DID YOU READ

“Barney’s Version,” Reviewed

“Barney’s Version,” Reviewed (photo)

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Paul Giamatti wears the role of Barney Panofsky, the prickly, big-hearted hero of “Barney’s Version,” like it’s a tailored suit. He takes obviously pleasure in it, and, watching, so do we — it’s a great fit. Barney is a man with an appreciation for life’s more rarefied and delicate things, though he’s earthbound himself, a creature of dark impulses and fleshly appetites, a fellow who relishes a drink and a cigar and a hockey game.

Yes, hockey. Barney, like Mordecai Richler, the author of the novel on which this film is based and to whom it’s dedicated (Michael Konyves wrote the screenplay), is Canadian, residing in Montreal and overseeing a popular, wretched-looking long-running soap opera about a Mountie called “O’Malley of the North.” (David Cronenberg cameos as an episode director who falls asleep on the job — Denys Arcand and Atom Egoyan also supposedly make appearances, though I failed to spot the latter.) He’s been married three times, divorced twice, but he’s only ever been in love once, with Miriam (Rosamund Pike), for whom he tumbled head over heels on the day of his wedding to another woman.

Directed by Richard J. Lewis, “Barney’s Version” runs 132 minutes and feels like it could have stretched twice that. Like so many reverent adaptations, it seems compressed thanks to a reluctance to leave any elements of the original out — and there’s a lot of ground to cover, since “Barney’s Version” is literally Barney’s version of his own swooping life story, recounted to no one in particular as a counterpoint to a recently published sleazy true crime tell-all that claims he’s a murderer. Characters and storylines suffer, but while the film is overstuffed, it’s overstuffed with many good things, and if it doesn’t come together perfectly it still offers the pleasing sensation of a long ramble with good friends.

12032010_barneysversion5.jpgIt’s good friends with which Barney’s keeping company, leading a bohemian ’70s lifestyle in Rome, in the film’s first flashback — “Barney’s Version” takes place primarily in the past, flickering forward on occasion to check in on the embittered, lonely present day Barney. There’s Cedric, aspiring painter Leo and the charming, shiftless, substance-abusing writer Boogie (Scott Speedman). Barney is their “only friend with a real job,” and he’s about to get married for the first time to the unstable Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), who’s pregnant with what she’s pretty sure is his baby.

When things ends in tragedy, Barney scurries home to Montreal in anguish, cleaning up, getting a job from his uncle and courting a nice Jewish girl (Minnie Driver) who transforms, as soon as a ring is on her finger, into a ballbusting stereotypical princess. Fortunately and unfortunately for Barney, he meets the true love of his life right after that happens — Miriam, a guest at the wedding, a willowy beauty whose train home to New York the drunken groom tries to chase down.

Barney’s crazy courtship of and eventual life with Miriam should be the centerpiece of the story, but Miriam’s a cipher, a woman whose unexplained embrace of Barney seems somehow to stem from her larger love of social responsibility — this jowly, impulsive, persistent guy seems so desperately to need cool-headed balance in his life, which she sees herself as able to provide. But Giamatti is great here, showing Barney as lit from within when he’s around her, and demonstrating how as the years pass he slowly looses his grip on her until she slips away.

It’s Barney’s relationship with his dad Izzy (Dustin Hoffman), a retired cop, that’s instead the film’s true heart. I don’t know how plausible the idea of Hoffman siring Giamatti is in terms of the two actors’ physicality, but the idea makes sense, and the scenes with the two of them are categorically moving. Barney is ferociously protective of his widowed working class father, particularly when he gets involved with his unnamed second wife, whose wealthy parents look down on Izzy’s tales of crime and punishment and police brutality.

12032010_barneysversion3.jpgAt dinner with them for the first time, Izzy is called out by the patriarch for saying that he never made detective on the force because he’s Jewish — maybe it was his conduct, the other man suggests, that kept him from succeeding professionally. Izzy looks at his son and then swallows his pride and then genuflects to the rich asshole so that things can continue smoothly. Izzy returns the favor at the wedding when his father-in-law tries to cut the two of them off at the bar. Later in life, Izzy will get a glimpse of the dark side of the law his father so glibly talks about, and the man will come to his rescue once again.

So Barney’s life is marked by loving fiercely if not always well, and by yearning for art while only having a talent for business, aspects of his character that also comes into play in his relationship with his gifted, irresponsible best friend Boogie, which provides the frame to which this shaggy dog story is leashed. It’s another underdeveloped thread that can’t provide the closure it’s meant to, but by that point it’s incidental. It’s Barney, despite and because of all his failings and disappointments, that we care about, and that’s really a credit to Giamatti’s marvelous performance.

“Barney’s Version” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, and will open for a wider run January 14th.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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