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What’s worrying about the upcoming MLK biopic.

What’s worrying about the upcoming MLK biopic. (photo)

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If you ignore Massachusetts and focus on film, today is a-buzz with the news that “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb has been hired to direct three films in the rebooted “Spider-Man” franchise. Also in the works — a quieter announcement that Ronald Harwood is stepping up to write the long-gestating MLK biopic — “the first theatrical feature to be authorised by The King Estate to use the intellectual property of the late Civil Rights leader.”

According to Mark Sourian and Holly Bario of DreamWorks, Harwood is “particularly suited to portraying this deeply personal story.” But what the hell does that mean? What specifically qualifies a Jewish immigrant from South Africa who’s spent most of his life in the United Kingdom to write a film about Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Looking at his resume, certain patterns emerge. From 1981 onwards, Harwood’s screenwriting work (I’m unqualified to evaluate his ongoing stage output) is a perfect storm of movies that attract adjectives like “important” and “powerful” the way a magnet attracts iron filings.

In the ’60s, Harwood started with frothy adaptations like 1966’s “Drop Dead Darling” (starring Tony Curtis and Zsa Zsa Gabor!). In the less prolific ’70s, you could see Important Movie danger signs in a little-loved adaptation of “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” but it wasn’t until 1981 that Harwood truly hit his stride. It was that year that someone decided Faye Dunaway would make a perfect Evita Peron; Harwood did the mini-series honors, and ever since then — with very few exceptions — he’s been grinding out titles that assume important subject matter makes for important movies.

01202010_evita.jpgThere are the films about Great Men (Danny Glover as Mandela, the sterile “The Pianist”), Serious Subjects (apartheid in “Cry, The Beloved Country,” hunting Nazi war criminals in “The Statement”) and Classic Literature (adaptations of “Oliver Twist” and “Love In The Time of Cholera”). Many of these movies were tepidly reviewed and forgotten, but a few — “The Pianist” (which had the boost of Polanski’s autobiographical involvement), “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” — bamboozled a lot of people into thinking they were any good, maybe even great. I’d argue they’re not — they’re stodgy and unimaginative, filled with expository dialogue and heavy-handed thematics.

You may disagree, you may think I’m a total snob, but the question still stands. Who is this man who’s made a career of flatten history into tales of Good vs. Evil or a Triumph of the Human Spirit? When Harwood took on Mandela in 1987, he valorized the controversial Winnie Mandela. That’s not just a failure of research; it shows that Harwood’s approach to the world is fundamentally inadequate, the most basic kind of biopic blandness.

Here’s the first part of Harwood’s take on Evita Peron, with Dunaway in full carnivore mood.

[Photos: MLK via Library of Congress; “Evita Peron,” NBC, 1981]


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.