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DID YOU READ

Opening This Week: Still President Bush get his biopic

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10132008_theelephantking.jpgBy Neil Pedley

There’s plenty to be pleased about this week as we get to spend time with both current and future presidents as part of an Ellen Burstyn double bill. There’s also — whisper it — a movie based on a video game that might actually be worth seeing. Not to mention enough titular wordplay to make Richard Lederer’s head spin. It’s all just pun and games though, right?

“The Elephant King”
Built on the old adage that getting lost is the best way to find oneself, Seth Grossman’s debut feature follows the travels of Oliver (Tate Ellington), a suicidal writer who’s dispatched by Ellen Burstyn’s frantic matriarch to the seedy bar scene of Thailand to bring back his brother Jake (Jonno Roberts) to face his considerable debts in the U.S. Once abroad, Oliver finds that he may be at odds with his brother, but realizes all might not be lost when he meets an alluring local (Florence Faivre).
Opens in New York.

“Filth and Wisdom”
Having traded in kinkiness for Kabbalah in recent years, Madonna is making another shift from being in front of the camera to being behind it with a directorial debut that has already turned a few heads. Co-scripted with longtime Guy Ritchie underling Dan Cadan, the queen of career reinvention’s first film revolves around the unfulfilled lives of three London housemates; aspiring musician/sex worker A.K. (Eugene Hutz, whose real-life gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello composes much of the soundtrack), ballet/pole dancer Holly (Holly Weston) and wannabe aid worker Juliette (Vicky McClure). If Madonna has decided she’s now a filmmaker, we can only pray her husband does not respond in kind by donning a blonde wig and suspenders while belting out gruff Cockney renditions of “Like a Virgin.”
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on October 31st.

“Frontrunners”
TV producer-turned-documentarian Caroline Suh’s poignant and timely debut captures the democratic process in perhaps its purest, simplest form — a high school popularity contest. Though it’s hardly Anytown U.S.A., the student body presidential election at Stuyvesant, arguably the most prestigious public school in the country, and one representative of all five boroughs of NYC, serves as a microcosm of tomorrow’s electorate and a proving ground for those aspiring to public office. As the various candidates vie for newspaper endorsements and compete in televised debates, Suh documents every aspect of the fierce campaign that follows as they seek ways to counter the sea of voter apathy that surrounds them.
Opens in New York.

“Mary”
It’s been a long road for Abel Ferrara’s meditation on faith and redemption since its premiere at the 2005 Venice Film Festival, but the tiny, meta-cinema epic that tells of three people linked by the mythical figure of Mary Magdalene is finally arriving on American shores. Juliette Binoche stars as Marie, an actress inspired to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem after playing the role of Mary Magdalene in a film, while the film’s director Tony (Matthew Modine), who also plays the role of Jesus, battles temptation. Forest Whitaker is also on hand as a TV journalist who faces a spiritual crisis while conducting research for a program on Christ. If there’s a silver lining for the long wait, the film’s marketing department can now boast of a cast including two Oscar winners in Whitaker and Marion Cotillard, who plays an actress named “Gretchen Mol.” (The real one acted in Ferrara’s “New Rose Hotel.”)
Opens in New York.

“Max Payne”
As anyone who has played through this pulsating, bullet-ridden, crime saga can ably attest, the “Max Payne” video game franchise balanced the body count with a tightly scripted, neo-noir storyline of vengeance and betrayal that was in truth better than a lot of movies. Mark Wahlberg steps into the blood soaked shoes of the grizzled DEA agent who embarks on a violent quest for retribution against those who murdered his family and his partner, but finds that they are just one strand in a much larger web of corruption and complicity. Director John Moore appears to have been faithful to the source material’s bleak tone, although the PG-13 rating is likely to upset Payne purists.
Opens wide.

