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“A Scanner Darkly.”

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"Does it see into me?"
Richard Linklater‘s "A Scanner Darkly" captures the bleary, jittery feel of a sleep-free three-day bender so well that it’s often remarkably unpleasant to watch — the rotoscoped animation style Linklater first used in 2001’s "Waking Life" (another one we found unpleasant to watch, for different reasons) has been refined to something close enough to lifelike to be constantly disconcerting. The animation renders the actors slightly exaggerated versions of themselves — Keanu Reeves, as Fred, an undercover cop investigating a drug ring, is all cheekbones and under-eye circles in closeup, while from further away his five o’clock shadow hovers over his face, a smear of grey-brown; Winona Ryder is practically a floating pair of too-wide eyes; Robert Downey Jr. seems so wired he almost quivers…well, that’s not such a novelty — and, intentional or not, the very walls and floors tremor slightly. Perspective is off.

We’ve never read the Philip K. Dick novel on which the film is based. By most accounts, the film follows it closely, which is interesting because it seems like such a vintage Linklater stoneresque flick, if one wedded to a particularly grim sensibility and weighted with sci-fi trappings. It’s the near future — we’re told that 20% of the population is addicted to Substance D, a new designer drug, and law enforcement is scrambling to figure out where it’s coming from, while the government has contracted a private firm, New Path, to run rehab centers for the overwhelming flow of addicts, most of whom develop severe neurological problems from the drug. Fred works in a department in which all of the officers wear "scramble suits" to obscure their identity when they’re not working undercover — only the higher-ups seems to know who’s working on which case. Fred’s alter-ego is Bob Arctor, a D addict living in a run-down house with two others, Barris (Downey) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson), and sometimes dating Donna (Ryder), a dealer he’s ostensibly trying to investigate. Reeves, Downey and Harrelson are a kind of grand triumvirate of druggy actors, and their scenes together are surprisingly funny, if claustrophobic and meandering: conversations are endless and circular, epic illogic reigns. Fred doesn’t seem to be making much headway in his investigation, possibly because he’s been asked to focus it on Bob Arctor — himself.

What does D do, exactly? We seem to only see the accumulating side effects, though there must be some initial appeal to it, before the hallucinations and paranoia and separation of the two sides of the brain. Despite the film’s broad dystopian themes and hints at a nation poisoned and crumbling from within, we never get far beyond the circle of burnouts we’re introduced to in the beginning, just as they can’t seem to tear themselves out of each other’s orbit. If anything, the sci-fi aspects of the story serve as fulfillment of any addict’s worst paranoid delusions — that you really are being watched, that your ramshackle house really is wired with the latest in undetectable technology, and that somewhere nearby your every move really is being pored over by a bevy of government agents.

It’s hard to feel much about "A Scanner Darkly" — as a gloomy mood piece, it’s interesting but forgettable, too emotionally remote to leave much of an impact. This is the first Dick novel (as opposed to short story) adapted into a film in the US since "Blade Runner," and, like most of his novels, the film struggles with balancing arresting ideas with a believable world. When the film suddenly accelerates toward an ending whose outcome you’ve probably already guessed, it’s both jarring and implausible — come on, really? Surely the grounded (if stylishly depicted) despair seeping out of everything that came before is worth more than such an artless, portentous end?

Opens today in limited release.

+ "A Scanner Darkly" (Official site)


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.