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Seven lessons from 2009.

Seven lessons from 2009. (photo)

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Stars matter. Sort of.
This one’s kind of up in the air (heh). On the one hand, it’s possible to launch and/or sustain a franchise these days with players who wouldn’t have the ghost of a prayer in opening a movie on their own (take Shia LaBeouf’s non-success-causing hand in the “Transformers” series, or the mostly low-rent “Star Trek” crew). But it decidedly helps if you have some kind of “star” to anchor your Indiewood movie, whether directly on-screen (George Clooney in “Up In The Air”) or in some other important association (Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey’s double-team on “Precious”). It gives the impression your film’s something special enough to encourage someone famous to take a pay cut.

Theory: a star like Clooney may have trouble launching his own studio product on a regular basis, but is nothing but an asset to the lower-budgeted fare. In the future, as “stars” decline, all it’ll take is a couple of solid hits where you’re not the main draw all on your lonesome (as in Clooney in the “Ocean’s” movies) to give you enough cred to launch low-/mid-budget fare. So don’t count the name value of marquee names out yet; your local Sundance aspirant needs them.

3D is here forever and ever.
It’s a truism that blockbusters are just old-fashioned B-movies with A-movie budgets (and that, nowadays, it’s the A-movies that get the B-movie budgets, but never mind). So what’s different about the new wave of 3D movies is that they aren’t the cheapie novelties of yesteryear (except for maybe “Battle For Terra”); they have real budgets and muscle behind them. No longer is 3D just for the third installment in some godforsaken franchise, and the equipment being installed is permanent. After two false starts in the ’50s and ’80s, looks like it’s here to stay.

People really, really like “Mulholland Dr.”
David Lynch’s final dispatch from the world of real film has been topping decade polls with surprising regularity. The reason’s obvious: “Mulholland Dr.” (frequently accompanied by “In The Mood For Love” and “Yi Yi”) came out at the beginning of the decade and has had more time to sink in than, say, “There Will Be Blood.” I have to admit I never though I’d be living in a time where one of Lynch’s more inscrutable exercises is a consensus pick. We live in a beautiful world, etc, etc.

Mumblecore’s been around long enough to be backlashed, dead and reborn.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost seven years since I first saw “Funny Ha Ha” projected in an ad hoc theater at the back of a coffee house in Austin, but sure enough the “mumblecore” movies (apologize to all those who automatically wince at this still-useful catchphrase) have been with us so long that “Team Picture” director Kentucker Audley could claim “Mutual Appreciation” as an influence.

In 2009, Andrew Bujalski’s third feature “Beeswax” was received at the Berlinale with mixed reviews, as if mumblecore rearing its head on the international premieres circuit was too much to bear. Meanwhile, Mark Duplass joined an FX show about fantasy football and mumblecore It Girl Greta Gerwig is working opposite Ben Stiller. (If you want to go back even further and accept the argument that David Gordon Green’s “George Washington” was the first m-core movie, it’s actually been a decade and “Bright Star”‘s Paul Schneider could well get an Oscar nomination.) However these movies age or are remembered, they’re the work of a group of filmmakers who stuck around longer than expected and left traces all over in ways that are still working themselves out.

01012010_allaboutsteve3.jpgWe live in a golden age for supporting comic players.
Having had the professional task of watching weak comedies like “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard,” “Imagine That” and “All About Steve,” I can say with a fair degree of confidence that it’s hard to make a totally unredeeming studio comedy these days. Even your average mediocrity has turns worth treasuring from a newly ubiquitous group of second bananas — Ken Jeong, Thomas Haden Church, Romany Malco and so on. These guys deserve to be in the lead parts, really, but they make most everything go down a little easier.

Less movies are a good thing for everyone.
In the middle of a conspicuously underpopulated winter release schedule, everyone’s prospering as Hollywood completes another record box office year. A diminished release calendar (which looks to be the case for next year as well) doesn’t just help everyone make money; it frees up theater screens, maybe allowing some smaller films more space to play, and letting word-of-mouth hits to have time to stick around and build crowds. Everyone wins.

China is more important than you.
The PRC keeps popping up in all kinds of unexpected ways in film news, whether it’s creating an entirely internally-self-sustaining industry or becoming a huge new source of income for Hollywood product (something that’s only going to expand in 2010 as China is forced to take steps towards opening up the market even further).

[Photos: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” Paramount/Dreamworks, 2009; “All About Steve,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2009]


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.