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“Hey old man, you home tonight?”: Seven cinematic atheists.

“Hey old man, you home tonight?”: Seven cinematic atheists. (photo)

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Friday sees the release of Alejandro Amenabar’s “Agora” (alliteration!), which stars Rachel Weisz as a philosopher/scientist and courageous atheist suffering at the hands of rabid Christians in fifth-century Alexandria. The Catholic Church, predictably, is not pleased: “Your film is going to awaken hatred against Christians in today’s society,” wrote Antonio Alonso Marcos, president of the Religious Anti-Defamation Observatory.

Amenabar’s less than convincing response, from the New York Times, was that his movie isn’t anti-religious because “Jesus would not have approved of what happened to Hypatia, which is why I say no good Christian should feel offended by this film.” Not, perhaps, a stellar example of QED reasoning. Nonetheless, Amenabar has roused some angry passions with his film, one of the few to have a militant atheist as a hero. Here are seven more movies that put the godless front and center:

05242010_godless.jpgJudy Craig (Lina Basquette)
“The Godless Girl” (1929)

Back in the days when atheism was much more unusual and a taboo, Cecil B. DeMille’s last silent movie of course guaranteed the conversion of its titular character by the end. Anything else would’ve been unacceptable from the man fresh off “King of Kings.” “The Godless Girl” has a fascinating back story almost equal to its excesses, in depicting a high school where atheists and believers slug it out physically, eventually landing everyone in juvenile prison. That’s where atheist Judy and believer Bob finally fall in love (it helps that lightning striking the prison fence leaves them both branded with crosses on their hands). The film flopped domestically, although not, apparently, because of its subject matter but because people weren’t in the mood for ridiculously heightened expressionistic delirium and, by 1929, a silent extravaganza seemed dated. The movie was, however, a success in the USSR — where the last reel was cut, changing the film into a celebration of young American atheists — and made a deep impression on Hitler, who sent fan-mail to star Lina Basquette.

05242010_cool.jpgLuke (Paul Newman)
“Cool Hand Luke” (1967)

“Hey old man, you home tonight?” Those are Paul Newman’s opening words to God when he enters a church, on the run and out of time. God, of course, remains silent (a dark, featureless ceiling has rarely been so poignant), which is no surprise. Having earlier told God to strike him down during a thunderstorm, only to be (natch) ignored, Luke’s atheism is in full force. That makes sense for a prototypical ’60s rebel, but the film (as oft-noted) manages to have it both ways. Luke’s a rebel, but he’s also a prophet (the name’s a dead giveaway), dying for the prisoners’ sins and ending up enshrined as a martyr. It’s not the most courageous move, arguably, but it’s a satisfying one, perhaps even a good one for atheists — Luke’s a real hero and inspiration, and he doesn’t need God to do it. (The relevant scene below starts at about 7:30.)

05242010_hannah.jpgMickey (Woody Allen)
“Hannah And Her Sisters” (1986)

Many of Woody Allen’s films nervously circle the topic of religion and God’s absence — Allen having gone repeatedly on the record as a proponent of a philosophy of despair and Godlessness. “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is weightier — it has an actual rabbi going blind, which is as an explicit a metaphor as you could ask for — but “Hannah” is fleeter and more satisfying on that strand. Allen’s crisis is played, for once, for laughs as he contemplates the Hare Krishnas (“You’d look like Jerry Lewis”) and disappoints his parents by not going with “your own people.” The best gag, though, is purely visual: Woody comes back from the grocery store having resolved upon Catholicism, taking out of his bag a Bible, a crucifix, a loaf of bread and a jar of Miracle Whip. Notably, he gets to keep his atheism: watching “Duck Soup” restores his belief in humanism.

05242010_contact.jpgEleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster)
“Contact” (1997)

“Contact” isn’t a very good movie, coming as it does in the troubling midpoint of Robert Zemeckis’ career, after he’d abandoned expertly crafted pop entertainments but hadn’t yet started his series of increasingly dark motion-capture features. (“Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol,” while far from perfect, are fascinating and some of the most morbid big-budget Hollywood movies in recent memory.) Because “Contact” is mostly a movie about ideas — alien life, the universe, God and everything else — it occasionally sputters to life even when the dialogue is sub-par. The scene where Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) is interrogated about her status as an atheist by a congressional inquiry looking to shoot her off to the aliens isn’t one of those moments; the music tips the hand, and it’s all a bit simplistic. Nonetheless, there’s something bracing about a big-budget movie even going there — especially without the help of that tiresome cliché, the Hypocritical Christian. Worth noting: the Matthew McConaughey character is a religious man who wasn’t ordained because he couldn’t get behind celibacy. Sounds about right.

05242010_signs.jpgRev. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson)
“Signs” (2002)

M. Night Shyamalan isn’t Ingmar Bergman, and “Signs” is one of the shallower grapplings with matters of faith on film (one with an unfortunately ponderous dual-meaning title). Mel Gibson’s Rev. Hess was an ordained Episcopal priest until his wife’s untimely death, when he stopped believing in God. By the film’s end, after a number of coincidences have saved the family from becoming alien casualties, Gibson concludes there’s a God after all and goes back to preaching. If I were a devout person looking for someone to guide me through times of spiritual turmoil, I probably wouldn’t turn to the guy who’s willing to leave and/or rejoin the church based, basically, on how his day is going. Aside from all that, the finale undercuts what, up to that point, has actually been a pretty gripping sci-fi thriller and all but retroactively spoils the whole thing.

05242010_happy.jpgMumble (Elijah Wood)
“Happy Feet” (2006)

Technically, there’s no God and no talk of atheism in “Happy Feet.” But George Miller’s absolutely bizarre singing-penguins surprise hit is, among other things (it’s so overloaded with subtext it’s a wonder the movie functions at all, let alone with some success), a portrait of a heroic atheistic… penguin. Specifically, Mumble believes that the Antarctic fish have been less than prolific for some reason other than his invoking the wrath of the Great ‘Guin, the deity-esque penguin who provides the animals with their sustenance. And he’s absolutely right, but his explanation doesn’t meet with the satisfaction of the tribal elders (who all look like refugees from Eisenstein’s “Ivan the Terrible”), who banish him. That’s some fierce religious rule right there. Fortunately, Mumble figures out the real source of the problem and leads the penguins in a dancing result, helping to ban Antarctic fishing. Phew.

05242010_vincere.jpgBenito Mussolini (Filippo Timi)
“Vincere” (2009)

This is how you get attention: in the opening scene of “Vincere,” young Benito Mussolini causes a meeting to turn into pure rioting chaos when he dares God to strike him down, then announces time’s up. (He must have been a “Cool Hand Luke” fan — why’s that the baseline test, anyway?) Mussolini, of course, is his own personal deity, a man with absolute confidence in himself. “Vincere” turns out to not be strictly about the man, but instead about his abandoned (and much worse) first wife and child. If “Vincere” seems to be drawing a dangerous link between fascism and atheism… well, the historical record’s there, for better or worse.

[Photos: “Agora,” Newmarket Films, 2009; “The Godless Girl,” National Film Preservation Foundation, 1929; “Cool Hand Luke,” Warner Bros., 1967; “Hannah And Her Sisters,” MGM Home Entertainment, 1986; “Contact,” Warner Bros., 1997; “Signs,” Buena Vista Pictures, 2002; “Happy Feet,” Warner Bros., 2006; “Vincere,” IFC Films, 2009]


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.