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The week’s critic wrangle: Some Scorsese guy, “Little Children,” “Shortbus.”

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"When you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"
+ "The Departed": We had a suspicion Martin Scorsese‘s latest wasn’t going to be so great — no reason, except that perhaps it seemed a too good to be true. Scorsese returning to crime and criminals; Scorsese remaking "Infernal Affairs"; Scorsese doing Boston! Well, looks like we were wrong, thank gods.

At LA Weekly, Scott Foundas calls "The Departed" "the best thing [Scorsese]’s done in ages," and while noting that he "wouldn’t rush to call the movie one of Scorsese’s best," also concludes rather nicely that

Indeed, the very vibrancy of this movie is tied to its familiarity, to the thrill of seeing “Marty” shrug off his yen for enshrinement in some ersatz canon and rekindle the old razzle-dazzle — the pulse-quickening energy, the restless zooms and tracking shots, the explosions of gory violence — that once made every young film student in America want to be him (before they decided they wanted to be Tarantino instead).

Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly thinks that the shift of setting to Boston has freed Scorsese up: "In embracing this new locale, Scorsese creates a movie built on the foundations of GoodFellas and Mean Streets but not chained to it, a picture that feels as effortless as The Aviator and Gangs of New York felt effortful." At New York, David Edelstein writes that "[t]he movie works smashingly, especially if you haven’t seen its Hong Kong counterpart and haven’t a clue what’s coming. But for all its snap, crackle, and pop, it’s nowhere near as galvanic emotionally." He also finds DiCaprio a little "lumpish," and Nicholson a little too much "Jack," an emotion seconded by Manohla Dargis at the New York Times: "[H]e’s playing bigger and badder than life with engines roaring. It’s a loud, showy performance." In comparing this remake with the original, she adds that "Hong Kong and Hollywood action films are themselves doppelgängers of a sort, and Mr. Scorsese, himself larger than life, is one of their biggest, baddest daddies."

Dana Stevens at Slate (who cautions that "The Departed isn’t the masterpiece I have the feeling some may hail it as. It feels like the kind of movie critics might overpraise, if only because it’s nice to see Scorsese back in the saddle and a treat to find a cops-and-robbers thriller with some energy and wit.") is one of several to hail Mark Wahlberg‘s performance: "As the foul-mouthed putdown artist Dignam, Wahlberg can’t deliver a line without cracking the audience up. He shines even amidst a uniformly strong cast, just as he did in I Heart Huckabees."

At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek writes that "This is a picture of grand gestures and subtle intricacies, a movie that, even at more than two hours long, feels miraculously lean. It’s a smart shot of lucid storytelling." She goes so far as to say

People will want to compare "The Departed" with "Goodfellas," but the movies are worlds apart: "Goodfellas," for all its violence, carries nearly no emotional weight — it’s a tooting fairground organ with no soul. "The Departed" has weight and bite, although it’s also a thrilling entertainment.

And J. Hoberman at the Village Voice compares and contrasts "The Departed" with "Infernal Affairs" more than anyone else, finding the former lacking and "[n]either a debacle nor a bore." His problem, too, is Jack, and he slips in that "Scorsese has a long history of burdening films with unpleasant and even atrocious central performances, and Nicholson seems bent on twirling the mustache off Daniel Day-Lewis‘s heavy in Gangs of New York—a role that really belonged to producer Harvey Weinstein."



Pedophiles away.
+ "Little Children": While soundly derided by everyone we spoke to at the New York Film Festival (we passed on it — Matt Singer reviews it here), Todd Field’s second directorial effort has attracted mixed-to-good reviews from the general critical mass. Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly declares the film a "jolting, artfully made drama set in and around a suburban playground somewhere between American Beauty and In the Bedroom on America’s psychic highway," and A.O. Scott at the New York Times, in a thoroughly rapturous review, heralds Field as "among the most literary of American filmmakers, one of the few who tries to find a visual language suited to the ambiguous plainness of contemporary realist fiction."

Elsewhere, other aren’t impressed. At LA Weekly, Ella Taylor bemoans that the film "divides its time evenly between melodrama and black comedy, uneasy bedfellows under most conditions but especially in a movie that solicits sympathy for its wounded souls." David Edelstein at New York calls the film "an unusually powerful mess," but ultimately finds that it works: "This is satire that doesn’t diminish its characters. It makes them bottomless."

And Andrew O’Hehir at Salon wraps it all up:

"Little Children" is going to get some very good reviews, and right now its producers are expecting to line up onstage at awards shows toward the end of winter. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s an unholy mess, simultaneously too Gothic and too sarcastic, that preaches liberation and delivers only puritanism. It’s a craftsmanlike but robotic imitation of "interesting" filmmaking, only in patches, and by accident, the real thing. Let it win awards; no one will even remember it in five years.


"I like cute people."
+ "Shortbus": The surprise champion of John Cameron Mitchell‘s melange of unsimulated sex and post-9/11 trauma is Armond White at the New York Press, who sets aside his aversion for all things hipster to declare "If Gregg Araki’s kaleidoscopic Nowhere was Gen X’s La Dolce Vita, this is Gen Y’s funny-and-raunchy Rules of the Game":

I never expected a movie this playfully adroit and poignant from the director/star of the calamitous Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The events of 9/11 must have sent a jolt through Mitchell, causing him to understand that boho grandstanding on its own has little justification.

Others liking the film include Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, who writes:

The sex in the movie is “real” not just because it isn’t simulated, but because the bodies taking part in it are of all shapes and sizes, including a great many that would never pass a Hollywood screen test. But the boldest provocation of Mitchell’s sweet, tender and gently funny film may be its exuberant celebration of community and togetherness at a cultural moment rife with fatalism and disconnect.

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times is charmed: "Mr. Mitchell isn’t the first non-pornographic filmmaker to incorporate sexually explicit material into his work, but he may be the most optimistic and good-natured…Make those bodies laugh as well as writhe, as Mr. Mitchell does here, and the metaphors can feel less punishing, more palatable." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon is also charmed:

[T]he sex is the most unremarkable thing about it. What surprised me most about this gentle-spirited sprawl of a movie, set in post-9/11 New York City, is what I can only call the friendly, Midwestern quality of the filmmaking… This may be a movie made by a New Yorker (albeit a Texas-born one), yet it’s anything but insular. Gregarious, neurotic, maybe a little guilty of oversharing: "Shortbus" is American right to its nonexistent short shorts.

Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly declares that "If I’m going to see sex on
screen — as opposed to the brushing of teeth — I want something hotter.
I find these people silly, and desperately antic." And Reverse Shot‘s trio, which this week is made up of
Michael Koresky, Keith Uhlich and Jeannette Catsoulis, are mixed. Uhlich dislikes the "false-hearted pathos/catharsis," while Catsoulis and Koresky love and like it, with Koresky writing that:

Mitchell’s cinematic instincts — so musical, so grandiose, so spectacularly queer yet attempting to be hetero-friendly — are so dead-on ("Shortbus" contains the most humane, compassionate use of the close-up of any American film this year) that it will be easy for many to overlook "Shortbus"’s slightly faulty wiring and precarious plot pivots.


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.