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The week’s critic wrangle: “Avenue Montaigne,” “Bamako.”

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Cécile De France.
+ "Avenue Montaigne": Either "breezy but inconsequential" (Nick Schager at Slant) or "a humble pleasure" (Manohla Dargis at the New York Times), the latest film from Danièle Thompson, last seen in the US with her 2002 film "Jet Lag", was a hit in France and the country’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film. The film seems to either charm or overcharm — the most fond may be Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, who calls the film "a delicious French pastry, tart and sweet, steeped in Parisian glamour." Others sum it up as a success in its own small way:  Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly notes, not unkindly, that the film is "soap-bubbly"; Ella Taylor at the Village Voice writes that "Avenue Montaigne doesn’t pretend to be deep, but it’s precise about the way people of privilege define themselves by what they lack or long for more than what they have, or have done." At indieWIRE, Nick Pinkerton allows that "The craftsmanship is unexceptional, with the use of Scope particularly inexplicable, and the film’s finally more pleasant than funny – you could call it fluff and you’d be right. But it stays within its own modest boundaries, so why get peevish?"

While it seems no one would bother to argue heatedly over this film, here’s the mild-mannered main disagreement. Schager:

The director refuses to insistently overplay her tale’s comedic and dramatic ingredients, though Avenue Montaigne’s relaxed, frothy lightness is at once appealingly low-key and more than a bit slight, with the various coincidences and dilemmas inoffensive to the point of having scant impact at all.


It would be easy to dismiss the film for its lack of heft, for the deaf ear and blind eye it has apparently turned to the world, but only if you mistook this self-conscious fairy tale for a slice of realism or forgot about Jessica. “Avenue Montaigne” is a bonbon, not a bouillabaisse. But because this is finally a film about desire, it carries a bittersweet tang.


Aïssa Maïga.
+ "Bamako": We found Abderrahmane Sissako‘s film about putting the World Bank, IMF et al. on trial in a Malian courtyard problematic when we saw it at the New York Film Festival (review here) — most of the critical community does not, save Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club, who cautions that "[t]he central conceit is audacious, but the film feels oddly slack and inert, livened only by testimony better suited to another forum."

Nathan Lee, writing at the Village Voice, has an interesting view of the "Bamako" as responding to the tropes of the "festival film" — though we wouldn’t agree at all that films are foremost bound to speak to the audiences of their countries of origin. Similarly, Andrew O’Hehir at Salon claims that "you can criticize ‘Bamako’ for all sorts of reasons, but good luck finding any that it doesn’t cover itself" — he goes on to write that

By any logical assessment, this mixture of apparently incompatible ingredients should collapse into an incoherent hash. But "Bamako" is so ferociously intelligent and cannily constructed that its warring elements all support each other.

A.O. Scott at the New York Times acknowledges that "’Bamako’ can be described as didactic, which simply means that it overtly tries to use film to teach. But there is also another dimension to the movie, an attention to the details of daily life in Bamako that lends it extraordinary richness and gravity." Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE contrasts the film with recent glossy American outrage efforts like Edward Zwick‘s "Blood Diamond," finding that "Bamako" both "offers a refreshingly multifaceted view" and "represents a powerful protest." Even Armond White, over at the New York Press, proclaims that "By specifying the public ritual of trial and protest, Bamako breaks through the cultural naivete that makes people think movies like Black Hawk Down, The Constant Gardener and Blood Diamond (with the exception of Djimon Hounsou’s eloquent anguish) have anything to do with Africa." He does allow that there is at least one occasion in which "Sissako risks devolving into propaganda."


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.