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DID YOU READ

“Red Scorpion,” a Jack Abramoff production.

“Red Scorpion,” a Jack Abramoff production. (photo)

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The 1989 Dolph Lundgren vehicle “Red Scorpion” is the sort of movie you’d channel surf to at 2am and flip away from instantly. At first glance, it looks like any other mindless action film. You’d never give it a second thought, unless you happened stumble on it as this credit appears on the screen: “A JACK ABRAMOFF PRODUCTION”

Jack Abramoff? The disgraced American lobbyist currently serving a prison sentence for conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion? Could it be? It can be. It is.

After Abramoff served as National Chairman of the College Republican National Committee and before he came one of the most powerful lobbyists in late 1990s and early 2000s Washington D.C., he tried his hand at the movie business. As outlined in an article by “>James Verini for Salon, Abramoff, a child of Beverly Hills, formed a production company with his brother Robert and dreamed up an ’80s action spectacular that would operate as a thinly veiled anti-Communist screed and as propaganda for the sort of African rebels Abramoff had supported with the College Republicans.

05052010_RedScorpion2.jpg“Red Scorpion” makes a brief appearance in Alex Gibney’s exhaustive new documentary on the Abramoff scandal, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” which is opening this week. The film’s talking heads point out the similarities between the film’s fictional nation Mobaka and the real Angola, and between the film’s heroic freedom fighter Kallunda Kintash (Al White) and the public image of Jonas Savimbi, an Angolan warlord who’s one of the stars of the Democratic International, a real-life convention of freedom fighters engineered by Abramoff and his conservative allies as a means of promoting the Reagan Doctrine in Africa. Gibney also observes how Abramoff, a former champion powerlifter, engineered a story beat where Lundgren powerlifts a jeep to save his friend. Don’t let the mumbling, flop-sweated Swede and the bargain basement action sequences fool you: for producer/co-writer Abramoff, this was a deeply personal film.

Divorced from its connection to Abramoff, “Red Scorpion”, directed by Joseph Zito, is little more than a compilation of themes and scenes from other better entries in the genre from “Rambo: First Blood Part II” to “Commando.” The story is essentially “Dances With ‘Red Scorpion.'” Lundgren plays Lt. Rachenko, a loyal Soviet soldier ordered to get close to Kintash in order to learn the location of a rebel stronghold. After he fails in his mission, Rachenko’s cruel superior orders his torture and execution, whereupon Rachenko escapes, takes up with some Bushmen, learns the beauty, serenity, and purity of African tribal culture, then protects that beauty, serenity, and purity by blowing up a large chunk of it, along with plenty of evil, evil (EVIL!) Russians.

05052010_RedScorpion3.jpgEven as propaganda, “Red Scorpion” is a bit confused. Every single Russian and Cuban soldier in the film is portrayed as being pure, uncomplicated, Hitler-doesn’t-look-so-bad-in-comparison evil; every one, that is except Lundgren, whose heroism dilutes the intended message that the only good Soviet is a dead one. Then again, by the end of the film, the only Russian who’s not dead is the only good one, and he only sees the error of his ways after he’s brutally tortured with needles. This movie doesn’t advocate the torture of Communists with needles and the extermination of anyone who doesn’t use needle torture as a gateway to pro-USA feelings, right? Right?

Gibney’s film only has time to share a few clips and doesn’t even touch on Rachenko’s reluctant sidekick, an American journalist played by M. Emmet Walsh. When Rachenko makes a snide remark about Walsh’s salty language, the American launches into a pro-freedom of speech rant. “As a matter of fact, in America, an American can swear whenever, wherever, however much he fucking well pleases!” he boasts. Anyone who’s seen Abramoff’s profanity-laden emails about the “motherfuckers” he bilked for millions in fees knows just how dearly he loved that freedom.

Ironically, it’s Walsh’s journalist who serves as Abramoff’s anti-Communist, pro-liberty mouthpiece. Decades later, journalists were the ones to finally expose Abramoff’s crimes. Anyone who watches “Casino Jack” and learns the full extent of his sordid deals will be able to relate to another of Walsh’s lines: “I now know the meaning of true loathing.”

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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.