“Never Let Me Go,” Reviewed

“Never Let Me Go,” Reviewed (photo)

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A note: This review divulges certain plot details that, though in the trailer, might be considered spoilers by the particularly cautious.

Cheerful, rosy-cheeked children grow into tentative teenagers and pensive, pallid young adults in Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go.” And they go no further. In the film, adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel of the same name, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and others like them never reach middle or old age. They die young, their organs harvested to extend the lives of the regular citizens that are glimpsed only on the margins here.

They’re clones, though it’s never so baldly stated. Nothing’s baldly stated in this world, which has cloaked its horrors with a euphemistic vocabulary. The person from whom one might have been copied is a “possible.” The hospital you’re shuffled to after a donation is a “recovery center.” When you pass, after one or two or four donation, you’ve “completed.”

Despite sharing a basic premise with Michael Bay’s “The Island,” “Never Let Me Go” is consciously reluctant sci-fi movie, one that chooses to push explanations for its subdued dystopia aside — it’s really just the stage on which a melancholy romantic triangle forms. Shy Kathy loves the fumbling, rage-prone Tommy from childhood, when they’re growing up in Hailsham, a pastoral boarding school led with cool authority by Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) that only sometimes sounds off-key notes (the children are terrified of going outside the grounds, even a few steps beyond the fence). But Ruth, her best frenemy, inserts herself in the midst of their nascence attachment. As they grow into young adults who leave the school for a dorm-like limbo before the surgeries start, this unhappy arrangement — Ruth corralling Tommy into an uncertain relationship, Kathy left on the outside, waiting, waiting — breaks the trio apart.

20 years, 30 — it’s not enough time, but does anyone ever feel they have enough time? If you missed “Never Let Me Go”‘s moral, the film literally lays it out in voiceover on top of the final scene, one of several instances (others involve the unnecessary sweeping in of the score) in which Romanek choices are wobblingly on the nose. They don’t interfere with the film’s emotional sincerity, which reverberates through the excellent performances of its three leads, particularly Mulligan and Garfield, two young actors poised on the brink of stardom.

09142010_neverletmego2.jpgHere, Mulligan burnishes that quality she flashed in “An Education” of being perceptive beyond her years — more perceptive, sometimes, than she’d really like to be. And Garfield is irresistibly gawkish, able to make his place in the film’s amorous complications seem like neither the result of victimization nor of obliviousness, but of a kind of lack of coordination of his own emotions.

I don’t know that the sweet, sad love story between this unassertive, incurious boy and girl is as thematically central to the film as Romanek, working off a screenplay by “The Beach”‘s Alex Garland, seems to believe. That’s not what’s set the film rattling around my brain the past few day. No, it’s the portrait of compliance in the face of awful injustice that’s haunting, one that’s actually more powerful on screen than it was on the page. None of the children, from Hailsham or from any other less pleasant place, ever considers an alternative to the fate that’s been given them.

Their best hopes are pinned on whispered rumors of deferrals, their worst fears on talk of infinite diminishings, of donation after donation after donation. The ones that don’t want to die nevertheless only consider a way out within the ill-understood structure inside of which they’re imprisoned, and if it’s denied them, they go under the knife as docilely accepting of their place as sheep being herded to slaughter. It’s a depiction that’s frighteningly believable, an abstract psychoanalyzing of how people end up internalizing the systems in which they live, even when those systems keep them down.

“Never Let Me Go” is done in the warm colors of a old postcard, the Hailsham days the brightest and most lustrous, the contrast slowly dripping out as the years progress and the characters find themselves closer to death, living in monochromatic apartments and hospital rooms. Romanek manages a few stand-out visual moments in a film that’s determinedly restrained, in which striking landscapes — a beach empty except for a washed up boat, a tree by a field on the side of the road — dwarf our protagonists, who are, after all, very ordinary girls and boys in this extraordinary world. It’s only in their own hearts that they stand out.

“Never Let Me Go” opens in limited release on September 15th.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.