State of Decline

State of Decline (photo)

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It’s a measure of the smarts at work in “State of Play” that while none of the characters’ motives are clean, the movie never lapses into cynicism. This tense, cleanly made thriller, directed by Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”), plays off the faux scandals of the Clinton years (the Lewinsky affair) and the genuine outrages that occurred under Bush (contracting mercenaries to fight in Iraq) and says that what remains of the press is no longer able to tell the difference between real news and fake news.

The plot takes off with the seeming suicide of a young congressional aide. It’s quickly discovered that the dead woman was having an affair with her boss, a rising congressman (Ben Affleck) who’s holding hearings on the government’s business dealings with a company that supplies mercenaries. Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), a reporter for a high-profile Washington paper, was the congressman’s college roommate, and what begins as advice to his friend on how to weather the scandal quickly turns into an investigation that connects the dead girl to a double murder and all three deaths to the mercenary merchants under investigation.

The real subject of “State of Play,” though, is the death of newspapers. In the movie’s view, the 24-hour news cycle, the rise of the internet and corporate media takeovers have combined to make a perfect storm that will cripple journalism and give crooked pols and corrupt, murderous organizations a freer hand than they already have.

Cal is aided in his investigation by the paper’s young Beltway blogger Della Frye. In the role, Rachel McAdams seems to be playing a new archetype: the journalistic naïf who acts — and writes — as if she’s seen it all already. Anyone who’s been around a newsroom or magazine in the last few years has encountered Della: she’s the kind who combines an easily aroused — and thimble-deep — sense of indignation with the calculated instincts of the born careerist. Her copy is a mess of hearsay and selective facts, with nary of whit of reflection to temper any of it. McAdams uses her whippet-thin build and big eyes to great comic effect — she’s all hunger and ambition and certain that Cal is a dinosaur who can’t teach her anything. McAdams is even funnier when Cal arouses Della’s passion to be a real journalist. Every questionable shortcut Cal employs, every lie he instructs Della to tell to further the story causes her to channel her inner journalism student and complain that, well, that just isn’t ethical. She’s like the flustered virgin who realizes her boyfriend expects her to go all the way on prom night. It’s a terrific performance.

04142009_StateofPlay.jpgThere’s a slyness, too, in Crowe’s portrayal of Cal. I’ve never seen anyone get at the mixture of antiauthority conviction and traditionalism that defines most beat reporters, the fierce loyalty and the willingness to betray. With his shaggy hair, grad student wardrobe and the gut that years of sitting at his computer and snarfing junk food has gotten him, Crowe’s Cal is the type of talented pain in the ass who’s proud to be an anachronism, and Crowe, who understands wised up is not the same things as cynical, gets you immediately on Cal’s side. No one this sly is a saint, but Cal is the hero because, in a craft rapidly becoming an entry on a balance sheet, he’s one of the few left who gives a damn. And that’s what brings him into conflict with the paper’s editor, played by Helen Mirren.

Casting Mirren in the role is a particularly canny move. She’s one of those rare actors we expect to be entirely free of bullshit, and when we hear her berating Cal for passing up a cheap, gossipy and probably false story because the paper’s new corporate masters will expect her to have it and to have it first, it brings home just what dire straits journalism is in. If someone with the backbone of Helen Mirren can be swayed by the worms sliming their way into ownership positions, what hope is left?

Macdonald shows a real feeling for what the physical presence of actors brings to their role. As the party hack advising Affleck, Jeff Daniels uses his thickened build to convey a career of glad-handing corruption. And in a sensational performance as a sleazy young operator caught up in the scandal, Jason Bateman makes you feel as if his boyish face is being eaten away by the rot inside him. In her one scene, Viola Davis is, as usual, utterly believable, and as Affleck’s wife, Robin Wright Penn is free of the actressy manner that’s cluttered up her work in the last few years.


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.