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“Boy A,” “The Unforeseen”

“Boy A,” “The Unforeseen” (photo)

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The British have a thing about underage sociopathy — we in the U.S. will puzzle and wonder as a culture about the latest school shooter or the very occasional death-metal bogus-ritual killing, but in tabloid-crazy England a news story of a child murdering a child pinches very powerful nerve endings, and the social wound of it is felt universally and lasts for years, if not indefinitely. While the American character, often amnesiac and marinated in ideas of personal freedom and frontier independence, tends to take these things in stride (does anyone even off-handedly remember the name of that Virginia Tech psycho?), the convention-loving Brits are commonly, in contrast, traumatized for good. (There’s a reason England is the most surveillance-saturated nation in the world.) This is the underlying dynamic of John Crowley’s adroit and heartfelt “Boy A” (2007), which is inspired at least in part by the 1993 abduction and killing, by two fifth-graders, of two-year-old James Bulger — whose name no one in the U.K. has forgotten. This is familiar territory to some degree, the docudrama recreation of an inexplicable crime, but usually the victim stands center stage. Here, as in Jonathan Trigell’s novel, we get to know only the perp, as he emerges from a decade or more in juvenile prison and attempts, with a new identity, to enter the world as an adult.

He (Andrew Garfield), labeled “Boy A” by the tabloids years before, chooses the name Jack as he enters a kind of felon relocation program in Manchester, shepherded by his grizzled, soulful counselor (a deft, though sometimes unintelligible, Peter Mullan), and for a while it’s the tensest, uneasiest fish-out-of-water film of all time, as Jack learns how to talk to girls, make workaday friendships, labor at a normal warehouse job, have sex, and so on — and all of it unfurls under the threat of the past. We don’t learn until the end, of course, what crime Jack was locked up for, but after it’s all said and done Crowley still doesn’t tell us how much of the killing he’s actually responsible for, either. So, sweet and likable yet potentially homicidal, Jack is something of a mystery, but Garfield plays him with disarming nakedness. It’s a beautifully physical performance; all of Jack’s queasy apprehensions are right on the surface, and yet Garfield gives Jack credit for being a reasonably savvy adult, capable of moments of confidence amid his nerve-wracked turmoil.

Jack’s acclimation goes so swimmingly he falls into a blissful romance with a lovely, zaftig coworker (Katie Lyons, whose wary eyes bespeak generations of blue-collar cynicism). But the danger of being revealed as “Boy A,” in a distraught society where his release from prison makes newsstand headlines, increases with Jack’s compulsion to come clean to his girlfriend. While the actors fume and boom, Crowley’s directorial approach is often adroit and visually evocative (lots of foreground context, off-kilter compositions, natural light), if a little restricted by indie movie reflexes. (I wouldn’t mind if there were a moratorium on grim folk guitar soundtracks and second act time-killing scenes of thoughtful brooding.) The movie’s an honest, empathetic dissection of guilt and criminal justice and the question of how long social persecution must persist for a juvenile crime. But it’s hardly abstract; Jack, in all his joy and agony, isn’t forgettable, either.

10072008_theunforeseen.jpgTackling a more American crisis topic, Laura Dunn’s new doc “The Unforeseen” (2007) addresses the entire morass of incessant land development in the U.S. and its catastrophic outcomes and environmental poisonings, by way of what’s happened in 30-odd years to a single Texas park area. Simply illustrated, Barton Springs in south Austin was once an idyllic eden, a lush and grassy natural preserve fed by a massive and crystal clear underwater spring, and Dunn’s film recounts the long, arduous, fight-the-power campaign fought by righteous Austinites to stop a massive development plan that would have consumed the area and obliterated its natural resources. The community, through public hearings and protest, keep the back-dealing wolves and trickle-down prevaricators at bay for years, a triumph that was short-lived once everyone’s favorite decider, George W. Bush, got elected governor in 1994, and quickly greased the wheels for development to begin again under different auspices. It’s a seething David and Goliath story, with the nature-loving residents going toe to toe with wealthy businessmen so corrupt their legacy stands in Austin as shuttered corporate headquarters. But, of course, David doesn’t win; Barton Springs is being slowly clogged and defiled, as is almost every natural resource in the country, as the years press on and the heedless moneymakers buy the politicians and get their way. Dunn’s film is very well financed (Robert Redford, who appears in the doc, and Terrence Malick are co-producers), and terribly glossy. But the filmmaker delivers on the righteous dread that comes when contemplating what’s being bulldozed for the sake of millionaires’ bank accounts, and she has the activist edge to interview an utterly amoral real estate lobbyist (bragging about his role in defying public wishes) but show only his hands meticulously crafting a warplane model, complete with rows of handpainted bombs.

[Additional photo: “The Unforeseen,” Cinema Guild, 2007]

“Boy A” (Miriam Collection – Genius Products) and “The Unforeseen” (New Yorker Films) are now available on DVD.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.