DID YOU READ

Tobey Maguire and Jacob Aaron Estes Fill in “The Details” in L.A.

Tobey Maguire and Jacob Aaron Estes Fill in “The Details” in L.A. (photo)

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A crisp, cool night in Los Angeles might’ve been the perfect evening to catch the Tobey Maguire/Elizabeth Banks dark comedy “The Details,” but it may not have been the best idea to ask for writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes for any. Giving incredibly gracious answers to the assembled crowd, he still concluded the post-screening Q & A for the film in Los Angeles by answering the final question about a speech in the film, “I don’t really have a great answer, but at the next Q & A, if you come to it, I will have thought about it.”

As Estes told the audience, part of the beauty of writing “The Details” was not thinking about it too much, though he certainly can’t be blamed for just not wanting to right now. Having endured many post-screening Q & As during a whirlwind week that saw the film sell to the Weinstein Company for a reported $7.5 million, Estes may have a case of festival fatigue as well as having a film that’s best not to be spoiled in advance. And yet frustratingly for the few who have seen it early, “The Details” is one that’s completely worth talking about.

A far cry from either Estes’ earlier slow-burning thriller “Mean Creek” or the group of quirky suburbia-is-hell comedy genre that it will inevitably be lumped into, “The Details” features Maguire and Banks as Jeff and Nealy, an upper-middle-class couple in Seattle whose 10-year marriage has lost its spark amidst the upbringing of their young son and the renovation of their already idyllic home, which is why their constant bickering is of far less concern to Jeff than the raccoon infestation that is pockmarking the family’s back lawn. Banks’ Nealy actually disappears from most of the picture when Jeff goes about finding ways to exterminate the vermin while appeasing those around him for whom he has about as much respect, like a slightly off neighbor (a wonderfully mercurial Laura Linney) or the couple’s closest married friends (Kerry Washington and Ray Liotta). Although he finds it in his heart to help out a basketball buddy (Dennis Haysbert) first with a job and then with a kidney transplant, Jeff’s preoccupation with plotting out a perfect life without thinking about any of the fallout it wreaks on others or even himself causes considerable headaches when he starts putting poison on his lawn to rid it of raccoons and the results end up far more toxic.

Though there are cheeky allusions to other films about domestic frustration (Jeff’s cell phone ringtone sound an awful lot like Thomas Newman’s chimes for “American Beauty”), “The Details” separates itself by placing the onus on its main character’s self-delusion rather than the typical suspect of suffocation by his environment, giving Maguire the room for one of his darkest and most mischievous performances since his all-too-short appearance in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Good German.” Amped up by a nearly carnivalesque score by tomandandy for the film’s first half, Maguire’s Jeff piles up one seemingly inconsequential lie after another to preserve a way of life, if not necessarily happiness, and Maguire is one of the few who could pull it off with a straight face. The same could be said for all of the cast Estes assembled, some of whom appear at first to take on roles that would frankly not be worth their time until a perfect, unexpected moment reveals why they were hired.

01282011_SundanceUSAVistaDetails.jpgAt the film’s Sundance USA screening in Los Angeles, moderator Jay Duplass joked shortly after the end credits, “You surprised me about 45 times in this movie” before asking Estes, who was accompanied by Maguire and Haysbert at the Vista Theatre in Los Feliz, whether he was conscious of throwing audiences for a loop.

“I was trying to surprise and amuse myself,” said Estes. “I frankly had a very general idea of what I wanted to do with the movie. I wanted to make a movie about adults, adult relationships, about what it means to be an adult and I only had one really childish notion and that was a man obsessed with eradicating his raccoons. And so I didn’t know where that was going to lead. But I was just trying to draw on authentic details from life and somehow they found their way into this weird synthesis of plot, which was surprising to me all the time, which is why I enjoyed writing the script more than I’ve enjoyed writing most scripts.”

Apparently, the film’s shoot was less fun, as Estes explained that both the budget and the shooting schedule were slashed dramatically shortly before filming was scheduled to commence. But by then, it had become par for the course for Estes, who had seen a few projects come and go since he last attended Sundance with “Mean Creek” in 2004. Estes insinuated his planned adaptation of “The Gifted” about philanthropist Zell Kravinsky that had Ralph Fiennes attached to star fell victim to rights issues and in his words, “It took awhile just because I didn’t write something that I really believed in that didn’t get killed somewhere along the line.”

It took producer Mickey Liddell and the commitment of his cast for “The Details” to avoid the same fate, but as Estes said, “When I saw the actors didn’t abandon ship when the budget got cut in half and days got shorter, it was really encouraging.”

01282011_EstesDuplassDetails.jpgThen again, that trust might’ve only extended so far. When Maguire was asked if he had trouble adjusting to the film’s frequently shifting tone, he got a laugh when he answered, “I always have trust issues. It comes from my childhood and it’s just what I do. I’m suspicious.” But then he added, “I was curious about how broad the comedy was going to be when we were doing it and it really was a process of getting on the set and playing around. In a lot of cases, we would do takes that have a lot of range and so there is a lot of trust in giving that to the director to play around with. Later, in the editing room, we would sit there – some of the stuff I did I thought was absolutely ridiculous and Jacob wasn’t going to put that stuff in, but I would say, ‘You’ve got to stay away from that because some of that stuff was just corny ridiculous.'”

As for the film’s ambiguous title, Estes preferred it be left up for interpretation, suggesting that assumptions that it comes from “the Devil is in the details” aren’t necessarily accurate since as he says, “I don’t think about the Devil in my life,” something that might come as yet another surprise for those who believe the film has a religious subtext. But after thinking it through, Estes said, ” It used to be called, “Yes, The Details” from a scene that was actually cut out – I just remembered why it’s called “The Details.” In the strange nine-month editing process I went through, we cut out a lot of stuff and among the things we cut out was a scene where Elizabeth Banks caught Tobey screwing around online [a late-night hobby in which he visits adult chatrooms] and Tobey had to explain to Elizabeth what he was doing and she said she wants to hear about it, she wants to hear it all. And Tobey said, ‘you mean, the details?’ And she said, ‘Yes, the details.‘ And that was what became the title. Just remembered that.”

Fortunately, Estes will have plenty of time to hone his on-set anecdotes before doing any more Q & As before “The Details” released likely later this year, but rest assured the film itself is already quite sharp.

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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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