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Neil Gaiman, fantasy champion.

Neil Gaiman, fantasy champion. (photo)

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The New Yorker goes long on Neil Gaiman this week, more or less approved by the man himself. Like pretty much all New Yorker profiles, it’s compulsively readable even when it’s not digging into the dirt. That’s the case with Dana Goodyear’s effort, which prefers to skim entertainingly over the juicier personal stuff (a childhood in Scientology, a relationship with ex-Dresden Dolls frontwoman Amanda Palmer) and hit the highlights rather than delving into analysis.

Certainly, if you were reading it without knowing who Gaiman is, you wouldn’t understand that Gaiman is, in some ways, the only hope for fantasy filmmaking right now. I’m one of those unreconstructed types who likes my books to be unattractively laid-out in dense paragraphs, and I like my fiction mostly mundane. But on-screen, Gaiman’s work is the real thing: inventive, spry, and visually resourceful.

His works are also getting adapted for the big screen frequently of late, which helps; Gaiman’s career goes back to the ’80s, but only recently has he started to dominate. 2005’s underseen “MirrorMask” created a whole plausible world for $4 million, with the help of gauzy CGI that was more conceptual and motif-based than detailed and dazzling. There was the dismal “Stardust,” which Gaiman didn’t write, and the intriguing “Beowulf,” which he co-wrote. And finally, there was the deserved success of last year’s “Coraline” — which he didn’t adapt himself, but was perfectly happy to promote with an enjoyably creepy monologue about buttons. It’s that last credit that stands out; the tough-sell-ish “Coraline” — creepy enough as an adult viewer, downright terrifying for kids — made back more than its $60 million budget domestically, and quietly resurrected Henry Selick’s career after the debacle of “Monkeybone.”

“Coraline” wasn’t just the most successful fantasy film in years (critically and commercially), but gave Gaiman the chance to be something of a brand name in a genre known mostly for the odd movie about dragons every few years (“Reign of Fire,” “Dragonheart,” “Dragonslayer” and so on), the collected cinema of Terry Gilliam and some stragglers here and there. That’s a shame: I won’t read fantasy — the archetypal Joseph Campbell crap bugs me, with the hero cycle combined with the vaguely self-congratulatory insinuation that appreciating fantasy per se makes you your own hero in a mundane world — but watching really inventive fantasy is about as fun as it gets.

01252010_mirrormask.jpgWhat’s interesting about “MirrorMask” and “Coraline” — and perversely gratifying — is the way they punish their (respectively) adolescent and pre-pubescent heroines for dreaming selfishly. They’re essentially the same movie: a young girl resents her parents, dreams of an alternate world, endangers her parents in the process and has to win in the world she’s wished for and terminate it to save everything. Unlike Gilliam’s self-congratulatory dreamers and visionaries, Gaiman makes fantasy worlds that demands a price for entering; it’s got a bite to it that’s unusual.

Now, it’s safe to assume Gaiman has at least a little clout and has — if he plays his cards right and has the interest — the opportunity to smuggle a little pure visual fantasy and inventiveness back on-screen. “Coraline” was the most inventive and surprising $60 million I’ve seen spent in a while; here’s hoping for more.

[Photos: “Coraline,” Focus Features, 2009; “MirrorMask,” Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005.]


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.