When it comes to action movies, we could use less heart.

When it comes to action movies, we could use less heart. (photo)

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In an interview discussing his many, many unrealized projects with the AV Club last week, Triumph The Comic Insult Dog creator Robert Smigel moaned about studio demands to always know “Where’s the heart?” in his archly goofy, unrelentingly satirical scenarios.

“I refused to write movies with plodding, labored, forced moments that stood out,” he noted. “Now I think comedies have gotten a lot better,” citing the relentless absurdism of “Anchorman” as an example.

Nowadays, studios, in the absence of demanding comedies with heart, seem to have injected this regrettable sogginess into action films, drawing attention away from more vital matters like which expendable bad guy is about to get his ass kicked. I’m thinking, most recently, of the regrettable Jessica Biel in “The A-Team,” whose appearance drew unprecedented howls of derision each and every time she appeared on-screen at my screening. Rarely have I seen a mostly easily pleased crowd so clearly Not Having It.

Ms. Biel is not the greatest of thespians, but the protests had more to do with the fact that every time she’s on screen, Bradley Cooper’s required to tone down his sub-Ryan Reynolds act in favor of acting like an actual vulnerable human being. Specious nonsense! No one came to see that, not even the girlfriends in the audience.

06232010_ateam66.jpgOf course, the obligatory romantic sub-plot has always been with us, but it used to be more pro forma, the ritualistic female to be attained by whatever bad-ass was center screen. They certainly weren’t about to get all weepy about it.

Gushiness is a fairly recent development, something for which we can probably blame Tobey Maguire (who managed to make pining after Kirsten Dunst look realistic and heartfelt) and the widely noted aughts trend of the morally conflicted, emo superhero. This recent overdevelopment of the blockbuster heart muscle seems to work only when someone wildly over-qualified has been cast in the female part, who can underplay the role (like Gwyneth Paltrow in “Iron Man”), because these parts are always poorly written. (Which might account for the popularity of “Taken”: a Hard Man with no time for women yanks us back to the reactionary essence of the action movie.)

I was reminded of all this while watching the fine Steven Seagal film “Marked For Death,” currently available on Netflix Instant. This is the 1990 follow-up to “Hard To Kill,” which briefly took time out for Kelly LeBrock to put on her most low-cut dress and sleep with our ponytailed hero. The poster, attendantly, has her to Seagal’s left, clutching his arm and looking all “THIS IS MY MAN.”

The poster for “Marked For Death,” in contrast, gives us two Seagals — one in silhouette with a gun, and a full face glowering humorlessly, an accurate summary of what happens in the movie. Seagal shares all of three scenes with Joanna Pacula, who attempts to seduce him (flattering him by telling him it’s rare to meet a man like him who isn’t married, gay or “trying to find himself”), but he simply gets the information he needs and is on his way. Pacula is never seen again; after the final shooting, the movie’s simply over.

06232010_marked.jpgThis is not, perhaps, the most socially responsible attitude to take, but it is, nonetheless, preferable to the deep-breathing and worrying of, say, Jessica Biel. The sogginess of most action romances, in fact, is nothing more than a way to pad the running time without actually providing real chemistry or banter. Here’s wishing they would either make those roles less token and cynical and more fleshed-out (unlikely), or drop them entirely.

The absurdities of the post-“Anchorman”/”Adult Swim” comedy have gotten rid of the garbage that is the tiresome here’s-a-halfassed-concession-for-the-female-demo. Might it be too much to ask for a similar regression in the action genre? If you can’t do something well, why do it at all?

[Photos: “Anchorman,” DreamWorks Distribution, 2004; “The A-Team,” 20th Century Fox, 2010; “Marked For Death,” 20th Century Fox, 1990]


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.