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Opening This Week: Jazz living, Asian-influenced horror and Woody Allen

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08112008_anitaoday.jpgBy Neil Pedley

With the summer’s end in sight, this week might represent the last hurrah in the name of good fun before the gloomy, Oscar-baiting seriousness of the fall release schedule descends upon us. Woody’s back, there’s a grindhouse/B-movie double header, and in the realm of blockbuster comedy, it’s the wily veteran versus the young upstart as Ben Stiller battles Seth Rogen in an all-out race to the stupid.

“Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer”
Although she was overshadowed by such greats as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, Anita O’Day became one of the “three queens of Jazz,” in spite of an artform dominated by African-Americans and her struggle with her own personal demons. In this documentary, the famed white jazz vocalist reflects on nearly 70 years in the spotlight, not merely performing jazz, but living it as a lifestyle. O’Day’s former manager Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden take a turn behind the camera to chart O’Day’s rocky ascension to jazz royalty that included a stint in jail, four failed marriages, nearly as many abortions and addictions to alcohol and heroin, before mounting a stunning comeback in 2006 at the grand old age of 87.
Opens in limited release.

“Apology of an Economic Hitman”
Greek journalist and filmmaker Stelios Koul terms his latest film, “a film noir documentary,” only the hard-boiled hit man at the center of it has no interest in a high body count. Instead, John Perkins, a former economist and activist, cathartically recounts his years of service to the U.S government as a James Bond of international finance and globalization, dispatched around the globe to advance American economic interests by any means necessary. Based on his book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” Perkins’s recollections of bending multinational corporations to America’s economic agenda are illustrated with dramatizations of the Dashiell Hammett variety.
Opens in New York.

“Bachna Ae Haseeno”
Woody Allen does have a movie coming out this week, but it isn’t this Bollywood production that mines Allen’s well-worn territory of how a string of eclectic beauties can shape a man’s life in different ways. Ranbir Kapoor is the impressionable young Raj Sharma, who spends his formative years between 17 to 30 fending off the advances of young Bollywood ingénues Bipasha Basu, Minissha Lamba, and Deepika Padukone. In Hindi with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

“Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69”
If Rob Zombie’s faux trailer for “Werewolf Women of the S.S” in “Grindhouse” left you convinced that you might’ve just glimpsed the next “Citizen Kane,” then Keith J. Crocker is a man you need to acquaint yourself with. The longtime publisher of the Exploitation Journal follows up his debut feature, “The Bloody Ape,” with this tantalizing tale of bloody torture and sexual deviance in the bowels of a Nazi prison camp. Fear not, faint of heart, as Crocker has decreed that no admission ticket be sold unless accompanied by a mandatory vomit bag.
Opens in New York.

“Fly Me to the Moon”
With the earthbound “Kung Fu Panda” aside, you could easily be forgiven for pondering if this summer’s animated output is actually the result of a secret bet between studios to see who could launch the most adorable creature into space. Child actors Philip Bolden, Trevor Gagnon, and David Gore voice a trio of intrepid insects who stow away aboard the historic Apollo 11 flight to the moon. Buzz Aldrin lends authenticity to the vocal cast, while Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd and Kelly Ripa supply the humor. Having been thoroughly vetted by nippers both in Europe and the U.S. previously as a short film accompanying a Six Flags theme park ride, this feature length version will be exclusive to IMAX and digital 3D capable theaters.
Opens wide.

“A Girl Cut in Two”
If not in theme, it’s also somewhat fitting that director Claude Chabrol’s latest release coincides with that of Woody Allen, given that the French auteur seems to have comfortably settled into a routine of releasing a film a year that, while they are still notable, never quite reach the dizzying heights of his heyday. Here the celebrated master of suspense gives us a mordant, voyeuristic peek into the secretive vacuum of plastic bourgeois ritual, co-written with his longtime A.D and stepdaughter Cécile Maistre. Ludvine Sagnier stars as a local weather girl whose affair with a successful author (François Berléand) grants her entry into the upper echelons of society, where she falls for an unhinged aristocratic brat (Benoît Magimel), who quickly develops a disturbing fixation with her.
Opens in limited release.

