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Carol Reed’s Comedy of Pre-Revolutionary Cuba, Plus “The Singing Revolution”

Carol Reed’s Comedy of Pre-Revolutionary Cuba, Plus “The Singing Revolution” (photo)

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Filmmaking is all about collaboration and fortuity, as much as we genuflect faithfully to the sacredness of the auteur. Take Carol Reed — a career that spanned almost four decades, encompassing 33 features, and yet only a few are memorable (not, God knows, his late-career Oscar-winner “Oliver!”). Essentially, Reed finds his way onto the pantheon’s higher shelves on the strength of only a handful of films, starting with the trio of startling, precise, infinitely rich features he made in the late ’40s, one after the other — “Odd Man Out” (1947), “The Fallen Idol” (1948) and “The Third Man” (1949) — and ending a little less auspiciously with “Our Man in Havana” (1959). The rogue factor here is that three out of the four were written by Graham Greene, whose particular ironic-tension story skills gave many a medium-boil filmmaker his best shot at sublimity. The first three — certainly one of film history’s loveliest and most fecund three-year sprees — have been hailed enough, but the last of the list, an outright Boulting-style comedy set in the Greene-ish world of pre-revolutionary Cuba, remains forgotten. So much so that its DVD release has been folded into the bizarre Sony marketing campaign dubbed “Martini Movies,” which in the current batch entail everything from Arch Oboler’s 1951 sci-fier “Five” to Richard Rush’s 1970 flower-power “Getting Straight,” and which slaps each individual film with its own customized martini recipe, printed right on the disc.

At least “Our Man in Havana” has a robust amount of tippling. (It also evokes the palm trees & pools imagery of Kalatozov’s “I Am Cuba,” coming five years later.) Alec Guinness plays Wormold, a disaffected but far from dim vacuum cleaner salesman stuck in Havana with his luscious but oddly immature teenage daughter (Jo Morrow); he’s accosted by dapper OSI agent Noël Coward (the only man in Cuba constantly plagued by panhandling mariachi bands), and, because the money is tempting, agrees to become a field agent, even though he has no idea what he’s watching for or whom he’s spying on. Soon it becomes apparent that the easy-street situation will collapse unless Wormold recruits some sub-agents and does some espionage, or so he fabricates, and fabricates enough to warrant more attention and actual staff members (including Maureen O’Hara as the least pretentious woman spy ever). So he must fabricate further, to extricate himself from the grips of genuine political trouble.

It’s a quiet movie (too quiet, actually — it’s plagued by those eerie, no-ambient-noise post-dubbing patches common to midcentury British movies), and Guinness plays his sweating fool-in-the-middle so drolly he actually tamps the potential comedy down to a chucklesome hum. But Coward, winding up his spy master expositions with a flurry of hands and an “all that rubbish,” is crisply hilarious, OSI chief Ralph Richardson makes every line of his sound like a hard-boiled egg thrown through a window, Ernie Kovacs chews his scenery like a cigar butt as a corrupt and horny head of Havana police, and Greene has planted racy running jokes throughout the movie like land mines. Four years before “Dr. No,” but in the bestseller heyday of Ian Fleming’s pulp geyser, Brit spy culture gets a vinegar pie in the face. The movie’s political position towards British intelligence bungling and Batista-era corruption is uniquely relevant — the Castro revolution had wrapped up only three months before filming began, and Castro was so content with the movie’s slant that filming in Havana wasn’t interfered with, and its filmmakers were never painted as Communist in the middle of the Red-scare Cold War era. Given the criminal foot-tripping of spies in and around Cuba in the ’60s, maybe they were simply right.


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.