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The Naughts: The Actress of the ’00s

The Naughts: The Actress of the ’00s (photo)

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If time is an avenger, then the Naughts have had it both ways with Nicole Kidman. In the span of a decade, Kidman was transformed from arm candy into an artist — the rare movie star who made genuinely interesting choices — eclipsing her ex-husband, Tom Cruise, who filed for divorce in 2000, with an Oscar win and the embrace, finally, of her peers on her own terms.

However, as the ’00s limp to a close, Kidman seems to be succumbing to a personal vendetta against time: by manipulating her face into a mask — a waxworks ideal of “Nicole Kidman” — rather than continuing to deploy it as a functional instrument, an artist’s tool, Kidman is taking perhaps the most surprising risk of her career: she has chosen to age into glacial iconicity. In this, she exemplifies a decade that treated actresses with ambivalence, waving all the flags of empowerment and agency at the post-Julia Roberts cohort, who wanted to have it all without having to play the charming prostitute, only to corral them into the same old pens: ingénue, mother, old maid.

Kidman, of course, showed signs of life during her pre-Naughts career, most notably in her 1989 breakthrough “Dead Calm,” and again in “To Die For” in 1995 and “The Portrait of a Lady” in 1996. Maligned as often for her mannered, on-screen frigidity as she was dismissed for her off-screen attachment to Herr Cruise, audiences gave her her due, particularly for her turn in the Van Sant film, a blackly comic media farce, but it was grudging, as though the director had tapped into a neat utility for Kidman’s innate chill and deserved most of the credit.

12042009_MoulinRouge3.jpgEven as a very young woman, Kidman had a particular savvy for directors, aligning herself with both established and up-and-coming innovators; if her own development seemed erratic through the ’90s, her taste in directors was more consistently inspired. By contrast, Kidman’s ex appeared to be on an artistic roll when he starred alongside his wife in 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” that seems to have ended only months later with his Oscar-nominated role in “Magnolia.” Looking back, it would seem that his most interesting roles were all chosen while he was with Kidman.

For her, not so much: in fact, Kidman’s first role of the decade, as the melancholy performer/courtesan Satine in Baz Luhrman’s “Moulin Rouge!,” doubled as a sort of emancipation announcement. Filmed during the split with Cruise, Kidman seemed to finally find an outlet for her talent, channeling her famously wintry form into affecting mystique, then contrasting that with a full commitment to the unabashed romanticism and goofy spectacle of Luhrman’s meta-musical. The restraint of her previous roles loosened noticeably; here was Kidman singing and dancing and believably falling in love — a triple threat that even her fans hardly suspected she had in her.

In 2001, she also starred in the psychological thriller “The Others,” working with then-29-year-old Alejandro Amenábar to create a portrait of a mother in the midst — perhaps — of a paranoid breakdown. It was the beginning of a dark period in the country; the terrain Kidman seemed compelled to explore was similarly bleak: although she had to give up the lead role in David Fincher’s “Panic Room” due to injury, Kidman took on the role of suicidal writer Virginia Woolf in 2002’s “The Hours.”

Her Oscar win for her portrayal of Woolf seems somewhat compromised by both the relative brevity of her screen time and the run of rewards (cf. Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball” and Charlize Theron in “Monster”) given out to beautiful women willing to ugly up on film in the early part of the decade. Still, the performance confirmed Kidman’s status as a major actress who could hold her own with Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, and as a major Hollywood player who would follow up her Academy Award-winning turn with three films in a single year — “Dogville,” “The Human Stain,” and “Cold Mountain” — that captured in microcosm the actress’ competing impulses.

12042009_Dogville.jpgBy accepting the lead role in Lars von Trier’s staid, electrifying morality play “Dogville,” Kidman furthered her commitment to working with volatile but essential directors, and in this case, submitted, quite literally, to von Trier’s strict vision of beauty as a burden and the casual conspiracies of violence and oppression just below the surface of “civilized” small-town society. With “The Human Stain,” Kidman indulged what seems to be a persistent tendency towards character roles, a need to disappear within an accent or a hairstyle at odds with her movie star genes. Her role as the mysterious janitor in this film (and that of a Russian mail order bride in “Birthday Girl”) work to the extent that Kidman has not developed a persona as strong as that of a star like George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, one that tends to overwhelm any part they’re in, and yet there is enough self-consciousness in Kidman to prevent her from pulling such roles off completely.

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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.