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Opening This Week: Vin Diesel saves the world, Takashi Miike goes west

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08252008_babylonad.jpgBy Neil Pedley

This week’s new films include the Western going Eastern, a couple of exotic music docs, Cinderella stories for girls and for boys and Vin Diesel attempting to walk, chew gum and shoot people — all at the same time.

“Babylon A.D.”
Second chances all around in this stylish cyberpunk romp that sees “La Haine” director Mathieu Kassovitz take another bite at the mainstream cherry after stumbling with his last detour into Hollywood, the Halle Berry clunker “Gothika.” Vin Diesel, who passed on “Hitman” for this, also gets another shot at a potential franchise after eliciting a collective yawn with his Neo-lite performance in “The Chronicles of Riddick.” After a troubled shoot fraught with budget overruns and uncooperative weather, Diesel has the bigger challenge on his hands as Toorop, a mercenary charged with trying to save the world with a snowboard while escorting a genetically altered young woman with a secret through post-apocalyptic Eastern Europe before delivering her to New York. Michelle Yeoh, Gérard Depardieu and Charlotte Rampling highlight the international cast.
Opens wide.

With the “American Pie” series now a shambling direct-to-DVD parody of its former self, we’re waiting for that next gross-out teen sex comedy franchise to once again remind the youthful of their true priorities. In a refreshing change of pace, it’s left to a female director (Deb Hagan) to handle the good-natured frat humor in this comedy about a trio of wide-eyed high school seniors on a weekend visit to a local college campus. Passing themselves off as freshmen, they hook up with college girls and run afoul of a jealous fraternity, leading to an all-out battle of the pranks to see who winds up on top.
Opens wide.

“Disaster Movie”
As these movies continue to arrive with alarming regularity and ever more ironic titles, we once again brace ourselves for another torturous lesson in abject comedic failure. No longer prepared to even stick to the genre they’re allegedly spoofing, this funny way-back-when franchise is now content with casually (read: lazily) doling out vague references to any halfway popular movie of the last 12 months. This go-round finds us in the midst of a loose riff on “The Happening” with the likes of “Hancock,” “10,000 B.C.” and that old disaster movie chestnut “Juno” thrown in for good measure.
Opens wide.

“Goal II: Living the Dream”
Picking up where the 2005 fairytale for boys left off, “Goal II” finds Mexican soccer sensation Santiago Muñez (Kuno Becker) handed a dream transfer from the mid-table mediocrity of Newcastle United to the nine-time European champions, Real Madrid, but he finds the glitz and glamour to be detrimental to his game. Soccer fans will enjoy few a laughs at the unfortunate choice of star cameos, filmed without the benefit of hindsight, including a pre-Americanized David Beckham, a pre-headbutting Zinédine Zidane, and Ronaldo, who was able to fit his shooting schedule around his arrest in a Brazilian hotel room with a trio of transvestite prostitutes. Knowing Rutger Hauer co-stars, we’d imagine there were some pretty interesting conversations on set.
Opens in limited release.

“Maria Bethânia: Music is Perfume”
As one of the leaders of Tropicália art movement, Maria Bethânia takes us on a guided tour of her beloved Brazil and the music that has shaped her life. During the preparation of her latest album and an accompanying tour, French documentarian Georges Gachot assembled Bethânia’s collaborators from over the years, including her brother Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, to pay tribute to the singer whose constant reinvention and 40-year musical evolution and has long been seen as a mirror to Brazil’s colorful but turbulent culture. In French and Portuguese with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“My Mexican Shivah”
Mexican director Alejandro Springhall delivers an energetic culture clash comedy set amidst an eclectic gathering at a wake in Polanco, a Jewish quarter of Mexico City. With the passing of the family patriarch Moishe, the estranged and dysfunctional family comes together for the week-long observation of the Shivah. As festering emotional wounds are reopened and longstanding family conflict quickly bubbles to the surface, two invisible angels walk amongst the mourners, listening in on the bickering as they look to decide the fate of Moishe’s eternal soul. In Spanish and Hebrew with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Return to Gorée”
Despite being described by Rolling Stone as perhaps the most famous singer alive today, Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour is little known to most people in America outside of the odd notable duet with the likes of Neneh Cherry and Peter Gabriel. Here director Pierre-Yves Borgeaud travels with N’Dour as he traces the jazz migration backwards from its roots in the Deep South of America, through the former European colonial powers, to its origins in West Africa, culminating with a concert in the old slave fort of Gorée, Senegal in front of a global audience. In English and French with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Sukiyaki Western Django”
More than 40 years after Sergio Leone appropriated the finest elements of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” to give the great horse epic a stylish, invigorating makeover, maverick Japanese auteur Takashi Miike (“Audition,” “Ichi The Killer”) looks to return the favor with his take on “A Fistful of Dollars.” Skillfully blending the surrealism of Sergio Corbucci and the macabre humor of Leone with a twist of chop-socky mayhem and swordplay, Miike gives us Hideaki Ito as a lone gunman looking to work both sides of the street in a town torn apart by two feuding rival gangs. Longtime Miike admirer and Spaghetti Western fanatic Quentin Tarantino, gleefully lends himself to an extended cameo.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on Sept. 12th.

The arrival of the convoluted espionage thriller that probes the ideological minefields of geopolitics and global terrorism means that Oscar season really must be right around the corner. Don Cheadle, who also produces, stars as Samir, a conflicted African-born Muslim-American with a checkered past and ties to the Afghani Muhajadeen. After escaping a brief incarceration in prison, Samir must evade the attentions of dogged FBI investigators (Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough) while trying to deflect the manipulations of Jeff Daniels’ rogue CIA agent who has his own agenda. The international thriller was the brainchild of executive producer Steve Martin — yes, that Steve Martin, who pitched the film while working on “Bringing Down The House,” proving that indeed his mind was elsewhere at the time.
Opens wide.

“Year of the Fish”
This product of the Sundance Labs is an adaptation of a thousand-year old Chinese take on the Cinderella story by director David Kaplan, who literally paints a new portrait of the fairy tale through the process of rotoscoping, the same animation technique that yielded “Waking Life.” The film stars An Nguyen as Ye Xian, a naïve young immigrant pressed into servitude at a Chinatown brothel posing as a massage parlor. Aided by a magical koi carp gifted to her by a benevolent fortune teller, Ye Xian finds her very own prince charming in the form of Johnny (Ken Leung), a down-on-his-luck accordion player from the neighborhood.
Opens in New York.

“Young People Fucking”
Those able to get past the intentionally provocative title — which, incidentally, several Canadian conservative groups could not — will find writer/director Martin Gero mourning the lost art of seduction, the demise of romance, and pining for just a little bit of love in today’s lovemaking in this film that premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. The unromantic romantic comedy presents a loosely intertwined evening from the shifting perspective of five couples at various different stages of a relationship (best friends, exes, a couple, roommates, a first date) each one designed to represent a different stage in the sexual experience.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on Sept. 12th.

[Photo: “Babylon A.D.,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2008]


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.