LL Cool J’s acting career.

LL Cool J’s acting career.  (photo)

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In a startling public relations gaffe, a Fox News spokesperson responded to LL Cool J’s unwillingness to have an interview from two years ago reappropriated for Sarah Palin’s new show with this snippy self-righteous rejoinder: “as it appears that Mr. Smith does not want to be associated with a program that could serve as an inspiration to others, we are cutting his interview from the special and wish him the best with his fledgling acting career.”

This would sting if it were remotely true. Fortunately for us, it’s not. Though LL Cool J (formerly James Todd Smith) is currently stuck on the CBS procedural “NCIS: Los Angeles” alongside far less compelling ’90s casualty Chris O’Donnell, at least the show pulls in 17.82 million viewers on average, which isn’t shabby at all. In any case, it’s not like LL got the film parts he deserved — but he is, as it happens, the single most successful male-rapper-turned-actor. (Queen Latifah, it seems, is the single most successful.) It’s kind of a tricky success — Tupac gave several highly-praised performances before his untimely death, so who knows? — but LL Cool J will not be getting any competition soon from Snoop Dogg (who mostly coasts on his persona, as in Huggy Bear in “Starsky and Hutch”) or the rock-bottom muttering of 50 Cent, and he’s genuinely fun and game.

I don’t know how much of LL Cool J’s chops have to be coached relentlessly: one Aaron Speiser, an LA acting teacher, apparently spends a lot of time helping him on the set (he’s credited as his coach on most of his credits from 1999 onwards), although that mostly suggests the man takes this acting stuff very seriously indeed.

There are three performances of his that stand out in my mind. Despite a supporting part in 1991’s “The Hard Way,” it’s in “Toys” that he really came into his own. It’s hard to maintain your dignity when you first appear as camouflaged sofa cushions, but he pulled it off. In a movie where Michael Gambon and Robin Williams seem to be having a competition to see who can mug harder — and where the spectacular production design is upstaging everyone — he walks away with the movie.

03312010_deepbluesea.jpgBut his ultimate partnership came in two collaborations with Renny Harlin: 1999’s “Deep Blue Sea” and 2004’s “Mindhunters,” two spectacularly entertaining and knowing pieces of deliberate trash. Harlin’s an above-average craftsman when it comes to shot composition and edits, which makes him the perfect person to make stupid movies about genetically modified sharks and whatever “Mindhunters” was about besides Rube Goldberg machines that kill people. These are seriously entertaining movies, in both of which [SPOILER] Cool J survives the high body count. Harlin must really dig him.

“Deep Blue Sea” gets the edge though: arguably, the whole movie stages an argument about black self-identity between Cool J and Samuel L. Jackson that isn’t even all that subtle. Early on, Cool J chews out Jackson for doing dangerous stuff like mountain climbing when he should focus on being a black entrepreneur/role model. If you remember what happens to Jackson later on, you’ll see who wins that fight, though Cool J’s last line (“Take me back to the ghetto”) seals the deal: after you survive the sharks, the hood’s no big deal.

It seriously took a movie about genetically modified sharks to get Cool J to get all meta on his image as a successfully self-promoting/crossover approved black man always acutely aware of his race and status. Which is awesome.

[Photos: “NCIS: Los Angeles,” CBS, 2009-present; “Deep Blue Sea,” Warner Bros., 1999]


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.