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Seven memorable on-screen insects.

Seven memorable on-screen insects. (photo)

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There’s no shortage of movies featuring cute, cuddly, frequently anthropomorphized for your enjoyment. Insects, however, are a tougher sell. They’re small, squishy and if they’re around you, you’d probably prefer them not to be. Some people, of course, can’t get enough of them: as the new documentary “Beetle Queen of Tokyo” reminds us, besides your assorted entomologists and collectors, there’s a long history of fascination with the subject in Japan. In their honor, then, here’s seven movies that look the insect right in the face rather than shirking away.

“Mr. Bug Goes To Town” (1941)

The second and final feature produced by the Fleischer brothers (best known for the “Betty Boop” and “Popeye” cartoons) after their 1939 flop “Gulliver’s Travels,” “Mr. Bug Goes To Town” seemingly isn’t very different from what you’d do now if you were trying to make an appealing animated movie for kids about insects: it’s full of puns, lightweight action thrills and happy endings for all but the bad guys. The difference is the frame of reference: this is the anthropomorphized insect world as a miniature of wholesome, small-town American life, with profanity-lite puns like “Gee weeds!” and the soda shop (“honey shop”) just around the corner. The collision of late-’30s normative values (from a wholesome America that never really existed outside of the “Andy Hardy” series) and the insect world can really mess with your head.

05172010_woman.jpg“Woman In the Dunes” (1964)

The protagonist of “Woman in the Dunes” is entomologist Niki Jumpei (Eiji Okada), which must be some kind of first. The movie’s best remembered for its remarkable shots of desert dune sands in motion: they shift and glide with remarkably menacing tactility, the opposite of the equally memorable flat heat of “Lawrence of Arabia.” But that Jumpei is an entomologist isn’t a throwaway (even if Kobo Abe, author of the novel, really was an insect collector). At the beginning of the movie, he’s poking away at an insect trying to hide in the desert sand and laughing — an apt set-up for what happens when he himself is trapped at the bottom of a hole and is himself made a subject of study, one initially treated with scarcely less compassion. As for the rest…well, you really should see it. (Trailer mildly NSFW.)

05172010_hellstrom.jpg“The Hellstrom Chronicle” (1971)

“The earth was created not with the gentle caress of love, but with the brutal violence of rape.” With those non-threatening words commences the narration of this odd combination of ground-breaking nature doc and bizarro paranoia. Insects taking over the world have always been a popular alarm bell, but “The Hellstrom Chronicle” took it a step beyond your average B-movie by dropping a fictional scientist in the middle of a “real” documentary. Dr. Niels Hellstrom (Lawrence Pressman) walks through parks and rants about how insects are going to outlast all of us — something that considerably annoyed Roger Ebert, who felt like if the insects really were going to get us all there really was no reason not just to enjoy our remaining time. But viewers craving the sight of insects juxtaposed with catchy phrases like “a fetus with a capability to dominate all” — and would like the finest in early ’70s synths to go with it — this is where you need to turn.

05172010_brazil.jpg“Brazil” (1985)

“There’s a bug in the system.” Before airlines became completely computer-based and bugs could wreak havoc on your transit, computer and lord knows what else, Terry Gilliam had the wit to literalize one of the most instantly comprehensible technological terms in one of the most glamorous cameos ever awarded a fly, not to mention a far more elegant demonstration of the chaos effect than that old saying about the butterfly flapping its wings and causing a hurricane. There’s a fly buzzing around the room, the anonymous engineer slaps it in irritation, it falls onto the print-outs…and Harry Tuttle’s life will never be the same. (The insect, let’s note, is far more elegant than many of the faces we come across throughout the film — see above.) At least the poor insect didn’t get tangled with Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly.”

05172010_honey.jpg“Honey, I Shrunk The Kids” (1989)

“Honey, I Shrunk The Kids” is for its generation of children what the original “Clash of the Titans” was for theirs, only with the humorless beefcake leading men replaced by the (still dearly missed) Rick Moranis. He plays Prof. Wayne Szalinski, whose invention zaps his offspring down to blade-of-grass size, forcing them to fight their way through the jungle that is the family backyard (shades of “Blue Velvet,” but we’ll let it go). All things considered, “Honey” is pretty upbeat about our little multi-legged friends: a bee saves the kids inadvertently, and everyone befriends “Anty,” the giant ant who valiantly fends off a scorpion and dies from the poison. The best thing about the movie’s sight gags isn’t actually those creatures (it’s that blue Lego they sleep in at night, the telltale sign of a suburban backyard with small children), but they’re still pretty great and plenty handmade.

05172010_karate.jpg“The Next Karate Kid” (1994)

After Hilary Swank became a two-time Academy Award-winning actress, “The Next Karate Kid” was mostly looked upon as just one of those stumbling blocks up-and-coming thespians have to hurdle on their way to stardom. Now, with her career strewn all over the place, it actually seems like a prescient sign of where she was headed. Regardless: in this bottomlessly silly movie, a key breakthrough moment for Swank is when she learns — at a monastery retreat — that she shouldn’t obey her first instinct and crush an offending cockroach. Instead, she should carry it in her hands back to a beaming Mr. Miyagi to demonstrate her personal growth so that she can then learn the praying mantis maneuver. Sure, whatever.

05172010_rushmore.jpg“Rushmore” (1998)

There is, finally, the underutilized option of insects as direct, targeted-attack tools. As the all-round overachiever of Rushmore Academy, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is a man of many talents, and he’s honed his skills in the Bee Keepers Club to a fine point. And if you doubt it, consider that Max — a perfect klutz in all aspects of human social interaction, and not much better in any of the arenas that don’t involve insanely specialized skills — pulls off a perfectly coordinated bee attack against arch-rival Herman Blume (Bill Murray), sticking the tube from the hive directly into Murray’s room without once getting stung. The kid knows something after all — certainly more than Irwin Allen did when he made “The Swarm.”

[Photos: “Microcosmos,” Miramax, 1996; “Mr. Bug Goes to Town,” Fleischer Studios, 1941; “Woman in the Dunes,” Toho Film, 1964; “The Hellstrom Chronicle,” Wolper Pictures, 1971; “Brazil,” Universal Pictures, 1985; “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” Disney, 1989; “The Next Karate Kid,” Columbia Pictures, 1994; “Rushmore,” Touchstone Pictures, 1998.]


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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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.