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A Tragicomedy, Split Down Its Center

A Tragicomedy, Split Down Its Center (photo)

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The palm-sized absurdist Lebanese film “The Kite” (2003) was never released to U.S. theaters, and it’s a piteous sign of the times — even a decade ago, such a deft and humane film, bearing an armload of festival awards, would’ve hit screens in at least a few cities, and appeared on critics’ top ten lists, and therein manage a footprint on American film culture consciousness. Perhaps the alt-distribution stream of DVD will suffice, in general; as it is, Randa Chahal Sabbag’s film deserves eyeballs, trafficking in the satiric-fable tradition of “West Beirut” (1998) and “In the Battlefields” (2004) that might stand as a particularly Lebanese idiom. For a country as savaged and riven by warfare, occupation, religious vendettas and geographic tumult, the sense of embracing humor in all three films must be hard won — the DNA of it shares genes with Jiří Menzel’s Czech élan and Kusturica’s Serbian hyperbole, but there’s also a subtle native sense of romance and rock ‘n’ roll.

“The Kite” is all about the ambiguous borderlands — the film is set in a Druze village split more or less down its mountainous middle by the ever-shifting Israeli occupation, so that marriages must be arranged and family arguments hashed out via megaphone and binoculars across an expanse of guarded desert valley. It’s a tragically comic set-up, politically genuine but simultaneously ridiculous, and it never gets old, especially since it’s enacted for the most part by middle-aged women in fluttering black abayas, broadcasting recriminations and, at one point, attesting to a new groom’s masculinity by hollering that when he was seven, “he mounted a goat!”, such was his erection.

The assigned bride in these negotiations is Lamia (the dewily gorgeous Flavia Béchara), a vaguely rebellious girl who has no compunctions about crossing a minefield to fetch a fallen kite, and who, it turns out, is actually in love with the local lad shanghaied into the Israeli forces to monitor the town from a watchtower. Boosted by rather spectacular widescreen photography (both D.P.s are French), Chahal Sabbag’s tone is gentle and generous (except with a single, astonishingly tasteless scene involving the discovery of an aborted fetus); she considers the points of view of virtually everybody on the ground, even the Israeli officers, who know their role is idiotic (transcribing the bellowed border conversations, partitioning different chunks of the village at night with barbed wire and thereby spontaneously separating family members). And then comes a climactic, transporting, magical realist flourish the filmmaker, who sadly died of cancer last August, had not prepared us for. Defiance and love, knotted together, it turns out, is the only way to face oppression.

04142009_Broken.jpgYou never know what you’ll find… as in, amid the usual screaming-slickness-digi-gore foofaraw that makes up Lionsgate’s multiple “8 Films to Die for” and “Ghost House Underground” series (signaling you with titles like “Autopsy” and “Slaughter”), Sean Ellis’ “The Broken” is a metaphysical whatzit that looks and sounds like a horror movie but may actually be something else — a body-snatcher parable on urban alienation? The film possesses that annoyingly gorgeous-cool cinematography so common to its type (and which is soothing, not anxiety-producing), and it indulges in moments of blood-soaked hooey. But it’s the upshot that’s subtly different — so note, here there be spoilers.

Suffice it to say that gorgeous London radiologist Lena Headey may be a victim of Capras syndrome (where you believe the people around you are doubles) as the result of a car accident, except that we know she saw herself driving by beforehand, only, if there are two of her, who’s the double? Exhausted ambassador dad Richard Jenkins, French boyfriend Melvil Poupaud and concerned shrink Ulrich Thomsen don’t know what to make of her dilemma, but they could be haunted/stalked by doubles, too. Where the doubles come from and why are not plot points (thank God) but dangling questions so mysterious that the film begs to be read metaphorically, as a physically articulated existential crisis. In fact, the film does work up a kind of Sartrean nausea — that is, if you can get past the grue-spattered bathtubs and constantly telegraphed menace.

“The Kite” (First Run Features) and “The Broken” (Lionsgate) are now available on DVD.

[Additional photo: Melvil Poupaud and Lena Headey in “The Broken,” After Dark Films, 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.