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The Adventures of Baron Gilliam

The Adventures of Baron Gilliam (photo)

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When Heath Ledger passed away in January 2008, he was in the midst of shooting his second collaboration with famed filmmaker and former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam. His death should have doomed “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.” But Gilliam, who’d already had “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” fall apart, as famously documented in 2002’s “Lost in La Mancha,” is no stranger to on-set calamities. After some soul-searching and prodding from supportive colleagues, the show went on, this time with the help of Gilliam’s pals Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, all of whom play fantasy versions of Ledger’s charlatan, Tony, when he passes through traveling showman Dr. Parnassus’ magical Imaginarium mirror.

Given the film’s conceit about a portal to a world in which dreams come true, the role swapping is a device that’s not only clever but that seems like a natural outgrowth of the story, which wrestles with issues of mortality in a way that dovetails creepily with what went on behind the scenes. In New York in October for Monty Python’s 40th anniversary reunion, Gilliam sat down with me to discuss his struggles to finish “Parnassus,” the film’s unnerving real-life parallels and the habit of revisiting the same themes.

How was the Monty Python reunion?

It’s over! That’s the great thing. I don’t have to be a Python for the next ten years.

Was there any contentiousness in the air?

No, we all like each other now. If it looks contentious, we’re just playing. Being that distant from having to work together makes such a difference.

And now there’ll be another long hiatus…

Yeah, no one has any intention of working together as such. Eric [Idle]’s been busy ripping us off for a couple of years with “Spamalot” and other things. Mike, Terry [Jones] and I live five minutes from each other in North London. But all five of us together at the same time is a rare event.

12182009_DrParnassus11.jpgMoving on to “Parnassus” — when Heath died, was there an immediate concern that the film would go the way of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”?

That was the first clear thought: it’s over! Fuck! We spent a lot of time, and he goes and doesn’t turn up for work.

It was actually a hard time, and so confusing. You’ve just lost a very close friend, and your movie is stopped. I actually gave up, said, “It’s over. Fuck it. I don’t care.” Luckily, I’m surrounded by people who pay no attention to my whims or my needs. And they kicked me as I lay on the ground until I got up and started coming up with some solutions.

At what point did you realize you couldn’t let it lie?

A crucial part was calling Johnny [Depp]. I basically just called to commiserate. He said, “Well, whatever you decide to do, I’ll be there.” That stopped the money running away. And these few people around me, my daughter, the DP, they just wouldn’t leave me alone. I was so pissed off at them. [laughs]

So the moneybags just up and ran?

I wasn’t dealing with them directly, but it was clear that the movie was over. When your star dies halfway through, you don’t finish the movie. But it was the conversation with Johnny, which was then passed on without my knowing to the reasonable people, that slowed down the retreat and gave us some time to start thinking.

For me, the hard part was trying to get my head around the idea of it. I wanted to salvage it. Once I decided that, the rewriting went very quickly. It was clear, because suddenly you couldn’t do that, you couldn’t do that, oh I could do that, well if I did that, and dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-BING.

12182009_DrParnassus6.jpgThe premise presents a natural way to work around Heath’s absence. Was that structure there from the get-go?

Yeah, it was all there. It was small things — if the first guy who goes through the mirror has his face change, we’ve established that you don’t have to look like yourself when you go through. That was already inherent in the script. I had to drop certain scenes, which in retrospect was actually good. That’s why, at one point, I wanted “Parnassus” to be co-directed by Heath Ledger and Terry Gilliam, because he was forcing me to do things posthumously!

For instance, where Jude Law turns up, when the woman says “reach for the clouds,” she wasn’t originally holding a brochure with Jude’s face on it. By establishing him as the person that Tony aspires to be like — successful, etc. — that generates the idea that, oh, even Tony changes his face when he goes through, because he wants to be like that guy. [But] the dialogue, like Johnny’s about dying young, it was all there.

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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.