“Morning Light”
The brainchild of longtime sailing enthusiast Roy Disney (Walt’s nephew), this inspirational story is the kind of fare the Mouse House typically cranks out on a conveyor belt, except that this one is real. First-time director Mark Monroe documents the grueling four-month training regiment undertaken by 15 young sailors chosen from hundreds of applicants all hoping to serve as the crew of the Morning Light racing yacht and compete in the annual weeklong Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.
Opens in limited release.

“The Secret Life of Bees”
After having spent the better part of the ’90s refining her craft in TV land, writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood broke through in 2000 with the Spike Lee-produced “Love & Basketball.” Eight years later, she returns to the big screen with an adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s coming-of-age page-turner about Lily Owen, a young runaway, (Dakota Fanning) and her nanny Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), who are taken in by a three sisters in a sleepy North Carolina town as the ink is still drying on the civil rights act. Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo play the spirited Boatwright sisters, a trio of beekeepers who offer shelter to Lily and Rosaleen despite considerable brouhaha from the slow to adjust townsfolk.
Opens wide.

“Sex Drive”
Less of a Judd Apatow knockoff than a carefully filtered amalgamation of every teen sex comedy you’ve ever seen plus Seth Green in an Amish beard, Sean Anders’ sophomore feature may be based on Andy Behrens’ novel “All the Way,” but it sure seems like a tech-assisted update of “The Sure Thing” to us. Sad inside his doughnut suit, our young protagonist Ian (Josh Zuckerman) feels the low self-esteem pangs of prolonged virginity. Rounding up his best pals Felicia (Amanda Crew) and Lance (Clark Duke of online moc-doc series “Michael and Clark”), the trio embarks on a cross-country road trip that will take Ian into the arms of his enigmatic online sweetheart, the lovely “Ms. Tasty” (“30 Rock”‘s Katrina Bowden), though not before “strong crude and sexual content – all involving teens” ensues, according to the MPAA.
Opens wide.

“Tru Loved”
Perennial indie bit-partner Najarra Townsend graduates to the role of leading lady as Tru in this queer high school dramedy from first-time writer/director Stewart Wade. Townsend plays the can-do Tru, a 16-year-old who sets about making lemonade out of lemons when her lesbian parents relocate from San Francisco to — gasp! — the conservative Southern California suburb of Agoura Hills. Rather than hide her views, Tru starts her new high school’s first gay-straight alliance, a quest that jeopardizes her friendship with the school’s closeted quarterback (Matthew Thompson). Jane Lynch, Alexandra Paul, Cynda Williams, Jasmine Guy, Nichelle Nichols and Bruce Vilanch round out the eclectic supporting cast.
Opens in limited release.

“W.”
With all eyes on the November election, it falls to divisive director Oliver Stone to remind us that we’re yet under the rule of the man Jon Stewart has taken to referring to as “Still President Bush.” Continuing his career long fascination with the country’s highest office, Stone delivers this satirical biopic that details the many aspects of Bush’s transformation from Ivy League drunk to president. Mixed early reviews are split between those praising Josh Brolin’s immersive performance as No. 43 and those who claim Stone simply spends an inordinate amount of time telling us that which we already know. Ellen Burstyn and James Cromwell co-star as Ma and Pa Bush.
Opens wide.

“What Just Happened?”
A tell-all account of his tenure as a producer at 20th Century Fox in the late ’90s, Art Linson’s hysterical 2002 insider Hollywood expose didn’t so much bite the hand that feeds as tear it clean off and bury it in the backyard. At least Linson could still call in a few favors for this “dramatization” of his book that chronicles two weeks in the life of failing producer Ben (Robert De Niro, who famously passed on Linson’s “The Edge” because he didn’t want to spar with a bear). Coming off a string of flops, Ben frantically tries to juggle his collapsing marriage, Michael Wincott’s tantrum throwing auteur and his latest troubled project, which literally hangs by a thread of Bruce Willis’ facial hair. Sean Penn, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Catherine Keener and Kristen Stewart hang around for the carnage.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: “The Elephant King,” Unison Films, 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.