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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Cold Weather”

Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Cold Weather” (photo)

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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11 is a column with one simple goal: to help you decide what films you need to see before making your end of the year top ten list. Each installment features my thoughts on a critically acclaimed 2011 movie, a sampling of other critics’ reactions, the odds of the film making my own list, and the reasons why it might make yours.

This time we’re covering “Cold Weather,” which has been suggested by more readers for inclusion in this column than any other film released in 2011. Are my readers brilliant cinephiles or nutjobs who have no idea what they’re talking about? Let’s find out.

Movie: “Cold Weather”
Director: Aaron Katz
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Plot Synopsis: A college dropout and Sherlock Holmes fan finds himself at the center of a mystery in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.
What the Critics Said: “Gorgeous, lyrical, leisurely,” Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies
“Good in so many subtle ways,” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“Almost a textbook example of how to do more with less,” Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor
Were They Right?The 74% of critics were, anyway. I’m surprised the Tomatometer score for this movie isn’t higher, given the passion of the film’s supporters. I suppose its pacing — which is, as Kenny notes, leisurely — and its charms — which are, as Ebert notes, subtle — are not necessarily for everyone.

Its structure reminded me a little bit of “Meek’s Cutoff,” the film I covered in this column last week. Both open with scenes of seeming inconsequence whose importance only becomes clearer later in the film. In the case of “Cold Weather,” it’s a sequence following Doug (Cris Lankenau) as he readjusts to life back in Portland. Doug dropped out of school where he was pursuing a degree in forensic science and moved in with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). Looking for any job that’ll have him, he finds one in an ice factory where he initiates a friendship with another guy on the graveyard shift named Carlos (Raúl Castillo). They have a lot of time for chit chat while they haul bags of ice; they spend most of it discussing pop culture. Carlos likes “Star Trek;” Doug prefers Sherlock Holmes novels. Carlos lives his “Star Trek” obsession by attending conventions but Doug is about to get an even more powerful opportunity to step into the role of his hero.

An ex-girlfriend of Doug’s named Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) comes for a visit and starts hanging out with Carlos. When she stands him up on a date, Carlos becomes convinced she’s gone missing. He drags a skeptical Doug to her motel room in the middle of the night. Rachel is nowhere to be found. While they search her room, Doug glances out the window and sees a pickup truck in the parking lot, watching them. As they head outside to see what the driver wants, he peels out into the night. Suddenly, Doug’s not so skeptical anymore.

Katz is previously known as the director of two “mumblecore” features about tentative romantic encounters between young men and women. He may have started this project from an experimental impulse: trying to marry his low-fi, naturalistic style with a genre that relies heavily on contrivance and formula. “Cold Weather”‘s early scenes feel as aimless as Doug’s life and as carefully observed yet carefully plotless as many other mumblecore films. But from the moment Doug sees that pickup truck and becomes convinced that Rachel is, in fact, involved in some kind of trouble, the pace tightens, aided immensely by a terrific, percussive score by Keegan DeWitt.

Rachel’s mystery is suitably realistic for the confines of Katz’s understated cinematography and drama, and the director pauses, cleverly I think, even after the detective story kicks into gear to remind you that these characters are living in “the real world.” Stumped, Doug decides to do what Sherlock Holmes would do: smoke a pipe. Only our hero doesn’t own a pipe, so he has to go buy one. The film dutifully follows him to a tobacconist for a hilarious scene where he tries to find a cool looking pipe that he can afford on his meager budget. There’s Katz’s project in a nutshell: “I want to make a detective movie. How do I make something that looks cool for no money?”

The cigar store scene isn’t an aberration; for a mystery story with no jokes, “Cold Weather” is a surprisingly funny movie. That’s because Katz is, in a very quiet way, a brilliant observer of human behavior. Sherlock Holmes is the most obvious antecedent for “Cold Weather” but there’s also a bit of “Seinfeld” in here as well. The scene in which Doug, Carlos, and Gail stake out a man’s apartment and kill the time with awkward conversations, reminded me of “The Sniffing Accountant,” a “Seinfeld” episode that featured a similar, albeit more overtly jokey, riff on the same premise.

I really enjoyed Katz’s last feature, “Quiet City” (also starring the ultra-laconic Lankenau), and I liked “Cold Weather” even more. The early moments of quiet slackerhood that look so superfluous really pay off as the mystery deepens. Because Doug, Carlos, and Gail seem like real people, there’s real tension in the film’s various chases, stakeouts, and break-ins. With a true sense of reality established, there’s no guarantee of a Hollywood ending and no certainty that Sherlock Doug will be right about his hunches or survive to solve another case even if he is. Add in some beautiful photography of the Pacific Northwest and that memorable score and you’ve got one of the best movies of 2011, and maybe the one I’d be most happy to see a sequel to at some point in the future.

Worthy of an Oscar Nomination For: Best Original Score (Keegan DeWitt)
Chances of Making My Top Ten: Not a mortal lock, but definitely not a pipe dream either.
It Might Make Your Top Ten List If: you’re a sucker for off-beat genre movies; you love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and hate Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes.”

“Cold Weather” is now available on DVD and Netflix Watch Instantly. If you see it, tell us what you think; leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Previously in Countdown to Top Ten 2K11
“Meek’s Cutoff,” directed by Kelly Reichardt
“Margin Call,” directed by J.C. Chandor
“Bill Cunningham New York,” directed by Richard Press
“Hanna,” directed by Joe Wright

Have a movie you wanted covered in a future installment of Countdown to Top Ten 2K11? Let me know on Twitter.

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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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