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DID YOU READ

The Anti-Blockbuster

The Anti-Blockbuster (photo)

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Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” has been the most discussed film of 2009, and so I’ll assume you’re fluent with its narrative’s yards of entwining taffy and with Christoph Waltz’s entrancing piece of supporting-perf gamesmanship, and so on, and move on toward simply saying it is the best American movie of the year, and an impossible-to-dislike rocket of fuming movie love. (The legions of teenagers who went expecting… whatever the Brad Pitt-heavy advertisements led them to expect, came out surprised and delighted.)

Still, I think it’s an only mildly understood movie, one that, in Tarantino’s obsessive way, entertains blithely as it subverts the conveniences American audiences ordinarily crave. You ask the average filmgoer what the movie’s about, and they won’t say The Movies (in Umberto Eco’s definition of “Casablanca”), which is the stone-cold truth, but Nazis or WWII, or a playground-fun alternate version of them, which isn’t far from the truth, either. They might not get most of Tarantino’s allusions, or grasp the larger meanings at hand, but they will have rocked out, and such is Tarantino’s genius.

Cut “Basterds” open, and you’ll find the Godard gland pulsing, secreting, hyper-charged. It is exactly this reality about the film, and about Tarantino and so much of the best modern movies, that goes unacknowledged in our culture; a paradigm shift is required that’s feared by the broader populace, not unlike the manner in which they fear learning anything substantial about public policy and choose their political alliances instead by way of “liking” Bush or Obama or Sarah Palin. Trying teaching “Breathless” to undergrads — they will not abandon the idea of a clean-cut diegetic “reality” within the film itself.

12152009_basterds9.jpgOf course, commercial culture is on their side, and never favors the Godardians, because hundreds of millions of dollars stand to be made with loud, distractive, digitized movies about giant robots or earthquakes or aliens. As with food production and environmental poisoning, commerce rolls happily forward the more we are oblivious to what’s really going on. Godard himself was terribly aware of this conflict, of course; he may have begun as a radical, but his four-dimensional mode of cinema through the ’60s pushed him inevitably toward full-on anti-narrative activism, whether or not the films in question were political at all.

What we’re talking about, simply, is redefining cinema away from an enveloping half-dream you have in the dark that encourages you to forget life, and toward a modern artwork that embraces life as it unwinds. It’s simple, really. Comatosity vs. wakefulness. Tarantino isn’t the only Godardian at play in the fields of movies today — Gerardo Naranjo’s “I’m Gonna Explode” and Hong Sang-soo’s “Night and Day” made 2009 a knockout bout of neo-JLG — but he is the most passionate, and the most guileless.

No other living director exudes such adolescent joy with what Orson Welles called “the biggest train set a boy ever had” as Tarantino, and his palpable élan behind the camera is part of the whole equation, as much as the actors’ enjoyment, the anarchic glee of narrative breaks, the intersection of “Basterds” with the living legacy of movies in dozens of different ways, the deliberately protracted bolero-like elongation of suspense sequences, what you had for lunch, the weather outside, and so on. Making himself, as the director, obtrusive to “the story” isn’t the point — Tarantino is the story, and so are we, because the story is about making and watching cinema, inside the movie and out, and therefore about real life experienced and observed, and the sooner we accept the fact that movies are not separate from our experiences but part of them, then we can be free.

Freedom is the question at hand — it’s no mistake that Tarantino’s filmography, like Godard’s, is filthy with parables of open rebellion and endearing chaos. These are not alternate realities we’re intended to “believe,” but conversations we have with the filmmakers, full of modesty, vanity, digressions, duplicity, self-destructing jokes and a context that’s big as history.

12152009_basterds8.jpgBut even as these perspective-rupturing statements are intrinsic to the thrust of “Basterds,” Tarantino also fashions the “normal” aspects of his film with an old-fashioned maturity that’s impossible to find in new films anymore. Can you think of an American filmmaker whose films are less visually like video games (the genre-borrowed martial arts of “Kill Bill” notwithstanding)? “Basterds” is in no hurry, trifles not with digital effects, contains rafts of long shots encompassing two or three characters at a time, never opts for overdesigned coolness over character or copious dialogue, respects its audience’s cognitive abilities, never exploits violence, rarely manipulates our reactions and never cuts or moves when it doesn’t need to.

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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.