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DID YOU READ

The potetry of “Leaves of Grass.”

The potetry of “Leaves of Grass.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

At the intersection of pot and poetry, at a place we might as well dub “potetry,” lies Tim Blake Nelson’s “Leaves of Grass.” Pot movies, like potheads, have a tendency to wax philosophical — this one has an actual philosophy lecture. In it, Brown classics professor Bill Kincaid (Edward Norton) argues for Socratic ideals of self-discipline and control. He practices what he preaches, too; in the next scene, a young female student throws herself at Bill, and his restraint would make Socrates proud. Meanwhile, down in Bill’s home state of Oklahoma, Bill’s identical twin brother Brady (also Norton) operates on the opposite end of the spectrum as an unhinged agent of chaos, running a marijuana growing operation dubbed “the Taj Mahal of hydroponics.”

Brady needs Bill back in Oklahoma to help him with a drug-dealing scheme, so he decides to fake his own death, forcing his brother to reluctantly head home to one honey of a culture clash. Nelson, returning to Oklahoma for the first time as a director since his 1997 debut “Eye of God,” revels in the awkward collision between high art and getting high. That friction exists both between Bill and Brady and within the film as a whole, which oscillates, sometimes within a matter of seconds, from sincere poetry readings to hillbilly jokes, or from cutesy fight scenes to intense, bloody violence. The shifts in tone are entirely intentional and, at least from my perspective, entirely off-putting. Nelson wants to make jokes and points simultaneously; too often, one cancels the other out. It’s hard to take a movie seriously when it features Three Stooges-style chase sequences and it’s hard to laugh at jokes, even inspired ones, moments after you watch someone get brutally murdered.

03122010_leavesofgrass2.jpgMuch of the task of selling the humor and the pathos falls to Norton as both Kincaid twins. Since he’s one actor playing two brothers, that means lots of trick shots in which the two brothers appear in a single shot together. If the “Leaves of Grass” approach to the twin interplay (twinterplay?) doesn’t have as much innovation (twinnovation?) as last year’s “Moon,” Norton still does a marvelous job fleshing out Bill and Brady as believable brothers, different in many ways, connected in others. Still, his best work in the film might be the stuff he does at the end, when the twins are separated again, and one of the brothers reveals how he truly felt for the other after all their years apart. He also has some nice chemistry, of both the sexual and intellectual varieties, with Keri Russell, who plays the one woman in rural Oklahoma interesting enough to make Bill consider sticking around for even a second longer than familial obligation requires. The idea of a woman gutting a fish while quoting Walt Whitman poems might not sound sexy, but Russell proves it can be when done by the right woman.

The rest of the impressive cast is squandered on go-nowhere roles: Susan Sarandon as the Kincaids’ depressed mother, Melanie Lynskey as Brady’s pregnant fiancée and Richard Dreyfuss in basically a glorified cameo as the drug kingpin of Oklahoma. Nelson might have had more time to showcase these very talented actors if he didn’t get so wrapped up in every single development of his overly intricate drug plot, or in a series of increasingly implausible endings. “Leaves of Grass” has some genuinely funny moments and two actors giving three very good performances, but it’s just too overstuffed, like a joint that’s so full that everything just falls out the sides when you try to roll it.

“Leaves of Grass” will be released by First Look on April 2nd.

[Photos: “Leaves of Grass,” First Look Studios, 2010]

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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.”

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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. 

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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.