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Are blockbusters really becoming too intellectualized?

Are blockbusters really becoming too intellectualized? (photo)

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Slate sometimes prides itself for contrarianism, but if there’s a point to Tom Shone’s claim that “Blockbusters have become way too intellectual,” I’m not sure what it is. I’ve read it three times and it becomes more baffling every time, because Shone thinks the main problem with “Up In The Air” is that it wasn’t emotional enough, because he’s really looking forward to “Love and Other Drugs,” in which Pfizer salesman Jake Gyllenhaal falls for Parkinson’s victim Anne Hathaway, and because, well, he believes Hollywood movies are too intellectual and not emotional enough.

It should be noted that Shone himself doesn’t use the word “blockbuster” once — the label is only present in the presumably editor-provided subhead. To co-opt the term anyway, it is halfway true that the modern blockbuster is more overtly “intellectualized” than its predecessors. “Star Wars” is about movie love and good vs. evil, while “The Dark Knight” is openly about the ethics of the surveillance state, entropy and the prisoner’s dilemma. “Superman” is about a dude who can spin the world backwards on its axis and reverse time, while “X-Men” is an allegory for homophobia and tolerance.

One thing most blockbusters do have in common is that they tend to be much more fun to pick apart subtextually than smaller-budget movies, which have to focus and achieve their goals with precision — there’s not much room for error or weird outside influences to sneak in.

04022010_x2.jpgBlockbusters, though, have cash and resources to spare. They also often have scripts that are easily distracted or lavishly incoherent. While that may not make for flawless viewing, it does make things interesting in other ways. Blockbuster casts are frequently stacked with actors possessed of far more acting talent than they’re required to display (see John Malkovich’s upcoming turn in “Transformers 3,” or Ian Holm slumming in “The Day After Tomorrow”), which lends to all kinds of odd connotative experiences, in the same way that it’s impossible to watch “Gandhi” without getting weirded out by Candice Bergen’s presence. Some actors take their images with them no matter where they go.

Of course, you can pick apart blockbusters for subtext all day long for academic ends — the “Alien” series has become a cornerstone of feminist studies. But they’re also unintentionally resonant, overlapping with actors that summon up all kinds of memories and themes they can’t process in ways that don’t require intellectual stretching to pick up on. The great independent films may be better at achieving their goals as intended, but it’s the blockbusters that can, unintentionally, pick up on things that will linger long after they’re meant to. Long after Malkovich’s sole feature directorial effort “The Dancer Upstairs” fades away, we’ll still parse him through these weird paycheck tangents.

[Photos: “Up In The Air,” Paramount, 2009; “X2,” 20th Century Fox, 2003.]


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.