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Recession, Depression and Just Plain Depressing

Recession, Depression and Just Plain Depressing (photo)

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After a couple of months that for all intents and purposes defined “moribund,” actual moviegoing, at least in the major cities, is getting interesting again, with several masterworks or near-masterworks creeping into theaters. Jan Troell’s scrupulous, beautiful “Everlasting Moments,” Olivier Assayas’ genuinely Renoir-esque “Summer Hours” and Philippe Garrel’s blunt, idiosyncratic “Frontier of Dawn” are all exceptionally exciting and rewarding pictures, and the fact that they’re all being distributed by the sister company of the one that’s hosting me as a critic this month looks…well, funny, I know. What can I tell you? IFC Entertainment’s acquisitions folks have excellent taste, and they’re into…acquiring.

Still in all, I’m slightly relieved, if only for the sake of appearances, that the latest wonderment from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, “Tokyo Sonata,” premieres on U.S. screens this week courtesy of Regent Releasing. Kurosawa, who, as most of his fans already know, is no relation to Akira, is a master purveyor of artful horror films and/or surrealism-tinged tales of modern urban anomie (or is it the other way around?), or more to the point some combination of both. “Tokyo Sonata,” from a script by Max Mannix that was widely revised (particularly, if we go by interviews with the artistes, in the last third) by the director, has no overt supernatural elements. But still. The Tokyo park where the homeless and unemployed line up every day for free food has the look and feel of a setting from the finale of Kurosawa’s terrifyingly apocalyptic 2001 stunner “Pulse,” only minus the unmanned plane flying into a building. “Sonata”‘s adult male lead, Teruyuki Kagawa, has a peculiarly round face, with puffy skin and doll-like eyes; the eerier blandness of his features brings to mind those of countless somnambulistic killers in ’60s B pictures, beginning with Ricardo Valle’s Morpho in Jess Franco’s “The Awful Dr. Orloff.” His unsettling appearance makes the passivity his character Ryuhei Sasaki displays as he’s summarily dismissed from his job more unsettling than it would have been had a more conventional-looking actor been playing him. And it makes Ryûhei’s always ill-advised breakouts from passivity more terrifying.

These and other off-kilter touches — putting the Sasaki family house literally right next to a rail line, for instance — could have severely impinged upon the balance of the film, spinning it off into overtly Lynchian territory. But Kurosawa is his own man, and his particular mix of melancholy, anxiety, bone-dry humor, and, finally, grace, is a unique quantity in cinema.

After getting downsized due to lack of initiative, Ryuhei slinks home early and tries to sneak in via the back door, only to run into wife Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi), who responds with a quizzical shrug. Oldest Sasaki son Takashi (Yu Koyanagi) is a listless mophead who comes and goes throughout the film like a ghost. “Sonata” is more concerned with Ryuhei’s subterfuge, and younger son Kenji’s impulsive decision to start piano lessons, a course he carries out in secret.

03112009_tokyoSonata2.jpgMore than just a study of a dysfunctional family, “Sonata” also functions as a ruthless critique of the patriarchy, pretty much announcing it as the very heart of the dysfunction. Hypocrisy rules, sometimes with awful hilarity. “I raised you to have a happy life,” Ryuhei protests when Takeshi announces his intention to join the military. After discovering Kenji’s new enthusiasm — which, you know, makes the kid happy — Ryuhei expressly forbids his taking lessons; when Megumi gets Ryuhei to see reason, he lamely notes, “Once I’ve said no I can’t take it back. It affects my authority as a parent.” This provides an opening for Megumi to play her trump — she’s seen Ryuhei in that park.

Just as a sort of détente is in sight — maybe — the family is shattered again, courtesy, at least in part, of Koji Yakusho, a Kurosawa stalwart, whose character’s failed robbery of the Sasaki house leads to a hostage situation and one of the more peculiar “they made me a criminal” monologues in recent memory. But citing these plots points is, finally, rather beside the point, the point being the spell Kurosawa (aided mightily by cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa) casts, putting the viewer in a world that’s recognizable but not quite our own, and illuminating the one that is in the process.


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.