DID YOU READ

“Super 8,” Reviewed

“Super 8,” Reviewed (photo)

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J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” really is like a child’s Super 8 film, with all the good and bad that that comparison suggests. It’s ambitious and unfocused, imaginative and contrived. It’s flawed, but it’s also really close to being a truly wonderful film. There were parts that I absolutely adored. And there were parts I borderline hated.

The film itself is almost as bifurcated as my reaction. Maybe that’s part of the problem. It begins, with incredible promise, as the story of a group of young teenagers let loose on their small Ohio town for summer vacation in 1979. They’re making a Super 8 movie about a cop investigating a series of zombie murders: Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the director. Martin (Gabriel Basso) is the lead actor. Cary (Ryan Lee) is the pyromaniac and pyrotechnics expert. And Joe (Joel Courtney), whose father Jack (Kyle Chandler) is a deputy sheriff in town, does the sound, makeup, and models. Joe’s mother died a few months earlier in a mill accident, leaving Jack an emotional wreck and leaving Joe with his friends, their movie, and not much else.

Charles, perhaps voicing the fears of Abrams himself, worries his movie might be too heavy on special effects and too light on characters you really care about, so he writes a part for the cop’s wife and casts Alice (Elle Fanning). Alice is pretty and a natural, untrained actor. Her entrance into this group previously populated only by boys shakes things up in the best way possible. The scenes between the kids as they work on their movie in cluttered bedrooms and noisy diners are full of charm and authenticity. This is one half of the film.

The other half begins when the group is out filming at the train station one night as a train comes hurtling down the tracks. “Production values!” Charles yells, and they all scramble into position. As they’re shooting, a truck drives into the path of the train and derails it in a massive special effects sequence. Suddenly the pressures and complications of adulthood — or maybe just the demands of large-scale mainstream filmmaking — have invaded the kids’ previously humdrum lives. Now they can’t just focus on their little film; they’ve got to also contend with a massive government conspiracy and an escaped passenger from the train whose size and strength suggests he’s not from Ohio. The metaphor’s right there for anyone who wants to see it: the director trying to make a movie about life as it’s lived who has to throw in some aliens too just to make it commercial.

“Super 8” was co-produced by Steven Spielberg, whose own movies about children, aliens, and the American suburbs inspired Abrams’ screenplay as much as the director’s own filmmaking projects as a youth. And “Super 8” is full of Spielberg homages in general, and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” homages in particular, right down to the particular style of the lens flares that frequently flash onscreen (by the way, lens flare in an underground cave in the middle of a blackout? That just doesn’t make any sense). But where Abrams has certainly aped the look, feel, and milieu of early Spielberg, he missed one crucial aspect. Particularly during that period of his career, Spielberg was the unparalleled master of meshing epic stories with minute character studies. “Jaws,” “Close Encounters, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T.,” these movies are near-perfect blends of big-scale narrative and small-scale humanity. Abrams has the potential for all of that but he never quite reconciles his two halves — the kids and their movie, the alien on the loose — properly. He dives deep into the characters in the first act, then practically forgets about them as he crams in as many scary alien attacks as possible. As a result, when he suddenly returns to the characters in between the beats of his sci-fi spectacular finale, it feels forced instead of heartwarming. In some ways, Abrams’ last film, “Star Trek,” which blended action and character and heart more successfully, is a more Spielbergian film than “Super 8.”

I think I’d be less bothered by the alien scenes if I was more interested in the alien. Abrams loves to talk about his “mystery box” theory of moviemaking, and how the more you withhold something from the audience, the more they’re interested in seeing it. That approach certainly jives with Spielberg, who turned a crappy animatronic shark into a lurking, unseen menace and turned “Jaws” into a classic. Of course, Spielberg found a narrative-motivated reason to keep the shark off-screen — the humans are above the water in a boat and can’t see Jaws — while Abrams basically just sticks the camera in the most obstructed angle in any scene to cover his monster. When we finally do see the “Super 8” alien, he’s just not impressive enough to justify the lengths Abrams goes to hide him.

Like most Spielberg classics, “Super 8” preaches a moral of childhood innocence triumphing over adult cynicism. But the cynic in me can’t help but feel like a truly great film about kids and their dreams got buried here underneath a fairly formulaic monster movie. When Abrams occasionally gives the alien muckety-muck a rest, the kids are terrific, and Elle Fanning in particular delivers a very moving performance. The movie doesn’t quite go off the rails along with that mysterious train, but it’s pretty close.

Note: The best part of “Super 8” comes during the closing credits. Don’t leave the theater until you see it. And after you see it, tell us what you thought of it! Leave us some comments below or on Twitter and Facebook!

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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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