Tim Grierson on the Return of Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell

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When you think of Colin Farrell, what comes to mind? Do you picture the Hollywood heartthrob who’s constant tabloid fodder? Or do you remember the fine actor who’s done everything from “The New World” to “In Bruges”? The betting is that, for most people, it’s the former. Lately, Farrell is trying his best to make it the latter.

On Friday, Farrell stars in the remake of “Total Recall,” the latest film in the Irish actor’s years-long project to rehabilitate his image. For a guy who only recently turned 36, he has already experienced several significant career ups and downs in the 12 years since he came to the world’s attention in “Tigerland.” It’s hardly been a smooth road from there to here, but it sure hasn’t been dull.

Farrell made his Hollywood debut in 2000’s “Tigerland,” a nervy change of pace from director Joel Schumacher who at that point was best known for making blockbuster John Grisham and Batman movies. But “Tigerland” was a gritty, low-budget character piece about young men preparing to be shipped off to the Vietnam War, and it starred the unknown Farrell as the rebellious, antiwar Private Roland Bozz. The actor gave the movie an immediate weight and authenticity — he seemed like a star with real chops.

And thus began the first phase of Farrell’s career, that of a serious actor with movie-star looks. It’s entirely possible that he could have chosen to use that momentum as a springboard for thought-provoking roles, Oscar nominations and critics’ accolades. Instead, he quickly transitioned to more Hollywood films, which proved to be a very mixed bag for him. Usually, he was slotted as the up-and-comer next to the established pro (with Tom Cruise in “Minority Report,” with Al Pacino in “The Recruit”), but too often he was involved in dull studio action films like “S.W.A.T.” and “Daredevil,” the token “respected actor” added to the ensemble to give it a little more prestige. This period of Farrell’s career was capped by 2003’s “Phone Booth,” which found him reuniting with Schumacher for a nasty little thriller about a man forced to stay on the phone with an unseen sniper, lest he be killed. While “Phone Booth” wasn’t great, it suggested the kind of star presence Farrell had, even if it didn’t show off his acting skill to its fullest potential.

But by this point, audiences arguably knew Farrell better from his off-camera exploits than by anything he had done on film. He was linked to starlets like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. He had a problem with drugs and alcohol. And by all accounts, he was pretty miserable. “I had created an environment for myself, a way of living for myself which, on the outside, seemed incredibly gregarious and vivacious,” he later told interviewer Jonathan Ross. “I don’t believe I have any chemical predisposition towards depression, but let’s just say I was suffering from a spiritual malady for years and I indulged it.” If there was a low point, it might have been “Alexander,” the critically savaged 2004 Oliver Stone historical epic that Farrell spent more than a year filming. A few weeks after “Alexander’s” release, which was met with audience apathy, Farrell hosted “Saturday Night Live” for the first time, and in his opening monologue he joked about the film’s failure and then did a bit where he played into his persona as an arrogant womanizer who got by on his looks and accent. In the span of a few years, Farrell had gone from being viewed as a promising young star to being dismissed as a hopeless party boy.

If it became easy to write Farrell off, there were still signs that he had the goods as an actor. At the time, his turn in “The New World” was deemed by some a surprise: What was a lightweight like him doing anchoring a film by the great Terrence Malick? But it was a nuanced, grieving performance that gave the film’s central love story a soul. And even if “Miami Vice” was an overblown thriller, Farrell’s haunted cop helped cut through the macho bluster elsewhere. Very quietly, Farrell was honing his soulful side.

That came through even more gloriously in two films released in 2008. In the underrated Woody Allen drama “Cassandra’s Dream,” he plays a luckless London lad who can’t live with himself after he commits murder to help pay off his gambling debts. Showing none of the sharp swagger of his earlier roles, Farrell was touchingly, painfully vulnerable in “Cassandra’s Dream” — it felt like seeing him for the first time. Then came “In Bruges,” a tart crime comedy-thriller that once again featured Farrell as a would-be tough guy who simply doesn’t have the stomach for the dark side. (He plays a hitman who inadvertently kills a boy on his first job.) This newfound lack of cockiness didn’t make Farrell dull; rather, it revealed depths that something like “S.W.A.T.” simply didn’t. Critics warmed up to him again, and he won a Golden Globe for his “In Bruges” performance.

Since then, he’s bravely bounced from role to role, seemingly freed of the expectations of his early career. Also undoubtedly helpful, he got sober. (“You develop such f***ed-up attachments that you need to be confused and in pain and high to create art,” he said in 2010 by way of explaining his earlier bad-boy behavior.) Not all of those roles have been successful — he’s enjoyably game, if a bit one-note, as the jerk boss in “Horrible Bosses” — but you can forgive a few misfires for something as eloquent as his turn as the successful country sensation in “Crazy Heart.” For as much praise as Jeff Bridges received for that film — not to mention the Oscar — Farrell’s sweetness and casual confidence in the drama make it one of his very finest performances.

