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Opening This Week: Ladyboys, sex addicts, Spike Lee

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09222008_amazingtruthaboutqueenraquela.jpgBy Neil Pedley

If the old maxim “What I really want to do is direct” still holds true, this week’s releases confirm that the filmmaking game is more open than ever. Anyone can have a crack at it; actors, teachers, digital artists, preachers. Perhaps you should have a go yourself. Hell, if Paul W.S. Anderson can get work doing it…

“The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela”
Offering up the most unlikely fairytale you’re ever likely to see, Icelandic filmmaker Olaf de Fleur Johannesson draws on his documentary background with this endearing low-budget, semi-improvised Cinderella story. As a young Filipino lady-boy, the spunky, pre-op sex worker Raquela longs to be the belle of the ball as she trawls the Internet looking for love. When an American suitor pledges to be her Prince Charming and proposes a meeting in France, Raquela departs for her long-awaited date with destiny under the glittering Paris skyline.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

Fans of cult literary icon Chuck Palahniuk’s singular brand of nihilistic satire have had to wait ten years since “Fight Club” for someone else confident enough to adapt his work to the screen. Enter career bit-parting-thespian-turned-writer/director Clark Gregg to offer his take on Palahniuk’s incendiary prose. Sam Rockwell is Victor Mancini, a listless colonial theme park worker who kills time by attending sex addict anonymous meetings and conning restaurant patrons out of a Heimlich maneuver and sympathy money with fake choking fits. Visits to his dementia-addled mother (Anjelica Huston) and his growing attraction to her attending doctor (Kelly MacDonald) threaten to break Victor out of his quarterlife malaise.
Opens in limited release.

“Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun”
Already adapted into a 1971 film directed by the author and subsequently immortalized by Metallica in the video for their 1989 hit single “One,” Dalton Trumbo’s harrowing anti-war novel has served as a rallying cry for pacifists for almost 70 years. Miles away from “The O.C.,” Benjamin McKenzie slips into the role of Joe Bonham, a young American soldier entombed in his own body after an artillery shell robs him of his limbs and his senses in a filmed performance of Bradley Rand Smith’s adaptation of the novel for the stage.
Opens in New York.

“Eagle Eye”
Based on an idea from Steven Spielberg (whose last idea involving Shia LaBeouf might not have been that original), the team behind “Disturbia” reunites for this post-9/11 thriller full of panic and paranoia. LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan star as two strangers who find themselves elaborately framed as terrorists by a vast, malevolent and seemingly all-powerful entity that blackmails them into acting as pawns in an assassination plot. Rosario Dawson and Billy Bob Thornton play the government agents who are tracking their every move — boy, that “Disturbia” gang sure must like surveillance.
Opens wide and in select IMAX theaters.

Let no one accuse Alex Kendrick of not practicing what he preaches. He may be the pastor of the Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia, but Kendrick also produced, co-wrote, directed and stars with Kirk Cameron in this romantic drama about a firefighter (Cameron) whose marriage is collapsing when his son hands him a book called “The Love Dare” and challenges his father to commit to the 40-day test it proposes. Leaving no product placement stone unturned, Kendrick and his twin brother Stephen actually wrote the book in real life.
Opens in limited release.

“Forever Strong”
Despite the fact that it’s basically a harder-hitting version of American football that doesn’t use all that girly padding nor grind to a shuddering halt every other minute, rugby’s followed by most US sports fans about as closely as they would women’s professional tiddlywinks. Slow-motioning his way towards closing this gap in the sports movie market, director Ryan Little offers his take on the underdog tale with a drama following
Rick Penning (Sean Faris), an embittered young player whose rift with his demanding, championship-winning coach/father lands him a spell in juvenile detention after a DUI where he is offered the chance to suit up against the team coached by his old man.
Opens in limited release.

