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CGI can be just as good as practical effects.

CGI can be just as good as practical effects. (photo)

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In the middle of a hymn of praise to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the New York Times, director James Mangold (“Walk The Line,” “3:10 To Yuma”) feels it necessary to remind us of “the breathtaking visual effects made by hand, not on a hard drive.” This is certainly true to an extent: the panoply of inventive-by-necessity effects included gelatin heads, shooting the ending spirits underwater and filming a miniature canyon on fire upside-down.

Still, it’d take a lot of chutzpah to claim that all that inventiveness made the final product more accomplished. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is as slick as pre-CGI filmmaking gets, and that aura of professionalism doesn’t compromise it one bit. It also had the resources of the George Lucas factory behind it and, you know, actual money. A triumph of artisanal effects in the grand tradition of Ray Harryhausen it isn’t. And that’s a tradition whose de facto elevation over modern CGI needs to be re-examined.

A typical take on the evolution of special effects includes at least some of the following information: that for decades, the only “personal” form of effects were manifested in the stop-motion creations of animators like Willis O’Brien (who gave us the original King Kong) and Harryhausen, with more anonymous, yeomen work done by the men who refined tricks like matte painting.

Production design, too, could be a division of the special effects department. When every resource we now take for granted (like, say, color) was in its infancy, a man like William Cameron Menzies — technical genius, really bad director — could practically have the keys to the kingdom handed to him.

What CGI accomplished, for better or worse, was removing effects from the realm of the all-knowing wizards and slowly professionalizing the field into one requiring increasing amounts of manpower and raw resources. It’s no coincidence that there are no grand names of CGI that have percolated down into the fanboy consciousness as auteurs of their realm.

But this doesn’t mean you need to sneer at CGI in and of itself. If you wish to see those imperfections so lovingly cited by stop-motion fans as a sign of “personality,” just wait ten years and revisit a movie whose CG effects were once cutting-edge, like “Jumanji,” below.

More to the point, CGI’s a tool like any other, and it can be as quirky as need be (take “Mars Attacks!” or “Speed Racer”), and its professionalization gives a determined director the keys rather than placing him at the whims of one master of the practical effects realm who knows all the answers. Just like everything else, it’s inherently neither good nor evil.

[Photos: “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Paramount, 1981; “King Kong,” Turner Home Entertainment, 1933]


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.