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What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath (photo)

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With its embrace of genre and slick production values, “Chloe” represents director Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter”) and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson’s (“Secretary” and “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus”) most mainstream efforts to date. Cue the “not there’s anything wrong with that.” In fact, in many ways this chilly romantic thriller does provide a welcome break from Wilson’s standard envelope-pushing head-scratchers. The problem is that her queasy sexual politics remain front and center.

“Chloe” is based upon the 2003 French film “Nathalie…,” and its premise is pretty much the stuff of which French films are made. When music professor David Stewart (Liam Neeson) misses the surprise birthday thrown by his wife, gynecologist Catherine (Julianne Moore), she hires Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a hotel prostitute, to test his fidelity. Naturally, she finds out more than she really wants to know, and develops a mutual obsession with Chloe that escalates into a dynamic that disrupts the entire veneer of her life, including her already-fragile relationship with her teenage son (Max Thieriot).

And what a veneer it is. The entire look of this film issues from Moore’s pale luminosity, punctuated by bold shots of color and impossible to resist. The Stewarts’ life has been crystallized into forms that allow for no flesh and blood. They literally inhabit a house of glass that shines on every surface: Even their computers seem to gleam more than most people’s. They eat in high-ceilinged restaurants staffed by beautiful young women who meet men’s eyes for a little too long, their sheets boast a kazillion thread count, and Catherine’s office is miraculously glamorous for a business where stirrups are the name of the game. But no one seems to like or even listen to each other, a fact that viscerally descends upon Catherine with the revelation that her husband is mostly likely stepping out.

03242010_Chloe3.jpgIt’s in that revelation that you’re most grateful Moore hasn’t succumbed to the botox blues gripping most of her peers. She’s always been a compelling actress to watch, but in her 40s has ripened into a woman who both looks her age, and looks wonderful — a far more common phenomenon among French actresses than American, appropriately enough. Hers is a beauty borne of experience, which means that, as Catherine, her grief hollows out the moons of her cheeks and thins her sensual mouth, carving a great divide between herself and young Chloe’s soft, wide features.

Neeson may turn in the innocent perpetrator that has been his M.O. since “Husbands and Wives” (does he just get hired because he’s tall with a posh accent?) but it is Seyfried, gentle and forceful at once, who rises nearly as far above the material as Moore does. For a while Chloe and Catherine’s scenes together supply enough subtle surprises that their tension overrides the clunky formula. But once the film’s bluff is called and they embark upon a love affair, it devolves into a lesbo-as-psycho shtick that is even duller than it is offensive.

Despite some intriguing elements, by its end, “Chloe”‘s been so far reeled in that you may as well be watching a Lifetime TV movie sponsored by the American Teabag Party. Are meaty female roles so hard to come by in the US these days that even actresses as formidable as Moore choose such compromises?

03242010_Bluebeard3.jpgI’m starting to think that even mediocre contemporary French films, with their myriad question marks, outstrip most American fare — and Catherine Breillat’s “Bluebeard” is hardly mediocre, though it is modest in scale. Shuttling between the1950s and medieval France, it tells the story of two young sisters reading the tale of Marie-Catherine (Lola Creton), the child bride to Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas), the wealthy aristocrat whose reputation was as ugly as his countenance.

The fable itself is a mere three pages though it’s spawned countless variations, and the film packs a similar, swift punch. Too many movies set in the Middle Ages try to prove their mettle with a squalid harshness, but Breillat treats her subject as if it were a moving still life painted in rich oils. In her version, life is so brutal that a whimsy matter-of-factly emerges amongst the fatality that abounds everywhere.

In the opening scene, convent students Marie-Catherine and her older sister Anne (Daphne Baiwir) stand before their Mother Superior. In one breath, she criticizes their bad manners, announces their father has been killed, and expels them as “their circumstances have changed.” As the sisters ride off into the sunset, they careen between gales of laughter and tears — but of course neither response changes a thing, which is the point. The girls now have no future to speak of unless one marries, and the only possible suitor seems to be good old Bluebeard, whose bizarre facial hair poses the least of his love objects’ problems. His wives have a mysterious, unexamined habit of disappearing without a trace.

It is tiny Marie-Catherine, tired of her sister’s shadow, who wraps her fingers around his massive paws and gazes upon him with an interest that is as disarmingly sweet as it is appraising. He responds like the wounded lion he fancies himself to be, and for a time creates a bubble of love that, quiet and droll, protects them from his worst instincts and us from the repulsion such a coupling would normally trigger. Indirectly, it is the sisters’ love that bursts it, but Breillat saves her unhappy ending for her more modern pair of sisters. The balance of light and dark — of avarice and pure love — has never truly changed, she suggests, and she presents a convincing case.


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.