want to have shown that, at 50, he could do it exactly the same as he did it at 25 — as if art is an exercise in taxidermic (or surgical) preservation rather than a natural evolution, what you and I would consider human nature.

10272009_thisisit2.jpgIn all fairness to Ortega (or maybe it’s an insult, I don’t know), it should be said that his work on “This” had largely been done even before he entered the editing room. If Entertainment Weekly‘s recent curtain-peeling cover story is to be believed, a “team of editors” (or lawyers?) selected Ortega’s usable material from a whopping 120 hours of footage. A countless number of radically dissimilar films could’ve been sculpted out of that mountain; one can only fantasize about, say, Nick Broomfield’s brilliantly bottom-feeding cut, wherein the fans camped outside L.A.’s Staples Center are somehow implicated in the “murder.”

Maybe it’s even fairer to say that the great MJ documentary had already been made more than a decade ago — that is, “Living With Michael Jackson,” the prime-time network special-cum-all-access shocker that Martin Bashir amazingly delivered with at least some degree of his subject’s consent. The ultimate measure of Jackson’s combustible mix of vulnerability and control, resolved only through his death, “Living With Michael Jackson” (check the Internet for “showtimes”) stands as a pricelessly rare rebuttal of the formula by which celebrity docs amount to little more than products of carefully controlled PR. Maybe MJ, in that screening room in the sky, could begin to forgive Bashir for his guerrilla infiltration of Neverland and see “Living” as something valuably closer than “This” to the real deal.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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