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Rotterdam 2009: The Wrap-Up

Rotterdam 2009: The Wrap-Up (photo)

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The Rotterdam Film Festival has had a history of promoting the weird, the obsessive and the cultish in cinema, and there’s been little change as this year’s edition reaches its close. They’ve programmed a survey of recent Asian horror films, complete with a “haunted house” installation, and they’ve maintained their loyalty to unfashionable provocateurs like Aleksei Balabanov, whose acerbic takes on Russian history have always made their way onto screens here. That’s without even mentioning the festival’s support of debut filmmakers, three of which just received a 15,000 euro ($22,500 U.S.) prize from the VPRO Tiger jury (Ramtin Lavafipour’s “Be Calm and Count to Seven,” Yang Ik-June’s “Breathless” and Mahmut Fazil Coşkun’s “Wrong Rosary” took home the loot).

I went into “Susuk,” Amir Muhammad’s Malaysian black magic boondoggle, with high hopes, not least because of his pre-screening description of the film as “the first Muslim lesbian vampire movie.” It’s his initial foray into commercial filmmaking, as Muhammad is mainly known for his satiric essay works (“The Last Communist”), which were often banned in his home country. He’s now mainly a writer and publisher of “Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things,” among others. “Susuk” is a clumsy piece of social commentary dressed up as a horror film, as bosomy celebrity divas delve into voodoo to rocket them into stardom. Muhammad made up for this stumble with his “haunted house” installation, entitled “Reading Room.” His idea of horror is IKEA furniture set up in a modernist white cube, with only his volume of “The Malaysian Book of the Undead” as company. It was almost as frightening as a trip to the Scandinavian superstore itself.

Aleksei Balabanov barnstormed into the Rotterdam Film Festival last year with “Cargo 200,” a brutally nihilistic portrait of Glasnost-era Moscow that opened recently in New York. He spares little more sympathy for his early 20th century characters in “Morphia,” his latest evisceration of nostalgia for the Communist regime. An adaptation by the late Sergei Bodrov, Jr. (son of the “Mongol” auteur) of short stories by Mikhail Bulgakov, it’s a spurtingly bloody portrait of a country doctor at the time of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. It starts out as black comedy, with the young medic learning surgical techniques on the fly, until the humor leeches out and all that’s left is drug addiction and a grotesquely distorted vision of utopia.

02042009_lookingforcherryb.jpgHowever, the oddest film in the festival was probably Joe Odagiri’s absurdist comedy “Looking For Cherry Blossoms.” A huge star in Japan, Odagiri is often compared to Johnny Depp for general dreaminess, but Depp has never produced anything as mind-blowingly senseless as this. It’s a brisk 64-minute jaunt into insanity, given a structure because a young man discovers his grandfather is receiving postcards from a mystery woman. They all contain a photo of the same flowering cherry tree, which the man vows to find. He’s soon picked up by Jack, a blustery, tourettic cab driver who hijacks the movie for his own uncertain ends. Dressed like a deranged flight attendant, he claims to know the tree, and promptly runs down an aspiring boxer and sings an obscure rock song in staccato bursts. Their goal is forgotten, absorbed in a fog of non-sequiturs, raucous laughter and a rain-drenched music video performed in the nude. It’s next-level stupidity worthy of Will Ferrell.

It’s not all madness though. Rotterdam also acts as curator for the past year of festivals, and I managed to catch up with some invigorating work from around the world. Of most recent vintage is Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Bronson,” which recently premiered at Sundance. A forcefully entertaining take on the most violent prisoner in England’s history, it’s graced by a demonically physical central performance by Tom Hardy, who plays the psychopath with a grinning emptiness reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange.” The film is nothing more than a string of outrageous anecdotes strung together with a theatrical framing device, but Hardy’s riveting presence makes it more than worthwhile.


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.