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Fantastic Fest 2008: “JCVD.”

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09242008_jcvd.jpgCentering your film on the tragedy of being famous is a iffy proposition — it’s not a topic to which the majority of the world will relate, and from any normal and honest perspective, the benefits of celebrity far outweigh any downsides. But director Mabrouk El Mechri has as his star the Muscles From Brussels himself, Belgian action icon Jean-Claude Van Damme, a man whose legitimate claims to fame were staked decades back, and who’s now a figure of ridicule with a history of cocaine problems, four divorces, a tendency to spout ludicrous things in televised interviews and a recent track record confined to direct-to-DVD foreign productions. He’s also a pretty good sport, since all of these things factor it into “JCVD,” a film in which Van Damme plays a somewhat more pathetic variation on himself, headed back to Brussels after losing both custody of his child and a role in another throwaway action film he didn’t really want (to Steven Seagal, even, who promised to cut off his ponytail for the part), broke and broken and hoping to rest and to spend time with his parents. Instead, he ends up in Van Damme Day Afternoon, when a trio of incompetent robbers hold up the bank at which he’s awaiting a wire transfer to pay his L.A.-based attorneys and a tussle leads to a stand-off with hostages in which the police mistakenly think the star is the one in charge.

“JCVD” sounds like a one-joke meta movie industry clusterfuck, but El Mechri isn’t interested in too much self-congratulation for getting Van Damme to play “Van Damme.” He’s also not so interested in jokes — while there are intermittent moments of humor, “JCVD” is actually wildly unhappy. Van Damme’s daughter doesn’t want to live with him because her schoolmates make fun of her. Directors mock him for wanting to make anything more than bargain bin-fodder that knocks off his earlier work. He has huge legal fees and no way to pay them except by continuing to act in films he thinks are ruining his already crumbling career. He hasn’t slept for 48 hours and the fact that the police think he’s the culprit is compounded by the waves of fans who come out to observe the stand-off, motivated by its novelty value.

It’s these absurd lengths and this desire for legitimate drama that take “JCVD” beyond novelty itself — all Van Damme wants is to retreat from the world, and all the world wants is to take a picture with him, tell him he’s shorter than he looks on screen and ask him why John Woo never used him in another film after “Hard Target.” In the end, the only place he can turn is to the camera, where, in an extended and teary monologue he weeps that it’s not his fault, that he’s only chased the dreams he’s had when he was scrawny and 13 and spoke no English, and that he looks back at his life and feels he’s accomplished nothing. It’s an impressive feat of acting, even if it’s more awash in self-pity and a lack of self-awareness than intended — Jean-Claude Van Damme as a martyr to entertainment. Self-awareness would ruin “JCVD,” anyway — as is, it’s outlandish, half nonsensical and half wonderful.

[Photo: “JCVD,” Peace Arch, 2008]

+ “JCVD” (Fantastic Fest)


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.