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“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.

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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.