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The week’s critic wrangle: “Babel,” “DoaP,” Herzog.

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+ "Babel": Swelling with importance or self-importance, Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s "Babel" arrives in theaters and divides the critics. Reoccurring thoughts: "Babel" is like "Crash," but better. The Japanese storyline is the most compelling. The connection of the Japanese storyline to the other two is a little thin. When you try to lay out the film’s larger meaning, it’s either elusive or a little silly.

One of the fondest of the film is Slate‘s Dana Stevens, who writes that "Babel has great expectations for itself: It wants to be a movie about big ideas and big emotions at the same time. Aided by gorgeous locations and classy trappings (cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, theme music by Gustavo Santaolalla), it succeeds for the most part." Scott Foundas at LA Weekly believes that the film is like "Crash" in that it "share[s] a similarly reductive view of human nature," but also writes that "Babel has an undeniable power, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s at its most contrived and implausible."

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott salutes the film’s power while allowing:

That the film possesses unusual aesthetic force strikes me as undeniable, but its power does not seem to be tethered to any coherent idea or narrative logic. You can feel it without ever quite believing it.

Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum is more skeptical:

Measured in anything other than biblical cubits, the sum of Babel’s many parts turns out to be a picture that suggests Americans ought to stay home and treat their nannies better.

At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir believes that Iñárritu is "one of the purest talents to emerge in this medium since Martin Scorsese," but notes ever so nicely of "Babel"’s striving for themes of connection and isolation:

[T]he risk that "Babel" takes, in laboriously and lovingly connecting the private tragedies of four families in four different countries, is turning that observation, which may be lovely as a momentary flash of insight, into a stoned college freshman’s profound theory about the universe. Tremendous resources have been expended here so that Cate Blanchett can lie on a dirt floor and moan, while we ponder why we can’t all get along, and whether we aren’t all the same under the skin.

David Denby at the New Yorker also writes of Iñárritu’s talents, but deplores the way "he abuses his audience with a humorless fatalism and a piling up of calamities that borders on the ludicrous."

Among the scornful: David Edelstein at New York, who sighs that "Tricky storytelling is an irritant when you can’t trust the storyteller." Jim Ridley at the Village Voice calls the film "Crash rewritten by Yoda"; he finds the film’s politicking heavy-handed, but concludes that "the sentiment is less galling than the narrative contortions that put it across."

And Armond (oh, Armond) White at the New York Press calls it "Crash for hipsters," and goes on to marvel that "It’s a weird sensation to watch an American-financed movie that condemns U.S. culture and the people who produced it, yet intends those same suckers to watch it."

And in summary:

A.O. Scott: "In the end ‘Babel,’ like that tower in the book of Genesis, is a grand wreck…" And David Denby: "’Babel’ is an infuriatingly well-made disaster."


+ "Death of a President": Armond White, being ever so quotable this week, believes that Gabriel Range‘s faux-documentary depicting the assassination of President Bush "may be the ugliest movie moment ever presented to a rational public." He’s the only one who manages to be perturbed about this film, which doesn’t seems to be generated nearly as much controversy as its distributors surely hoped after its Toronto debut.

Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader believes the film shouldn’t been labeled a mockumentary; he finds it engages the news format more than, perhaps, the documentary form, but that it also struggles to be a thriller: "[the film] wants to function as a mindless thriller that eventually makes us think — and only after the film is over question the form that encouraged us to be mindless. These are incompatible agendas, and in the end neither is fully successful."

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon would disagree; he finds the "the tone of mournful elegy [Range] strikes here is both convincing and — believe me, I’m shocked to be writing this — moving." Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman similarly thinks that "Death of a President begins as a disturbingly clever stunt but concludes as a contradiction, a political nightmare of haunting banality."

But for others, that banality precisely the problem. At the Village Voice, J. Hoberman labels the film "[d]ramatically inert but a minor techno-miracle," concluding that:

Death of a President is ultimately just an exercise. There’s a far more subversive political mock-umentary coming next week. I invite President Bush, Senator Clinton, and all politicians to get down with Borat.

And A.O. Scott at the New York Times writes that the film is "in the end, neither terribly outrageous nor especially heroic; it’s a thought experiment that traffics in received ideas."


The Andromedan.
+ "The Wild Blue Yonder"
: Getting a smidgen of a release is Werner Herzog‘s "science fiction fantasy," which features documentary footage mixed in with narration by Brad Dourif, playing a stranded alien. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon declares it "Not a major Herzog work or one that will draw a large audience, but a must-see for those who suspect (as I do) that he’s one of the greatest talents now working in this medium." The New York PressArmond White, on the other hand, thinks it is "one of his very best films" and that Herzog is the savior of the documentary.

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times believes the film "works better as an experience than it does conceptually," and adds that even when images are included for their own sake, "[t]here is pleasure in such useless beauty, of course, and pleasure too in drifting with the jellyfish amid the wild blue yonder of a great filmmaker’s imagination."

And Ed Halter at the Village Voice writes that "[t]hough occasionally striking, the footage doesn’t pack the evocative punch Herzog intends, and segments that should be lyrical mind trips only result in overstretched longueurs."


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.