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100 years of Akira Kurosawa.

100 years of Akira Kurosawa. (photo)

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Today is the 100th anniversary of Akira Kurosawa’s birth, a centennial that’s already been celebrated with a good deal of pomp (retrospectives, articles, a very expensive Criterion box set).

As part of the small group of foreign auteurs recognizable by last name alone — alongside Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni and, honestly, not many others — Kurosawa made films that became de rigeur viewing. And, as Christopher Campbell points out at MTV, his legacy lives on in a mutated way, with sturdily archetypal plots that can be shorn of cultural context and reused — the “what is truth?” film, the men-on-a-mission and so on.

It’s a curious fact that Kurosawa’s popularity has waned — as, indeed, has the stock of most of the international directors who briefly made foreign film viewing a mandatory part of many people’s college experience. Bergman’s death prompted a bilious Jonathan Rosenbaum obit, and most Fellini (“8 1/2” aside) seems to have been downgraded in importance. Antonioni’s particular brand of ennui seems more prescient than ever about the rhythms of the contemporary arthouse/festival film, even as his movies (undeservingly!) seem to be less-watched than ever.

In Kurosawa’s case, pretty much everyone I know under 30 who cares about such things has almost no use for him. Any day now, it seems he may be downgraded to the ranks of some old-school Hollywood triumph no one watches anymore. This despite the fact that his career is anything but a 50-year march of self-recycling. My personal favorites are from the ’40s — a weird and exploratory time in his career — and the magisterial one-two ’80s punch of “Kagemusha” and “Ran,” which pull off the rare trick of combining epic spectacle and a crawling pace that draws attention to the pleasures of its slow groove.

03232010_kagemusha.jpgIn between comes a lot of mixed work, including — and where I think the problem lies — the landmarks perpetually paid lip service: “Yojimbo,” “Ikiru” and the rest of the gang, showcasing the manic scenery-chewing of Toshiro Mifune, whose particularly voracious brand of masculinity was extensively (and accurately) parodied by the late John Belushi. There are issues of cultural specificity as well — try unpacking the argument of a relative bagatelle like “The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail” and you’ll see what I mean. Kurosawa’s standard reputation as the most “Western” of Japanese directors is a total crock.

When it comes to Kurosawa, what it comes down to, I suppose, is this: Kurosawa’s films often veer erratically between the “well-made” (in a way that anyone can recognize) and very specific ideas about acting and cultural traditions — an unstable, heady mix that, now that the initial shock of discovery has worn off, can often seem unresolved. Or maybe the cultural tides are just arbitrarily shifting again.

Here’s Belushi’s spot-on Mifune. That’s Buck Henry (writer of “The Graduate”) as the hapless customer:

[Photos: “Seven Samurai,” Criterion Collection, 1954; “Kagemusha,” Criterion Collection, 1980]


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.