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Michael Almereyda Finds “Paradise”

Michael Almereyda Finds “Paradise” (photo)

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The “Paradise” of Michael Almereyda’s new film is an earthly one, a collection of fragments from the filmmaker’s own experiences, shot over years and in different countries and with no more explicit explanation than the patterns that emerge as one segment glides into the next. A sales pitch in a Tehran rug store, a eulogy, a boozy party monologue on Napoleon, a roadside stop to photograph bison, a firework display over Los Angeles, a pause on the set of “The New World” — these moments reverberate off each other, teasing a profound sense of wonder out of the small-scale and the mundane. It’s perhaps the most personal and certainly the least traditional film from Almereyda, whose career has encompassed work as varied as a documentary about photographer William Eggleston, a postmodern New York City vampire tale and a contemporary take on “Hamlet,” with Ethan Hawke playing the brooding prince-as-corporate heir. “Paradise” opened this year’s Film Comment Selects series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and I exchanged emails with the filmmaker about YouTube, travel and the nature of “Paradise” as a self-portrait.

I’m sure I’m forcing this, but there seems something very of-the-moment to “Paradise,” perhaps because not necessarily neatly anecdotal slivers of life, documented in videos, photos and text, have become the basic currency of communication online, though there they rarely accumulate into anything larger. Was there any intention to evoke that with the film?

It’s a fair question, not forced at all. I wanted the movie to seem spontaneous, unsettling and of the moment. And I’ve been highly aware of the way it might mirror a kind of twittering cultural conversation — a language, really — flowing into and out of the Internet, where images, clips and quotes can be plucked at random. Beyond that, I’ve always liked André Malraux’s now-ancient idea of the “museum without walls.” Certain books, he wrote, are museums without walls and, by extension, art history in the age of mechanical reproduction is one vast museum without walls. Of course now, 60 years later, the Internet has flung open the doors and blasted the ceiling off of Malraux’s museum. We’re all like characters in the Godard film [“Band of Outsiders”] racing through the Louvre at breakneck speed. But just because we’re racing doesn’t mean we’re not seeing and thinking. There’s clutter and chaos, but also, for me at least, a heightened element of comprehension and play. Nearly everything in the museum can be revisited and reviewed at any moment, and it’s not necessarily a diminishment to find our sense of reality becoming so fluid, so fragmentary, so collage-like and layered.

But there’s a trick, in making this an index for a movie. As restless and uncentered as “Paradise” may seem, the film has been patiently shaped, each episode is part of a larger framework, planted very consciously so that it anchors or echoes surrounding segments, fits into a whole. YouTube may be, excitingly, a vast, ripe and rotting jungle. This film, however wild it seems, is a garden.

02252009_Paradise2.jpgHow many years does the footage in “Paradise” span?

Roughly ten years. I first got the camera for location scouting on “Hamlet,” in the fall of 1998. It might be worth mentioning that, with a few notable exceptions, the episodes are generally chronological, with the earliest footage at the front of the film.

When did you begin to conceive of knitting selections together into a feature? And how did the format evolve as you worked?

I worked hard, at first, to make the episodes self-contained, and I showed them as shorts. But certain ideas and motifs began to emerge, fairly organically. So the knitting, as you call it, seemed natural. Twin themes of innocence and experience declared themselves straightaway and are, I think, obvious, especially if you see the movie more than once or, as the case may be, if you talk to the director. Look out, too, for the recurrence of hats and head coverings, an ongoing indication, I guess, of the human need for protection and disguise. You might also take note of the fact that the film is divided into four sections, each ending with a dissolve. The first two sections end with images of flight; the third ends with a birth, and the fourth with a child — the former newborn baby, in fact — toddling around in a superhero outfit. These sections are framed, clearly enough, by images of automated walkways, and the coda is meant to gather multiple threads and give you a glimpse of some kind of collective, transcendent moment. Or maybe it’s an intimation of death.


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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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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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.