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Opening This Week: Long-awaited films from Baz Luhrmann and Gus Van Sant

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11242008_australia.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Families heading to the multiplexes post-turkey this Thanksgiving can unbutton those tight belts in the dark after choosing from an eclectic mix of hard-hitting action, sweeping epics and prickly romance.

Never one to be rushed, director Baz Luhrmann has taken seven years since putting his so-called “red curtain trilogy” to bed before delivering this, the first installment in his announced trilogy of epics. Once more showcasing his fascination with great melodrama, old-school villainy and larger-than-life love stories, Luhrmann has reinvented himself without really reinventing himself with this grandiose romance set against the backdrop of a transforming nation. Returning muse Nicole Kidman stars as Sarah Ashley, a freshly widowed cattlewoman who falls in love with a rugged ranch hand named Drover (Hugh Jackman), as the two drive 1500 head of cattle to Darwin. Unfortunately, they arrive just in time to see the Japanese bombers appear on the horizon.
Opens wide.

“Four Christmases”
What better way to start ringing in the holiday season with your family and friends than a treacly romantic comedy about divorce where a self-absorbed yuppie couple pays lip service to parents and other family members they can’t stand the sight of. Looking to reassert herself after a brief stint wandering post-Oscar career wilderness, Reese Witherspoon joins Vince Vaughn to play the young couple pleased as punch to be avoiding the seasonal family get-togethers before a fogbank at the airport scuppers their plans. “King of Kong” director Seth Gordon looks after an all-star supporting cast boasting the likes of Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Voight, Sissy Spacek and Jon Favreau, who fill out the roles within the extended and estranged family.
Opens wide.

Director Gus Van Sant flirted with making a biopic of the late Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office, with Sean Penn as the lead all the way back to 1993 when Oliver Stone was looking to produce, but passed, citing script problems. Now, the inimitably divisive auteur returns with a script from “Big Love” scribe Dustin Lance Black that stars Penn as the shy, aging New Yorker who relocates to San Francisco and became a champion of the national gay rights movement. Wall-to-wall with indie darlings, the film stars James Franco, Alison Pill, Emile Hirsch and Joseph Cross, who round out Milk’s entourage, while Josh Brolin provides some political opposition.
Opens in limited release; expands on Dec. 5th.

“Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!”
Bollywood helmer Dibakar Banerjee’s sophomore feature sends up the story of Lucky, a scrawny 15-year-old street hoodlum who rises from the West Delhi ghetto to transform into a modern day Robin Hood. The film is said to have been inspired by the real-life exploits of Devender “Bunty” Singh, whose estimated 500 burglaries (stealing everything from classic cars to family pets), aided by his suave demeanor and remarkable ability to divert suspicion, made him something of a folk hero in his native India. In Hindi with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

“Rome & Jewel”
While non-English majors the world over may perish the thought of reading brick-like Shakespeare anthologies on a daily basis, the Bard has perhaps done more to offer struggling catalogue models a bridge to screen stardom than any man in history. So here come the impossibly good-looking duo of Nate Parker and Lindsey Haun as star-crossed lovers, with Parker playing the son of an African-American minister in Compton and Haun the Caucasian daughter of the mayor of Los Angeles. This hip-hop infused “Romeo & Juliet” update is the brainchild of writer/director Charles T. Kanganis, whose last theatrical feature, 1996’s non-entity “Race the Sun,” starred the similarly attractive up-and-comers Eliza Dushku, Casey Affleck and Halle Berry.
Opens in limited release.

“The Secrets”
With this latest stirring melodrama, accomplished director Avi Nasher joins a growing list of Israeli filmmakers quietly raging against the ultra-orthodox practitioners of Judaism that continue to cast off women to a lifetime of domestic inconsequence. Fleeing this stiflingly conservative climate is Naomi (Ania Bokstein), a young girl who enrolls in a seminary to escape an unwanted marriage. At the seminary, she finds a kindred spirit in her roommate Sheine (Talli Oren), and the newfound allies hatch a plan to expunge the sins of a sickly French outcast (Fanny Ardant) with the aide of an ancient, mystical and fiercely forbidden Kabbalah ritual. In English, French and Hebrew with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

“Transporter 3”
It remains an unfathomable mystery how Luc Besson, director of such existential twaddle as “The Big Blue,” and Robert Mark Kamen, a guy with a Ph.D. in anthropology, became the guys who quietly transformed leading man Jason Statham into the closest thing we have these days to an Arnie or a Sly. Yet Besson and Kamen have teamed once more, with French director Olivier Megaton holding the megaphone, so that Statham can once again suit up as Frank Martin, the most reliable (read: hardest to kill) courier in all the underworld. This time, Frank’s task is to deliver Valentina (Natalya Rudakova), the kidnapped daughter of a Ukrainian official, while evading and dispatching the customary assortment of disposable goons that pop up along the way.
Opens wide.

[Photo: “Australia,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 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.