DID YOU READ

Actresses, actors.

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Serious Acting.
We’re still trying to sort out what irritated us so about Lynn Hirschberg‘s New York Times Magazine piece on Vera Farmiga and the difficulties of being a Serious Actress these days. There’s much to choose from, between the strange mythologizing of Meryl Streep and prudish head-tossing at celebrity and beauty. For instance, this:

Like Streep, who insisted on auctioning off all her designer costumes from “The Devil Wears Prada” for charity, Farmiga is wary of the red-carpet dress-up component of show business. Hollywood has always been the land of dreams, of gorgeous people in stunning clothes. But in the eras of Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and even Cher, Oscar gowns were not an opportunity for product placement. The red carpet has become another marketplace, and most of the top actresses today (Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Julianne Moore and others) sign lucrative advertising contracts with fashion or cosmetics companies. To a point, this kind of fame does help when courting the studios; studio executives are interested in brand recognition, as long as the brand is not too tawdry or disruptive. But even Kidman, with her Oscar, global name recognition and photo in nearly every issue of US Weekly, could not lure audiences to “The Stepford Wives” or “Bewitched,” two recent expensive studio flops. As an actress, Kidman was more interesting when she was less of a style icon. In a movie like “To Die For,” in 1995, she dissolved into the character of a ruthlessly aspiring TV personality. Now she has become too famous as Nicole Kidman to disappear fully into any other persona.

Yes, she must be punished, punished, PUNISHED for being the face of Chanel No. 5! Who would want those wicked trappings of fame? Hirschberg seems to want things both ways: Classical Hollywood stardom is dignified and thus fine, while the "new generation of female stars" "did not attend drama school" and therefore are "programmed for stardom rather than for acting," which is not fine — they could not possibly have ambitions beyond being red carpet bobbleheads. Hirschberg also writes that "[a]s recently as the 80’s, women were often the sole stars of mainstream studio movies like ‘Terms of Endearment,’ ‘Moonstruck’ and ‘Out of Africa’… But today, women in
mainstream films more often populate the margins as girlfriends,
mothers and wives, often with stereotypical personalities. Meryl Streep‘s challenging role as a Polish holocaust survivor in ‘Sophie’s Choice’ in 1982, to pick perhaps the most famous example, is an increasingly distant memory." Christ on a cracker, these must be dire times indeed if we’re yearning for the days of "Terms of Endearment" and "Sophie’s Choice"?

We’re not trying to poo-poo the idea of acting as a craft, but Hirschberg’s earnest stratification of actresses is simplistic and often silly. Unfortunate, because the lack of solid female lead roles (which is still not enough to make us wax nostalgic for 80s melodrama) is a topic that deserves some pointed discussion.

Meanwhile, Alice Fisher at the Observer pens a rather worshipful portrayal of Scarlett Johansson, who she sees as a starlet who’s handling celebrity the right (iconic) way:

If Scarlett Johansson can continue to land the roles that showcase her brains as well as her beauty, she really will be in with a shout of being the modern-day equivalent of the golden Hollywood sirens. Wowing crowds at film festivals is one thing; a true screen icon requires a little more.

Charles McGrath in the New York Times deconstructs the recent evolution of Jodie Foster‘s increasingly tough on-screen persona, culminating in his set visit to the now-filming "The Brave One":

A scene filmed over a couple of sweltering nights under the Macombs Dam Bridge, on the edge of Spanish Harlem, called for her to comfort a drugged-out teenage prostitute in the back seat of a shabby pimpmobile and then, when things turned ugly, to blow the pimp away. The prostitute was not much older, come to think of it, than the one Ms. Foster played in "Taxi Driver," 30 years ago, and now here was Ms. Foster turning into a kind of Travis Bickle.

On to the men. Stephen Hunter at the Washington Post finds something essential lacking in today’s action heroes. Regarding John Wayne‘s Ethan Edwards in "The Searchers"

He had something else as well, and it’s the missing ingredient from today’s movies: He knew it was all right to be hated. Hollywood historian David Thomson once called Wayne "the crown prince of difficult men." The stars of his generation knew that the price of heroism, of domination, of certitude, of command, was loneliness — or possibly, since they were so disconnected from their emotions they’d never acknowledge such a thing — aloneness.

Michael Thornton at the Daily Mail writes about Laurence Olivier and how "Olivier’s bisexuality has been subject to denial, prejudice and an extraordinary kind of censorship." Of course, the only remedy is to rattle off all kinds of juicy anecdotes:

In 1950, when the Oliviers returned to Hollywood for Vivien [Leigh] to film her Oscar-winning role as Blanche du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire, opposite Marlon Brando, David Niven walked into the garden of their Hollywood mansion and discovered: ‘Brando and Larry swimming naked in the pool. Larry was kissing Brando. Or maybe it was the other way around.

"I turned my back to them and went back inside to join Vivien. I’m sure she knew what was going on, but she made no mention of it. Nor did I. One must be sophisticated about such matters in life."

Mary McNamara at the LA Times takes on Ben Affleck‘s career as it parallels George Reeves  (sans mysterious untimely death, at least thus far):

Though Affleck’s career and, one hopes, mental health have never sunk as low as Reeves’, there is a certain poignancy in the role choice and the performance. The actor’s own salad days — the Butch and Sundance partnership with Matt Damon, the 1998 Oscar win, the magazine covers, the breathless universal interest in what he would do next, whom he would date next — have been over for quite some time.

And David Thomson at the Independent writes that Tom Cruise‘s problems had nothing to do with the crazy, or the religion, and everything to do with the universal plague of actors and actresses everywhere: "[I]n the history of Hollywood box office very few people – men or women – have had their best days still to come at the age of 44."


+ A Film of One’s Own
(NY Times Magazine)
+ The classiest act in Hollywood (Observer)

+ On These Mean Streets, Going a Little Travis Bickle (NY Times)
+ The Lost Action Hero (Washington Post)
+ Larry gay? Of course he was (Daily Mail)
+ Don’t call him a movie star (LA Times)
+ Film Studies: You’re risky business, Tom (Independent)

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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.