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Ebertfest, Day One

Ebertfest, Day One (photo)

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Movies are the greatest time travel machine ever invented. They have the unique ability to send us back into the past and forward into the future all at once. Last night’s Opening Night at the 13th Annual Ebertfest was a great example of movie time travel. Back we all went to 1927, for a glimpse of a possible future that never came to pass; then all the way forward to 2011, to see the life of a woman trapped by her own sad history. It was a reminder of a lost age, when people watched movies in palaces like Champaign, Illinois’ Virginia Theatre and a hopeful glimpse of a time yet to come when gatherings like this one exist in every city in the country.

I have been to many film festivals. Ebertfest is the first I’ve attended that is more about the past than the future. Instead of trying desperately to discover the “next big thing,” programmer Roger Ebert acts as a sort of one-man cinematic oversight committee. Originally named the Overlooked Film Festival, Ebertfest is dedicated to shining a light on great films that have unfairly fallen through the cracks.

In the case of this year’s opening night program, that almost literally happened. Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis,” has been hailed a science-fiction classic for decades. But for years after its Berlin premiere it was only seen in a heavily truncated version. Recently, a film archivist discovered a print in the archives of Argentina’s Museo del Cine, which gave birth to this “Complete Metropolis” which is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Kino, and which we watched at Ebertfest.

(Why Argentina? Film historian Kristin Thompson answered that question with her introduction before the film: in the 1920s, prints travelled the world. Their last stop was often South America. By the time films made it to places like Argentina, the prints were in such bad shape that they weren’t worth the money it would cost to ship them back to their country of origin. So they got put on a shelf somewhere, hence this amazing discovery.)

Restored to a near-director’s cut, “Metropolis” is even more the masterpiece we’ve known it to be for years (you can read my review of the New York premiere of “The Complete Metropolis” here). But Ebertfest’s screening of the film was even more unique because it came with a live performance by the Alloy Orchestra, who performed a score they’d written specially for this restoration. At the post-screening Q&A, the members of the group explained how they were commissioned to write the score for the new Kino Blu-ray of “The Complete Metropolis,” but at the last minute the estate that controls the rights to the film refused to include it, demanding that only the original Gottfried Huppertz score appear on the disc.

When I saw “The Complete Metropolis” for the first time, I called Huppertz’s score “a classic.” And it is a beautiful piece of music. But having seen both versions, I can say without question that Alloy’s score for “Metropolis” is the superior one. Huppertz’s work is beautiful but it’s too grand and regal for a film this gritty and paranoid. Alloy’s work enhances the restored “Metropolis”‘s frantic energy, and turns the climactic destruction of the underground city and the race to rescue its forgotten children into an exercise in suspense unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. We like to imagine modern films are more advanced than older, “primitive” works. “The Complete Metropolis” shows what nonsense that is. Show me one modern blockbuster that can match “Metropolis” for scale, scope, effects, action, themes, and sheer balls-out insanity. You can’t.

Opening night concluded with “Natural Selection,” which I missed at South by Southwest 2011 where it won the audience award and numerous awards from the features jury (which Ebert was a member of). I understand the accolades, particularly for Rachael Harris, who you might recognize from VH1 clip shows like “I Love the 70s” or as Ed Helms’ shrewish fiance in “The Hangover.” In “Natural Selection” she reveals herself to be an actress of remarkable range and nuance, playing Linda, a housewife in a fundamentalist Christian community in Texas. Because she had lost her ability to have children years before, her husband refuses to have sex with her (sex is for procreation, you see). But little does the unfulfilled Linda realize that her husband uses a local sperm bank as an excuse to regularly exercise his own desires.

Saying more about what happens next would spoil the film’s numerous twists. And part of what I enjoyed about “Natural Selection” was the fact that I went in completely cold and was repeatedly surprised by Linda’s journey after her husband makes one particularly eventful trip to the sperm bank. But Harris and her co-star Matt O’Leary, playing a man she meets on the road, both give incredible performances, painfully funny and even more painfully truthful. And writer/director Robbie Pickering, telling a story about a character based on his own mother, set in the town where he grew up, is clearly a talent to watch. Pickering balances comedy and tragedy in a way that a lot of indie directors try to do these days. Where most fail, he’s succeeded. And he fills his frame will all sorts of clever signs and symbols about birth and death. Even the way the characters relate to the seatbelts in their car says something about them (automatic seatbelts, it turns out, make a great metaphor for the way a woman entrusts her well-being to a higher power).

I could write more but it’s time to go watch more movies at Ebertfest. Speak to you again in the future.


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.