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“The Good Heart” and a mind for mischief.

“The Good Heart” and a mind for mischief. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

The last time Paul Dano and Brian Cox shared the screen, it was for 2000’s “L.I.E.,” a film that not only used its Long Island setting for its title, but also employed the desperation of the suburbs and its eternally gray skies as integral story elements. With “The Good Heart,” Dano and Cox finally make it into the city — for a comedy, no less — but while the shabby little piece of real estate that Cox’s speakeasy occupies is in the 212 area code, Icelandic director Dagur Kári’s English-language debut is a Scandinavian import all the way.

In that sense, “The Good Heart” is slightly jarring initially for an American audience — there are recognizable actors in the leads, beautifully shot exteriors of Manhattan and a narrative rhythm that is as bullish on forward progress as a Michael Bay flick. And yet it’s got much more in common with the cinema of Aki Kaurismäki (“The Man Without a Past”) and Bent Hamer (“O’Horten”), full of deadpan humor, abrupt cuts and… a duck, which we’re told is to be served up for dinner eventually, but whose primary function is to offer Kári an extra bit of esoteric set dressing. This may sound like a criticism, it isn’t, but if you’re one who doesn’t enjoy duck on the menu (or off, in this case), be forewarned.

Still, “The Good Heart”‘s marriage of the two cultures bears quite a bit of fruit, beginning with the pairing of the pallid and pious Dano as a homeless man named Lucas and the brusque Cox as a barkeep named Jacques. The two first meet as bedmates in a hospital ward. It isn’t Jacques’ first visit, nor has he endeared himself to the hospital staff that wishes his fallible ticker would just give out and who tell him as much. Lucas, on the other hand, is admitted off the streets with a nasty scar on his left arm and released only after the nurses take up a collection for him (which he promptly gives away to others living on the street.) Neither can continue living the way they do, and Jacques takes the initiative to become a Henry Higgins-type patron to Lucas’ unpolished gentleman, believing that Lucas could inherit the bar as Jacques has alienated everyone ever close to him except for a coffee grower in Martinique. (He even plans for Lucas to marry the coffee grower’s nine-year-old daughter, “when she’s a little older.”)

03122010_GoodHeart2.jpgWhat follows is a Laurel and Hardy routine as imagined by Samuel Beckett. Jacques’ bar is a way station for lost souls of all stripes — an espresso-drinking mute who strongly believes in routine, a trashman who aspires to collect garbage in space, Jules Verne’s great-great grandson who has a case of writer’s block, and a frizzy-haired barfly with a strong resemblance to Julian Schnabel who picks fights with whatever eclectic company strides up to the stool beside him. Cox has no intention of changing the clientele — he says grimly, “we don’t do walk-ins” after pouring a stranger a ketchup-heavy Bloody Mary. And it’s no place for women either, which poses the film’s main complication when April (Islid Le Besco), a wet and sobbing French flight attendant, shuffles into the place asking for a place to stay.

Needless to say, Cox’s killjoy is none too thrilled with this turn of events and vies for Lucas’ attention as his protégé begins to drift away with April, and the narrative finally starts to take shape. While serviceable in that regard in spite of a questionable third act twist, “The Good Heart” works best when Dano and Cox are allowed to play off each other, where Cox’s obvious affection for his “L.I.E.” co-star makes his character’s relationship to Lucas understandable and finds the truth in a film where observations about human nature are abound but real humanity is elusive.

“The Good Heart” will open in New York on April 30th before expanding on May 14th.

[Photos: Brian Cox and Paul Dano in “The Good Heart,” Magnolia Pictures, 2010]


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.