“Fair Game,” Reviewed

“Fair Game,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

While not as freshly ripped from the nonfiction bestseller list as “The Social Network,” Doug Liman’s “Fair Game” is another film that transmutes real life events to the screen before they’ve had an opportunity to comfortably settle into something more like our idea of the set past. Adding to that tension is the presence of big ol’ movie stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn as Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson, the CIA operative and former ambassador who were tossed around in the jetwash of our country’s rush toward war with Iraq. They’re playing shinier, smoothed-out versions of people who were part of a messy, ugly affair that unfolded on the smaller screens of cable news networks, and the story that screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth have assembled, pulled from Plame’s book “Fair Game” and Wilson’s “The Politics of Truth,” is a wobbly but initially captivating mix of streamlined, dramatized headlines and a Hollywoodized filling in of the blanks.

It’s in the latter mode that the fleetly directed film operates best and most comfortably, showing highly competent, highly coiffed covert agent Valerie on missions in Kuala Lumpur and Cairo, tracking down and bringing in possible informants with unflinching cool (“You have no idea what we can or cannot do,” she tells one, less a threat than a warning) — aspects of her past the real Plame obviously is not allowed to publicly discuss. Home in their comfortable DC house, her husband Joe wakes to her tossing in her sleep because of troubled dreams. At at dinner party with their friends, he gets into a fight with someone who asks him about, essentially, a Juan Williams scenario — how he’d feel if he saw nervous, praying Muslim men in traditional garb on his plane. We don’t see the exchange, in a nice touch, only Valerie chiding him for calling the man a “racist pussy” in the car ride home.

Valerie and Joe are struggling to fight the good fight, and trying to raise their children and hold together their marriage at the same time. Their knowledge and access to information can be a burden for both — Valerie because she can’t share it, Joe because of his impatience with others’ lack of it. As the story unfolds, the power of information and, more importantly, of choosing the information one prefers to pay attention to becomes central to the action. Because he was once stationed there, Joe is volunteered for a CIA mission to Niger to look into the reported purchase by Saddam Hussein of large amounts of yellowcake uranium. His report, that it seems highly unlikely, is less convenient to the White House (David Andrews standing in as a smirking Scooter Libby) than a contrasting one from another operative who insists a known purchase of aluminum tubes could only be for the manufacturing of nuclear weapons.

“Fair Game” draws a persuasive portrait of a Washington where national and self-interest are in constant collision, with people only willing to help others as long as it does nothing to get in the way of their own careers. There’s a distinct gap between the public record, coming by way of the talking heads that get characters’ occasional attention on TVs glimpsed in bars, airports and hotel gyms, and what we see happening in the halls of government buildings. Which may be why, when Valerie is outed by the Washington Post (the role journalists played in the affair is left in the background — there’s no doubt in the film that the act is direct retaliation for Joe’s editorials about Niger) and all doors are immediately shut to her, “Fair Game” runs aground.

While Joe fights for his and his wife’s credibility in the media, Valerie tries to come to terms with being shut out of the world she was so devoted to — working your way through an imperfect system, it seems, is better than not having access to it at all. After the well-earned, righteous anger on behalf of the wronged pair fades, their personal struggles and estrangement, with her choosing stoic silence while he takes on all comers, can’t help but seem meager in comparison to the urgency that came before. Watts and Penn are perfectly fine in their roles, but “Fair Game” starts not as a portrait of a working DC marriage but as something larger — when it closes in on the home life of the beleaguered couple, we’re just not as invested in whether the two can make things work. Having stingingly shown how we careened into a war without the evidence to justify it, “Fair Game” is undone by its own true story source material, which can offer little consolation or closure, an absence that’s sharper thanks to the slickness and scope of the story that’s preceded it.

“Fair Game” will open in limited release November 5th.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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