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Opening This Week: A Wong Kar-wai redux, more mumblecore and shaky-cam horror

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10062008_ashesoftime.jpgBy Neil Pedley

With the fall season’s heavy hitters already starting to make an appearance, this week’s feast of indie offers some calm before the big studio storm. Enjoy it while it lasts.

“Ashes of Time Redux”
Celebrated Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai gathered together lost and damaged footage to painstakingly rework his only martial arts epic, first released in 1994, into a fresh, definitive edition (complete with an all new score from Yo-Yo Ma). With a blindingly colorful palette, Wong paints a looping, stylized portrait of an embittered agent Ouyang Feng (the late Leslie Cheung) who channels the unbearable pain of a broken heart into commissioning bounty hunters to commit acts of vengeance. Tony Leung Ka Fai, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau and Jacky Cheung round out the still-impressive cast.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Body of Lies”
In terms of the global espionage thriller, orange is the new grey as Cold War concrete has been ushered out and replaced with the sun-baked sand dunes of the War on Terror. Ridley Scott reunites with his regular muse Russell Crowe, who stars as Ed Hoffman, the CIA suit behind the scenes orchestrating the every move of mobile asset Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio). On the trail of a major terrorist leader, Ferris is tasked with infiltrating the organization with Hoffman as his only link to the outside world. If this all sounds like “The Departed” gone global, it will come as no surprise that “Departed” scripter William Monaghan is the one behind this adaptation of David Ignatius’s novel of the same name.
Opens wide.

“Breakfast With Scot”
Based on the novel by Michael Downing, “Breakfast With Scot” is a gay-themed comedy without the forced, flaming flamboyance that usual accompanies the subject — something of a breath of fresh air and a return to roots for French-Canadian director Laurie Lynd. Tom Cavanaugh and Ben Shenkman star as Eric and Sam, a same-sex couple still struggling through issues within their own relationship when they find themselves charged with temporarily taking care of Sam’s brother’s recently deceased ex-girlfriend’s son Scot (Noah Bernett), a rather effeminate 11-year-old who seemingly prefers high heels to hockey skates.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Choose Connor”
With the election mere weeks away, bit-parting TV thesp turned writer/director Luke Eberl makes his feature debut with this politically charged coming of age tale that features former child star Alex D. Linz as Owen, an idealistic achiever invited into the inner circle of up-and-coming congressman Lawrence Connor (Steven Weber). Once on the inside, Owen finds his elation slowly turning to disenchantment as he comes to realize the harsh realities of the political process when his job on Connor’s campaign as youth spokesman morphs into something else entirely.
Opens in New York.

“City of Ember”
With a resume boasting the likes of “Edward Scissorhands” and “Corpse Bride,” scripter Caroline Thompson must have seemed like the ideal fit to bring author Jeanne Duprau’s gothic-industrial fairy tale to life under the direction of “Monster House” helmer Gil Kenan. From the first of four books, “City of Ember” tells of a vast underground metropolis built to safeguard the remnants of humanity in the wake of an apocalypse. But after 200 years, the gigantic generator at the heart of Ember begins to falter and when panic grips its citizens, two teenagers (Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway) scour the labyrinth for clues that point to a way out of the doomed city. Bill Murray, Tim Robbins and Martin Landau provide support.
Opens wide.

“The Express”
Mixing two parts “Remember the Titans” with one part “Finding Forrester” (in addition to stealing the latter’s lead actor), versatile director Gary Fleder returns from a five-year stint on the small screen to helm this true life story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American football player to win the Heisman Trophy. Based on the biography by Robert C. Gallagher, Rob Brown stars as the speedy Syracuse running back, who under the guidance of coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) dodged prevalent racism to become a national sensation before his life took a tragic turn off the field.
Opens wide.

“Good Dick”
Given there is no one actually called Dick in the film, you are forgiven for your initial thoughts about this 2008 Sundance selection, but you shouldn’t be misled by the title of this gentle account of a remarkably unorthodox courtship in Marianna Palka’s directorial debut. Jason Ritter stars alongside his real-life girlfriend Palka in this coming together of a damaged video store clerk and a lonely, introverted porno aficionado. Playing out an idiosyncratic back and forth, they look to exorcise their respective issues surrounding sex and commitment as they inch ever so slightly towards something approaching happiness. Charles Durning, Martin Starr, Mark Webber, Katherine Waterston and Tom Arnold co-star.
Opens in Los Angeles; opens in New York and Columbus on October 17th.

After years of diligently detailing the lives of the despairing, the king of kitchen-sink-miserablism, Mike Leigh, is surprising his fans and critics alike with an “anti-miserablist film” that swaps life lessons for life views in this supremely simple, uplifting story of one woman’s irrepressibly positive outlook. Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a perky primary school teacher whose glass is always half full, even when her bicycle is stolen one day, prompting her to sign up for driving lessons where her irresistible force of optimism meets its opposite immovable object in driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan) — a beetroot-faced misanthrope whose teaching methods are built around a memory association technique based on Satan’s unholy trinity.
Opens in limited release.

“Nights and Weekends”
“Hannah Takes the Stairs” alums Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg reunite only to spend considerable time apart in this no-frills romantic drama co-directed by the duo. Adopting a real-world approach where a relationship isn’t merely a series of dramatic set pieces, the film is a loosely structured, scoreless rendition of a turbulent long-distance love affair showcasing the compromise, the sacrifice and the quiet desperation that exists beneath the passion of any lasting relationship. The same might be said of the film itself, a real test of endurance and commitment filmed over two years in two separate shoots in Chicago and New York.
Opens in New York.

With this Americanized remake of Spanish sleeper hit “[REC],” not to mention “Zombie Diaries” and Romero’s “Diary of the Dead,” 2008 has become the year of the handheld zombie film. But the more disturbing trend to emerge is that while remakes of Japanese horror get A-list stars (Naomi Watts, Jennifer Connolly, Jessica Alba), Spanish remakes get Jennifer Carpenter (TV’s “Dexter”), who plays the peppy news reporter trapped with her cameraman (Steve Harris) in a sealed apartment building where a mysterious virus has been unleashed on the residents. As is customary with films of this ilk, how scary something is supposed to be is directly indicated by how violently the camera shakes as the character holding it runs screaming down a pitch black corridor. It’s a specialty of the Dowdle brothers, whose last film “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” remains unreleased, but scared the crap out of folks who saw it at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.
Opens wide.

Post-“Revolver,” Brit helmer Guy Ritchie has been struck down with a severe case of the what-have-you-done-for-me-latelys? Indeed, the man once revered for single-handedly revitalizing the done-to-death British gangster film now regularly suffers the indignity of being referred to by the tabloids as simply “Madonna’s husband.” After the disastrous Vegas detour that was “Revolver,” Ritchie returns to his old stomping ground of London with Cockney wide boys violently marauding their way through another trademark pretzel-plotted crime caper. Idris Elba and Gerard Butler star as Mumbles and One Two, petty thieves who run afoul of the Russian mob when they try to get out from under the thumb of Tom Wilkinson’s underworld fixer Lenny Cole.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; opens wide on October 31st.

[Photo: “Ashes of Time Redux,” Sony Pictures Classics, 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.