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DID YOU READ

“The History Boys.”

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"Well it's just one fucking thing after another, isn't it?"
"The History Boys" is both a fine addition to the hoary old tradition of inspirational schoolteacher movies and a startlingly enjoyable subversion of it. Based on Alan Bennett’s successful London-to-Broadway play of the same name and shot with the original stage cast before they embarked on their world tour, "The History Boys" follows a group of 1980s Sheffield grammar school boys whose unexpectedly good A-level results lead the exultant headmaster to call them back for another term in order to prepare them for the exams to get into Oxford and Cambridge, and, hopefully, to move his school up in the national standings.

Even if the intricacies of the British school system remain as elusive and mysterious to you as they do to us, the substance of "The History Boys" will be evocative to anyone who cares to recall the college application races, where learning is stripped of any relevance other than how it would help gain entry into the best school. The boys, a boisterous, arrogant, endearing group, the darlings of the school, have until now been coached by Hector (Richard Griffiths), a waddling bundle of academic enthusiasm fond of quoting Housman in plummy tones, but just as fond of breaking up lessons with singing and reenactments of scenes from "Brief Encounter." The headmaster, with his vague, classist aspirations, judges that the boys need "polish" and brings in a ringer — Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), a young Oxford graduate who’s more concerned with results and strategy than enjoyment and meaning.

There are two stealthy thrills hidden within "The History Boys" — the first is that the film actually manages to convey an unfeigned intellectual excitement. Bennett’s crackling dialogue never (well, rarely — Frances de la Tour, as Mrs. Lintott, gets one jarring monologue on the place of women in history that’s too theatrical for its own good) steps outside of the bounds of realistically smart, grounded conversation. The boys are, indeed, boys — clever and cocky, they banter and argue and make dirty jokes and are terrifyingly more alive than their teachers, whose indulgent hold on authority is undermined by the fact that they seem half enraptured by the youth and promise of their pupils.

Or totally enraptured. The other unexpected pleasure of "The History Boys" is the film’s nonchalant frankness about sexuality in a single-sex school. Posner (Samuel Barnett, a standout) is hopelessly in love with head heartbreaker Dakin (Dominic Cooper), who’s perfectly aware of the fact — it’s hard to miss when Posner, in one of the best scenes, sings "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" to him across the classroom. Dakin’s also refreshingly matter-of-fact and unbothered by Posner’s worship; he’s developed a bit of an unusual crush, himself. Hector has a habit of giving boys a ride home on his moped and taking the opportunity to grope them; the boys treat this more as an annoyance than a violation (one asks another, jokingly, if he thinks they’ve all been scarred for life), though it ultimately proves Hector’s downfall. Even the cool-minded Irwin gets drawn into a dangerous flirtation, as if the roles of teacher and student are inherently balanced on the edge of instruction and enticement.


Nicholas Hytner
is an old hand at directing plays-turned-functional- screenplays — the director of London’s National Theatre, he’s previously shepherded "The Madness of King George" and "The Crucible" to film. He’s managed to avoid the airlessness that plagues most stage-to-screen transfers, in part because his excellent cast seems too vibrant to be contained on one set, even if the main part of the action is confined to the classroom. Of the boys, Cooper and Barnett are memorable — most of the others are some degree of underwritten, though their chemistry as a group is unparalleled. Griffiths is also very good, a great, ludicrous and tragic figure dramatically unlike the average teacher seen on screen (between this film and "Half Nelson," 2006 seems to be the year we took an axe to the legacy of "Dead Poets Society" and "To Sir With Love").

Having never seen the play, we can’t speak to what was lost in translation. Given the differences in run time, there’s clearly plenty that didn’t make the cut, including, apparently, a present day frame that gives the events in the center some perspective. When the film does pull back, finally, we wished it hadn’t — not only because of the clumsiness of the closing, but also because there’s a moment shortly before the conclusion that would have made for the most delightfully anarchic happy ending in the history of school stories. Take that, John Keating!

Opens in limited release November 21st.

+ "The History Boys (Fox Searchlight)

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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.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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.”

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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. 

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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.