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DID YOU READ

The Thin Line Between Lovely and Crazy

The Thin Line Between Lovely and Crazy (photo)

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If you’re expecting Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus,” about how new South African president Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) used the country’s rugby team as a way to bring the nation together, to be preachy and obvious, the film’s first and last scenes will fulfill your worst fears. Everything in between, however, comes smarter and more moving than you might expect.

That first scene takes place on the historic day when Mandela was released from prison, and two groups of children gather on opposite sides of the street to watch the motorcade go past: Black children playing soccer on a dusty field surrounded by a sagging chain link fence erupt in cheers, while across the street, white kids playing rugby on an immaculate athletic pitch have stony faces as their coach tells them to remember this as the day that South Africa went to the dogs.

There’s nowhere to go but up from an opening that on-the-nose, and “Invictus” works best when it examines Mandela’s political plight after he’s elected president. How does he foster a reconciliation between the nation’s whites, embittered at being taken out of power, and its black population, furious over decades of cruel apartheid? How can he curry favor with the white power base — which still controlled the nation’s banking, police and army — while making both black and white South Africans feel as if they’re both part of the country’s future?

12092009_invictus5.jpgAccording to “Invictus,” Mandela’s solution was to let the national team, the Springboks, keep their colors, name and logo, despite its symbolism as a relic of the bad old days. (All black South Africans — Mandela included — would root for whatever foreign team was playing against the Springboks during the apartheid years.) The new president also sent the team out to the townships to generate good PR among the soccer-loving black kids.

The problem, of course, is that the Springboks weren’t a very good team, but the film implies that Mandela was able to inspire team captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to clean up its act and start winning some games. As a sports movie, “Invictus” delivers on some exciting rugby action, and it deftly demonstrates how athletics can transcend even politics in its impact on a nation.

While I’ll admit to getting swept up at the strangest times — who knew the South African anthem would give me goosebumps? — “Invictus” winds up being another one of those movies where Morgan Freeman walks on water. Not that he doesn’t do it very well, but his saintliness here reminded me why it was so exciting to hear him say “fuck” in “Wanted.” As for Damon, I don’t have the ear to tell you if he manages a convincing South African accent, but what comes out of his mouth is at least consistent throughout the film.

For its sheer sweep and occasional smarts, “Invictus” is worth a look, but by no means should this triumph-of-the-underdog feel-gooder be considered a definitive history of South Africa’s historical transition of power.

12092009_crazyheart7.jpgPlaying a washed-up, boozy country singer is really for actors what hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold roles are for actresses: A bit of show-offy, working-class grime that Oscar voters have been known to eat up with a golden spoon. And so we get Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart,” drinkin’ and pukin’ and singin’ and swearin’ and shootin’ for one last shot at redemption via the love of a good woman (in this case, Maggie Gyllenhaal as a single mom and aspiring journalist).

And it’s not that Bridges isn’t perfectly convincing in the role — he even does his own singing — or that Gyllenhaal or Colin Farrell (as Bridges’ one-time protégé, now more popular than his mentor) don’t ably support him.

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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.