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DID YOU READ

“Please Give,” but not too much.

“Please Give,” but not too much. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

In her own quiet way, writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s films constitute a brand of comedy as easily recognizable as Judd Apatow’s. Anyone familiar with her work can recognize her films by their low-key approach to story, their female-centric ensembles and insight into the dynamics of relationships between women, and by their flair for asking uncomfortable questions of the characters and of the audience. I guess in this analogy Catherine Keener, who’s appeared in all four of her films to date, would be Holofcener’s Seth Rogen.

Her latest film “Please Give” fits comfortably within the style she’s established in her three previous works, “Walking and Talking,” “Lovely & Amazing,” and “Friends With Money.” This time, Keener stars as Kate, who runs a vintage furniture store on New York’s Lower East Side with her husband Alex (Oliver Platt). Their store is successful and their life with the daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) is comfortable. But Keener acquires most of her furniture at estate sales, primarily by conning people into thinking their dead loved ones’ possessions aren’t valuable and then selling them in her store at a huge markup. It’s not exactly the most ethical profession, and Kate feels bad about it. She tries to alleviate her guilt by exploring volunteer opportunities and by giving excessively to panhandlers on the street, much to the chagrin of her daughter, who accurately observes that Kate would rather give $20 to a homeless man than to spend it on her. Here, Holofcener continues a theme from her previous two films: the way money divides and erects invisible barriers between haves and have nots, even within friendships, or marriages.

01291020_pleasegive2.jpgBut Keener’s dilemma is only about half the film. Kate’s family lives in an apartment building next to a 90-year-old woman named Andra (Ann Guilbert). When Andra dies, Kate has dibs on her apartment, but in the meantime she has to maintain an air of politeness with the cranky old woman and the granddaughters – shy Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and brash Mary (Amanda Peet) – who take care of her. Trying to keep up the appearance that they’re not just waiting for Andra to die so they can move into her place, Kate and Alex throw her a birthday party that is the film’s comedic highlight. The perpetually grumpy Andra, terrifically played by Guilbert, is only happy when she’s miserable. When asked how her birthday cake tastes, she pauses and responds with a single word: “Dry.”

Andra seems totally incapable of finding any joy in what’s left of her life – when Rebecca drags her on a fall foliage trip, she stands away from everyone else and turns her back in protest – but does that make it alright for Kate and Alex to talk about what they’re going to do her apartment once she’s dead right in front of her? At one point, Kate discovers that someone who bought an expensive table in her store is selling it in his own gallery at a $1500 markup. Kate tricked the man into selling her the table for cheap; does the fact that she could have sold it for even more than she did make it any less unsavory? Holofcener has a knack for creating recognizable (and often distasteful) characters and then thrusting them into those sort of queasy moral dilemmas to see how they’ll react. Actors talk a lot about wanting great parts, but most times what they’re really saying is they want great parts where they can play likable people. I suspect Holofcener keeps casting Keener because not only is a superb, natural actor, she seemingly has no problem playing characters who the audience might perceive as petty or cruel or dumb or indifferent.

01192010_pleasegive3.jpgThe central dilemma to the movie is the question of what to do with people’s possessions when they pass on; in that sense, the film is something of an American version of Olivier Assayas’ recent film “Summer Hours.” Both movies spend a lot of time puzzling over the value of everyday objects. “Summer Hours” asks “What is it that makes something valuable?” “Please Give” asks “Is it fair to declare something valuable?” Holofcener examines the issue effectively, thoughtfully, and humorously for an hour and a half and doesn’t ultimately arrive at an answer. I wouldn’t have expected her to. She’s not interested in moralizing; her brand of comedy is about observation, not judgment.

“Please Give” will be released by Sony Pictures Classics on April 23rd.

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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.