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“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” reviewed

“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” reviewed (photo)

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With its third entry, the documentary series “Paradise Lost” earns its title: these films now constitute an epic tragedy of American injustice. The first film, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” premiered in 1996; the second, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations,” debuted in 2000. Now “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” returns to the aftermath of the same horrific crime fifteen years later. Characters from all sides of the case — investigators and prosecutors, victims and the accused — reflect on who they were then and who they are now. Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky cut back and forth between the past and the present. The addition of time adds scope, insight and poignancy to everything we see.

Berlinger and Sinofsky have been chronicling the case against Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley — collectively known as the West Memphis Three — since they were first arrested for the murders of three young Arkansas boys back in 1993. From the very beginning, the filmmakers were skeptical of the official version of events put forth by police, who claimed that Echols was the ringleader of a local Satanic cult, and that he, Baldwin, and Misskelley committed the crime as a sort of religious sacrifice. Their skepticism was well-founded since there was no evidence that the West Memphis 3 were involved in any way, except for a confession by Misskelley procured under questionable circumstances.

You might expect the fact that the West Memphis Three were released from prison in August to blunt “Paradise Lost 3″‘s impact. It doesn’t. Berlinger and Sinofsky do an outstanding job of contextualizing this summer’s surprising turn of events, and of explaining the reasons why they happened. They also explain why the State of Arkansas would release the West Memphis Three for pleading guilty (via an obscure legal technicality called an Alford plea) after they spent decades futilely protesting their innocence (the short answer: to avoid admitting their own guilt and risking a civil suit). The scene where the Three are released after they plead guilty plays like a something out of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” only this isn’t a glimpse into a dystopian fantasy of society’s dark future, it’s a glimpse of our actual society’s dark present.

The filmmakers also do a remarkable job of updating us on the lives of all their characters. The most interesting one might by John Mark Byers, the stepfather of one of the victims who Berlinger and Sinofsky incorrectly fingered as a possible suspect in “Paradise Lost 2” (whoops). After years of Bible-thumping and fire-and-brimstone preaching against Echols, Byers seems to have found peace and a certain amount of clarity. “What’s right and what’s wrong are two different things,” he says. “And the right thing is these boys are innocent.” Byers even has a “Free the West Memphis Three” bumper sticker on his truck. Whodathunkit?

Over their nearly twenty year journey with the West Memphis Three, Berlinger and Sinofsky have become more than storytellers; they’re now a fundamental part of the story itself. The first film led directly to the rise of a nationwide grassroots movement to free the West Memphis Three which led directly to the outside funding that led directly to new avenues in their defense. When Byers presented the directors with a blood-flecked knife as a gift, they handed the knife over to police and helped spur an investigation into his possible role in the murders. Berlinger and Sinofsky’s actions throughout the “Paradise Lost” saga may raise ethical questions about the appropriate behavior of documentarians, but those are dwarfed by the ethical questions raised about the American legal system, which is revealed in these films to be deeply damaged if not irreparably broken. So thank goodness Berlinger and Sinofsky were there to watch this all happen, and to encourage people to stand up against injustice. It’s good when a film moves people to tears. It’s better when it moves them to action.

“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” screens tonight at the New York Film Festival. If you see it, tell us what you think; leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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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.