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“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” Reviewed

“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” Reviewed (photo)

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Can he recall his past lives, though?

There are two non sequiturs in “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” that could be read as windows into the title character’s past lives — a prologue about a lost bull and a later digression about a princess and an overly friendly catfish — but no attempt is made, beyond that mouthful of a title, to connect to them to the narrative at large. Such are the mysterious ways of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul: he makes a movie with an insanely specific title but doesn’t specify any further than that. As with any Weerasethakul film, audience interpretation and participation is essential. Nothing is spelled out, at least not in any language that people on this plane of existence can understand.

Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) is an aging farmer and beekeeper living in the lush jungles of Northern Thailand. He’s suffering from kidney failure so his sister-in-law Jen and nephew Tong (Weerasethakul regulars Jenjira Pongpas and Sakda Kaewbuadee) come for a visit. As the days roll along, other ghostly visitors begin to arrive, including, in one bravura sequence, Boonmee’s dead wife Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk) and his dead son Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong), who appears in the form of a “monkey ghost.” In the light, Boonsong looks like a furry ape-man. In the dark, he takes on the form of a giant walking shadow with eerie, glowing red eyes. Rather than alarm, these guests are met with curiosity. Instead of running from terror from the beast with LEDs for eyeballs, Boonmee asks his son questions. Where have you been? How did you die? Why did you disappear? And why have you returned now? With Weerasethakul, there are always more questions than answers.

The film is not so much about what happens to Boonmee in these final days, as the mood those final days evoke. Weerasethakul — Joe to his friends and American journalists who butcher his name — invites us into a world that relies less on narrative logic than dream logic, where monkey ghosts joining you for a meal seems perfectly reasonable. His story bends the rules of time and space, and the film itself bears similarly transportive qualities. It takes so deep into the Thai jungle that we feel like we’re actually there. Many scenes are so dimly lit that it took me about four pages of notes to notice my pen had ran out of ink.

With “Uncle Boonmee,” Joe returns to some many of the tropes that have driven past works like “Tropical Malady” and “Syndromes and a Century,” including the contrast between the verdant natural world and the antiseptic environs of the modern city, the symbiotic relationship between man and nature, and the simultaneity of past and present. It’s not just past and present that merge; life and death are fused as well, as Boonmee’s past lives swirl through his current one, and the end of his story gives way to a fresh start for Jen and Tong. In a way, the callbacks to the director’s earlier work show Weerasethakul recalling his own past lives. “Uncle Boonmee” itself becomes the ultimate fusion of filmmaker’s past and present.

If this all sounds a bit pretentious well, frankly, at times it is. But nobody in modern cinema is better at crafting intoxicatingly enigmatic images than Weerasethakul. The introduction of Huay and Boonsong’s ghosts showcases a director using every tool of filmmaking, from acting to lighting to sound to montage to mise en scene, with total and complete control. That scene is perfect. The stillness, the silence between the characters is almost overwhelming. It is the quietest horror movie you’ve ever seen. Or maybe the quietest fantasy comedy you’ve ever seen. Or maybe both.

The rest of the movie similarly defies description. The image of monkey ghosts, their brake light glare cutting through the murk of the jungle, staring down the barrel of the lens, is terrifying in some moments and comforting in others. Some scenes, as when Boonmee hugs his dead wife’s ghost — literally comforting himself with the memory of days past — are heartbreakingly sad. Others, like the one with the princess who regains her youth and her sexual mojo from a horny magical catfish, are hysterical. “Uncle Boonmee” is totally uncategorizable. The only genre this movie belongs to is the funky, freaky, fascinating films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

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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.