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“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” ThinkFilm, 2007]

Sidney Lumet’s new film begs the question: which is more important, family or money? Everyone in his pitch-black thriller and morality tale needs cash, and they all have to go to others to get it. Marisa Tomei’s character comes to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s, Hoffman’s goes to Ethan Hawke’s, Hawke’s someone else’s, and so on. If, as the title suggests, the characters would do best to get to heaven half an hour before the devil know they’re dead, one can only assume that the devil is a debt collector.

Hoffman and Hawke play brothers Andy and Hank. In order to secure the finances they both need they plan a jewelry store burglary. Eventually, we learn the store belongs to their mother and father, played by Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris. It takes a truly demented sort of person to rob your own parents; Andy in particular is just that sort. What better place to toss, he reasons, than one you know intimately, down to the locations of all the hidden alarms. Plus, he reasons that his parents are insured for anything he pinches. It’s crazy, but maybe not that crazy.

The film has a hopscotchy structure; bouncing back and forth between before and after the heist, as well as between the perspectives of the characters. Though some of the temporal knots are just for show — the film goes out of our way to explain how a door buzzer got busted without explaining why we should care — but others enrich our understanding of not only the characters themselves, but of their own understanding of each other. To younger brother Hank, Andy is a put-together businessman who exudes charm and confidence. From Andy’s side of those meetings, he’s barely holding things together between drug fixes.

The material is familiar territory for Lumet; one of his very best pictures, “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) also pushed damaged characters and families to the foreground of a heist-gone-wrong. Lumet’s twist in “Before the Devil” is to push the characters so deep into darkness that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t even visible. Melancholy as the criminals in “Dog Day” were, they have nothing on Andy and Hank, as well as Finney’s Charles, whose veneer of grandfatherly suffering is further wiped away with each jump in perspective. By the end of the film all three men have done horrible things to each other; the family is so twisted, they make the Sopranos look like the Kennedys.

The cast is superb, as you’d expect from masters like Hoffman, Hawke, and Finney, but even the smaller roles make big impressions, like Tomei impressively naked (both emotionally and physically) as Andy’s long-suffering wife and “Bug”‘s Michael Shannon as Dex, who is at once a terrifying heavy and the most oddly sympathetic and reasonable character in the film. Auteurists who look down their noses at Lumet’s half-century career can reject him on the grounds of his seeming lack of distinctive visual technique, but that sort of tunnel vision ignores his almost unparalleled skill with actors. His characters are big and broad, and actors, even good ones, could easy turn into their parts into enormous slices of ham. If the man can keep Al Pacino and Vin Diesel in line, he must be doing something right.

So back to that first question. What is more important: family or money? For Lumet’s film, the answer’s the latter. But how much do you want to bet the actors all took pay cuts to make the film and work with him?

“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” opens in limited release October 26th (official site).


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.