“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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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