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Six Studio Journeymen We Wish Would Return to Their Indie Roots

Six Studio Journeymen We Wish Would Return to Their Indie Roots (photo)

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There was a reason to feel queasy after watching the trailer for “The Hannah Montana Movie,” and it wasn’t just the sight of Miley Cyrus fighting off Tyra Banks for a pair of garish high heels. No, it was seeing the end credits that read “Directed by Peter Chelsom.” That name may not mean much to most, but for those who discovered Chelsom during the mid-’90s by way of his trilogy of Blackpool-set showbiz dramedies — the short “Treacle,” 1992’s “Hear My Song” and his best, the 1995 Jerry Lewis-Oliver Platt father-son vaudeville comedy “Funny Bones” — an adaptation of a Disney Channel show is nothing short of a crushing disappointment.

Now, times are tough and filmmakers have to eat. And perhaps such disappointment comes as a result of investing too much in the auteur theory, but there is a class of filmmakers whose careers haven’t gone the way we thought they would after displaying a unique voice in their earlier work. These aren’t directors whose careers have been endlessly dissected by fanboys or film critics, but in recent years they’ve become strictly hired hands.

Of course, it happens every generation — though he still has an indie streak, Brian DePalma directed “Sisters” for AIP and later was responsible for “Mission to Mars;” Penelope Spheeris went from helming punk pieces like the “Decline of Western Civilization” doc series and “Suburbia” to the much-maligned “The Beverly Hillbillies.” More recently, Neil LaBute’s mainstream “Wicker Man” remake was about as painful to watch as the two misogynists who tortured their female coworker in his explosive “In the Company of Men” nearly a decade earlier. Here’s the current crop of filmmakers who seem like they should have had better things to work on this year than what they ultimately ended up making:

03302009_PeterChelsom.jpgPeter Chelsom
First Directorial Feature: “Hear My Song” (1991)
What He’s Doing Now: “The Hannah Montana Movie”

It isn’t the first time Disney has made an unconventional choice for one of their prized franchises. Jim Fall’s penchant for bright, swirly visuals was the only obvious explanation for how the director of the 1999 gay satire “Trick” landed the gig for 2003’s “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” But the selection of Chelsom is pretty much the final nail in the coffin of a long, dark chug of a career once filled with enormous potential. It was likely Chelsom’s light touch with magical realism and sly sense of humor that attracted such talent to his films once he arrived in Hollywood during the mid-’90s. It was just as likely those same sensibilities that saw his first major big-budget productions, “The Mighty” and the notorious “Town & Country,” get re-edited by the Weinsteins and Warren Beatty, respectively, and bomb anyway.

Traces of Chelsom’s eccentricity can still be seen — Beatty has a surreal scene in “Country” where he’s dressed as a polar bear and fools around with Jenna Elfman’s Marilyn Monroe in the snowy forest as his children watch, and Chelsom’s follow-up “Serendipity” wouldn’t have worked without the director’s whimsy — but his remake of “Shall We Dance?” marked the end of any sense that the director’s quirks were more intriguing than annoying. Now, with “The Hannah Montana Movie,” he’s gone from working with leading men like Beatty and John Cusack to Billy Ray Cyrus and the only “Achy Breaky Heart” here is ours.

03302009_MarkWaters.jpgMark Waters
First Directorial Feature: “The House of Yes” (1997)
What He’s Doing Now: “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”

Incidentally, it was Mark Waters’ work for Disney that afforded a second act to his career, which was floundering after he made a splash at Sundance with the bold (and slightly incestuous) “The House of Yes” and then directed the romantic comedy, “Head Over Heels,” which featured Monica Potter as a mousy restoration artist who falls for Freddie Prinze, Jr., before realizing he might be a serial killer. Needless to say, it didn’t make a killing, but Waters’ re-do of “Freaky Friday” for the Mouse House suggested that he could marry his quirky, often macabre sense of humor with formulaic studio comedies to wonderful effect. His encore with “Friday” star Lindsay Lohan, “Mean Girls,” confirmed that.


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.