DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on Brad Pitt, the Unpredictable Movie Star

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Brad Pitt is unquestionably a movie star, but what kind is he? The lead in this past weekend’s “Killing Them Softly,” he doesn’t have a single movie in the Top 140 of the all-time domestic box office chart, and his biggest worldwide hit, “Troy,” is just outside the Top 100 of the international chart. And yet he’s indisputably one of our most recognizable faces, one half of the world’s biggest celebrity couple. But despite the many memorable films he’s been a part of over the last 20 years, he doesn’t have a “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Men in Black” franchise that’s catapulted him into the ranks of mega-blockbuster stars. (Even the “Ocean’s Eleven” films don’t quite count because of their ensemble nature and the fact that none of them have ever cracked $200 million. They’ve always been cool, hip doubles or triples rather than outright home runs.) I don’t bring any of this up to knock him. In fact, I realize it’s part of the reason why I like him so much. With his looks and charisma, he was probably going to be a star regardless. But how he’s decided to approach his stardom has been consistently gratifying as a viewer.

Pitt will turn 49 on December 18, making him about six months younger than Johnny Depp and 18 months younger than Tom Cruise. He’d been working in television in the late ‘80s — landing parts on everything from “Dallas” to “Head of the Class” to “21 Jump Street” — before really coming to moviegoers’ attention with 1991’s “Thelma & Louise.” It was a minor but crucial role as a cocky hunk who seduces Thelma and, oh yeah, steals her money. Despite not having a lot of screen time, Pitt established a persona that has presaged just about every role he’s taken since, playing a handsome, carefree guy who’s sharper and more calculating than he first appears. Additionally, it was a quality movie, an early sign that he (or, at least, his handlers) had the good sense to pick strong, interesting work.

The rest of the ‘90s saw Pitt transitioning into studio projects, but hardly ones that were always overtly commercial. He would do an “Interview With the Vampire,” where he played second fiddle to Cruise, but he’d also try his hand at more thoughtful fare like “Seven Years in Tibet” and “A River Runs Through It,” a drama directed by Robert Redford that inspired many comparisons between the boyishly gorgeous young actor and his equally photogenic, golden-haired director. But like Redford, Pitt didn’t want to be judged just by his looks, choosing edgier thrillers like “Kalifornia,” “Twelve Monkeys” and “Seven” that would showcase his darker side. (And with “Twelve Monkeys,” he received his first of four Oscar nominations, for Best Supporting Actor.)

The decade culminated in perhaps the perfect amalgam of Pitt’s commercial and artistic ambitions, starring in “Seven” director David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” still one of the nerviest, most subversive movies to ever come from a studio. Not surprisingly, the movie bombed, only to become a cult hit in subsequent years. As Tyler Durden, the loopy, dangerous mentor to Ed Norton’s miserable office drone, Pitt delivered his finest performance to that point, fully comfortable as a seductive movie star but willing to play with that image to produce a character who was funny and unsettling.

This isn’t to say he didn’t have his missteps. His earnest turn in “Meet Joe Black” couldn’t save that film, and his one-note gimmick of a performance in “Snatch” could make you worry that he was getting bored with being a star and lapsing into self-indulgence. But then he’d surprise you with something that seemed completely dashed-off and yet endlessly amusing. At least that’s my take on “Ocean’s Eleven,” that rare instance when a lot of big-name talent — director Steven Soderbergh, stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Pitt — all decide to make a big, silly, stylish lark and it actually turns out to be as much fun to watch as it sounds like it was to make. Pitt’s Rusty isn’t so much a character as he is an attitude, but that hardly mattered since the actor’s essence filled in the gaps; “Ocean’s Eleven” and its two sequels are Pitt at his most effortless, having a ball but letting the audience feel like they’re part of the gang as well.

His career was soon going to change thanks to “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” the 2005 hit that’s still his highest-grossing in the U.S. The movie is completely fine, but its real cultural impact is that it set in motion his relationship with co-star Angelina Jolie (and breakup with wife Jennifer Aniston), which became instant tabloid fodder. Since then, Pitt and Jolie have always been overshadowed a little by the whole “Brangelina” phenomenon. That’s too bad since Pitt has worked his hardest to make us focus on the work instead, starring in “Babel,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (his third pairing with Fincher). “Jesse James” in particular was a real revelation: a chance for Pitt to play the quietly frightening mythic villain James, who already seems to have one foot in the grave as the movie begins. It’s perhaps his greatest performance and the sort of role that’s ideal for a star who knows how to exude charisma while at the same time communicating the weariness of man so famous that it’s almost like his real self is vanishing. Clearly, it can be quite tempting to look at “Jesse James” as Pitt’s commentary on his own celebrity.

Entering his third decade in film, he’s hardly resting on his laurels. His work in “The Tree of Life” was another Pitt entirely: a larger-than-life ‘50s father who seemed to embody all the rugged, emotionally stunted masculinity of that generation of men. And then “Moneyball,” where endless charm and even-more-endless competitiveness duked it out. In a sense, that role was an encapsulation of the Pitt we now know: immensely likable, nonchalantly commanding, soulful around the edges. And his next two movies are, as always, a demonstration of his different creative impulses. The prickly, distinctive “Killing Them Softly” finds him reuniting with his “Jesse James” writer-director, Andrew Dominik, while next year’s “World War Z” is a hopeful studio blockbuster. “Killing Them Softly” will tank — it received a disastrous “F” rating from the audience polling company CinemaScore — but it hardly matters. (Pitt, playing a principled gangster, is terrific in it.) This is one of the advantages of being a star who’s not really beholden to any one big franchise: He can do what he pleases, and more often than not, what he does is worth your time. I see no reason to think that will change in the near future.

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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.
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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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