This brings us to this weekend’s “Total Recall,” where he’ll play the role that was originated by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990 film. (It’s hard to think of two more different actors, which is probably the point.) Despite all his ups and downs, Farrell has emerged as an actor who audiences are still willing to take seriously: a regular guy who’s got a bit of gravitas to him. But for Farrell, “Total Recall” also represents his most concerted attempt in the last few years to prove himself as a box office draw in his own right. Are moviegoers ready to see him that way? That remains to be seen, but considering where Farrell’s career was just a few years ago, it’s achievement enough that he’s come this far to even have that be a legitimate question.


This Week on IFC

Benders Meet a Soprano, Gigi Writes a Book and Comedy Bang! Bang! is Back!

Thursday on IFC is the place to be starting at 10P.

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After Benders big premiere last week, the guys meet an actual Soprano. That’s right, Bobby Baccalieri himself, Steve Schirripa, guest stars as a tough guy shaking down the crew. Check out a clip below, and tune in on Thursday at 10P to see if any of the Uncle Chubbys crew gets whacked.

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On the second episode of Gigi Does It, Gigi Rotblum has a plan to get her grandson to respect his elders – she’s going to write a children’s book, just like the one by Harry Potter author J.K. Simmons. Gigi Does It airs on Thursday at 10:30P. Watch a sneak peek below.

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And, finally, as a thank you for waiting patiently for the return of Comedy Bang! Bang!, check out a list of the show’s top 5 “beefs.” Does Fourvel make an appearance? Watch below, and be sure to catch the return of Comedy Bang! Bang! in its NEW TIME SLOT Thursdays at 11P.

Home for the Holidays

Pass the Dysfunction

10 Thanksgiving Movies to Be Thankful For

Gorge on IFC's four-day Sweatsgiving Marathon this Thanksgiving Day Weekend.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

There’s a movie for every holiday (well, maybe not Arbor Day), but Thanksgiving has more than its share. There’s something about a family coming together around an overloaded table that makes for gripping drama and hilarious comedy. Before you tuck into IFC’s Sweatsgiving marathon weekend, take a look at our picks for the best Turkey Day movies of all time. They’re far tastier than Aunt Bertha’s leftover three-bean casserole.

10. ThanksKilling

This ultra low-budget horror comedy about a killer Turkey is the perfect NSFW antidote to heartwarming holiday treacle. Fans of the film’s so-bad-its-good charms helped Kickstart a sequel, ThanksKilling 3. What happened to ThanksKilling 2? Guess the killer turkey ate the print.

9. The Ice Storm

Key parties, family secrets and Nixon masks all converge in one particularly eventful Thanksgiving weekend in Ang Lee’s searing look at dysfunctional families in the turbulent days of the early ’70s. And you thought your post-dinner family games of Trivial Pursuit were tense.

8. Pieces of April

Katie Holmes broke free from her teen drama roots with this indie flick about a young urban misfit who invites her straight-laced suburban family to a big city Thanksgiving dinner. An underrated comedy about the importance of families (be they urban or biological) that also answers the age-old holiday question: canned or fresh cranberry sauce?

7. Tadpole

What is it with Thanksgiving and quasi-incest comedies? 2002’s Tadpole tells the tale of Oscar Grubman, a hyper-intelligent high school boy who has a crippling crush on his stepmother. When he goes home for Thanksgiving, this Oedipal nightmare gets transferred onto a horny cougar chiropractor, and things rapidly spin out of control. A general rule of thumb for the holidays: keep it in your pants, particularly when family is involved.

6. Scent Of A Woman

Al Pacino comes dangerously close to the edge of self-parody in his iconic role as blind ex-Army Ranger Frank Slade, but also scored a Best Actor win in the process. Chris O’Donnell plays the college student who is hired to take care of Slade over Thanksgiving break and finds himself dragged along on an adventure that includes a stop by his brother’s house for a Turkey Day dinner that goes wildly out of control. Hoo-hah! Pass the gravy.

5. The House Of Yes

This psychologically twisted 1997 black comedy helped make Parker Posey a star. She plays “Jackie-O” Pascal, a mentally disturbed young woman who joins her family at their ritzy Virginia estate for Thanksgiving. As a hurricane bears down on the area, Jackie proceeds to go further and further off the rails, capped off by an incestuous encounter with her own brother while they role-play the JFK assassination. With a strong cast and a wickedly sharp script, The House of Yes goes down like a slice of pumpkin pie with a whiskey chaser.

4. The War At Home

This underrated 1996 drama tackled some pretty tough subjects. Jeremy Collier (played by Emilio Estevez, who also directed) is a Vietnam vet back home and dealing with PTSD. Martin Sheen plays his dad, who doesn’t understand that his son came back a little changed. It all comes to a head at the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, where Jeremy pulls a gun on his dad because he wouldn’t loan him the cash he needed to flee the draft. The fact that Estevez and Sheen are father and son in real life only adds to the film’s dramatic tension.

