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DID YOU READ

Bad Boys Grow Up

Bad Boys Grow Up (photo)

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Let’s start with a few images: A psycho jive artist dancing around as he cuts a man’s ear off. A retired bullfighter slumped in front of a television set, masturbating furiously to slasher movies. Scenes like those, from Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and Pedro Almodóvar’s “Matador,” pretty much secured the bad-boy reputations of their creators. Tarantino came to be regarded as a hyped-up pop culture junkie spritzing bloodshed and movie references in equal measure. And Almodóvar was thought of as something like the post-Franco John Waters, mixing ’50s Hollywood-style melodrama with cheerful hedonism awash in sex and drugs.

But at this year’s New York Film Festival, it was Almodóvar’s latest, “Broken Embraces,” that was chosen for the stately closing night slot. And about a month or so before the festival, Tarantino’s latest film, the epic World War II adventure “Inglourious Basterds,” became the unlikeliest hit of the year. What links both of these films is that, for each filmmaker, they represent a point at which they demonstrate a mastery of craft equal to the Hollywood films that inspired them.

It’s not to take away anything from Tarantino or Almodóvar to say that their affinity to classic Hollywood narrative is more obvious right now because Hollywood movies are in such lousy shape. Spectacle, juvenilia and movies that look as though they were made by someone with ADD have taken over. Stories don’t make sense, action sequences are incoherently shot and edited (there’s often no telling where characters are in relation to each other) and by the time audiences go in on opening weekend, they’ve been so saturated by trailers and ads that they’ve already seen the most surprising moments of the movie they’re about to watch dozens of times. And then, after the hype and the weekend grosses, everything becomes old news on Monday morning and the next week’s round of hype begins.

11182009_KillBill1.jpgIt wasn’t always clear that Quentin Tarantino was going to stand apart from the shallowness of contemporary American movies. But the “Kill Bill” movies, though containing more action set-pieces than all his previous work put together, showed a mature confidence that was new. The story was a quest for revenge, but the movie worked as an extended metaphor for putting away the past. Uma Thurman’s Bride isn’t just killing her enemies; she’s parting with almost everything that’s made her who she is — which is why the entire epic climaxes with a breakup scene. Tarantino has always used nonlinear storytelling and multilayered narratives. By “Kill Bill, Vol. 2,” he’s come to rely almost completely on dialogue, and not compendiums of pop culture references but long, character-driven interrogations.

Even “Death Proof,” Tarantino’s half of the trash-movie homage “Grindhouse,” was a declaration of independence from the current movie scene. It’d be wrong to say that the movies Tarantino referenced were in any way innocent — they were too calculated, too sadistic for that. But there was less bullshit to them. Put it this way: the exploitation filmmakers who lured in audiences with promises of the leading lady taking her shirt off or blood-splattered action seem to be scamming a buck with a lot more honesty than the studio merchandising execs who sell toys at Burger King, or the publicists who get correspondents on the networks the studios own to interview a new movie’s stars as if that constituted news.

A popular movie that doesn’t follow that pattern is an anomaly. This summer, at J.J. Abrams’ retelling of “Star Trek,” you could almost hear the audience sigh over the luxury of seeing beloved characters given the chance to talk to one another, and at having a story with a coherent emotional arc. As they did a few years before at “Casino Royale,” moviegoers were watching something that wasn’t going to evaporate the moment they left the theater.

Disposable junk is largely what Hollywood makes now. The pictures nominated for Oscars, the ones the studios have always pointed to as evidence of their interest in making quality films, have become, in terms of the audience they attract and how they figure on balance sheets, niche movies. Even an expensive picture like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” isn’t thought of as having potential to break out. The days when the big hits, like “In the Heat of the Night” or “The Godfather,” could also be Oscar winners are far in the past.

11182009_Motherhood.jpgAnd American indie movies haven’t filled the void. To submit yourself to the half-baked whimsy of yet another ensemble comedy with patented quirky characters, or to another 90 minutes of shaky-cam and characters who look as if they can’t be bothered to shave or iron their clothes, seems like a denial of the wit and style and beauty that drew us to movies in the first place. I couldn’t face Katherine Dieckmann’s “Motherhood.” The trailer depressed me. I didn’t want to watch Uma Thurman, one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the screen, reduced to a frazzled frump dealing with strollers and playdates. I can see that in Park Slope.

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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.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.