Tim Grierson on the Great Films Already Released This Year

Fran Kranz in "The Cabin in the Woods"

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In a couple weeks, “Marvel’s The Avengers” comes out, which heralds the beginning of the summer movie season. That also means the end of the first portion of the film year — the part that people don’t like all that much. As opposed to the fall (when all the serious Oscar contenders open) and the summer (which is a haven for blockbuster action films), the early part of a new year is normally filled with films that are either being dumped by their studio or aren’t quite big enough to warrant much excitement. Sure, you’ve got your Valentine’s Day date-night movies and your major animated offerings — and, this year, the massive hit “The Hunger Games” — but the pre-summer calendar tends to get overlooked, especially late in the year when people are making their Top-10 lists.

But before “The Avengers,” “Men in Black III” and the rest lay waste to the multiplex, I’d like to point out that there actually were several great movies that have already come out this year. They may not have made it to your town, unfortunately, but they’re definitely worth seeing when they land on DVD.

On the mainstream side, you’ve got “The Cabin in the Woods.” For pure smarts and narrative ingenuity, the horror-comedy directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon took a potentially one-joke idea — which I won’t reveal in case you don’t know yet — and elevated it into something clever, thoughtful and consistently engaging. But that wasn’t the only superb wide release thus far in 2012: Though a disappointing underperformer commercially, director Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire” will probably be better than most of the action movies we get this summer. Starring MMA fighter Gina Carano, the thriller was all giddy, kinetic fun as a government operative has to break a lot of skulls to figure out who double-crossed her. Soderbergh has made deeper, more “important” films, but “Haywire” has a level of craft that makes it expert escapism.

Released by Paramount Vantage in a limited number of theaters, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” demonstrated again why writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”) are such a valuable American filmmaking team. Dismissed by some critics because of its jokey surface, the comedy follows the super-positive loser Jeff (Jason Segel) as he goes through a seemingly normal day, only to discover that there are some cosmic coincidences taking place. Though the Duplass brothers can overdo their indie-cred bona fides — the shaking camera is awfully irritating — this is an unexpectedly graceful and generous look at lives that are out of balance. The whole cast is great, but Susan Sarandon is especially wonderful.

A very different brother tandem, acclaimed Belgian writer-directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, returned with another sterling offering, “The Kid With a Bike.” The Dardennes, who previously made such gems as “L’Enfant” and “La Promesse,” tell the story of an angry, abandoned young boy (Thomas Doret) failing to reconnect with his absent father, which forces him to rely on the sympathy of a local hairdresser (Cecile de France). The Dardennes prefer spare, unsentimental stories about rudderless people trying to find some direction, and even if “The Kid With a Bike” isn’t among their very finest works, it’s a beautiful and moving film that could be a great gateway drug for the uninitiated. If you’ve never seen any of their movies, try this one — and if you like it, by all means explore their earlier output.

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan isn’t well known in the States, but his latest film, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” is highly recommended to those who love their detective stories as unconventional as possible. In this atmospheric drama, a collection of men — including a prosecutor and a detective — travel by car through the night with some unsavory criminals who have confessed to a murder. The only problem is that the killers can’t remember where they buried the body in the vast countryside, putting in motion a tense and occasionally strangely comic search for the corpse. When the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year, it was compared to director David Fincher’s meticulous, brilliant “Zodiac,” another procedural about how a crime slowly affects all those who cross its path. I wouldn’t put “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” at that level of masterpiece, but for the adventurous filmgoer, it’s a gorgeously shot, emotionally troubling experience.

As you may have noticed, some of 2012’s best films have been foreign-language offerings, and I’d like to conclude with two more. The first is the terrific documentary “This Is Not a Film,” which chronicles the house arrest of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who in December 2010 was given a six-year jail sentence. (In addition, the government wouldn’t allow him to give interviews or make films for 20 years.) “This Is Not a Film” points its camera at Panahi, who’s stuck in his home coming to terms with the enormity of his sentence. It’s a fascinating slice-of-life portrait of an artist who has been stripped of his ability to communicate with his audience — but who finds a way regardless.

That brings us to my favorite movie so far released this year. It’s “The Turin Horse,” from Hungarian director Bela Tarr. Slowly making its way around the country — it’ll be in Chicago in May — this austere, absolutely absorbing film dramatizes the harsh 19th century existence of an old man (Janos Derzsi) and his daughter (Erika Bok) who live in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. With very little to eat and surrounded by harsh winds and a desolate landscape, the two seem doomed. And so Tarr takes us through an eventful week in their lives — eventful not because a lot happens, but because the filmmaker’s slow, careful examination of these characters hints that something truly and terribly tragic is about to befall them. With its harsh, demanding tone, “The Turin Horse” is probably not the sort of film you’ll be wanting to see with “The Avengers” about to arrive. But the ambition and audacity of Tarr’s film, which reportedly will be the last one the 56-year-old director will ever make, is heroic and momentous in its own way. The first few months of a new film year tend to be filled with the forgettable. Hopefully, my list suggests that a few great movies managed to slip through the cracks.

Do you have a favorite film already released this year? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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