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NYFF: “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

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"It is in pain that we learn the meaning of God."
We can’t think of any easy context for Guillermo del Toro‘s so very excellent "Pan’s Labyrinth" beyond his own 2001 film "The Devil’s Backbone," which, while good, now seems like it was just practice for what was to come. In "Pan’s Labyrinth," unapologetic dark fantasy butts up against an even darker historical setting — the story is told from the point of view of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl for whom fairytales are still very real and at least as vivid as day-to-day life. They provide an escape she may not fully appreciate from her alarming environs. It’s 1944 in Spain, and the Fascist forces are crushing the last vestiges of resistance left after the civil war. Ofelia’s mother has remarried out of a sense of self-preservation and is pregnant by her new husband, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), whom the two are traveling to live with. She desperately hopes he’ll take to and take care of Ofelia, in part because her pregnancy seems to be killing her, but she doesn’t grasp the charming depths of personality. We do, because we soon see him "interrogate" a local by bashing his face in with a wine bottle.

Ofelia, regardless, has other things to focus on — she wanders off into an ancient maze behind the estate and discovers at its center an underground chamber with a faun (played, with the aid of puppeteers to provide facial expressions, by Doug Jones) waiting within. He tells her he’s been waiting for her, that she is the reincarnation of a long-lost princess and that he can return her to her palace and waiting royal parents once she completes three tasks to prove her identity.

Del Toro grasps that escape through fantasy doesn’t necessitate fluffy clouds and ponies. Ofelia’s other world is vivid and magical, but also filled with uncertainty and dread (and terror, in fact — the second task had us literally shaking in our seat). Still, there she is the main character, the important one, the one with responsibilities. In the real world, she and her mother are without power, living under the thumb of a monster of a man given leadership at a time when the world seemed to have gone insane.

"Pan’s Labyrinth" offers all kinds of visual splendor, from the overall richness of color to the lavish fantastical set-pieces to smaller touches of enchantment, like a mandrake root unfurling and coming to life like a baby (and don’t even get us started on the sound design). As the worlds begin to intersect, subtle parallels occur, from the soldiers’ opening of umbrellas echoing the breathing of a giant toad to, later, the stumbling of a sightless ogre being paired with a no less frightening real life correspondent.

The film ends on a note that’s both infinitely troubling and almost perfect, carrying with it the implication that adulthood is a terrible spectrum of moral compromise. We can’t recommend the film enough, though we have to wonder about its fate at the box office. "Pan’s Labyrinth" is a splendid intersection of genre and arthouse, which may, like "The Host," make it appealing to no one in our compartmentalized moviegoing public. Not that we imagine Del Toro cares — much of what is exhilarating about "Pan’s Labyrinth" is that it seems to be exactly the film he wanted to make.

Screens October 15 at Avery Fisher Hall; opens in theaters December 29th.

+ "Pan’s Labyrinth" (NYFF)
+ "Pan’s Labyrinth" (Picturehouse)


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.