“A Scanner Darkly.”

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"Does it see into me?"
Richard Linklater‘s "A Scanner Darkly" captures the bleary, jittery feel of a sleep-free three-day bender so well that it’s often remarkably unpleasant to watch — the rotoscoped animation style Linklater first used in 2001’s "Waking Life" (another one we found unpleasant to watch, for different reasons) has been refined to something close enough to lifelike to be constantly disconcerting. The animation renders the actors slightly exaggerated versions of themselves — Keanu Reeves, as Fred, an undercover cop investigating a drug ring, is all cheekbones and under-eye circles in closeup, while from further away his five o’clock shadow hovers over his face, a smear of grey-brown; Winona Ryder is practically a floating pair of too-wide eyes; Robert Downey Jr. seems so wired he almost quivers…well, that’s not such a novelty — and, intentional or not, the very walls and floors tremor slightly. Perspective is off.

We’ve never read the Philip K. Dick novel on which the film is based. By most accounts, the film follows it closely, which is interesting because it seems like such a vintage Linklater stoneresque flick, if one wedded to a particularly grim sensibility and weighted with sci-fi trappings. It’s the near future — we’re told that 20% of the population is addicted to Substance D, a new designer drug, and law enforcement is scrambling to figure out where it’s coming from, while the government has contracted a private firm, New Path, to run rehab centers for the overwhelming flow of addicts, most of whom develop severe neurological problems from the drug. Fred works in a department in which all of the officers wear "scramble suits" to obscure their identity when they’re not working undercover — only the higher-ups seems to know who’s working on which case. Fred’s alter-ego is Bob Arctor, a D addict living in a run-down house with two others, Barris (Downey) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson), and sometimes dating Donna (Ryder), a dealer he’s ostensibly trying to investigate. Reeves, Downey and Harrelson are a kind of grand triumvirate of druggy actors, and their scenes together are surprisingly funny, if claustrophobic and meandering: conversations are endless and circular, epic illogic reigns. Fred doesn’t seem to be making much headway in his investigation, possibly because he’s been asked to focus it on Bob Arctor — himself.

What does D do, exactly? We seem to only see the accumulating side effects, though there must be some initial appeal to it, before the hallucinations and paranoia and separation of the two sides of the brain. Despite the film’s broad dystopian themes and hints at a nation poisoned and crumbling from within, we never get far beyond the circle of burnouts we’re introduced to in the beginning, just as they can’t seem to tear themselves out of each other’s orbit. If anything, the sci-fi aspects of the story serve as fulfillment of any addict’s worst paranoid delusions — that you really are being watched, that your ramshackle house really is wired with the latest in undetectable technology, and that somewhere nearby your every move really is being pored over by a bevy of government agents.

It’s hard to feel much about "A Scanner Darkly" — as a gloomy mood piece, it’s interesting but forgettable, too emotionally remote to leave much of an impact. This is the first Dick novel (as opposed to short story) adapted into a film in the US since "Blade Runner," and, like most of his novels, the film struggles with balancing arresting ideas with a believable world. When the film suddenly accelerates toward an ending whose outcome you’ve probably already guessed, it’s both jarring and implausible — come on, really? Surely the grounded (if stylishly depicted) despair seeping out of everything that came before is worth more than such an artless, portentous end?

Opens today in limited release.

+ "A Scanner Darkly" (Official site)


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…


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. 


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

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.


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.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



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.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.