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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (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 “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” the disturbing story of a mass murdering kid and his shell-shocked mom. But will this mother-son drama end up as the big daddy on your year-end top ten list? Let’s find out.

Movie: “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Plot Synopsis: A woman struggles to come to grips with her teenage son’s brutal crimes, which have left her a pariah and an outcast in her hometown.
What the Critics Said: “A bleak meditation on the inexorable power of nature,” Dana Stevens, Slate
“Easily 2011’s grimmest motion picture,” James Berardinelli, ReelViews
“Part horror, part drama, part cautionary tale,” Laremy Legal, Film.com
Were They Right? It might not be the absolute grimmest motion picture of the year — “I Saw the Devil” wasn’t exactly an uplifting portrait of humanity at its best, either — but it’s definitely in the discussion. This is a two hour journey into the soul of a broken woman. Her son is a murderer and everyone she knows hates her because of it. She hides in her house, drinking away the pain. In other words: you can leave your funny bone at home when you head out to the theater for “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” You won’t be needing it.

But while the film is grim, it never becomes tedious or depressing. That’s because Eva, the woman grappling with all that guilt and self-loathing, is played by Tilda Swinton, one of the best actors in the universe and, true to form, she delivers an incredible performance here. The movie bounces back and forth between Eva’s past and present, and in order to differentiate the time frames Swinton wears two different looks: short, hip hairstyle in the past; long, drab ‘do in the present. But Swinton’s so good at demarcating the two Evas with posture and body language that she doesn’t need the visual shorthand (or short hair, in this case). You can even tell which Eva you’re watching without watching at all. If you closed your eyes during the movie and just listened to the way Swinton modulates her voice, you’d know where and when you are. She’s fantastic.

The series of kids who play her devil spawned son Kevin are excellent as well, especially elementary-school-aged Jasper Newell, one of the most convincing bad seed psycho-tots I’ve ever seen onscreen. Kevin, it seems, was just born evil. He cries non-stop as a baby, won’t talk as a toddler, then refuses to use the toilet because he prefers to make his mother clean up his crap. Then again, Eva may not be completely innocent here (I, for one, would have reconsidered my husband’s purchase of an archery set, especially after my son started shooting arrows at my head). A self-described “adventurer” and world-travelling author she was clearly uncomfortable in the role of mother and never really warmed to her baby the same way her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) did. The mental chess game between mother and son is riveting, and because we always know Kevin’s endgame, it’s absolutely chilling too.

Director Lynne Ramsay’s work with Swinton is incredible, but I was less enamored with some of her stylistic choices. The complex editing structure in which sound and images trigger sudden jumps between memory and reality effectively conveys the feeling of living in one time while being trapped by memory and guilt in another. But too often the trigger is the massive splatter of red paint that someone douses on her house and her car. So many scenes feature Eva cleaning up that paint, scrubbing and scraping and sanding it until her hands are caked in blood-like redness. It’s an effective visual representation of her unshakable grief, but it’s also a bit too on-the-nose. On the other hand, I found the final conversation between Eva and Kevin way too obtuse and anti-climactic. The whole movie builds to a confrontation that resolves nothing. I’ve no doubt Ramsay wanted to suggest that some of life’s worst horrors have no explanation. Maybe that’s viewpoint is just too grim for me.

Worthy of an Oscar Nomination For: Best Actress (Tilda Swinton), Best Editing (Joe Bini).
Chances of Making My Top Ten: The strength of the structure and the acting make it close, but the ending might keep it off. I’d say its chances are slightly worse than the chances that the woman who brought her baby to the theater with her to see “We Need to Talk About Kevin” regretted that decision.
It Might Make Your Top Ten List If: you’re a big Tilda Swinton fan; you dig time-drunk character pieces; you believe children are evil and have been searching for a movie to show your spouse to ensure he or she never asks you about having kids ever again.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. It expands to more theaters in January.

Previously in Countdown to Top Ten 2K11
“Point Blank,” directed by Fred Cavayé
“The Arbor,” directed by Clio Barnard
“Cold Weather,” directed by Aaron Katz
“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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