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DID YOU READ

I Love “I Love Phillip Morris”

I Love “I Love Phillip Morris” (photo)

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When a movie takes a long time to come to theaters after its festival premiere, there’s a tendency to assume the worst. We forget sometimes that festivals are more about heat than quality, and that it’s the hottest movies, not always the best ones, that are most quickly acquired and released. A lengthy interim between festival and release doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is shelved because it’s bad. It might just be a tough sell. I got a big-time reminder of that this week when I watched “I Love You Phillip Morris” by writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

Released late in 2010 almost two full years after its premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, “I Love You Phillip Morris” hybridizes and satirizes several different genres, most prominently the con man movie and the romantic comedy. Jim Carrey stars as Steven Russell, a police officer and family man who has an epiphany one day and decides he can’t live a lie anymore. So he comes out of the closet and moves to Miami. He even gets a couple of adorable little dogs. Things are going well for Steven until his expensive tastes begin to outpace his income. His get rich quick schemes eventually land him in jail, where he meets his soulmate, another gay prisoner named Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). “I Love You Phillip Morris” makes fun of a lot of stuff about life and movies, but it doesn’t make fun of Steven and Phillip, or of the idea of two men falling in love. And Carrey and McGregor have absolutely terrific chemistry together. Here is their first meeting.

I’m really kicking myself over waiting so long to see this film because I know and love the directors’ best known work as screenwriters. “Bad Santa” was a movie so brilliantly deranged that at the time it was released some speculated that Ficarra and Requa were actually Roderick Jaynes-esque pseudonyms for the Coen Brothers, who executived produced the movie. What Ficarra and Requa do better than just about anyone except the Coens is blend really dark humor with unforced sentimentality. This next scene is a perfect example. It’s romantic and hysterically funny all at once. It’s also NSFW with lots of profanity, so put your headphones on for this one.

I grew up a Jim Carrey fan, first from watching on “In Living Color” and then all through his early livewire physical comedies like “The Mask” and “Dumb and Dumber.” There was a time when I knew every single line from “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and could act it out as a one man show (and did, on a few pathetic occasions). “I Love You Phillip Morris” is the first time I’ve seen the Carrey I loved as a kid in a film in at least a decade, and he’s fused that manic persona with the brilliant dramatic side he showed in films like “The Truman Show” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

The quintessential Carrey hero is the modern man at total extremes: the man who can’t tell a lie, the man who can’t say no, the man granted godly powers. Steven Russell is the man who can’t tell the truth; sort of “Liar Liar”‘s Fletcher Reede in reverse. But “I Love You Phillip Morris” adds a dimension of genuine emotional drama: Russell’s condition isn’t the result of a kid’s magic wish, or a bored God putzing around our mortal coil, it’s borne of genuine human pathology. Russell knows he has a problem and is powerless to stop it. He’s a little bit of an inversion of Truman from “The Truman Show” as well; instead of the naive innocent at the mercy of a world that is always performing in front of him, Carrey is now the one manipulating everyone around him with deception and lies.

Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for comedy here as well. This scene showcases some great Carrey physicality, and shows off some directorial chops from Ficarra and Requa as well:

The stuff I’d read and heard about “I Love You Phillip Morris” made the film sound a bit one note — following a guy repeatedly trying to break out of jail to reunite with a lost lover — but it’s much more nuanced than that. True, there are some brilliant escape plans, but long stretches feature both Steven and Phillip out of prison, and subversively poke fun at suburban complacency and idiotic corporate culture. They key to any good con man movie is that the film itself has to be as smart as its protagonist. This one is. All of Steven’s lies and deceptions reflect back on his love for Phillip. In some ways, the couple is freer in prison than they are in “polite society,” where they have to keep their relationship secret from the squares Steven works for.

Those scenes also work metatextually as commentary on the film’s struggles at the box office. “I Love You Phillip Morris” earned back all of its budget and more overseas, but made just $2 million dollars domestically. Jim Carrey has almost three million followers on Twitter, which means less than ten percent of them turned out in the U.S. for his best performance in years. I can only assume the film’s stateside flop was because close-minded American audiences still aren’t willing to watch a romantic comedy about two gay men. Those people should reconsider. In a world where romantic comedies have become tiresome and formulaic, “I Love You Phillip Morris” is exactly the kind of rom-com we need. It’s funny, sweet, and, thanks to Russell’s constant con games, wonderfully unpredictable.

“I Love You Phillip Morris” is now available on DVD. You can buy it on Amazon or rent it on Netflix.

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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.