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“Harry Brown,” “The Duel” and “Ghost Bird”

“Harry Brown,” “The Duel” and “Ghost Bird” (photo)

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Daniel Barber’s “Harry Brown” will provoke justifiable comparisons to 2008’s surprise hit “Gran Torino” — geezer with a past decides to clean his neighborhood of punks — but in some ways, it feels closer to that winter’s other surprise hit “Taken” — likable actor kills legions of faceless hoods.

Michael Caine is the geezer in question — a former British soldier who was stationed in Northern Ireland, now widowed and living in a rundown council estate (the UK equivalent of a housing project) that’s going to the dogs. Mild-mannered Harry minds his own business, preferring to spend time in his local pub playing chess with his friend Leonard (David Bradley), even as drug transactions and acts of senseless violence increasingly swirl around him. When Leonard is killed, Harry loses it, deciding to take justice into his own hands. And… well, he does.

04282010_MichaelCaineHarryBrown2.jpgThis is pretty straightforward vigilante justice stuff — lean, mean, but also dispiritingly disposable. There are some nice touches — if you look closely, you might notice during a fleeting cemetery scene that Harry lost his daughter at a young age.

But they’re undercut by more significant moments of craven obviousness — when Harry goes to the local drug dealer’s door for the simple transaction of buying a gun, he is, for some reason, led into the comically deranged baddie’s ghastly pot/heroin/techno/homemade-porn/nearly-dead-naked-junkie-sex-slave den. (I half expected a Rastafarian Gary Oldman to jump out from behind one of the cannabis bushes.)

All that said, I’m not sure there’s a right way to do a movie like this. I could harp on screenwriter Gary Young and director Barber’s refusal to give the young punks Harry battles any kind of humanity — but do we really want the maudlin “good-kid-almost-gone-bad” storyline of “Gran Torino”? I could take them to task for giving Harry a background fighting in Northern Ireland without addressing the loaded questions it raises about that war, but would some sob scene monologue about all the horrid things Harry had to do in his youth be any better? I could complain about the film’s refusal to address the broader social or political context of crime among British youth — but would I be happier if the film suddenly detoured into excuses about The System or whatever?

The truth is that “Harry Brown”‘s main problem is also its main asset: Caine is just too good and too real for material this nasty. He brings too much humanity and radiates too much intelligence to play a killing machine. There’s a reason Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson were making these kinds of films back when Caine was doing his Thinking Man’s Spy bit in films like “The Holcroft Covenant” and “The Black Windmill.” He commands the screen, to be sure — and while that makes “Harry Brown” occasionally quite compelling, it results in a fundamental disconnect.

04282010_AntonChekhovTheDuel.jpgThe Georgian-Israeli director Dover Koshashvili directed one of 2001’s strangest and most subtly electrifying films, “Late Marriage,” about a weak-willed Israeli bachelor whose relationship with a divorced single mother wreaked havoc in his old-fashioned family. You wouldn’t immediately think of him as the ideal director for “Anton Chekhov’s The Duel,” a film based on the dramatist/storyteller’s 1891 novella.

True, Chekhov also specialized in generally unlikable protagonists — a curious feature that lent his comedies of manners a certain Olympian perspective. But one needs some warmth and humor to pull him off; as with Kafka, too many adaptations have been hamstrung by their inability to tap into the inherent humor of the source material. And “Late Marriage,” though billed as a comedy, was a strangely unforgiving piece of work.


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.