“Humboldt County”
A self-described throwback to the unfettered American films of the ’70s, this debut from first-time writing/directing team Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs is a character driven serenade to counterculture and the spirit of independence. Making a rare appearance these days, Tinseltown’s former First Goth Fairuza Balk stars as Bogart, a jazz-singing drifter who coaxes disillusioned medical student Peter (Jeremy Strong) into a road trip that leaves him stranded in a reclusive community of marijuana growers who have chosen to shun the rat race and live peacefully amongst the giant Redwoods of northern California.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“The Lucky Ones”
With his breakthrough film “The Illusionist,” writer/director Neil Burger conjured up a genre-bending romantic drama, but he’ll likely need all the magic he can get to make this marriage of “Coming Home” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” not get lost in the steady stream of war-themed films to invade multiplexes in the past year. Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams and Michael Peña star as three soldiers who return from Iraq, all irrevocably altered by the current conflict in some way, who reluctantly decide to share a seriocomic road trip when a blackout cancels their flights home.
Opens in limited release.

“Miracle at St. Anna”
After publicly calling out Clint Eastwood for failing to represent African Americans in his films, specifically Eastwood’s “Flags”-“Letters” doubleheader, Spike Lee delivers his own WWII epic chronicling the role of the 92nd Buffalo Soldier Division in the Italian campaign. James McBride adapts from his own acclaimed novel about a postal clerk who inexplicably shoots a customer and, while awaiting trial, recounts his role as one of four African-American soldiers stationed in Tuscany, trapped in a small village behind enemy lines. Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Omar Benson Miller are all a part of the platoon in Lee’s passion project.
Opens wide.

“Nights in Rodanthe”
Matters of the heart are at the heart of the matter in stage director George C. Wolfe’s move to the big screen — a strongly cast adaptation of “Message in a Bottle” author Nicholas Sparks’ romantic page-turner. Diane Lane stars as Adrienne, a woman seeking refuge from her turbulent marriage and resentful children at a tiny inn on the coast of North Carolina where she encounters Paul (Richard Gere), a troubled surgeon suffering from a crisis of conscience. Stranded together by an approaching storm, events are set in motion that force Adrienne to decide if her future lies with Paul or her remorseful husband (Christopher Meloni). James Franco, Viola Davis and Mae Whitman bring the hankies.
Opens wide.

As a lifelong anti-establishment mischief-maker, legendary publishing guru and founder of Grove Press Barney Rosset spent his career as a thorn in the side of those pushing for censorship in America, leading the charge to overturn obscenity bans on such works as “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer.” Amidst some frank and revealing interviews with the man himself, first-time filmmakers Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’Connor chart his landmark litigation battles and assemble a panel of culture commentators from Erica Jong to John Waters to discuss his legacy as a champion of First Amendment rights.
Opens in New York.

“Shoot on Sight”
Earning itself a limited theatrical run, Indian director Jag Mundhra’s latest offering is a movie-of-the-week dramatization of the investigation into the controversial shooting of Brazilian national Jean Charles de Menezes, an electrician who was killed by British police when he was mistaken for a suspected suicide bomber in the wake of the 2005 London transport bombings. Brian Cox stars as Daniel Tennant, the police chief pressured into delivering a politically favorable outcome to the inquiry and duly dangles promotion in front of Commander Tariq Ali (Naseeruddin Shah) to see that one arrives. But internal distrust of Ali, a Muslim, threatens to derail the investigation and puts his faith to the test.
Opens in limited release.

Longtime digital effects artist-turned-writer/director Vince Di Meglio again partners with co-scripter Tim Rasmussen to follow their painfully unfunny Robin Williams vehicle “License to Wed” with another variation on that theme which sees a young couple’s bliss disrupted by an eccentric, interfering authority figure. (One might assume co-star and “Chuck and Buck” scribe Mike White gave the duo notes.) Dax Shepard of “Punk’d” fame does his best Zach Braff impression as the awkward Noah Cooper, whose neurosis over impending parenthood with wife Clare (Liv Tyler), is played out when his overbearing mother (Diane Keaton) arrives for a visit and seemingly intends to never leave.
Opens in limited release.

Inspired by an underwater encounter with a dolphin on a research trip to Ireland and propelled by a whale call ceremony performed by the indigenous Mirning tribe of South Australia, British actor-turned-director Kim Kindersley’s cinematic call for harmony between man and nature has been 15 years in the making, having taken him across five continents. Narrated by Jack Thompson with guest appearances from the likes of John Hurt, Pierce Brosnan, and Geoffrey Rush, Kindersley chronicles the threats to the Mirning tribe’s way of life and their return from the brink of extinction in a fast-disappearing part of the world.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: “The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela,” here! Films, 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.