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“Catfish,” a virtual romance.

“Catfish,” a virtual romance. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Oh, I’m going to ruin this movie for you. It’s impossible to really discuss “Catfish” without giving away certain revelations in its second half. Not that the film, a doc, contains any complete shocks — you can probably guess the general direction in which it’s headed from reading the festival summary — but it does gain a lot from being allowed to unfold without knowledge of what’s coming. It is, in many ways, about the stories we set out to tell versus the stories we actually end up with. That said, there’s no way to give it address it in a substantive way without going into what that story ends up being. So — fair warning?

[Spoilers ahead]

There’s a touch of the predatory in even the most well-intentioned of documentary films — you’re taking the raw stuff of other people’s lives and shaping it into the story you see. And there are shifts in that sense of power throughout “Catfish.”

You can see why Ariel Schulman, who co-directed alongside Henry Joost (both also figure in largely on screen), started chronicling the development of his brother Nev‘s online friendship with Abby Pierce, an eight-year-old art prodigy living in upstate Michigan. It’s adorable, it’s a novelty, it’s a Good Story.

And you can see why Nev, a 24-year-old photographer, agrees to it. Abby reached out to him, mailing him a painting of a picture of two dancers he took for a New York paper. It’s flattering and charming — she messages him cute updates on her life (her pet snake dies, but didn’t eat his last meal, and so now she has a pet mouse), and he, in turn, offers her benevolent encouragement.

Soon, Nev is being Facebook friended by Abby’s mom Angela, who tells him how surprised she is that her daughter’s artwork is in serious demand from collectors; then her dad; her brother, who’s in a band; their friends and extended family; and Megan, Abby’ beautiful, virginal half-sister who lives further out of town on a horse farm, who likes music, dancing and, it becomes clear, Nev. They offer a seductive group portrait of what’s almost outsider art, or at least art freed of commodity — sincere, unguarded people who paint and draw and write music and don’t seem to feel the need to be careerist or trumpet their own potential.

01222010_catfish1.jpgMegan and Nev start a flirtation that escalates to texting, chatting and phone calls. They talk about meeting. He notes they’re on the verge of a relationship, albeit one with geographical issues. She sends him mp3s of songs she wrote for him. But did she write them? He accidentally turns up a recording of one he, Ariel and Henry particularly liked, and it turns out to be from the soundtrack of “One Tree Hill.”

In fact, all of the songs she’s sent him are turn out to be just audio tracks from live performance on YouTube. Everything starts to unravel; Nev realizes he’s never actually gotten to talk to Abby, and calls to find the building Angela claims they bought for Abby’s gallery is still vacant. He’s horrified and humiliated and reluctant to continue, but Ariel urges him on, now that a far better story has fallen in their laps.

Nev, Ariel and Henry were following the lead of these online figures, but, armed with different degrees of righteousness and morbid curiosity, they set off for Michigan to confront Megan and Angela and Abby. And what they find is that there was really only ever Angela, a plain, soft-spoken housewife who spends her day taking care of her two severely disabled stepsons, and who’s woven her old dreams and aspirations into a network of social networking sockpuppets, all to keep Nev’s interest.

There really is an Abby, a friendly, normal little girl with no exceptional artistic ambitions. The paintings were all from Angela, who longs to be able to sell her work, and who lied to her husband that Nev commissioned them. There are no collectors, no horse farm, no Megan. There’s just a vulnerable, unexpectedly sympathetic woman, and after a squirmingly uncomfortable first meeting, the boys decide that they last thing they want is an aggressive confrontation — while they want the truth, they don’t want to hurt anyone.

01222010_catfish3.jpgIt’s seem strange to say that, given the insane extent of the fiction Angela created, she comes across as more complicated and captivating than the filmmakers do — as, really, the warped heroine — but it’s true. She lied, but she also created insightfully flattering bait for a group of urbane New Yorkers. The film can be intensely uncomfortable to watch at moments, but exploitative edge inherent to the idea of “let’s go confront this crazy lady” is undone by the fact that Angela’s truth puts it to shame.

“Catfish” was filmed on the fly, with cameras sometimes planted on tables or car dashboards, but that haphazardness, and the transparency of the discussions of when and what it’s okay to shoot make sense. The story’s nicely broken up with Google Earth sequences in which we swoop from the Manhattan loft shared by Nev and the filmmakers down to Abby and Angela’s address. It reinforces that it’s become so easy to, say, zoom in on an image of someone’s house, but not really know who lives there, or to learn about someone’s innermost thoughts, but not have any actual idea of what that person’s life is like. In that way, the narrative “Catfish” ends up spinning is one of a sort of sad, unusual love story.

“Catfish” does not yet have U.S. distribution.


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.