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DID YOU READ

Opening This Week: A 9/11 noir, a Flaming Lips film and a Coens comedy

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09082008_abledanger.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Some might be quick to dismiss this week as part of the post-summer lull, but others might see it as a week of films that have been years in the making — it’s been 13 since the now re-paired Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were last on screen together, while Diane English’s remake of “The Women” took 12 to make it to the big screen, and the Flaming Lips’ “Christmas on Mars” spent a mere seven years in the offing. As for fans of the Coen brothers, it only seems like forever since “No Country for Old Men.”

“Able Danger”
Another week, another 9/11 conspiracy film, this one actually getting released on the seventh anniversary of the tragedy. Loosely inspired by “The Maltese Falcon,” this DV noir offers something of a date movie for far-left conspiracy theorists who take issue with perceived abuse of power on the part of our government. In spite of a budget that wouldn’t finance a toddler’s birthday party, first-time director Dave Herman and scripter Paul Krik cook up a shadowy cloak-and-dagger mystery starring international woman of mystery Elina Löwensohn (in femme fatale mode here) who steps into the bookstore owned by a radical blogger (Adam Nee) and sweeps him up into a deadly hunt for a hard drive that contains proof of US government involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
Opens in New York.

“Burn After Reading”
Though the Coen brothers penned this script around the same time as the somber, Oscar-conquering “No Country For Old Men,” early reports out of Venice suggest that this star-studded espionage farce is the culmination of their every idea tossed into the pile marked “silly.” When the tall tale memoirs of ousted CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) fall into the hands of scheming dimwits Chad and Linda (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand), they ineptly try their hand at a little blackmail. George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins join in on the fun.
Opens wide.

“Christmas on Mars: A Fantastical Film Freakout Featuring the Flaming Lips”
It seems as if nobody has bothered to update the film section of the Flaming Lips’ Web site where it still reads, “‘Christmas on Mars’ will be available in time for Christmas in 2003.” Which should make fans of the Oklahoman alt-rockers all the more eager to unwrap this psychedelic passion project that marks the directorial debut of Wayne Coyne, the band’s longtime frontman. No stranger to theatricality (like the band’s parking lot experiments of the ’90s), Coyne has come up with a so-called fusion of “Eraserhead” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” taking place on a dilapidated Mars colony populated by a defiantly deluded Major Syrtis (Lips instrumentalist Steven Drozd) who sets about cheering up his demoralized crew by staging a Christmas pageant to celebrate the birth of the colony’s first baby. But when Santa commits suicide, it’s up to an enigmatic martian (Coyne) to pick up the slack.
Opens in New York.

“Flow: For Love of Water”
Given that we’ve just narrowly avoided another potentially catastrophic flood in the New Orleans area, and the fact that there’s increasing fervid hand wringing over the polar ice cap situation, there are those who might scoff at the idea of a worldwide water shortage. But Irena Salina’s documentary highlights the stealthy but steady privatization of the world’s fresh water supply by a cartel of multinational corporations silently backed by global financial institutions. The latest in a series of alarming activist docs to come out of this year’s Sundance, “Flow” counts the cost in terms of indigenous livelihoods in forgotten parts of the world where countries are too poor and people to desperate to adequately defend what is rightfully theirs.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; expands on Sept. 19th.

“Forgiveness”
Israeli writer/director Udi Aloni explores his country’s culpability in the War of Independence, delivering a kaleidoscopic, genre-splicing tale of trauma and atonement with his first narrative feature. Itay Tiran plays David, an Israeli-American whose exasperating efforts to please his overbearing father lead him back to Israel for a tour in the army. Once there, he learns he’s unprepared for the harsh realities of military life amidst daily sectarian violence and lands in a mental institution built on the site of a devastated Palestinian village where he must confront ghosts of his past and of the Holocaust while he is under the treatment of an experimental anti-memory drug program.
Opens in limited release.

“Moving Midway”
It’s not easy being a critic. Yes, filmmakers pour years of their lives into passion projects and imbue them with their hopes, blood and tears. But what about the poor critic who has to go and see the film for free and then devote upwards of a whole half hour to render that all important verdict of “it’s crap”? Legendary New York film critic Godfrey Cheshire duly puts his money where his typewriter is with this deeply personal exploration of his Southern family history. Returning to his family’s old Tara-esque plantation in Raleigh, N.C., Cheshire discovers a new lineage as he witnesses a massive undertaking to transport the goliath antebellum structure to a new site to make way for property development.
Opens in New York.

