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DID YOU READ

“Mother and Child” is “Crash”-tastic.

“Mother and Child” is “Crash”-tastic. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Friggin’ Paul Haggis.

Love or hate Haggis’ 2004 Best Picture winner “Crash,” we can all agree on one thing: in the wake of its success, we all endured far too many knockoff humanist ensemble issue films. Just when it seemed like the end of that trend was finally in sight, here comes Sundance 2010 selection “Mother and Child,” yet another movie about a bunch of people with interconnected lives and a really important topic on their minds, in this case, adoption and single motherhood. These movies in the “Crash” mold are about two things: big ethical points and big acting, to the exclusion of just about everything else. The real shame here is that one of the stories by writer/director Rodrigo Garcia is actually pretty strong, far stronger than the others. But its impact is dulled by the film’s format, which repeatedly pushes it aside to pick up other, lesser plotlines and characters. It’s like trying to watch a really good television show with someone who insists on flipping to another channel during every commercial break.

The winner in the bunch is Naomi Watts who, in a terrific performance, plays Elizabeth, a ferociously competitive careerist starting a new job at a law firm run by Paul (Samuel L. Jackson). For Watts, Elizabeth offers an opportunity to showcase an intensity she hasn’t tapped into onscreen in a while. It’s nice to see it back. When she tells Paul in her job interview that many women find her threatening, we can see why; she is an intimidating, formidable presence. Elizabeth reveals in the same interview that she was given up for adoption by her mother when she was a newborn. She never met the woman and doesn’t care to; she isn’t close with her adopted parents and she doesn’t intend to marry. “I’m not in the sisterhood,” she says. “I’m my own person.”

01192010_motherandchild1.jpgSoon, Paul and Elizabeth will begin an affair in a sex scene that ranks amongst the best in any recent movie, not because it is particularly sexy but because of the way it subtly reveals things about Elizabeth, particularly her issues with control and intimacy. Garcia frames the characters so that they almost never share the screen at the same time, creating a visible distance between them even while they’re having sex. Watts’ performance in the scene, and the entire movie, is sure to garner her some well-deserved attention.

But a problem with a performance this good in a film like this is we have to share it with others that, even if they aren’t necessarily bad, just aren’t as interesting. Annette Bening plays Karen, the woman who gave Elizabeth up when she was just 14 years old, and has lived with the guilt and pain of that decision for her entire life. Kerry Washington plays Lucy, a woman who can’t have a child of her own trying to find a baby to adopt. And yes, while it is sort of interesting to compare the three women – Karen and Elizabeth’s similar reactions to men even though they’ve never met; the black and white design that dominates the cold Elizabeth’s life contrasts sharply with the colorful, flowery clothes and home furnishings of the warmer Lucy – those scenes are never more interesting than simply following Elizabeth. At a certain point, Garcia goes so overboard with wild plot twists in all the plot threads (people dying, people radically changing deeply held beliefs) that even Watts’ storyline suffers.

0192010_motherandchild3.jpgBy the time Elizabeth is receiving counseling from a (wait for it) blind-but-wise teenager, the characters’ are no longer making decisions for themselves. They’re totally at the mercy of a screenwriter manipulating their lives for maximum shock value and poignancy. One particularly egregious deus ex machina involves a letter that must be lost at the perfect them, then rediscovered at the perfect time, in order to engineer the resolution the screenplay demands. To Garcia’s credit, he has created some rich, fascinating characters, particularly Watts’ and Jackson’s. But why can’t he let them breathe for even one scene without a crisis or a breakdown or at least than a half dozen references to babies, pregnancy and adoption? At times, it seems like he would rather make a point than make a movie.

“Mother and Child” will be released by Sony Pictures Classics on May 7th.

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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.