Seven actors who deserve better.

Seven actors who deserve better. (photo)

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We’ve all had this experience before — you go to a movie and an actor you’ve never heard of totally blows you away.

You expect to see more of him or her, then years go by and you see the movie again on TV and realize you have no idea what happened. (Like, say, almost everyone in “Dazed and Confused.”) This happens all too often — here’s a just-barely-scratching-the-surface list of seven performers of recent years who deserve better than their current career purgatories.

03222010_master.jpgPaul Bettany

For a little while, Paul Bettany‘s career was going in a direction that made sense. He played straight man to Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” and “Master and Commander: The End of the World.” They had an easy, unforced chemistry that suggested years of companionship. Meanwhile, on his, own, Bettany entered the American cinema naked in “A Knight’s Tale” and was suitably supercilious in “Dogville.” But for some reason, shortly thereafter Bettany’s career went to hell — January 22 saw the simultaneous release of “Creation” (about Darwin) and “Legion” (theologically fuzzy archangel brawl), two equally defective sides of the religious debate. Next down: “Priest,” with Bettany tracking down vampires. Lesson learned: dramatic failure equals semi-religious fanboy resurrection?

03222010_heathers.jpgWinona Ryder

Once, Winona Ryder made a tacit deal with the American public to be the go-to alterna-chick, embodying all layers of the high-school strata from pissed-off goth (“Beetlejuice”) to perky cheerleader queen (“Edward Scissorhands”), with stops at “Heathers” and “Mermaids.” She also tried to sum up Gen X’s ambivalence in “Reality Bites” and auditioned with Salinger monologues; she was alienated slacker America. Eventually she drifted from weak, personality-suppressing parts (“Mr. Deeds”) to non-entity indies (“The Darwin Awards”). Despite a strong turn in “A Scanner Darkly,” her cameo as Spock’s mom in “Star Trek” was mostly disorienting. That Darren Aronofsky promises to do (with the upcoming “Black Swan”) for her what he did for Mickey Rourke’s career speaks volumes about how fast she fell, and how unjustifiably.

03222010_enid.jpgThora Birch

Like fellow “American Beauty” co-stars Wes Bentley and Mena Suvari, Birch’s rise and fall from prominence went by shockingly fast (though at least, unlike Bentley, she didn’t succumb to crippling heroin use). Dark and poised, Birch’s flawlessly bratty turn in “Ghost World” should’ve assured her place on the A-list. Instead, she ended up in “Dungeons & Dragons” and has appeared in two Lifetime movies. (One possible reason for her career problems: her dad, who… well, just read it.) Her appearance in the 2002 Moby video below (“We Are All Made of Stars”) reminds us of a time when people could recognize Kato Kaelin on sight, and Thora Birch was right on par. But hey, Dave Navarro’s still with us!

03222010_lyle.jpgThomas Haden Church

Long-suffering comic trooper Thomas Haden Church has been doing yeomen work for a long time now — six years on the sitcom “Wings,” consistent hilarity regardless of how shoddy the vehicle (“George of the Jungle,” “All About Steve,” “Imagine That”), injecting real pathos and humanity into places where it was unwelcome (“Spider-Man 3”). He’s even briefly done the awards-season comeback/reinvention (“Sideways”). Despite this, it seems that Church’s mellow but surprisingly versatile overgrown-blowhard act — Ron Burgundy without the non sequiturs — keeps getting written off as not that valuable. But he’s the real thing and deserves better — let’s see if his starring turn in drama “Don McKay,” due out next month, will do anything for him.

0322010_ophelia.jpgJulia Stiles

The formidably severe Julia Stiles co-starred alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger in 1999’s “10 Things I Hate About You,” an effective above-average teen movie; both would eventually surpass her, which isn’t fair. Stiles knows how to be funny without ever breaking her frown, an asset that served her well; whether drunk booty-dancing or embodying Ophelia in the 2000 “Hamlet,” it worked. (That her dream in “10 Things” was to go to Sarah Lawrence was right on.) Then what (“Save The Last Dance” aside)? A series of uncomfortable romantic movies — “Mona Lisa Smile,” “The Prince & Me,” “A Guy Thing” — and undistinguished “Bourne” supporting parts. That said, casting her as the lead in an upcoming “The Bell Jar” adaptation makes sense — sadly, since it’s effectively a caricature of her range.

03222010_italianjob.jpgSeth Green

In some ways, Seth Green’s career thrives — he created “Robot Chicken” and is the voice of “Family Guy”‘s Chris Griffen, thereby assuring himself a firm place in the consciousness of stoners anywhere. Indeed, with his parts in the “Austin Powers” films and on TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Green’s well known to the two split halves of a generation. But — despite a terrific supporting turn in the worth-watching “Can’t Hardly Wait” and a credible sub-“Ocean’s” turn in “The Italian Job” — Green’s increasingly sporadic ventures into live-action film are unfailingly dismal (“Without a Paddle,” the “Scooby-Doo” movies, “Sex Drive” and, most recently, “Old Dogs”). Live-wire supporting comics aren’t as plentiful as they seem — and Green, with his running start in “Radio Days,” should’ve been a shoe-in.

03222010_laurabush.jpgElizabeth Banks

Though Elizabeth Banks is seemingly a generically pretty blond, to be slotted alongside Katherine Heigl, she’s got a distinctive personality — she played both Laura Bush and Paul Rudd’s long-suffering girlfriend (“Role Models”) in the same year, which are two different kinds of masochism that she successfully differentiated. But more commonly she’s stuck playing the boring blond, a waste of sharp timing that can be successfully applied to comedy or drama. Her comedic abilities seem thought-out rather than instinctual, and that can be an asset (as when outdoing Seth Rogen in “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”).

[Photos: “Dazed and Confused,” Universal, 1993; “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” 20th Century Fox, 2003; “Heaters,” Anchor Bay Entertainment, 1988; “Ghost World,” MGM/UA, 2001; “Hamlet,” Miramax, 2000; “The Italian Job,” Paramount, 2003; “W.,” Lionsgate, 2008]


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.