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Mark Romanek Holds On To “Never Let Me Go”

Mark Romanek Holds On To “Never Let Me Go” (photo)

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It’s been a winding road to “Never Let Me Go” for Mark Romanek, who after years as a major music video director (his best know work includes the videos for Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”, Madonna’s “Bedtime Story” and Michael Jackson’s “Scream”) found his way back to the film world with 2002’s “One Hour Photo,” starring Robin Williams. A string of non-starter projects followed that release, among them adaptations of “A Cold Case” and “A Million Little Pieces” that never made it to production, and then “The Wolfman,” which he dropped out of in 2008 after creative disagreements with the studio — Joe Johnston replaced him. A longtime fan of author Kazuo Ishiguro, Romanek was brought on board to direct “Never Let Me Go” from a script by “The Beach”‘s Alex Garland, and the result is a thoughtful work of dystopian melancholy featuring the outstanding cast of up-and-comers Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, along with Keira Knightley in an unexpected role.

What is it about Ishiguro’s novel that made it seem like good source material for a film?

The thing that I’m always looking for is: “Is this moving me? Have I connected with it emotionally?” Not that films of ideas aren’t important, but movies are best when they really just engross you emotionally. This book did that quite strongly. The other thing I ask is: “Have I seen this a million times before, or is it something fresh?” And if you can get that combination of something that’s a sincere expression about the human predicament, and that feels new, even in a small way, then you maybe have a chance at doing something that has some reason for being.

I fell in love with the characters — they felt really dimensional and real to me — but I was a little scared of the idea of adapting it, because it’s so odd and original and delicate and beautiful. I worried — do I have the skill set to tackle something this nuanced? But when I read Alex Garland’s adaptation, I felt that he had really cracked it, as a film, and I felt more emboldened to tackle it.

09172010_neverletmego1.jpgThe novel seems slower in its reveal about the true nature of the world in which the story takes place.

It’s all condensed. The book’s broken into three parts. The reveal, so to speak, is revealed toward the end of the first act, and the same is true of the film. You have to cram it into 100 minutes.

There’s a really distinct voice to the book, which is told in the first person by Kathy (Mulligan’s character) — she’s a typical schoolgirl with a lot of typical adolescent experiences, and yet underlying all that is this extraordinary world. What were the challenges of bringing that voice to screen?

Capturing that voice was a matter of finding the perfect actress for Kathy — for all the characters. When we discovered Carey Mulligan — the head of the studio at the time saw “An Education” at Sundance. He knew we were struggling to find the perfect Kathy, and typed me a text in the middle of the film that said, “Hire the genius Mulligan. This is the girl to play that role.” That’s a big part of it — Carey brought her to life.

You’ve said that you’d initially considered some more traditional sci-fi elements, visually, and then discarded most of them. Can you tell me about that decision, and whether you feel like there are some sci-fi influences on the film?

Part of the appeal on the filmmaking side was that I felt we could create a world that you hadn’t quite seen before, and that was a style of science fiction that you don’t often get to see. But if people go to the movie expecting to see a science fiction film, they’ll be disappointed. It’s a love story, and the brilliant, strange alternate history that Kazuo concocted gives the whole film this discreet science fiction feel, but it’s not very up front.

Early on, we were toying with more obvious science fiction tropes. We kept trying to get them in there, because we thought maybe it would make the film more fun or visually appealing or punchy. And they never felt right. One day, a light bulb went off, and I said, “I don’t think we should do any of this. This should be the science fiction film with no science fiction in it.” And that felt absolutely right, because the science fiction is really just a clever delivery system for the bigger themes.

09172010_neverletmego4.jpgI saw the film with a colleague who remarked that she found the main character very passive. Does that seem fair to you? How do you portray someone who never challenges that awful path she’s set on?

Technically, she is passive in the sense that she doesn’t always drive the action and she’s an observer of her world. But I think Carey plays it brilliantly, because she comes at it from a position of such moral and spiritual strength. She exudes this quality of stoicism that becomes a form of emotional activity. It’s a predicament of a lot of 20th century movies — there’s a quality of alienation, the characters are not driving the action. There’s other things they’re dealing with that are more internal. I find it deeply compelling, the grace that she displays in the face of her predicament.

This notion that she doesn’t rail against her fate, that none of these characters struggles to escape — Kazuo speaks really eloquently about this. He never set out to write the book about the brave slaves that rebel. There are lots of good stories like that, and that’s not what he was interested in. In almost all of his books, he’s simply more interested in how people don’t tend to escape.

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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.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.