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Choosing Hedonism Over History

Choosing Hedonism Over History (photo)

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One of last year’s the most under-distributed and underseen major European imports, Jirí Menzel’s “I Served the King of England” (2006) is lovely, silly, damnable antique, willfully pre-feminist and hopelessly out of fashion. The film, after all, dares to etch out Czech life under the Nazi occupation as preposterous farce, and it hardly halts there in favoring live-it-up hedonism over the grim realities of history. Menzel and his famous co-writer Bohumil Hrabal (who was enough of an institution to warrant a detour for a visiting President Clinton in 1994, and the two hit the local public house for a beer) had been through the Germans, Communist rule and the Soviet invasion, and it’s difficult to argue that they haven’t earned their esprit — their two best films, “Closely Watched Trains” (1966) and “Larks on a String” (1990), similarly, and with exhilarating perverseness, portray oppression as absurd comedy, insisting that totalitarianism in all its forms is no match, in the long run, for sex and romance and sensual indulgence and ironic good humor.

It’s a bildungsfilm, a hotelier picaresque, the story of Jan, a diminutive Czech lad (Ivan Barnev, whose reaction shots have a loose-grinned, Muppet-like innocence) who longs to be a millionaire in the mid-war years, by way of being the best table waiter in Bohemia. He entertains himself by watching rich men grovel for the loose change he surreptitiously tosses to the floor, while a millionaire client entertains himself by carpeting his hotel room with a geometric grid of 1000 crown notes. Everybody’s entertaining themselves, which is part of Menzel and Hrabal’s narrative syntax — even a peachy young whore soaked to the skin in a rainstorm finds impish joy in a bar full of old men ogling her. (She’s characterized in the hero’s view as walking down the street in a flimsy flowered dress, surrounded by hovering bees.) In the film’s framing scenes, with the older, ex-con Jan carving out a place for himself in a Sudetenland bar left abandoned by expelled Germans after WWII, a wild young woman, sent to the forest in search of “musical” spruces from which to make violins, sits drinking tea as a giant tree is cut and crashes down within a foot of her. She doesn’t flinch, but only casts a foxy eye up at Jan. “And I longed to undress her,” he says in his narration. It’s that kind of movie.

02242009_iservedthekingofengland2.jpgJan’s “playfulness” in bed — the word rings through the movie like a credo, even as it boils down often to cunnilingus, mirrors and the nude-decorative use of flowers and food — maintains him as the Old World opulence of the ’20s and ’30s gives way to the war (when Jan works at a posh retreat for Aryan breeding maidens, who frolic naked in the sun like blonde dryads). And of course the disillusioning Communist life to be had afterward, bringing a comeuppance to some but merely an ironic twist of fate to Jan. Menzel locates the zest and juiciness of life in grotesque aristocratic opulence (there’s even a hotel with a vomitorium) and within abject poverty, equally — he parodies it all and celebrates it all. It’s no indication of depth of vision, certainly. But an unassailable love of life, an appreciation of absurd fortune and good pilsener and lobster and avuncular old coots and beautiful young women in thin silk shifts, all in the face of the 20th century’s tribulations, is nothing to sneeze at, either. Na zdraví!


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.