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DID YOU READ

“Four Lions,” the year’s greatest terrorist kinda comedy.

“Four Lions,” the year’s greatest terrorist kinda comedy. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

“Four Lions,” the slippery first feature from British comedian/provocateur/fearless satirist Chris Morris, is going to win the above title by default. Few films indeed are willing to combine terrorism and comedy — I’ve always entertained a soft spot for the train wreck that is Paul Weitz’s “American Dreamz” just for trying.

So, infinite points to “Four Lions” for the sheer audacity of its premise, which is made to enrage — four would-be jihadists living in northern England bumble their inept way through ideology, training camp, bomb-making and actual attempted acts of terrorism. But here’s the thing: “Four Lions” isn’t always a comedy, per se — there are parts that are very funny, but just as many parts that linger on, deliberately and uncomfortably treading the outskirts of a joke without ever getting to it, as if taking audiences to task for thinking themselves worldly enough to want to find laughs in this movie.

The cell is made up of Omar (Riz Ahmed), the smartest and most competent member (though the bar’s set awfully low); Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the blustering Walter Sobchak-esque rage-filled convert who often challenges Omar’s place; Fessal (Adeel Akhtar), the stupid one; Waj (Kayvan Novak), the even stupider one; and latecomer Hassan (Arsher Ali), who’s a bit of a dilettante.

The start of the film offers the intriguing read that, for these men, jihadi culture offers the same kind of appeal as gangster rap — a sense of rebellion, purpose, masculinity and overall bad-assery. They’re not particularly devout — in contrast to Omar’s much-mocked brother.

01202010_fourlions2.jpgWhen they talk about their motivations, what comes out is a garble of “Western this” and “chain store that,” which is hardly reflected in how they live their lives (the bedtime story Omar tells his son is the plot of “The Lion King”). Mostly, they like the self-importance, and they like posing with guns — they meet in a shabby apartment above a shop and try to shoot appropriately threatening videos of themselves.

Things change when Omar and Waj, thanks to a family connection, are sent to Pakistan for actual training, something they’re hilariously unsuited for — a stunt involving a rocket thrower, the film’s comic highlight and one of its best revisited jokes, gets them sent back to the UK, where an embarrassed Omar lies that they returned with a mission to take action. They make preparations, power struggles within the group ensue, and the future of the boys’ suicide bombing mission gets called into question — oh no!

Oh, wait.

As there’s increasing fallout from the plan, “Four Lions” seems less willing to try to wring laughs out of what’s happening, and instead turns to needling the genre to which the film technically belongs — the “Full Monty”esque dramedy about how a group of losers succeeds in an unlikely field against all odds. Take the scene in which Omar, having left the cell, discouraged, gets cheered up by his smiling wife, the film’s most problematic character by a mile. She tells him he was much more fun when he was trying to blow things up, and that he should go back there and show them who’s boss. There’s no punchline; it’s played straight, a mirror of a dozen similar scenes that we’ve seen in movies before, only in this case she’s given him the go-ahead to presumably kill as many people as possible while in the process of leaving her alone to raise their child.

01202010_fourlions3.jpgWhat does it mean? The world of the film is realistic even as the guys tend towards cartoonishly bungling, which makes a scene like that one extraordinarily difficult to pin down. And even more so is the end sequence, a tragedy played out in the madcap trappings of crowds, costumes, cellphone mishandlings and chases through cafes.

If I had to lay it out, I’d say “Four Lions” is intended to be, not a jihad satire, but a satire of the idea of a jihad satire, of the belief that humor of even the edgiest variety can effectively be troweled on to any topic to make it accessible, to humanize or defang it.

Or maybe I’m overreaching. What I am certain of is that “Four Lions”, comedy or not, is a genuine odd duck of a film.

“Four Lions” 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.