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Italian cinema on American shores.

Italian cinema on American shores. (photo)

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There’s never been a better time to indulge in a little Italian cinema, at least if you live on the coasts. For New Yorkers, that’s meant classics from the likes of Visconti, Rossellini and Pietro Germi at the Italian Neo-Realism series at the Lincoln Center, and a new 35mm print of Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

If you live on the west coast, mid-November means Cinema Italian Style in Los Angeles and New Italian Cinema in San Francisco and Seattle, where contemporary crime thrillers and comedies straight from Sicily have been the order of the day.

For some of these films, the latter three series will be the only times they’ll screen in the U.S. I still remember seeing Michele Placido’s spellbinding mafia saga “Romanzo Criminale” in 2006 and having to buy a crummy region-free, pan-and-scan Thai DVD for repeat viewings. So rare are the screenings that people at the Aero Theatre in Los Angeles applauded when it was announced that a screening of the recent Toronto hit “Giulia Doesn’t Date at Night,” a romantic dramedy starring Valeria Golino, was canceled because the film got a U.S. distribution deal.

Another film with a U.S. distribution deal, Marco Bellocchio’s “Vincere” is the closing night for the just-concluding L.A. festival and will play San Francisco on November 22nd, well in advance of its March U.S. release date. It’s the kind of grand, propulsive epic that justifies having its American title (“Win!”) translated with an exclamation point. Of course, the exclamation point is also a reference to the mantra of Benito Mussolini, whose rise to power obscures and eventually obliterates the existence of his first wife Ida Dalser and their son, Benito Albino, in order to reshape his public image.

11172009_Vincere.jpgFor Americans, the film will draw comparisons to Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,” as Dalser begins the film as a wide-eyed revolutionary willing to sell all her belongings and quite literally, the clothes on her back to help fund Mussolini’s newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia. She’s rewarded for her devotion with a trip to the mental asylum, where she’s separated from her young son and will introduce herself as the wife of “Il Duce” to anyone who will listen after all her official government records have been wiped out by the dictatorship. Giovanna Mezzogiorno is fearless in the role of Dalser, though her scheduled appearance in Los Angeles was cut because she fell ill, leaving her co-star Filippo Timi to pick up the slack, which he did ably with stories of cramped hotel rooms in Cannes and working with George Clooney on the upcoming Anton Corbijn thriller “The Assassin.”

The other film to overlap between Los Angeles, San Francisco (where it will play on November 19th) and Seattle (where it will play November 21st) is “The Sicilian Girl,” a credible potboiler from writer/director Marco Amenta, who adapted his own documentary into a thriller about Rita Atria. The 17-year-old daughter of a mafia don, Atria turns to the police after the murders of her father and brother to bring down the crime syndicate whose drug ring operations involve the local mayor. The film largely resembles a Hollywood B-picture of the 1940s, and lead Veronica d’Agostino does her best impression of Susan Hayward as the young woman facing incredible odds (even her mother tells her that she wanted to have an abortion), retaining only a clenched forehead as she moves from town to town as part of the witness protection program awaiting her chance to testify in court against the mob.

Even if you’re not a Californian, Cinema Italian Style and New Italian Cinema schedules offer a worthwhile primer of some off-shore titles to keep an eye out for.

[Photos: “The Sicilian Girl,” Roissy Films, 2009; “Vincere,” IFC 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.