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Opening This Week: Indie superheroes, teen vampires and Russian shysters

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11172008_thebetrayal.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Superpowers, real or imagined, along with a bevy of culture clash dominate this week’s offerings. Prince Caspian tries to score big in London, renowned cinematographer Ellen Kuras tells of a family who fled Laos, and a group of vampires run wild in Northern Washington, during the day – the day!

“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
Co-director Thavisouk Phrasavath teams up with veteran cinematographer Ellen Kuras to bring his heart-wrenching story to the screen, a film about courage and survival that’s been 23 years in the making. Recounting the bitter memories of the U.S withdrawal from Laos that left the communists in power and his family in tatters, Phrasavath describes how he swam to a Thai refugee camp after his father, a CIA operative, was branded an enemy of the state, and subsequently moved to a Brooklyn slum with his ailing mother and nine siblings in tow. In English and Lao with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Bigga Than Ben”
With immigration still a contentious issue on both sides of the pond, Brit writer/director Suzie Halewood’s latest effort will no doubt have the Fox News audience waking up in cold sweats in the middle of the night. “The Chronicles of Narnia”‘s Prince Caspian, Ben Barnes and Andrei Chadov star as two wily Russian shysters who wash up on London’s shoreline with the aim of fleecing the welfare system for all they can, spending their days hard at work ensuring they’ll never have to be hard at work, one state benefit scam at a time.
Opens in limited release.

After a lengthy spell in development that saw at least one “start over” decree from the powers that be, Disney’s latest animated outing has a synopsis that reads like “Underdog” by way of “Tropic Thunder.” Badly in need of a Robert Downey Jr.-sized comeback himself, John Travolta lends his voice to Bolt, a courageous canine who plays a superhero on TV, but finds that his special-effects-aided superpowers don’t work when he’s mistakenly shipped cross-country to New York City. With the help of a cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) and his biggest fan, Rhino the hamster (Mark Walton), Bolt attempts to return to the creature comforts of Hollywood and his owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus).
Opens wide.

“Harvard Beats Yale 29-29”
One of the most storied rivalries in all of college sports, the annual football game between the Harvard Crimson and the Yale Bulldogs carries a fierce tradition stretching back over 130 years. Documentary filmmaker Kevin Rafferty casts us back to 1968 to an epic encounter considered by many amongst the inner circles of the Ivy League powerhouses as the greatest of all time. Rafferty, the co-director of “The Atomic Café” and the first cousin of a certain Yale cheerleader (who’d become the 43rd U.S. president), blends archival footage with testimony from players involved (including defensive tackle Tommy Lee Jones) and others who were there to witness Harvard’s historic comeback to score 16 points in the final 42 seconds to reach the unlikeliest of outcomes.
Opens in limited release.

“I Can’t Think Straight”
After turning her debut autobiographical novel into her debut film with “The World Unseen,” writer/director Shamim Sarif again mines her own life experience for this tender coming-of-age culture clash drama centered on an immigrant Palestinian family now living in England. Former model Lisa Ray stars as Tala, the rebellious daughter of traditionalist parents who lament her habit of breaking off engagements to well-to-do local boys. Imagine their surprise when Tala finds a girlfriend in Leyla (Sheetal Sheth), an aspiring writer who stirs some long repressed feelings in Tala and forces her to finally reveal her true self to her disapproving family.
Opens in limited release.

Considering how much time and money major studios pump into ramming this particular wish fulfillment fantasy down our throats year after year, it’s surprising the indie world hasn’t seized upon the genre. In this decidedly oddball comedy from writer/director team Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore, Michael Rapaport stars as Les, a comic book geek who signs up to be part of a trial for a new anti-depressant for a big pharmaceutical company. Believing the drug has gifted him with superpowers, Les takes to the streets to fight crime to the chagrin of the drug corporation who, fearful of bad publicity, dispatches its own agents, “The Suits,” to take Les down.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

Noting both its tiny legion of pre-packaged followers combined with some impressive advanced ticket sales, there are unusually high hopes for director Catherine Hardwicke’s screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s supernatural romance, with one or two quiet rumblings going so far as to anoint it the heir apparent to “Harry Potter.” Kristen Stewart takes the role of Bella, a new arrival to a sleepy Washington town who finds herself irresistibly drawn to classmate Edward (Robert Pattinson), a benign and reclusive vampire. Finding comfort with one another, their brief moment of bliss is shattered when a rival clan comes to town in search of a fresh feeding ground.
Opens wide.

Known throughout Bollywood for his grand scale epics, director Subhash Ghai offers something a little more intimate with this prim and proper tale of three squabbling aristocratic brothers who reunite around their ailing father to feud over the family fortune. Set to a number of rousing routines orchestrated by “Slumdog Millionaire” composer A.R. Rahman, the film features Salman Kahn as Deven, a struggling singer caught in a contract with his girlfriend’s father that states he cannot marry her until he becomes a billionaire. Only his two brothers, Gyanesh (Anil Kapoor) and Danny (Zayed Kahn), now stand between him and his dreams. In Hindi with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: “The Betrayal (Nerakhoon,” Cinema Guild, 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.