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The Best Films to Go Direct to DVD in 2009

The Best Films to Go Direct to DVD in 2009 (photo)

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DVDs may be sooner or later drummed out of existence — by online downloads, at first, I’d guess, reducing movie “releases” to nothing more than press announcements of availability — but for now they’re still “things” you can buy or rent, physical manifestations of the art form, not just the opportunity for access. In the process, they’re continuing as our default B-movie distribution stream, offering up indies and foreign films and unforeseen archivals that had a snowball’s hellbound chance at finding theatrical screentime. These are still not eligible for any year-end toasts, absurdly enough, and so here’s my list of the best of the year’s straight-to-digi-vid, for which the only qualification is being entirely overlooked, this year or ever, by our theatrical distribution wimps, and being new to U.S. home video of any stripe.

12222009_Absurdistan.jpg15. “Absurdistan”
(Veit Helmer, Germany/Russia/Azerbaijan, 2008)

A bawdy Caucasus folktale, Helmer’s nutty yarn visits a tiny chunk of village wasteland no one wanted after the Soviet collapse, and which therefore has left to decay in the sun. It’s Rube Goldberg magical realism, cluttered with rockets fashioned from old propane tanks, herds of ineptly shorn sheep, rooftop tubs of rosewater, belly dancing bonfires and, gradually, scads of cowboy-&-gunslinger iconography. [First Run Features; read the original review here.]

12222009_Princess.jpg14. “Princess”
(Anders Morganthaler, Denmark, 2006)

One of three animated films on this list — huh — this Danish attack dog tackles the hot zone between the porn industry and children, and then rolls out into a revenge flick sans frontières. When the abused five-year-old orphan heroine musters the rage to finish off a sex industry punk with a tire iron, you know you’re in a no-safety zone. [Vivendi; read the original review here.]

12222009_gretchen.jpg13. “Gretchen”
(Steve Collins, US, 2006)

The creepiest funny-sad-sad-funny quasi-mumblecore indie farce of the decade. The titular high schooler is crippled by square-peg-ness, her Texas world is a squalid wasteland and the men she knows (“boyfriend,” “father”) are all the same obese, malevolent jerks. Still, every scene is a surprise, the rhythms are unique and still truthful, in a queasy kind of way, and Courtney Davis is an unblinking sphinx of discomfort. [Watchmaker Films]

12222009_SitaSingsTheBlues.jpg12. “Sita Sings the Blues”
(Nina Paley, US, 2008)

A one-woman, home-computer-fashioned animation that took years to make but may’ve cost nothing at all, Paley’s postmod dissection of the Ramayana, an Indian folktale about love and betrayal and mistrust, is decked out in over a half-dozen distinct drafting styles and with the accompaniment of 80-year-old Annette Hanshaw torch records. But it’s Paley’s restless eye that makes it happened — pay attention, and you’ll get hit with a fresh dollop of visual wit every 15 seconds or so. [IndiePix; read the original review here.]

12222009_DetectiveBureau.jpg11. “Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!”
(Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1963)

This caringly titled, double-crossing gangster vs. feds thriller begins with a Pepsi truck’s wall of bottles shattered by gunfire; such is the pleasure awaiting us from the dozens of Suzukis we haven’t yet seen. Jo Shishido is back, of course, dashing from tommy-gun blasts in a sharkskin suit, never driving and stopping when he can speed and skid, and even getting roped into a campy nightclub song & dance — a Suzuki musical! [Kino; read the original review here.]

12222009_LosBastardos.jpg10. “Los Bastardos”
(Amat Escalante, Mexico/US, 2008)

Co-produced by Carlos Reygadas, Escalante’s film is a work of malevolent patience and queasy mystery. Mistake it for a liberal-issue movie at your peril, despite the opening passages with L.A. day laborers loitering on the fringes of Western civilization. From there, two inarticulate immigrants climb through a suburban window, and a pathological domestic face-off ensues, more through action and repression than dialogue. At no point does Escalante cue us what to expect — a closed-room triangulated melodrama, or a Haneke-style confrontation with violence, or Tsai Ming-liang-ish ellipses, or something else entirely. [Kino; read the original review here.]

12222009_AlvarezNow.jpg9. “He Who Hits First, Hits Twice: The Urgent Cinema of Santiago Alvarez”
(Santiago Alvarez, Cuba, 1965-73)

“Urgent” is the word — this collection of howling shorts, from Craig Baldwin’s renegade Other Cinema label, showcases the revolutionary, D.I.Y. found-footage creation of Alvarez, who in addition to making hundreds of ephemeral reports as the head of Communist Cuba’s newsreel company, made his own pioneering political statements on film, often using no more than a scrap of footage, a few magazine pages and a rumba record. Here are scalding montage assaults on American power that make most political filmmakers since look limp-wristed. Although in various circles, and in Cuba, Alvarez is kinda legendary, he’s unknown generally; still, he is the “reappropriationist” outsider-mentor to Baldwin (“Tribulation 99”) and an entire generation of radical “bricolage” artists to come after. [Other Cinema]

12222009_InLoveWeTrust.jpg8. “In Love We Trust”
(Wang Xiaoshuai, China, 2007)

An irresistible premise — a divorced couple, both remarried, discover their six-year-old has leukemia, and realize that her only chance for survival, a bone marrow match, is for them to have another child together, therein jeopardizing both of their marriages — but one Wang frontloads with eye-glue character work and sweet irony. Liu Weiwei, as the mother, won at the Berlin Film Festival, and if this film had found theaters, she would’ve won everything else, too. [Film Movement; read the original review here.]


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.