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“The Messenger” and “Cloud 9” on DVD

“The Messenger” and “Cloud 9” on DVD (photo)

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Oscar-nominated if underpraised while in theaters, Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger” is by far the most mature and moving film made yet about the Iraqi invasion, even if Iraqis themselves don’t even make an appearance as figures mentioned in battle stories. It’s a telling, ethically vibrant film, and for Americans to manage such a thing while a war is still happening is kind of a miracle. The films made during World War II can largely be excused as propaganda, and it took until the mid-50s, with “From Here to Eternity” (1953) and Robert Aldrich’s definitive “Attack!” (1956), for American film to express the sense of trauma and unhappy cost that any authentic pop characterization of war must command. With the exception of Samuel Fuller’s “The Steel Helmet,” released in 1951 less than four months after American troops crossed the 38th parallel, it took almost four years for The Korean War to be reground into drama, message and regret, starting with Anthony Mann’s “Men in War” (1957). The Vietnam-American War, as we well know, was crazy televised, and yet, putting aside a few pungent docs and one risible agitprop orgasm (John Wayne’s 1968 “The Green Berets”), three years had to pass after the last airlift before the bandages could come off and we permitted ourselves to finger the scabs and scars.

05182010_Messenger4.jpgIt may just be that a little distance, a little grieving and acclimation, is necessary, for the viewers to accept the showbiz manhandling of their pain and ambivalence, and the image-makers to figure how to do it with some kind of perspective. Of course, the problem with the Iraq war is that although it hasn’t ended, it seems to have ended, sort of, fading from the headlines in lieu of Obamacare, Afghanistan, earthquakes and oil spills. Moverman’s movie is a homefront war movie, with a difference – unlike others in the “Best Years of Our Lives” paradigm, this isn’t about the discomfiture of soldiers returning to civilianhood, but about the task of manning the homefront by reporting the dead to their families. We think Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is merely a buttoned-down battle case when he glowers at his reassignment after coming home wounded, and like him, the film is realigning the war-movie priorities – there’s combat, but then there’s the result, Moverman is saying, families with holes in them, keening parents, shattered wives, orphaned children. The showbiz idea that war may be hell but it’s fun to watch, too — inherent in so many American war movies, including “The Hurt Locker” — is abandoned. Instead, the moral costs are confronted head-on, in your face, on some stranger’s doorstep.

Montgomery turns out to be both less and more than we expected, and Moverman seems hyperaware of how we second-guess military characters in stress situations, because he dodges the clichés at every step. Woody Harrelson’s Stone, Montgomery’s commanding officer, is another stereotype that begins to shed onion layers – by the middle of the film, after harrowing house visit after house visit, the two men are as complicated by rage and secrets and shame and vulnerability as any that an American independent film has produced in years.

05182010_Messenger3.jpgThe story follows their tentative bonding, and Montgomery’s impulsive attraction to a young widow (the amazing Samantha Morton) after she reacts very differently to the soldiers’ news than they expect her to. But Moverman’s achievement is more on the micro-level: the time spent absorbing wholesale grief (Moverman’s camera is always ready to hang back and give the victims air, while Foster’s hardass always wells up with tears but freezes), the conversations full of unspoken intention, the rhythms of scenes as the characters, responding to disaster, hunt internally for ways to react. And the acting is razor-sharp, right down to Steve Buscemi as a soldier’s father, upping the film’s ante in his pivotal scene, and then raising it again later, unexpectedly. Overall, there’s a sense of tender responsibility in “The Messenger” that feels like a tall glass of ice water in an arid modern movie culture most often overrun with simplism (that’s a real word, and a good one) and idiot noise.


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.