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The secret cinephilia of Ken Kwapis, director of “Dunston Checks In.”

The secret cinephilia of Ken Kwapis, director of “Dunston Checks In.” (photo)

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The news that “Dilbert” is poised to become a live-action movie didn’t exactly set the internet on fire with glee. Nor did the news that Ken Kwapis is going to direct it.

Because of his resume — which includes Faye Dunaway-vs.-a-chimp flick “Dunston Checks In,” the Robin Williams vehicle “License To Wed” and, most recently, “He’s Just Not That Into You” — he’s generally slotted, if not in the uber-hack category, among the ranks of insignificant directors. Given his track record, this seems fair. The important word here is “seems.”

I’m not about to mount a defense of “Dunston” (which even the child target audience could tell was bad). But I am going to offer one for “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” the adaptation of the YA novel that Kwapis took to screen in 2005. It wasn’t a movie I sought out: I was dragged there on a date, like most of the males in America who saw it.

I wanted to hate it — it’s a movie aimed squarely at the tween market, crassly calculated to knock over every demographic. It’s four girls are tailored to each speak to someone: Greek girl who has a blithe foreign summer romance, the totally normal blond girl who has sex too soon and grows, the Latina child of divorce, the Hot Topic pseudo-goth. The girls bond over a pair of magical jeans that fit all of them. It sounded insufferable.

But there’s an edit in it that seemed like an homage to “Lawrence of Arabia”‘s famous match cut, and a few shots that seemed deliberately modeled after Antonioni. The movie’s not perfect, but it’s far cannier and better than you’d expect, and doesn’t have that irritating feeling of condescending vacuousness so many films aimed at teens do.

Spotted those references made me feel like I was hallucinating or rationalizing, but they were confirmed by Ray Pride’s interview with Kwapis, in which the director acknowledges both reference points and many more (Rouben Mamoulian! Andreas Gursky! “Sunrise”!). He is, in short, a shockingly well-versed cinephile nerd of the arthouse order. Everything that made “Sisterhood” better than it had to be accorded with his intellectual overqualifications.

05272010_sisterhood.jpgSo why does Kwapis continue churning out so many universally reviled comedies? It’s not that he’s stupid, and he doesn’t have the problem of the likes Ang Lee or John Sayles, whom frequently seem too smart for their own good and end up underlining their subtext in the movie equivalent of red ink. Being smart and well-versed in film doesn’t automatically equal making good ones yourself — but the stuff about “Sisterhood” that’s good belong to Kwapis, the demographic cynicism all being from the source material.

What Kwapis’ career reminds me of is that — as with everything — talent and intellect are helpful but not overwhelming. Who knows how many adept filmmakers get buried under a sea of mediocre (or awful) material they were powerless to elevate? It’s a reminder that few filmmakers deserve to be automatic punchlines because of their resumes. Kwapis is in some ways a studio system casualty — albeit a successful, working one, who’s made some passion projects and directed many widely beloved TV shows (his work on “The Larry Sanders Show” is impeccable).

Here’s the trailer for “Pants”:

[Photos: “Dilbert,” Sony Pictures Television, 1999-2000; “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” Warner Bros., 2005]


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.