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DID YOU READ

Disc Covering: “Dolan’s Cadillac,” one to add to the “bad” pile of Stephen King adaptations.

Disc Covering: “Dolan’s Cadillac,” one to add to the “bad” pile of Stephen King adaptations. (photo)

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I find the world of direct-to-DVD movies totally fascinating. You walk into a video store, confident in your knowledge of the current cinema landscape, and suddenly you discover a Morgan Freeman movie you’ve never heard of before in your entire life. It’s hard to imagine why a movie starring Freeman, Antonio Banderas and Radha Mitchell by the director of “Deep Impact” can’t get a theatrical release. Sure, it could be a real stinker, but c’mon — real stinkers get exhibited on thousands of screens across the country every single day of the year.

(My hypothetical example, by the way, isn’t hypothetical: it’s “The Code,” or at least that’s the name it’s rented under at my local video store. IMDb lists it as “Thick as Thieves.” Let’s call that BAD SIGN THAT YOUR MOVIE IS GOING STRAIGHT TO DVD #1: Multiple Titles.)

Still, there’s no denying that direct-to-DVD stigma exists, and not without good reason. But as the independent film distributors and boutique studio labels close, theatrical releases are get harder and harder to come by. As our own DVD columnist Michael Atkinson observed, that’s led some damn fine movies to premiere on disc. So I’m not approaching this world just looking for bad movies to make fun of (though I’m definitely not above doing that if a movie warrants it). In this column, I’m going to search the direct-to-DVD world for undiscovered gems. And if I find some entertaining schlock along the way, I’m cool with that to. Let’s begin.

05252010_dolanscadillacdvd.jpg“Dolan’s Cadillac” (2009)
Directed by Jeff Beesley

Tagline: “An eight-cylinder fuel-injected coffin”

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: Mousy schoolteacher seeks revenge on heinously evil human trafficker who killed his wife; discovers joys of construction work.

Salable Elements: Mid-range, somewhat faded movie stars Christian Slater and Wes Bentley in the two lead roles, a plot based on a short story by top tier literary star Stephen King.

Biggest Success: For a movie about retribution, mental breakdowns, and the slave trade, the film has a pretty wicked sense of humor. After his wife’s murder by a mobster (Slater) who’s worried she’ll testify against him in court, sixth grade teacher Robinson (Bentley) plunges into a nasty downward spiral. He hits the pain medication and alcohol so hard that his wife’ charred corpse starts appearing to him in visions a la John Landis’ “An American Werewolf in London.” In a particularly demented scene, she helps him pick out a gun to kill Slater’s Dolan with, one three times more powerful than Dirty Harry’s Magnum (true to its reputation, a stray bullet from the gun later causes a rock slide). Robinson and Dolan’s final confrontation takes place on an abandoned stretch of highway near a sign for Las Vegas bearing the town’s “Whatever happens here, stays here,” motto. That’s already a clever poke at Robinson’s crippled emotional state even before we learn exactly how he plans to strike back at Dolan, which elevates the gag to the level of a great “Twilight Zone” stinger.

05252010_dolans4.jpgBiggest Failure: Despite the dark comedy, and a plump Christmas ham of a performance from Slater — who has maybe three lines in the entire film that don’t involve despicable racial epithets or screaming at the top of his lungs, or both — the screenplay by Richard Dooling leans way too heavily on faux philosophical (let’s call it “fauxlosophical”) narration. The movie begins with “Terminator 2”-style images of the open road, while Bentley describes his adversary in grave voiceover: “He looks like anybody you see on the street. But when he grins, birds fall off telephone lines. When he looks at you a certain way, your prostate goes bad, and your urine burns. The grass yellows up and dies where he spits. He’s always outside. He came out of time. He has the name of a thousand demons.”

Let’s for the moment ignore the whole an-altercation-with-this-gangster-made-my-pee-burn thing (I promise, I’ll come back to it). The movie sets up Dolan to be the bad guy of all bad guys, and when we meet him he’s… Christian Slater? There are very few actors who could live up to that kind of introduction — Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate comes close — and, sadly, Christian Slater isn’t one of them, especially when he’s saddled with a role that requires him to do so much mugging and sweating.

(About the burning urine thing, the movie is strangely preoccupied with peeing. Bentley actually repeats the same line in another voiceover later in the film, and Robinson and Dolan’s first face to face meeting takes place — where else! — at adjacent truck stop urinals. No word on who made whose urine burn though.)

05252010_dolans2.jpgBest Moment: Robinson screams at Dolan, the man who blew up in his wife in a car bomb, “It tears me to pieces to think about how you tore my wife to pieces!” Sincere but poorly chosen expression of rage or brilliant deadpan wordplay? I still can’t decide, though the fact Slater is, by this point in the film, shirtless and flexing his sixpack as he begs for his life makes me lean towards the latter.

Special Features: A 20-minute promotional featurette about the making of the film, which includes director Jeff Beesley’s contradictory claim he made “a Saturday night popcorn movie” that is “at its heart, it very much… an art film.” You and half the directors on the festival circuit, Jeff.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release: No, but “Dolan’s Cadillac” does make a respectable rental title. It certainly looks good enough for a theatrical release, courtesy of some decent cinematography by Gerald Packer. But its whiplash moves between comedy and drama look a lot better on the small screen, where the line between intentional and unintentional comedy is a lot more fluid, and a lot more forgiving.

For Further Viewing: Watch as a bunch of seventh graders interpret King’s “Dolan’s Cadillac” with predictably goofy results.

[Photos: “Dolan’s Cadillac,” Film Bridge International, 2009]

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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.