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Getting Versed in Versus Movies

Getting Versed in Versus Movies (photo)

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There has to be no easier movie pitch than unveiling a “versus” in the title. Everyone, even studio heads, has at one time or another dwelt on the existential question of “who would win in a fight?” The conflict is clear, the characters are established, the action implied — all they have to do is sign on the bottom line. Sci-fi has especially benefited from the built-in allure of this most savage of titling decisions — from the endless “Godzilla” fight cards to the recent “Alien vs. Predator” franchise, mano y mano monster throwdowns have made a mint at the box office, especially when established geek properties square off. Often a sign that a character has run his or her course into camp (“Freddy vs. Jason” or “Dracula vs. Frankenstein”), the more resourceful of these films exceed their built-in limitations. DreamWorks is trying to milk that “versus” mojo for their animated 3D spectacle “Monsters vs. Aliens,” now in theater. The filmmakers can only hope it has a shelf life as long as most of the films listed below, a broad cross-section of showdowns both physical and emotional.

03242009_WifeVsSecretary2.jpg“Wife vs. Secretary” (1936)
Directed by Clarence Brown
Winner: Wife

In pre-code Hollywood, Jean Harlow’s secretary might have bedded Clark Gable’s dashing ad exec. But after the enforcement of the code started in 1934, Myrna Loy’s wife was destined to retain his many valuable services. More of a softball than screwball comedy, this breezily entertaining love triangle still maintains some charm. Most of it comes from its players acting against type, with the normally stoic Gable in happy-go-lucky mode and Harlow eschewing glamour for his-girl-Friday pluck. Only Loy maintains her usual screen persona as a cold aristocrat. The conflict is not a result of a full-on catfight for Gable’s favors, but rather one of slowly escalating jealousies that result in a cascade of misunderstandings.

Harlow never unloads her seductive charms, but her pert presence in the office gets the gossips squawking. After the co-workers close a business deal in a cozy Havana hotel, Astor believes the lies and sues for divorce. It is only then that Harlow senses her opportunity, eagerly tossing over her earnest traditionalist boyfriend (a young Jimmy Stewart) for the chance at the more progressive (and richer) Gable. Marriage prevails in a cleverly staged finale, however, when director Clarence Brown utilizes the off-screen sound of approaching high-heel footsteps as the overture to reunion. Harlow shrugs her way back into Stewart’s car, a disheartening future clouding her downcast eyes.

03312009_freddyvsjason.jpg“Freddy vs. Jason” (2003)
Directed by Ronny Yu
Winner: Freddy

Having long since been reduced by their respective franchises into comical parodies of their formerly frightening selves — a devolution that began sometime around 1985 — Freddy and Jason sparred off in “Freddy vs. Jason” with little reputation left to lose. And true to form, this face-off didn’t further sully their already tarnished legacies. In the final tally, it’s Freddy who emerges triumphant, despite the fact that the story’s climactic showdown ends with Jason decapitating his knife-gloved adversary. Though both indestructible — and thus incapable of definitively defeating the other — Freddy’s jokey, one-liner-spouting personality was far better suited for this lame-brained story, which eschews any serious attempts at generating tension in favor of tongue-in-cheek terror and cheesy gore. There’s no doubt that the “Friday the 13th” series was epitomized by corny inanity, but “Freddy vs. Jason” is goofy supernatural nonsense of a distinctly Elm St. strain (made, unsurprisingly, by that series’ studio, New Line), and thus offers up a battle inherently skewed in the charred child murderer’s favor.

03312009_kramervskramer2.jpg“Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979)
Directed by Robert Benton
Winner: Ted Kramer

Blessed with the autumnal glow of Néstor Almendros’ cinematography, the otherwise middling “Kramer vs. Kramer” pits hardworking ad-man Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) against his women’s libber ex-wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) in a child custody court battle. Joanna, in an attempt to “find herself”, had fled their marriage and their boy, only to return a year later to reclaim motherhood. Streep plays her with a childlike passivity, not wanting to cause harm but acting with unthinking narcisssim. Hoffman is excellent: jumpy, unraveled and raw after her departure, falling apart in a memorable breakfast scene in the kitchen, taking his rage out on an uncooperative oven. There’s a lot of talent on display here, but the central drama is so unbalanced, with Joanna such a flimsy, unlikeable cipher, that the film’s “realist” aesthetic collapses. The dramatic courtroom sequence, in which Hoffman gives an impassioned speech about fatherhood, is moving on its own merits, but in context seems like a scared patriarchy circling the wagons against a feminist takeover. The finale is even more absurd, a bizarre wish-fulfillment fantasy in which Joanna capitulates to Ted in giving up their son, despite her victory in the courtroom. Ted wins, women lose.


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.