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In defense of John Woo’s American period.

In defense of John Woo’s American period.  (photo)

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Friday sees the release of an abridged version of John Woo’s new film, “Red Cliff,” a two-part, five-hour epic condensed for American audiences into what’s still an admittedly pretty entertaining regular-length feature.

As Glenn Kenny notes at The Auteurs while comparing the two versions, what’s gone is a lot of character detail and poetic flourishes. What’s left is one ridiculously over-the-top battle scene after another, which is definitely fun if you want to see, say, something called the “Turtle formation.” It is, however, inescapably silly, and I enjoyed it much the same way I enjoyed “Mission: Impossible II” and “Paycheck.”

The decade-plus Woo spent in Hollywood had its ups and downs. The ups included the peak violence of “Face/Off”; the downs, according to conventional wisdom, included practically everything else. “Hard Target” is fine for connoisseurs of Van Damme cheese (I dig it), but was not a dignified start to Woo’s American career. “Broken Arrow” was a hit but not widely beloved. Throw in a Dolph Lundgren direct-to-video special and the final insult of directing a rejected pilot for a “Lost In Space” update before leaving, and you’re sure not looking at the American equivalent of “Hard Boiled.”

But it’s possible to take equal amounts of pleasure in Woo’s cheeseball notions as in his considerable prowess in organizing on-screen violence; they’re just different kinds of pleasure, which is why I enjoy the war scenes just as much as I enjoy a big fake shot of a CGI dove flying endlessly over battlefields.

11182009_mi2.jpgThose are the exact same pleasures animating the much-maligned “Mission: Impossible II” and “Paycheck.” “MI:II” is indeed ridiculous; that’s why it’s fun. It’s $125 million that’s all on-screen: every shot looks not so much good as expensive — it takes all that money and makes it ludicrous. It’s a movie where “flirting” looks like Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton racing each other along a cliff and sending their cars in dreamy circles.

“Paycheck” — widely despised and dismissed — is more impersonal, but it’s slyly self-mocking in every respect. Ben Affleck was peaking in terms of the flack he was taking and responds with a purposefully blank performance. Woo keeps things efficient, and the final appearance of an exceptionally artificial dove flying in slo-mo is his way of literally flipping the audience the bird. “You want a John Woo movie? Here. Here’s a bird.”

It’s grand that Woo is working abroad again, treated with due reverence rather than as an expendable hired hand. It’s worth remembering, though, that all the flaws and strengths of “Red Cliff” aren’t the return of talents left lying dormant for an hour; they’re the logical extension of what he was doing in Hollywood all along, even when it was looked down on.

[Photos: “Red Cliff,” Magnolia, 2009; “Mission: Impossible II,” Paramount Pictures, 2000]


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.