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We liked you better when you were a dissident.

We liked you better when you were a dissident. (photo)

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Once upon a time, it was much simpler to pick out the important world auteurs. For example, it was a good sign if someone was a dissident. Pretty much all of the post-’30s Soviet directors worth a damn — Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Parajanov, Kira Muratova — got banned, and the correlative relationship between the outlaw and the great artist made things easier to parse.

These days it’s trickier. Abbas Kiarostami, one of the undisputed masters of Iranian cinema, seemed to issue nothing less than a direct challenge to Iran’s rulers, complete with a woman with her head-scarf off, in 2002’s “Ten.” But lately, he’s emerged as a bit of a toady, lambasting countrymen Bahman Ghobadi and Ja’far Panahi for the social critiques embedded in their films.

Jia Zhangke, once an underground filmmaker, is now a director whose movies at least one person I know refuses to watch because of how he responded to the Uighur problem. Jia, a Sixth Generation filmmaker parallel to the Fifth Generation’s Zhang Yimou, is, just like Zhang, transitioning from a righteous aesthetic/political force to a filmmaker potentially compromised on both fronts.

Even five years ago, Zhang’s trajectory from frequently banned filmmaker to state artist still gave us some great art. “Hero” is arguably propaganda for “strong leadership,” but it’s also propaganda that translates gorgeously (and, without context, seemingly apolitically) from China to the rest of the world. Now his “Blood Simple” remake “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” is being condemned for representing (as Marie-Pierre Duhamel puts it) “more the goals of the official industry than the more creative trends of Chinese cinema.”

02192010_tenkiarostami.jpgKiarostami, Zhang and Jia’s active cozying up to the regimes in question unnerves me, but not half as much as the efforts to castigate them. For one thing, we’re all operating through half-verifiable information; for another, we all have our political prejudices. Mine are as predictably lefty as they come. This makes me distrust everyone. History’s treatment of filmmakers who settled on the wrong side of the ideological line has generally been kind if they came through aesthetically — we’re still studying “Triumph of the Will” and D.W. Griffith.

But in the past, most admired directors also happened to be on the “right” side of things politically — in many cases, they were entangled in situations that earned them the equal admiration of the left and right. Such is indeed the case of Kiarostami, Zhang and Jia: once dissidents who’ve cooled down and continued working at the same level of aesthetic rareification (or, in Zhang’s case, literally using the state’s resources towards an overwhelming goal, culminating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony). Now Kiarostami is condemning his successors for no obvious reason, Jia’s playing ball with the state, and Zhang appears to have lost interest in having all of his movies banned (and the reviews for “A Woman” remake are wretched to boot). And what of someone like Alexei Balabanov, the Russian director whose past work has included some undeniable racism, yet whose formal skill is seductive to anyone prone to being sucked in by that kind of thing?

It was once an axiom that fascism can’t produce great work. Well, maybe not, but repressive regimes can produce great art (Zhang’s “House of Flying Daggers” is major to me, though some prefer “Hero”; Balabanov’s “Cargo 200” is brilliant, but also xenophobically nationalist and unthinking in a way suited to its era) in a way that was less clear in the 20th century. So now what? How we can judge and (possibly) condemn filmmakers whose accommodations to pragmatism we can’t possibly understand is becoming a harder question by the day.

[Photos: “A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2010; “Ten,” Zeitgeist Films, 2002]


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.