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Toronto 2010: “I Am Slave,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “I Am Slave,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

With a title like “I Am Slave,” one can reasonably expect neither subtlety or uplift from this true-life drama about the plight of one young Sudanese girl who is taken from her village in and sold into serving a family of Arabs in contemporary England. And for about two-thirds of “I Am Slave” that presumption would seem accurate, as “Last King of Scotland” screenwriter Jeremy Brock has no objection to leaving the caps lock on at times when depicting the particularly brutal treatment that befalls the village princess-turned-urban slave Malia (Wunmi Mosaku). Nor does director Gabriel Range, who last caused a stir in Toronto in 2006 with the premiere of the faux assassination of President Bush drama “Death of a President,” have any qualms about pushing buttons.

But patience is a virtue, for both the audience and Malia, as much of the heavyhandedness serves a purpose when Malia comes to realize her enslavement is far more psychological than physical. Worn down by years of sleeping in the cramped corners of the home of Hiam Abbass’ cruel mistress in Khartoum and then the mansion of her slightly more empathetic cousin (Lubna Azabal) in London, Malia has no contact with the outside world and is ordered to look away from anyone in her respective homes.

She has no idea that her father (“The Limits of Control”‘s Isaach De Bankolé) is out searching for her. The whippings by garden hose and the even more painful tongue lashings by Abbass’ and Azabal’s mistresses still pale in comparison to the loneliness endured by Malia and without any money or a place to go, the fear of the outside is significantly greater than staying inside the gates of her captors.

09052010_IAmSlave3.jpgAccording to one of the film’s end cards, this is more common than one would think: 5,000 slaves are believed to be held captive in England with an additional 20,000 existing in Sudan, and the film itself is based on the story of Mende Nazer, who became a human rights activist after serving in the home of the Sudanese diplomat. Even without that basis in reality, the premise of “I Am Slave” is jarring: Malia is unable to use the phone, exit the house or have any free will beyond the confines of her small cot as cars pass by the front of the house and the world moves on without her.

The wide-eyed Mosaku’s natural stoicism cuts through some of the more manipulative aspects of Range and Brock’s storytelling – even though one expects Malia to befriend the family’s driver to plant the seeds for a likely escape, she doesn’t really warm to him, and even though there are cutaways to her father journeying to the big city, it’s obvious enough that if there’s ever to be change in her life, she’s going to be the one achieve it.

All of this is done with a modern slickness that set it apart from a Lifetime movie, but there’s a thin line as far as tearjerkers of this nature are concerned. “Fish Tank” cinematographer Robbie Ryan lends his sharp eye to the proceedings, which rids the film of any sentimental glow, and in spite of some far-fetched dramatic scenes to move the story forward, Brock has a good ear for dialogue to make the whole disgusting situation almost seem sanitary to the characters who have lost their humanity long ago. (When the family driver encourages Malia to leave, he actually emphasizes the fact that she’s a “nobody.”)

“I Am Slave” also flirts with losing its humanity in the face of becoming too much of a movie, but by its end, it moves you in a way that only movies can and brings to light a reality that sadly couldn’t be made up.


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.