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Review: “American Mystic” searches for spirituality.

Review: “American Mystic” searches for spirituality. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

Freedom of religion is one of the fundamental liberties our country was built on, but is that freedom unlimited? Yeah, you can worship whatever or whomever you choose, but stray from one of the more popular and socially acceptable monotheistic religions and you’re certain to butt up against prejudice, intolerance, and ostracism. The documentary “American Mystic” captures how three young people of three different faiths — Spiritualism, Lakota and witchcraft — deal with the realities of their unusual religious choices.

On paper, many of their beliefs sound strange. Two of the three subjects admit to hearing voices and attempt to communicate with spirits, another pierces his skin to show his devotion to God, his body covered in scars from years of practice. With that in mind, I think, director Alex Mar brings us inside these people’s lives and presents their religions from their own perspective. “American Mystic” contains very little dialogue that isn’t delivered in voiceover narration from its three subjects; most of the film is comprised of impressionistic and very attractively photographed images of their lives wedded to audio of the characters talking about their philosophies. There is Kublai, traveling as part of his studies to become a faith healer; Chuck, who reconnected with his Native American ancestors’ religion as part of his recovery from alcoholism, and Morpheus, who is turning her husband’s family’s land in California into a pagan retreat.

05032010_AmericanMystic1.jpgThe three never meet and their lives do not intersect, though they do share some problems (i.e. none have very much money). No external voices are introduced, no experts are provided to contextualize these religions, no alternative viewpoints offered. Though Mar gets a good amount of access to her subjects and their spiritual ceremonies and rituals, the lack of dialogue and the focus on disembodied voiceover keeps us at a remove from Kublai, Chuck and Morpheus. It is as if Mar doesn’t want to pry into their lives, merely observe from a safe and respectful distance.

Her sensitive approach yields a poetic film about people’s struggle to maintain their deeply held beliefs in a world that doesn’t share them. Just don’t expect much drama; there’s three stories here but no real narrative, and two of the three main characters live very stable, even passive lives. It’s only Kublai, still searching and learning, who ends the film in a different place than where he started. At times, that makes for less than provocative viewing, yet that may be Mar’s point. It would be much easier for these men and women if they did change, and conformed to fit in with the rest of us. Their determination to continue down their own path is, in its own quiet way, an act of rebellion.

“American Mystic” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

[Photos: “American Mystic,” Empire 8 Productions, 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.