“Phoebe in Wonderland”
Nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the feature debut from writer/director Daniel Barnz takes us down the rabbit hole in this surrealist coming-of-age drama that sees young Elle Fanning follow her sister in transitioning from bit-part cutie to diminutive leading lady. As the perennially misunderstood outsider struggling to reign in her boredom-fueled classroom antics, the Alice-obsessed Phoebe (Fanning) is thrilled at the chance to star in the school’s production of “Alice in Wonderland.” Desperate to control her behavioral issues and keep the part, Phoebe’s imagination brings forth beloved characters from the book to help her find her way. Patricia Clarkson, Bill Pullman and Felicity Huffman co-star.
Opens in limited release.

“Righteous Kill”
More than a decade on from Michael Mann’s underworld epic “Heat,” the hairs on the back of your neck still stand on end just a little when talk turns to that cup of coffee. So even though the names Pacino and De Niro may not have as much currency as they did pre-“88 Minutes” and “Hide and Seek,” it’s with reasonable fanfare that two of cinema’s greatest living actors switch locales from a Los Angeles diner booth to the whiskey-stained mahogany of an NYPD homicide desk in their third film together. With a killer on the loose targeting criminals and teasing police with cryptic clues, two aging detectives reopen a case they closed years ago in hopes of confirming they were right and that the killer isn’t one of their own.
Open wide.

“Towelhead”
With this darkly comic adaptation of Alicia Erian’s somewhat tragic tale of innocence lost, Academy Award winning screenwriter and “Six Feet Under” creator Alan Ball once more vaults the white picket fences of dysfunctional, suburban America and voyeuristically peeks in through the window. Summer Bishil makes her big screen debut as Jasira, a 13-year-old Arab-American girl bounced from her workaholic secular mother in New York to her strict Lebanese father in Houston, and finds herself amidst a clash of cultures she doesn’t quite comprehend while attracting the attention of her next door neighbor (Aaron Eckhart). Maria Bello, Toni Collette and Peter Macdissi welcome her into the neighborhood.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; expands on Sept. 19th.

“The Tree of Life”
Not to be confused with Terrence Malick’s upcoming film of the same name, this documentary from Los Angeleno Hava Volterra follows the filmmaker’s travels to Italy in search of her lost ancestry after the death of her immigrant Italian Jewish father. With her tireless 82-year-old aunt in tow, Volterra cleverly punctuates her journey with playful marionette reenactments and Python style animation, as the filmmaker cathartically pieces together the scattered family tree and reconnects with her heritage. In English and Italian with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys”
With his second film of the year, the tireless Tyler Perry once again delivers a patented ensemble family drama that once again addresses the terminally forgotten African-American middle class. In the first of Perry’s films to feature an interracial cast, Alfre Woodward and Kathy Bates star as longtime friends from opposite ends of the class spectrum who find their worlds colliding when their children become embroiled in allegations of extramarital affairs, shady business dealings and potentially devastating paternity suits. Sanaa Lathan, Cole Hauser, Taraji P. Henson and a resurgent Robin Givens co-star.
Opens wide.

“The Women”
“Sex and the City” showed that while Hollywood might be a little light on leading ladies these days (just give the Fannings a few more years), ladies are always up for a little light comedy. In the wake of the “Sex” revolution, Diane English’s remake of the 1939 George Cukor classic suddenly seems hip, but it didn’t come easy. After more than a decade in development hell with everyone from Julia Roberts to Whitney Houston rumored to be on board, the former “Murphy Brown” showrunner joined forces with Mick Jagger to update the tale of a well-to-do New Yorker (Meg Ryan) who discovers her husband is cheating on her with a salesgirl (Eva Mendes) and takes comfort in the company of her friends (Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith). And despite Jagger’s attachment as a producer, don’t look for a cameo — both this and the 1939 film have no roles for men.
Opens wide.

[Photo: “Able Danger,” Collective, 2008]

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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.