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DID YOU READ

2007: The Five Best Retreads

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

[Photo: Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in “3:10 to Yuma,” Lionsgate, 2007]

Every year a slew of newspapers run trend pieces about the lack of originality in Hollywood, citing the flood of remakes and sequels. This year, the blathering reached a numbing level of regularity — as if recycling material hasn’t been the backbone of Hollywood and every other mixture of art and commerce from time immemorial. From the silent period when film serials were the rage, whether it be “The Perils of Pauline” to “Les Vampires,” to the “Charlie Chan” and “Mr. Moto” cycles of the 1930s, the “Thin Man” films of the 1940s, and all the way up to the James Bonds and Jason Bournes of today — the film business is built on regurgitation — and the key is in how it is presented rather than what. There were plenty of imaginative retreads this year. Here’s a list of my five favorites.

Two Wrenching Departures

Directed by Ken Jacobs

A devastating memorial to the physical presences of dearly departed friends (and former collaborators), Ken Jacobs’ “Two Wrenching Departures” was first presented as a live performance at the Museum of the Moving Image in 1990. After the deaths of Jack Smith (“Flaming Creatures”) and Bob Fleischner in the October of 1989, he prepared one of his Nervous System pieces, a series of improvised works featuring dual 16mm projectors that deconstruct images into writhing shards. In 2007, he rejiggered it for DV, and it’s a masterpiece. He slows down and loops individual movements to create a throbbing, elegiac ode to the expressive power of gesture and of cinema itself.

I Think I Love My Wife

Directed by Chris Rock

One of the most intelligent Hollywood films of the year was, sadly, one of the worst reviewed. No matter, as this remake of Eric Rohmer’s “Chloe in the Afternoon” (1973) will last longer than any number of pithy pans. In updating Rohmer’s elegant classic, Rock artfully honors the spirit of the original while infusing it with his own acidic wit and an especially insightful examination of black middle-class life. Rock’s dilemma of whether to enter into an affair with an ex-flame or stay true to his wife is pure cliché, yet his treatment of it drips with ambiguity — as his faithfulness is borne almost as much out of maintaining his social status as it is out of love. Filled with pungent vulgarities and an ending of shocking sublimity, it’s a viciously underrated work of art.

3:10 to Yuma

Directed by James Mangold

James Mangold’s crisp western is a textbook example of how to successfully update a Hollywood classic by expanding the original without cheapening it. Delmar Daves’ 1957 original is a taut psychological duel fought with words in a cramped hotel room. The remake enlarges the scope to include a few more chases and gunfights to fulfill the whiz-bang needs of modern audiences, but all of it emerges organically from the original film’s plot and much of it deepens the theme of masculine pride. Anchored by nuanced, gritty performances from Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, this is top shelf entertainment — an oater that doesn’t feel out of place alongside the Manns, Boettichers, and Fords.

Belle Toujours

Directed by Manoel de Oliveira

A slender sequel to Luis Bunuel’s “Belle du Jour” (1967), “Belle Toujours” focuses on aging cad Henri Husson, a role reprised by Michel Piccoli. Piccoli, whose bird-like intensity has turned jowly and ruminative, takes a leisurely tour around Paris, searching town for Severine, the blond trophy wife and occasional prostitute he knew those many years ago. It’s an offhandedly graceful essay on aging, as Husson remembers the sexual escapades of his youth and wistfully glances at an oil painted nude. When he finally catches up with Severine (now played by Bulle Ogier, replacing Catherine Deneuve), he finds he still has the energy left for one more act of deviltry — and de Oliveira doffs his cap to Bunuel with a final, surreal visual flourish.

Live Free or Die Hard

Directed by Len Wiseman

A welcome blast of muscular irrationality, this immensely entertaining fourth entry in the “Die Hard” franchise finds John McClane once again caught in the path of a wily psycho about to wreak havoc during a national holiday — only this time, it’s Independence Day. Fully aware of McClane’s superfluity in an age of remote-controlled missiles, Wiseman and screenwriter Mark Bomback have created a self-reflexive spectacle that cracks so wise even the big action blowups seem to be shot with a giant smirk. This frees them to think up the most outrageous stunts possible, including a taxicab missile and a duel between a big rig and a fighter plane. Reality is of no concern, and with Willis willing to play along, the narrative percolates even when things don’t go boom.

[Additional photos: “Two Wrenching Departures,” Ken Burns; “I Think I Love My Wife,” Fox Searchlight; “3:10 to Yuma,” Lionsgate; “Belle Toujours,” New Yorker; “Live Free or Die Hard,” 20th Century Fox]

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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.