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The Sandbox: New Movies Enter an Old Dimension of Gaming

The Sandbox: New Movies Enter an Old Dimension of Gaming (photo)

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It’s easy to understand why video games continue to be viewed as child’s play. Since the Atari 2600’s groundbreaking 1977 debut, the gaming industry has targeted kids as its prime demographic, defining itself via cartoon mascots and titles that conceal any gameplay or thematic complexity behind a veneer of juvenelia. Yet despite that situation, over the past decade a quiet gaming revolution has begun to show signs of maturity. As PR flacks will readily tell you, the domestic gaming biz now outpaces Hollywood’s annual box office ($21.33 billion to $9.78 billion in 2008 profits alone). Even when factoring in games’ higher average prices and that such figures don’t include DVD and Blu-ray receipts, a discrepancy of that magnitude is fairly astonishing. But it’s not incomprehensible. If plenty of gaming products remain kid-centric, the field has also, in tandem with its original children-of-the-’80s fans’ advancing ages, expanded to include more than just “E for Everyone”-rated entertainment. Games, from “Grand Theft Auto” to “Rock Band” to “World of Warcraft” — have steadily been growing up.

As proven by Hollywood’s endless stream of crummy R-rated movies (or TV junk food like “Rock of Love Bus”), just because something appeals to an adult demo doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth a lick. And while that also holds true for video games, which routinely mistake cursing, bloodshed and Cinemax-style sexual content for “maturity,” the medium has — in ways not always noticeable to casual onlookers, but plain anyone who spends at least a portion of their free time with an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Wii controller in hand — developed an unmistakable strain of sophistication. Roger Ebert may have famously denigrated it as an inherently inferior art form, but any examination of modern gaming on its own terms (rather than against those of literature, film or theater) suggests otherwise. With regards to aesthetics and interface mechanics, as well as to their unique use of interactivity to create visceral and emotional responses, to address moral issues and to investigate the potential of different narrative modes in a hyper-media-saturated culture, video games really are gradually approaching the level of, for lack of a better word, art.

That may sound like highfalutin’ overreaching to the average ear, but that assessment’s been taken to heart by a host of mainstream media big shots, from behind-the-camera A-listers like Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and John Woo, all of whom are involved in game production, to center stage talent like Samuel L. Jackson (“Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”), Liam Neeson (“Fallout 3”) and Vin Diesel (“Wheelman” pictured right), three of the many name-brand stars who’ve contributed performances to recent blockbuster titles. Predictably, where the talent goes, so too goes Hollywood’s major studios, which have not only noticed but initiated measures to counteract gaming’s pop-cultural ascendancy. And nowhere is that more noticeable than in their eager embrace of a half-century-old gimmick that — courtesy of heavily hyped 2009 theatrical releases like DreamWorks’ “Monsters vs. Aliens” and James Cameron’s “Avatar” — is now primed to be a familiar facet of one’s moviegoing experience: 3D.


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.