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Oliver Stone: talking points vs. incoherent brilliance.

Oliver Stone: talking points vs. incoherent brilliance. (photo)

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Oliver Stone is making headlines again with the Cannes premiere of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” which is receiving generally unkind reviews (including this one, from Indie Eye contributor Anthony Kaufman). For fans of “JFK” and (more controversially) “Nixon,” Stone’s long, precipitous decline from unignorable firestarter to HuffPo talking points regurgitator has been rather unpleasant to watch: he’s gone from stirring people up to preaching to the choir. Regardless of how interested you still are in the “Wall Street” sequel — it sounds impressively of the moment if nothing else — there’s no chance that, say, Barack Obama is going to weigh in on it.

Such was not the case in 1991, when Stone dropped “JFK” and the world briefly went crazy. “JFK” was so compelling and attention-demanding that even George Bush briefly felt it necessary to back up the Warren Commission. Stone’s stated intention was to create a “counter-myth,” one that would get at “the true inner spiritual meaning of an event.” In other words, “JFK” isn’t just a spitball PowerPoint presentation of facts, but an attempt to probe and poke at cultural trauma.

05172010_jfk.jpg“JFK” came three years after Don DeLillo’s “Libra,” a novel pivoting around Lee Harvey Oswald that presented its own powerful counter-myth, one in which Oswald isn’t just his own self-proclaimed patsy but a man who constantly envisions himself as a man who intersects with history. In military jail, he thinks of himself in those terms: “He tried to feel history in the cell. This was history out of George Orwell, the territory of no-choice. He could see how he’d been headed here since the day he was born.”

Allegedly, Stone tried to block an adaptation (something he denied), but he needn’t have bothered: the book’s basically unfilmable, and in any case Stone and DeLillo weren’t really worried about the same things. DeLillo builds to the moment of assassination: Stone is always looking back at it, wondering what it did to people of his generation. DeLillo sees history building to a head by men convinced they’re agents of destiny; Stone sees history as entropy and uncontrollable darkness. How it happened is less important than how it lingers.

What both had in common was the willingness to create a counter-myth out of conjecture. The brilliance of “JFK” lies in its ability to engage even when it’s contradicting and doubling in on itself: it doesn’t make any sense except culturally, getting inside the ways in which the events of November 22, 1963 warped the American psyche. You’re right there, struggling alongside Stone.

05172010_nixon.jpg“Nixon,” though more flawed, goes even further in this direction. The ghost of JFK looms heavy here — never clearer in a shot near the end of a now-disgraced Nixon standing in a darkened room while a portrait of JFK glowers behind him — but Nixon is also portrayed as a product of a post-assassination machine of vague, dark forces operating with Pynchonian shadowiness. Nixon is both a man and a tool: “You couldn’t stop it even if you wanted to, could you?” a young protester yells at him, and that’s true to Stone’s vision. He can sometimes go Too Far — it’s hard to swallow the scene where Chairman Mao informs Nixon they’re both motivated by the same sickness — but again, he’s grappling with a political moment whose cultural significance is more in its lasting resonance than the oft-labyrinthine details.

What’s wrong with “W.” — and, by all reliable accounts, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — is that Stone’s gone from grappling to asserting. He has the facts and he’s going to fire them at you: it’s a history of flat assertions and statistics, researched and presented in argumentative form. The claim of “W.” is that Stone has Figured It Out, when, in fact, he was bluffing: it’s pop history unfolding inside a vaccuum, disconnected from any sense of public impact. Time and distance is called for, but Stone seems to think he’s ready to explain events in real time. But that’s not where his genius lies (or lay, anyway): it’s in picking apart the events as they metastasize into traumatic myth.

[Photos: “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” 20th Century Fox, 2010; “JFK,” 1991, Warner Bros.; “Nixon,” Buena Vista, 1995.]


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.