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The Criterion conundrum.

The Criterion conundrum. (photo)

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A friend and I have a long-running argument about Criterion #40. If you’re one of those cinephiles as addicted to the “continuing series of important classic and contemporary films” as we are, you probably already know where I’m going with this.

Nestled in between Seijun Suzuki’s “Tokyo Drifter” and Laurence Olivier’s “Henry V” in the Criterion line-up is Michael Bay’s “Armageddon,” sticking out like a sore thumb, and not just because of its bulky two-disc case, popular in the early days of DVD when it was first released.

For the record, I’m no fan of “Armageddon” (if I were to pick only one of Mr. I-Blow-Shit-Up’s films for the Collection, it would be the unrestrained Bayhem of “Bad Boys II”), but I am part of the small minority that believes it deserves its place amongst the Kurosawas and the Truffauts, not because of its quality, but because of that word “important” in Criterion’s mission statement — with “Armageddon” being a film that demonstrates the bloat of the current blockbuster era.

01042010_buttondvd.jpgBut you can count Newsweek‘s Daniel D’Addario amongst the thousands who side with my friend, disappointed that the Criterion Collection dare sully its good name with the inclusion of films like “Armageddon” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and concerned that the addition of contemporary titles like “Che” will keep older one from getting released and threaten to bring the whole enterprise down.

To support his case, D’Addario gets Criterion’s president Peter Becker to offer something of a mea culpa about “Button,” admitting the “deal is an asterisk in Criterion history” since it was done at the behest of David Fincher — which shouldn’t merit an apology, since film students will be learning from the disc’s three-hour documentary for years to come. D’Addario frames Criterion’s recent deal with IFC Films (with whom this site obviously shares a parent company) as a sell-out move since titles like “A Christmas Tale” and “Gomorrah” are “decent enough… but classics?”

While there’s no accounting for D’Addario’s personal taste, there’s far more accounting of another kind that he doesn’t allow for. The DVD boom was a mixed blessing for Criterion, which was able to blossom beyond the roots of its forebear, the world cinema distributor Janus Films, and their incredible collection of Bergman and Ozu movies, among others. Criterion was able to evolve and champion new filmmakers like Wes Anderson, David Gordon Green and “Ratcatcher”‘s Lynne Ramsay while putting together killer packages for canon-approved titles like “Rules of the Game” or the first American home video release of Visconti’s “The Leopard.”

Meanwhile, other studios realized the value of their back catalogs and were more reluctant to license their films — in the laserdisc days, Criterion was able to give their full treatment to Warner Bros.-owned titles like “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane,” with the latter boasting an incredible collection of interviews with 35 filmmakers and collaborators that has yet to be replicated on any format since. (And don’t even ask about “The Magnificent Ambersons” laserdisc, the only place where Welles’ original vision of his butchered classic could be deciphered, still not available on DVD.)

01042009_ambersons.jpgArticles like D’Addario’s and Maclean’s writer Jaime Weinman’s would have you believe “Ambersons” and others of their ilk are getting bumped in favor of Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2007 drama “The Secret of the Grain” (one of my personal faves of the decade), but I’d argue just the opposite. Now that DVD sales have receded, it’s likely more studios will come to the table to license out films that will require a more specialized release and will find a comfort zone with Criterion.

It’s probably no coincidence that Focus Features inked a deal with them for a proper release of Ang Lee’s director’s cut of “Ride With the Devil” (as well as the recent, brilliant “Monsoon Wedding” disc with all of Mira Nair’s shorts), and their parent company Universal finally gave the go-ahead to a Criterion version of Leo McCarey’s long-neglected “Make Way for Tomorrow” (due out in February).

Just thinking of this makes me envy the years ahead for Matthew Dessem, an IT guy recently profiled by Roger Ebert who’s working his way through the Collection in order (he’s up to #95: “All That Heaven Allows”) and writing about it on his blog The Criterion Contraption.

It’s going to be a long time before he reaches titles like 2008’s “Revanche” (#502) and “Hunger” (#504), but something tells me when he does, he won’t be disappointed. Even if he is, he’s got Max Ophuls’ “Lola Montès” at #503 to keep him happy.

[Photos: Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck in “Armageddon,” Touchstone Pictures, 1998; Criterion DVD cover for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Criterion laserdisc cover for “The Magnificent Ambersons”]


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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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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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.