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Heavy Cargo

Heavy Cargo (photo)

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The unaccented, matter-of-fact tone of Aleksei Balabanov’s “Cargo 200” is deliberately disarming. The plain Jane approach leads us to expect story complexity, nuance, social relevance — anything, really, beside what we eventually get, which is a cold-eyed slide into the human hellpit. Based on “true events,” somewhat embroidered, Balabanov’s movie is a poison-pen letter sent to the heart of the failing Soviet society circa 1984, and you can appropriately read its sneaky, scalding tribulations as a face-slap to the Russians, young and old, who nostalgize the old regime. What’s often lamented is the passing of a sense of enforced order and control; Balabanov is here to remind everyone that bloodthirsty chaos ruled, and you forget that at your peril.

Context is applied lightly: we meet two middle-aged brothers — one an Army colonel, the other a “scientific atheism” professor — having lunch on a veranda, then the colonel’s daughter and her black-market smoothie of a boyfriend, whose alarming thirst for vodka is the first sign of trouble. Haphazardly, vectors cross: the professor’s car breaks down in the northern country outside of Leningrad, and he seeks help at a farmhouse, where the central figure seems to be a bellicose, gun-cleaning brute brimming with anti-atheist passion and a vague dream of building a Christian utopia. This odd, ramshackle home also harbors a Vietnamese worker and a skinny, seemingly mute man of untold provenance — and it’s this inexpressive sociopath who becomes the story’s agent of desolation, once the tanked black market hood shows up a little later to buy booze, accompanied by a girl he picked up at a roadside disco. What ensues is all step-by-step minutiae — and an undramatic rape with an empty vodka bottle is just the beginning.

From there, “Cargo 200” (which is the military euphemism for soldier coffins coming back from Afghanistan, a salient plot integer) becomes a feral ordeal, but Balabanov is careful not to overplay the hysteria and suffering; the filmmaking is cool, unemphatic, unhurried, and the tone is low-amp jaunty. The lack of explicit textural cues — music, close-ups, reaction shots, etc. — often and deliberately leaves us with a chuckle stuck like a bone in our throats. Balabanov, for his part, does not dictate response, and he leaves a good deal unsaid, under the film’s icy surface. I had to watch it twice to see the ligaments between plot threads and how they connect to subterranean statements about Russian life under Communism, and their subtlety, amidst this mayhem, is a thing to behold. Still, it’s hard to overlook the climactic series of tableaux, unselfconscious masterworks of grime, proliferating flies, pooling blood and Boris Yeltsin. I haven’t been a big fan of Balabanov (“Of Freaks and Men,” “Brother”), but this is the best and richest Russian film American screens have seen since Ilya Khrjanovsky’s “4.”

04282009_AndyWarholScreenTe.jpgNot being much of a Warholite, either — that is, not belonging to the cultural tribe that believes everything Andy Warhol touched is, by default, a masterful piece of postmod art simply because his insulating meta-irony deems it all so — I wouldn’t make great claims for his hundreds of one-reel “screen tests” by themselves, but no one really does. By being Warhols, they are seen as having an intrinsic meta-value that has nothing to do with aesthetics or “experimentation” or visual glamour or anything else, really. In the new compilation “13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests,” the creation of which is attributed only to Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum, a baker’s dozen of Warhol’s full-frontal one-shots (which he used to show arbitrarily in public shows in groups of 13) are scored with drowsy, “shoegazing” songs by the duo Dean & Britta. The upshot isn’t art but homage, a new, semi-permanent context for pieces of film Warhol never would’ve contextualized himself.

Warhol’s methodology was so simple — just sit and stare — that the primal voyeuristic attraction of cinema lands in your lap, and there’s no denying that many of the impassive portraits here — Nico, Mary Woronov, Paul America, Edie Sedgwick — are surpassingly beautiful. (Lou Reed, drinking a Coke in shades, not so much, but Jane Holzer’s energetic teeth-brushing is oddly invigorating.) But here’s why they’re beautiful now — like the first Lumière films, moviemaking is its own nostalgia machine, its own documentary about cultural history and its own inherent lament for a vanished past. Warhol just let the sadness roam free, without constriction. Whatever the thoroughly un-arty artiness meant in the mid-’60s (which doesn’t seem to be a very much; impish emptiness, self-mythologizing poseur cool, and that’s it), today it thrums with melancholy — so much gorgeous youth, just waiting to fall under time’s bulldozer. I don’t take that to be a minor chord to strike. The songs are agreeably ambient, if forgettable, though Britta Phillips herself, seen in the DVD supplements to be simply the most gorgeous 45-year-old bass player on Earth, seems ready even at her un-Warholian age for a loving close-up.

“Cargo 200” (The Disinformation Company) and “13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests” (Plexifilm) are now available on DVD.

[Additional photo: Jane Holzer brushing her teeth in “13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests,” Plexifilm, 2009]


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.