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Sundance 2009: “Mary and Max.”

Sundance 2009: “Mary and Max.” (photo)

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The opening night slot at Sundance is customarily considered one of doom, and in that tradition “Mary and Max” is a disappointment, though just a mild one. The film, animator Adam Elliot’s first feature, has many of the elements and motifs of his splendid, award-winning shorts — a distinctive portraiture-inspired look, heavy voiceover, characters with mental or physical disabilities, misspellings, insulting newspaper headlines, accident-prone pets — while demonstrating why, as it is, Elliot’s style is better kept to a briefer form.

“Mary and Max” flips between the lives of its title characters, a lonely seven-year-old Australia girl with a birthmark on her forehead and neglectful parents and an equally lonely 44-year-old obese New York man with Asperger’s. Mary picks Max’s name by chance out of the phonebook and writes to ask him questions about America, and despite the fact that she unknowingly pushes him into several anxiety attacks, the two establish a pen-pal friendship that lasts decades, over the deaths of family members and friends, stays in the mental ward, a marriage, a lottery win and the publication of a book. Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman voice the pair, with Barry Humphries intoning the narration.

Characters don’t talk much in Adam Elliot’s stop motion creations, not to each other. They instead often just look to the camera as the narrative happens to them, with seemingly no more say in the matter than anyone watching — they’re reenacting someone else’s memory of them. Like animated snapshots, scenes pass by, adding up to whole lives that neither equal easy anecdotes nor drift by without a point. Elliot has an eye for odd little dark or droll details that give his stories a gleam of melancholy genuineness. But in “Mary and Max,” those details stack up until his characters become grotesques: Mary’s father drowns while treasure hunting at the beach; Max accidentally kills a mime when his A/C unit falls out of the wall of his crumbling apartment; Mary’s husband runs off with a New Zealand sheep farmer. The story acquires a macabre undertone that’s not suited to its own rambling structure. Mary and Max begin as believable misfits with not-outlandish misfortunes in their lives, but soon start to seem like something out of Edward Gorey.

There are moments of loveliness — Australia is done in warm shades of brown, Mary’s favorite color, and New York in greyscale with splashes of red — and others of emotional wonder, from the watching of a treasured cartoon in the rain to an improvised gift of tears. But “Mary and Max” does feel like a short that continues on for an hour and a half with little forward motion, until you reach the somber but not unexpected ending and realize how far you’ve come.

“Mary and Max” currently has no U.S. distribution. See all of’s Sundance coverage here.

[Photo: “Mary and Max,” Icon Entertainment International, 2009]


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.