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DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on the Indie Gem “Take This Waltz”

Take This Waltz

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A few years ago, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (of which I’m a member) bestowed its annual New Generation award to Sarah Polley. It might have seemed like an odd pick: Polley had been an actress of some acclaim since the 1990s, compelling in everything from “The Sweet Hereafter” to “Go” to the “Dawn of the Dead” remake. But the prize was given to her for her new career, that as the director of “Away From Her,” the elegant 2007 romantic drama starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent that was based on Alice Munro’s short story about an aging couple coping with one partner’s encroaching Alzheimer’s. Polley had proved herself an extremely gifted presence in front of the camera — what a pleasant surprise that she was just as capable behind it.

The worry about giving out a New Generation award is whether the recipient will be able to live up to his or her early promise. Thankfully, in the case of Polley, her second film as a director, “Take This Waltz,” is just as rewarding. You may have missed it during the heat of summer movie season, but it will be arriving on DVD on Tuesday. It’s definitely worth seeking out.

“Take This Waltz” is a romantic drama like “Away From Her,” but this time around she’s focusing on characters closer to her own age. And she’s not adapting another writer’s work this time — “Take This Waltz” is an original screenplay, one that concerns a romantic triangle in which there are no clear good guys or bad guys. Polley offers no simple solutions for either her characters or the audience.

The movie stars Michelle Williams as Margot, a young woman living in Toronto who approaches her 30th birthday with some trepidation. Yes, she’s married to a loving, sweet guy named Lou (Seth Rogen), but their adorable life together doesn’t leave her fully fulfilled — a fact we pick up on when the movie opens and she’s flirting with an artist named Daniel (Luke Kirby) while out of town on a quick trip. It seems like a passing sensation, nothing more, but she quickly discovers that she and Daniel live on the same block. She shouldn’t hang out with him once she gets home, but, well, she likes the guy’s company.

Their relationship, which is actually just a friendship, serves as the heart of “Take This Waltz,” and Polley never fully suggests what Margot should do: dump her husband or tell Daniel that nothing can happen between them. The movie quite confidently resides in an ambiguous middle ground, which shifts the emphasis toward Margot rather than the two men in her life. As Polley makes clear, Margot isn’t really choosing between Lou and Daniel: She’s picking between different futures, different mindsets, different paths to follow. In other words, Margot is really trying to figure out who she’s supposed to be, and “Take This Waltz” can be achingly poignant in its portrayal of this bright but lost young woman.

This isn’t to say that “Take This Waltz” is flawless. In their attempts to show Margot’s confusion, Polley and Williams sometimes risk turning the character into a self-absorbed, overly cutesy pushover. And the film sometimes meanders. But those defects have a way of becoming strengths, giving the story a relatable messiness that’s in keeping with the characters’ unfinished, hesitant lives. And Williams’s co-stars are great. Kirby steals the movie and has received the lion’s share of the praise, giving Daniel a sensual, sensitive magnetism that’s hard to resist, but Rogen’s role is in some ways trickier. He’s stuck playing the nice-guy husband, but he and Polley make him a fully developed character, alternately loving and irritating in a way that those closest to us can be.

Perhaps it’s impossible to transcend the clichés of the romantic-triangle storyline, but you have to give Polley credit for the sincerity and insights she brings to a seemingly familiar scenario. It’s a sign of this film’s smarts that even at the end I wasn’t entirely sure if Margot had made the right decision — I feel pretty positive Polley isn’t, either. Like few movies, “Take This Waltz” understands that not many people find that one perfect soul mate — instead, it’s a question of making certain compromises to find happiness. If you’re not careful, this movie can break your heart. And after seeing it, you may have a hard time hearing the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” without getting a little melancholy.

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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.