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“Wordplay,” “The Fountainhead”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Wordplay,” IFC Films]

There are far too few avenues in the pop-cult arena for the glorification of higher brain functions — almost by definition, the flexing of intellect and education makes the masses feel like a lower life form in a way that watching “American Idol” doesn’t, even if the high-minded exercise in question is meaningless tosh. So, when a doc like 2003’s “Spellbound” or Patrick Creadon’s “Wordplay” appears on the horizon, a certain percentage of literate Americans go to it like desert animals to an oasis spring.

It’d be easy to dismiss Creadon’s homage to crossword puzzlers, craftsmen and publishers as a full-on brown-nosing for The New York Times — it’s a movie about fandom, and if you’re not a fan, it could easily seem to be much ado about a lot of masturbatory nothing. But if you are, and you harbor an ardor for the engaged mind at play in the fields of language, culture and memory, then this is all you. Creadon sweetens the pot by interviewing virtually every celebrity that’s ever been known to prefer the tougher, end-of-the-week Times puzzles to the easier early ones, including Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Mike Mussina, Bob Dole, Ken Burns, et al. Since there’s not much to talk about, Creadon has them solve on camera, a spectacle that in itself can make you feel as stupid as a grouper.

Times puzzle editor Will Shortz and his freelance cronies properly take center stage, and while they manufacture the networks of numbered clues and dish out dollops of historical trivia about when and how the habit/hobby got started, the movie builds up to the 28th Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. (The clue-empty space-ticking clock action is arranged with digital graphics, making DVD backups profitable.) The cast of reference-section puzzle geeks may take their competition too seriously, but Creadon doesn’t, and it’s a sweet thing to see the members of this uncelebrated, unglamorous mob taste stardom thanks exclusively to what’s between their ears. The DVD comes with commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes — and five specially designed DVD-ROM puzzles.

Talk about big brain: it’s a wonder that America ever made a bestselling author out of Nietzschean philosopher/mega-novelist Ayn Rand, but we did, and Hollywood even stepped up and adapted her elitist, demagogic masterpiece “The Fountainhead” into a movie back in 1949. It’s more than just a respectful filmization of a popular message-tome that still speaks to readers who see themselves as victims of society’s monobrow — it is itself an act of Übermensch modernism.

Restless director King Vidor tells the tale about a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque architect (Gary Cooper) battling the world for the right to his own integrity, and raps out, in thick paragraphs of dialogue, Rand’s caught-somewhere-between-capitalism-and-socialism “objectivist” doctrine. But he’s also managed to make the only true Futurist film in American cinema, with a distinctive cement-and-bleached-beam veneer and a maniacally didactic narrative style. Little effort is made to persuade us that these are real characters, not just walking, ranting points of view, and in fact the film seems to have been made in an alternate universe where architecture is the country’s most imperative public concern, architects are thought literally heretical if they experiment, and hordes of citizens riot if a newspaper supports (on its front page) an untraditional building.

As with all utopia-building, and with most anything Rand stamped her sensibility on, this film is sweeping, hopeful nonsense; the final image of Cooper’s Howard Roarke standing atop the world’s tallest structure, hands on hips, is a poster for a revolution that never happened. There’s a crazy, innocent beauty in that. Predictably, mass audiences in the postwar 40s didn’t know what to make of this humdinger, but its rep has ballooned over the decades, and it has been one of the most eagerly awaited DVD titles malingering in the Hollywood vault. Supplements include a new making-of documentary.

“Wordplay” (IFC Films/Genius Products) and “The Fountainhead” (Warner Home Video) are both available on DVD on November 7th.


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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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.