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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.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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