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The week’s critic wrangle: “Volver,” “Borat.”

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Women's troubles.
+ "Volver": Everyone loves Almodóvar. And everyone loves Penélope Cruz. A.O. Scott at the New York Times claims that

With this role Ms. Cruz inscribes her name near the top of any credible list of present-day flesh-and-blood screen goddesses, in no small part because she manages to be earthy, unpretentious and a little vulgar without shedding an ounce of her natural glamour.

As for the film, he finds that "Mr. Almodóvar has made yet another picture that moves beyond camp into a realm of wise, luxuriant humanism." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon is rapturous about all of the actresses (she finds the film has rescued Cruz from cuteness) and writes that "The picture is so full of life that it seems less a product of the imagination than of the soil."

Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE admits that "it wasn’t until ‘Volver’ that I really began taking Pedro Almodovar seriously as an artist…By the time he reaches his conclusion you’ll be simultaneously dazzled at ‘Volver”s convolutions, and, hopefully, awed by the state of grace they point towards."

Rob Nelson at the Village Voice writes "Fair warning: If you’re not terribly fond of women, you probably shouldn’t see Volver, a movie wherein mere mortality doesn’t stop mothers from loudly smooching their daughters’ cheeks, a breezy comedy in which a seemingly typical male gets stabbed, stuffed into a fridge, and buried at swamp’s edge." Boy, Mr. Nelson, if the character who tries to rape his stepdaughter is a "seemingly typical male," we’d hate to go to a party at your house! Also, we sure hope you include these reader-service "fair warnings" on other films you review, e.g. "Fair warning: If you’re not terribly fond of black people, you probably shouldn’t see ‘Ray’ — it’s full of ’em!"

But we digress. On the less ecstatic side, Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly asks "[A]s artfully clever as Volver can be, will I be alone in feeling that the movie is more talky than transcendent? Volver has oodles of ”empathy” without being particularly moving." Scott Foundas at LA Weekly seconds him, finding that the film is "the slightest thing [Almodóvar]’s
done in years, impeccably crafted of course…The movie is enjoyable,
but not passionately engaging in the way we’ve come to expect from
Almodóvar, and it leaves you somewhat cold in spite of the warmth of
Cruz’s galvanic performance."

David Edelstein at New York writes that "Before it loses its fizz—maybe two thirds of the way through—Volver offers the headiest pleasures imaginable…It’s too bad Almodóvar can’t keep all the balls spinning." And at the New Yorker, Anthony Lane finds that "[T]he film, against my wishes, left me unmoved. There is a lovely scene in which Cruz sings (or lip-synchs) a plaintive ballad, with her tears brimming and the words laying forth the theme of return, but that is just the problem: you feel another cog being added to the film’s emotional engine, and something about the construction seems too efficient and pat."

The strangest red state travelogue.
+ "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan": No, it’s not independent, though it’s the first major studio release we can think of (we didn’t try very hard) that apes the look of a low-budget, amateurish indie. It’s also one of the best-reviewed films of the year so far — that being said, let’s start with darling Armond at the New York Press, who, naturally, hates it:

As Borat Sagdiyev, Cohen pretends to document the habits of fly-over America; his red state debauch ultimately pandering to Liberals’ worst instincts. But will moviegoers exhibit the same self-loathing as Borat’s ass-kissing film critics?

His argument is that the film panders to the red state/blue state divide, that "Borat is not funny—except, perhaps, to 13-year-olds or people who imagine Cohen’s targets (that is, other Americans) as mortal enemies."

White’s pretty much the lone dissenter here; J. Hoberman at the Voice in fact point out (with complementary intent) that "[Baron Cohen]’s target isn’t really an imaginary version of Nazerbayev’s nation (nor its enemies, the ‘evil nitwits’ of Uzbekistan); it is rather the domain of the ‘great warlord Premier Bush,’ red states in particular."

At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis note that a certain shocking scene in a gun store "may inspire accusations that Mr. Baron Cohen is simply trading on cultural and regional stereotypes, and he is, just not simply. The brilliance of ‘Borat’ is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy." At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek muses that "the true brilliance of ‘Borat’ may lie deeply buried between the almost infinite number of quotable lines: Sometimes we can’t face up to our own capacity for cruelty — but at least we can get a gag out of it."

Dana Stevens at Slate tries to classify the film, deciding that it’s not a parody, that it in fact "belongs to the tradition of the character-based spoof. Think of Peter Sellers in the original Pink Panther series or Mike Myers in the Austin Powers movies: comic performances so outsized they make the movie around them seem like mere decoration, an excuse for the character to exist." At Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman thinks that "it’s no reduction of Borat to say that the whole movie is a kind of slapstick psycho-political Jackass. It’s a comedy of global insanity in which Borat, the old-world specimen of masculis ignoramus from an underdeveloped half-Muslim nation, stands in for a world we didn’t have to think much about before 9/11, and the people Borat talks to become the symbolic heart of America — a place where intolerance is worn, increasingly, with pride."

Scott Foundas at LA Weekly proclaims that "Crash  — to say nothing of Michael Moore — has nothing on this," though he wonders is "the most openly subversive movie funded by a major Hollywood studio in I don’t know how long will also end up the ultimate proof of the impossibility of a truly vital American political cinema." And closing us out yet again is Anthony Lane at the New Yorker, who finds that "Borat" "offers comfort neither to Baron Cohen’s onscreen victims nor to his audience; it is as if he were outraged by the business of our being human—as if, in laying bare our follies, he were just quickening the process by which we already make fools of ourselves."


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.