“Henry Poole is Here”
After an extended detour helming genre thrillers (“Arlington Road,” “The Mothman Prophecies”), Mark Pellington returns to his indie roots with this deeply personal fable of faith, redemption and the power of hope. Luke Wilson stars as Henry Poole, whose self-imposed exile following a devastating medical prognosis is interrupted by a procession of well-meaning neighbors who proclaim a water stain on the side of his house to look like Jesus Christ.
Opens in limited release.

With Japanese horror officially sooo 2002, it’s all about mining the rest of Asia now for ideas on how best to get your date to jump into your lap in the dark. Yet try telling that to “High Tension” director Alexandre Aja, who despite some glaring similarities to the grisly 2003 Korean film, “Into the Mirror,” vehemently denies this is a remake. (Still, original scribe Sung-ho Kim is credited for penning the original.) Opting not to spend the writer’s strike-imposed hiatus of “24” on the back nine, Kiefer Sutherland stars as the ex-cop hired as a security guard to watch over a department store gutted by a mysterious fire. Inside, he is exposed to the store’s possessed mirrors that unleash an unspeakable evil on anyone who gazes upon them. Amy Smart and Paula Patton add a feminine touch to the proceedings.
Opens wide.

“Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer”
Coming off a run at the recently concluded Comic Con in San Diego, this gloriously silly homage to classic ’80s splatter cinema is primed as a perfect fix for horror fans still pining away for “Evil Dead 4.” After witnessing the gruesome murder of his parents at the hands of beasties as a boy, our hero Jack (Trevor Matthews) now toils as a plumber in between futile therapy sessions and even more useless evening classes. But when an ancient curse transforms his professor (Robert Englund) into a rampaging monster, Jack must confront his demons (literally) armed with just a plunger and some Prozac and save the world from the forces of darkness.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars”
In preparation for a new animated series that will begin airing on Cartoon Network in the fall, this feature-length adventure picks up the story just after the events of Episode II and sees the clone wars get into full swing with Anakin Skywalker and his Padawan battling Count Dooku and crime boss Jabba the Hut. Fans who felt that series creator George Lucas had raped their collective childhoods with the live-action prequels can take comfort in the fact that he kept his hands off the script for “Clone Wars,” yet he finally found a way to get rid of those pesky actors once and for all. (Here’s hoping Anakin is more lifelike this way.)
Opens wide.

“Tropic Thunder”
Following guest appearances by stars Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., and Jack Black on “American Idol” and the MTV Movie Awards as well as viral marketing campaign including a web site for the film’s film-within-a-film “Rain of Madness,” the world appears to finally be ready for “Tropic Thunder” to battle “Pineapple Express” for the comedy crown of 2008. Behind the camera for the first time since 2001’s “Zoolander,” Stiller commands an all-star comedy ensemble (Nick Nolte, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, among others) in what might best be described as “The Three Amigos” meets “Platoon,” as a group of prima donna actors are unknowingly dumped into the middle of a real war zone by their pissed off director (Steve Coogan) in hopes of eliciting some better performances. War is hell — here’s hoping it’s also very funny.
Opens wide.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Perhaps the annual release of a Woody Allen film is no longer the celebrated event that it once was, but this latest offering from the tireless director has again arrived like clockwork, this time with positive notices from its premiere at Cannes. Allen may be filming his latest film in New York, but the end of his European vacation sees him reuniting with Scarlett Johansson, along with Rebecca Hall, as the titular Cristina and Vicky, respectively, two gals visiting family friends for the summer in Barcelona, where they encounter Javier Bardem’s alluring lothario Juan Antonio and progressively succumb to his bohemian charms until his fiery ex-wife (Penélope Cruz) shows up to spoil the fun… or join in.
Open in limited release.

[Photo: “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer,” Palm Pictures, 2007]


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.