DID YOU READ

Disc Covering: “The Stranger,” Steve Austin stuns Camus (or not).

Disc Covering: “The Stranger,” Steve Austin stuns Camus (or not). (photo)

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Two men fueled pro wrestling’s comeback in the mid- and late ’90s. But while Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the younger and prettier of the pair, made a smooth transition to the world of movies, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin floundered. He was five years behind Johnson in getting his own starring vehicle, 2007’s “The Condemned,” a particularly appropriate title given what’s happened to Austin’s film career since. Now he’s gone straight-to-DVD with the title role in “The Stranger,” which, frustratingly, has absolutely no relation to the Albert Camus novel.

It’s not even inspired by the Billy Joel song. Instead, it’s a riff on “The Bourne Identity,” yet another tale of a former government operative with flashy fighting skills and no memory of how he got them. The filmmakers better hope their audience have as bad a memory as Austin’s character, otherwise they’re going to realize very quickly just how much of a rehash this film is.

0622010_disccovering4.jpg“The Stranger” (2010)

Directed by Robert Lieberman

Tagline: His Past Was Taken. His Vengeance Is Fueled.

(Question: What does the second half of that tagline mean? Shouldn’t it be “His Fuel is Vengeance?” How can vengeance be fueled? And by what? Is vengeance Austin’s badass nickname for his car or something?)

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: Steve Austin plays a former FBI something-something who keeps forgetting his (Bourne) identity while running from the law and the mob.

Biggest Success: The quality of Steve Austin’s performance as the Stranger is a very pleasant surprise. We’ve seen this story before, but Austin treats it like the most original and dynamic narrative ever invented by man. By being so invested, he proves himself an honest-to-goodness actor and not just a one-trick pony badass.

Pro wrestlers have to be able to tell stories with their bodies. Austin’s physicality is wonderfully expressive, from his wounded eyes to his perpetually balled-up fists. Not surprisingly, he has no trouble pulling off the character’s violent side. But beneath his tightly clenched exterior, there’s a wounded quality to the Stranger that Austin really nails by drawing on impressive depths of confusion and regret. Let’s hope this film portends better things for Austin’s film career, starting later this summer with his supporting role in Sylvester Stallone’s machismopalooza “The Expendables.”

Biggest Failure: If Austin’s performance is a major surprise, Adam Beach’s performance is a major disappointment. In “Flags of our Fathers,” Beach proved himself capable of really outstanding work. In “The Stranger,” he proves himself incapable of hiding his contempt for a role that’s clearly beneath his talents.

06222010_disccovering2.jpgSome actors have a gift for The Schlock Movie Poker Face. The greatest of all time belonged to Vincent Price, who would have sooner eaten his own foot than let on that a movie he was in wasn’t exactly an top-notch entertainment. Beach, on the other hand, doesn’t just look disinterested in his role, he looks actively disappointed. It’s like a fighter taking a really obvious dive: the shame of not giving his best is written all over his face. I don’t disagree that Beach deserves better roles than FBI Agent Mason Reese. But so does Austin, and he’s giving this thing everything he’s got. Beach should have done the same.

Best Moment: Lost in a fugue state, the Stranger goes to a telephone booth at a gas station and calls the only number he can think of: his psychiatrist, Dr. Grace Bishop (Erica Cerra). After a few mumbled remarks, he hangs up and leaves, but not before he’s observed by a man filling up his car at one of the pumps. Bishop tracks the Stranger’s call to the station, and follows him there. When she arrives hours later, she’s able to pick up his trail immediately because the same dude who saw the Stranger is still there filling up his car! Does his car have a record-breakingly large gas tank? Or maybe a record-breaklingly low miles-per-gallon rating? Technically, this shameless narrative shortcut may be “The Stranger”‘s worst moment, but it’s also its funniest.

Special Features: Besides a trailer, the only extra on “The Stranger” disc is a brief behind-the-scenes featurette. My favorite quote comes from director Ron Lieberman who says, “To me, it was important that it made sense.” Everything except the guy who hangs out all day and night at that gas station.

In his interview, Austin states that the film’s limited budget gave no extra time to plan and memorize fight choreography, so each action scene had to be invented and staged on set, making “The Stranger”‘s competent action beats an even more impressive accomplishment.

06222010_disccovering3.jpgWorthy of a Theatrical Release: Nope. While Austin brings an interesting quality to the character, the character doesn’t bring an especially interesting quality to the movie. Jason Bourne may have been a tabula rasa, but he had a clearly defined goal. “Memento”‘s Leonard Shelby may have been a amnesiac, but he always remembered that his wife was raped and murdered, and he was always trying to avenge her death.

This Stranger guy is simply a wanderer, hopping from one identity to the next with no direction and, most importantly, no purpose. He’s got information that Beach and Cerra want buried in his head somewhere, so technically the film should really focus on their characters, but their concerns are basically window-dressing for 90 minutes of competent action beats and some decent hunted-animal acting from Austin without any sense of forward momentum.

And that’s the bottom line. And to Steve Austin, I’d just like to say: Don’t be afraid to try again. Everyone goes south, every now and then.


For Further Viewing: Watch as Austin invents his Stone Cold character at King of the Ring 1996. Promos like this legendary one transformed his profane arrogant villain character into a profane, arrogant hero character, one of the most popular in wrestling history, all through the sheer force of Austin’s charisma.

[Photos: “The Stranger,” Anchor Bay Films, 2010]

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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.