3. Home for the Holidays

Few films capture the mix of dysfunction and warmth that comes with Thanksgiving better than Jodie Foster’s 1995 comedy. Holly Hunter and Robert Downey, Jr. are perfectly cast as a brother and sister weathering uptight siblings, kooky aunts and other family drama with sharp humor and lump-in-your throat tearful moments. We’re not crying. Mom must be cooking her famous onion soup.

2. Hannah and Her Sisters

Widely considered one of the best films in Woody Allen’s vast filmography, Hannah and Her Sisters charts the lives of three very different sisters over the course of three separate Thanksgivings. The holiday serves as a backdrop that reminds us of the ties that bind and also tear us down.

1. Planes, Trains And Automobiles

No movie captures the ups and downs of Thanksgiving quite like this John Hughes classic. Steve Martin plays Neal Page, a high-strung marketing suit who gets paired with John Candy’s slobby salesman Del Griffith as they both try to get back to Chicago in time for the holiday. Hughes was a master of tapping into some very American emotions, and the movie’s climax — where (spoiler alert!) Neal realizes Del has nowhere to go and invites him to come to dinner with his family — is a touching moment that in lesser hands would come off as maudlin.


Pox Kegger

This Is How the Benders Throw a Chickenpox Party

It's a Pox Kegger on tonight's all-new Benders.

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On this week’s Benders, Paul and Karen take their relationship to the next level when they both get the chickenpox. What do you bring to a chickenpox party? Chicken wings? A bucket of pox?

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For us, a sick day is best spent on the day on the couch, watching episodes of Portlandia on Netflix (guessing!) eating bowls of chicken soup, and sipping weak tea. But Karen didn’t count on the team spirit that binds Paul’s amateur hockey team together. So when the Chubbys find out that one of their teammates is in need, they have no choice but to be there for him–whether his wife likes it or not. Find out what happens when Benders airs tonight at 10P on IFC.

SAW, Shawnee Smith, 2004. ph: Greg Gayne/©Lionsgate/courtesy Everett Collection

Saw's Death Traps

The Creepiest Death Traps From the Saw Movies

See Jigsaw's creepiest traps.

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The deathtraps featured in the Saw movies are basically what would happen if Rube Goldberg and Hellraiser had a demon hell child. Jigsaw (and his assistants) build devices of such staggering complexity that it’s a wonder what they could actually accomplish if they used their skills for good instead of for ironic punishment.

Before you catch the Saw movie marathon on IFC, check out the most creepiest traps from each movie which, of course, are very NSFW unless you work for Jigsaw.

1. The Reverse Bear Trap, Saw

The Reverse Bear Trap was the most visually distinctive contraption of the original movie and set the macabre template for the rest of the series. A large metal machine is connected to the victim’s face. If they fail the test, powerful motors will open their jaw to a truly fatal degree. It basically takes all of our dental surgery fears to a horrifying new level.

2. The Razor Box, Saw II

The Razor Box presents a serious dilemma: A poisoned victim sees a clear box containing an antidote. But if they reach in to grab it, razors cut into their arms. Just a few seconds of examination would have revealed the trap’s key on top of the box. It turns out that when you’re locked in a filthy pit of death traps by a lunatic, the most obvious solution completely goes out the window.

3. Amanda’s Test, Saw III

Amanda survives the Reverse Bear Trap from the first movie and goes on to work with Jigsaw. (And you thought your job interview was bad.) Unfortunately it turns out that most people building death traps don’t actually want their victims to survive. When Amanda shoots someone rather than releasing them from a shotgun collar, Jigsaw explains that that was Amanda’s test. Just after manipulating his other apprentice into shooting her in the neck.

4. See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Saw IV

Two men wake up wearing collars chained to a winding cylinder. One has his eyes sewn shut, the other his mouth, so they’re not really in a condition to take a calm look at the situation. The result is a perfectly brutal tragedy of miscommunication and mutilation.

5. The Fatal Five Teamwork Traps, Saw V

Five victims face a series of traps which can be non-lethally solved with the power of teamwork. (Jigsaw could’ve had a great side career as a corporate trainer.) Unfortunately for the five (then four, then three…) they compete with and kill each other until the final test, where they have to sacrifice a total of ten pints of blood to escape. With only two people left, it doesn’t go well.

6. Breathing Room, Saw VI

A health insurance executive and his company’s heavy-smoker janitor are locked into crushing vices connected to breathing masks. The more they breathe, the tighter the vices close, until only one survives. We’ll be honest; we love this because someone specifically built it so that the “breathing room” pun isn’t the most painful aspect.

7. The Love Triangle, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter

The many Saw sequels meant that Jigsaw and his cohorts had to get even more creative to keep their deathtraps fresh. The Love Triangle took things into the outside world by sticking three actual bodies in a mall display full of actual saws. How did Jigsaw install a murder machine and three actual living humans in a public display booth without being caught? And where is Batman when you need him? Jigsaw is really approaching Joker territory here.

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