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DID YOU READ

Oshima and “Waiting for Armageddon” on DVD

Oshima and “Waiting for Armageddon” on DVD (photo)

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We live in a strange day and age, when the very idea of a filmmaker apostate rebelling against the status quo of mainstream cinema strikes us as unattractive or even silly. Not since the ’50s has cinema as we see it in the United States been so conformist. Sure, Tarantino and Kaufman and a handful of little-seen imported directors “break the rules,” but if the films aren’t brimming with amenable showbiz zest, they hardly stand a chance.

Not that there’s anything wrong with showbiz zest, per se. But there was a time when tumult and experiment were de rigueur, when New Waves were breaking on the shores of urban theaters everywhere, and it’s hard to blame the filmgoer who looks at the prickly, risky, fuck-you movies of the ’60s and ’70s and finds them more modern and resonant and relevant than what’s happening in theaters now.

One of the fieriest cases in point is Nagisa Oshima, who’s most famous for the shitstorm raised by “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976) but who was already the Japanese New Wave’s most recalcitrant barn-burner long before, a world-class pain in the ass.

The new Criterion Eclipse set of five rarely seen ’60s films comes off as a set of cherry bombs tossed down our film-culture toilets, but really the more accurate-yet-outrageous simile might be to see the films as anarchist gasoline fires set in the rock gardens of traditional Japanese culture.

05252010_OshimaThreeResurrectedDrunkards.jpgEven in the context of the other crazy New Wavers — Suzuki, Imamura, Masumura, and so on — who were all vividly enthusiastic about critiquing postwar Japan as a dogpit of whores and lunatics, Oshima was a nose-thumber without parallel, taking cues directly from Godard and betraying audience reflexes at every turn.

Take “Three Resurrected Drunkards” (1968), a knockout title disguising an absurdist goof assembled around political screed about how the Japanese has oppressed its Korean minority, and, in this case, treated Korean immigrants looking to escape conscription in the Vietnam War like criminals. This is not a movie that’d play well in Arizona at the moment, but in reality, it’s hard to imagine it playing “well” anywhere, even in Japan. (Oshima often expressed his loathing for his studio, Japanese films and Japan itself.)

The widescreen schtick begins with the three titular idiots, gamboling Monkees-style, going swimming only to have a mysterious hand pop out of the sand and replace their clothes with Korean duds. From there, they are persecuted and pursued (why? “Because we’re them.” “Oh, yeah.”), captured, shipped out to war and back, constantly changing clothes in order to better conform but never quite succeeding.

Then Oshima’s trump card, and the justification for his title, arises. After a documentary fissure where the characters interview people on the street (who all say they’re Korean), the entire film begins again, at the beach, often using the same shots but gradually separating from the first half, as the three heroes cease resisting being defined one way or another ethnically but instead embrace however they’re perceived.

05242010_pleasuresoftheflesh.jpgBy the end, after the three goofballs suggest that they remember the first half and reenact the famous Nguyen Van Lem execution photo in multiple ways, they barely know what they are. “Let’s go back to the beach and redo it,” one grumbles, complaining like Godard figures that the film they’re in was “made by some stupid Japanese director.”

Famously an eclectic stylist, trying on new visual approaches like jackets, Oshima could make genre films, often harping on the commodification of the vagina in Japan. “The Pleasures of the Flesh” (1965) begins with a beautiful noir set-up — a young bachelor in love with a reluctant woman gets away with murdering her rapist, only to then have a bureaucratic embezzler who knows about the killing blackmail him into keeping stolen cash during the crook’s jail sentence. But, typically, the movie ends up a sardonic parable on the ridiculous doom that awaits you if try to buy love, not just sex, with a billion yen.

“Violence at Noon” (1966), the most well-known film in the pack, launches into another murder/rape scenario, but focuses on how Japanese culture (and its women) nurture sociopathy and misogyny, scrambling it all up with a famous 2000 cuts and lighting that seems ten steps too close to the sun.

But it’s a thriller compared to the uneasy narrative essay of “Sing a Song of Sex” (1967) — the ludicrously trite English retitling for what actually translates as “A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs” — which begins with a stream of blood puddling on red paper, and then catching on fire.

05252010_OshimaSingaSongofSex.jpgSelf-analyzing cultural poison follows, as four students chase women after their exams, imagine compounded rape scenarios, wonder why they’re not bummed about the death of a professor, and generally stand in for the soulless, aimless generation Oshima witnessed caring little for adult society but barely even caring about the carnage of Vietnam.

Like “Three Resurrected Drunkards,” “Sing a Song of Sex” was never released in the States, yet it’s absolutely of a piece with “If…,” “La Chinoise” and Bertolucci’s “Before the Revolution.” Entirely improvised, the film is one of the late ’60s key documents, a generational holler with double-bladed edges.

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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.