DID YOU READ

Disc Covering: “Enemies Among Us,” starring Billy Zane… sort of.

Disc Covering: “Enemies Among Us,” starring Billy Zane… sort of. (photo)

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The top-billed star in 1978’s “Superman” wasn’t the guy who played Superman, Christopher Reeve. It wasn’t even Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. It was Marlon Brando, playing Superman’s father Jor-El for about ten minutes in a two and a half hour movie. That works out to the star of the film appearing on screen for just 7% of the runtime. That was always my gold-standard of disproportionate credits… until I watched this week’s selection from our new direct-to-DVD column: “Enemies Among Us,” which “stars” Billy Zane in what is basically a glorified cameo.

According to my completely unscientific calculations, the top-billed Zane appears onscreen for just three and a half minutes of this seventy-five minute movie, between 4 and 5% of the runtime. He has just one long scene; long relative to his other appearances, which are brief pop-ins during the opening credits and a pre-end credits montage. He has less than 20 lines. That’s like Bill Murray getting top billing for his one scene in “Zombieland,” or selling “The Hurt Locker” as a movie starring Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes.

Before I forget, that brings us to BAD SIGN THAT YOUR MOVIE IS GOING STRAIGHT TO DVD #2: It stars Billy Zane. Somehow this guy went from headlining comic book movies and playing the deliciously oily villain of the biggest movie of all time to making his living entirely in the world of direct-to-DVD. The last time I remember even seeing Zane in a theatrical release was his cameo as himself in “Zoolander.” That was almost nine years ago. How did this happen? Is he impossible to work with? Does he have outrageous salary demands? Does God hate Billy Zane?

I just don’t know. Then again, Zane just made more money for three and a half minutes of screentime than a lot of folks make in a year. So it’s not all bad. Let’s get to the movie.

06012010_enemiesofthestatedvd.jpg“Enemies Among Us” (2010)
Directed by Dan Garcia

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: The corrupt governor of Louisiana kills a hooker-slash-assassin; a morally conflicted cop debates whether or not to cover it up.

Salable Elements: The aforementioned Zane, plus supporting (but far larger) roles by Eric Roberts and Robin Givens and one impressive shot of a car exploding.

Biggest Success: “Enemies Among Us” achieves the sort of timeliness that only happens by chance. The film establishes the corruption of Louisiana Governor Chip Majors (James DuMont) at a press conference where he boasts that his state has “for years been a pioneer in off-shore drilling” and announces a new Aphrodite drill platform. Later, a reporter presses an equally slimy Presidential candidate about “cozy relationships with Big Oil that have cost this nation dearly.” Writer/director Dan Garcia is maybe the only guy benefiting from the BP oil spill. Without it, these references would look as shamelessly didactic as the rest of his attempts at topicality, which include characters motivated by mortgage foreclosures, and bankruptcies, and subplots about waterboarding and campaign finance violations. This is a movie about police officers, government officials, journalists, homemakers, terrorists and intelligence agents who all talk exactly the same: like indignant political pundits.

Biggest Failure: Besides the film’s inability to deliver on the promise of Billy Zane in a prominent role? That would be the film’s inability to go more than a scene without at least one brazenly cliched bit of dialogue. There’s too many to pick just one example, so let’s pick five favorites:

06012010_enemies3.jpg5)“I’m gonna kick ass and take names!” Rowdy Roddy Piper was making fun of this line back in 1988. That was 22 years ago. Piper’s line from “They Live” can legally drink now. Time to update this one.

4)“If it blows up, it’s on you!” You know why I hate corrupt cops? No sense of personal responsibility.

3)“I got some very important therapy for your sexy ass.” How many times have we heard this one before? Okay, never. But it’s such a hilarious line — especially coming out of the mouth of dirty cop Eric Roberts — that I had to figure out a way to include it in this piece. I know you’ll understand.

2)“I– I– I can explain!” Yes, it’s a little of the old wackety-schmackety, as Louisiana State Police Officers Taylor (Griffin Hood) and Cobbs (Roberts) walk in on Governor Majors as he strangles a prostitute to death. But it’s not what it looks like! You see the prostitute — that Majors has apparently visited with on numerous occasions — is actually an assassin-for-hire, working with a cabal of other mercenaries who have been hired by North Korea to kill Majors. Majors, in other words, has very bad taste in prostitutes. To his credit, that does sort of explain things, though it still doesn’t square why Majors would take time out from what he describes as “the biggest day of my life,” securing endorsements and campaign donations from wealthy elites, to sleep with a hooker.

1)“This is so far above your pay grade you can’t even imagine!” Movie heroes are always working above their pay grade. Just once I would like someone in a movie to adequately paid for the job they’re required to do. “It’s a good thing you’re here Johnson! This a job that calls for someone of your job description and approximate wage.”

06012010_enemies2.jpgBest Moment: Eric Roberts, responding to an offer of a bribe in exchange for disappearing the dead prostitute’s body, by making this face:

A close runner up to The Eric Roberts Surprise Face in the Best Moment category comes from Robin Givens, playing a cruel CIA agent who tortures a guy for information for the entire film, threatening her interrogation subject by randomly telling him “You leave me no option! You have wasted my time! Do you realize that I have missed an entire season of ‘Ugly Betty?'” That one was so out of left field, I actually made the Eric Roberts Surprise Face myself.

(By the way, nobody tell Robin Givens that “Ugly Betty” is canceled. There’s really no telling what she could do. We’re just now patching up our relations with the countries of the Middle East; we don’t need anymore war atrocities.)

Worthy of a Theatrical Release: Definitely not. The tired dialogue is really just the tip of the iceberg of “Enemies Among Us”‘ problems, including bad effects, go-nowhere subplots, and camera shots and angles that are, at best, poorly chosen, and, at worst, totally out of focus. It’s also not entirely clear who this movie is about: with the headliner nowhere to be seen, the de facto protagonist becomes Hood’s Officer Taylor, who the movie at least tries to give a backstory (his sister has breast cancer and needs money for treatment, which gives him a reason to seriously consider the governor’s bribe offer). The character with the most scenes, though, is actually the villain, Governor Majors, and there’s also a lengthy (and narratively irrelevant) “60 Minutes”-style interview with a powerful senator (Steven Bauer). This movie needs characters who make conversation, not points. And at least one of them should have been played by Billy Zane.

For Further Viewing: One YouTube user’s tribute to the greatness of The Zane. It’s a minute longer than his entire contribution to “Enemies Among Us.”

[Photos: “Enemies Among Us,” Phase 4 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.