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DID YOU READ

Falling in line with “The Company Men.”

Falling in line with “The Company Men.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

While a variety of films from “Up in the Air” to “The International” have found an icy beauty in the clean lines and empty spaces of modern corporate life, there’s a strange, quiet pall cast over the blank offices and boardrooms that make up the landscape of “The Company Men.” That antiseptic aesthetic reaches into the narrative as well: Though writer/director John Wells’ film is ostensibly about downsizing at a large, established shipbuilding company, there’s nary a dinghy in sight. For all the talk of spot-welding and shipyards and hull assembly, all we really see are men and women in suits in large, chilly rooms with little ambient noise to keep them company.

That emptiness – of décor, of sound, of warmth — is but one of the reasons why “The Company Men” is such a distinctly uncomfortable movie, star-studded though it is. The other reason, of course, is that it’s terrifyingly timely: Ben Affleck plays Bobby Walker, a hotshot exec who arrives at the office one day bragging about his golf game and leaves carrying a cardboard box full of his belongings. He is but one of the thousands of casualties of the latest wave of layoffs at GTX, a manufacturing giant now adrift in the new globalized economy. On the day of the firings, Bobby’s boss Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) is out of town at a conference, unaware that thousands of his employees are being let go. Although Gene co-founded GTX with its CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), he’s finding himself more and more out of the loop on key decisions, as the company sheds its humble manufacturing origins behind.

01222010_CompanyMen4.jpgAlong with Bobby and Gene, the film also follows Phil (Chris Cooper), Gene’s friend and a veteran GTX employee who rose through the ranks and is now scared shitless for his own job security. Wells intercuts between the three men as they react in different ways to the crisis at work, and we may initially be alarmed that this will be another of those we’re-all-connected movies. But it turns out this is actually a we’re-not-very-well-connected-at-all movie instead, exploring all the ways in which work (and the lack of it) goes to the heart of one’s being in America, ripping asunder human relationships. After laying into Salinger over the firings, Gene then turns around and introduces him at a Man of the Year award reception, with the words: “My friend, my college roommate, the best man at my wedding, and the worst tennis player I ever met. My boss, Jim Salinger.” The way Jones emphasizes “boss” – defiant, accusatory, but also somehow proud – makes it clear that the word trumps everything else in his florid speech.

01222010_CompanyMen.jpgIf “The Company Men” ever falters, it’s when Wells tries to enliven the proceedings with the occasional ennobling cliché. When Bobby takes a job with his contractor brother-in-law (a great Kevin Costner), the film flirts with the kind of standard-issue working-class mythmaking so pandemic in American movies (and which Mike Judge’s “Office Space” skewered so brilliantly with its “Fuckin. A.” final scene). Luckily, it’s just a tease: Wells pulls back at just the right moment, making it clear that Costner’s character doesn’t have it any easier than anyone else.

But still, one wonders if the director realizes just how dark his film really is. True, Bobby learns to appreciate the important things in life during his period of joblessness (and it helps that one of those important things is his lovely wife, played by Rosemarie DeWitt), but the desperation is still there. When he gets some promising news towards the end of the film (and I don’t feel like I’m giving away too much to say that he does), we can’t help but feel that it’s only a matter of time before the brave new economy spits him back out. The existential gloom the film has charted never really dissipates. It feels a bit weird to call that a breath of fresh air in these days of artificial moral uplift, but, well, there it is.

“The Company Men” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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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.