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“Millions”: Danny Boyle Takes On Children, Globalism

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For the record, Danny Boyle’s theatrical gambits include a claustrophobic Hitchcockian thriller, a kinetic drug diary, an overblown fantastical romantic comedy, an uneven mainstream drama, and a postmodern zombie flick. This is not touching on the two broad comedies he made in his post-“Beach” lull, neither of which made it to US theaters, nor his semi-short film “Alien Love Triangle,” which was supposed to be released as part of a horror anthology film, but which has now been attached to a presumably solo release date in September. So Boyle’s latest genre-hop into the head of a dreamy, saint-obsessed seven-year-old boy isn’t completely off the map.

These days, in fact, making a children’s movie seems to be the hippest thing an edgy director can do. Alfonso Cuarón’s output alternates between sex comedies and visionary adventures for the juvenile and juvenile at heart (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” being inarguably the best of the three Potter films so far). Wes Anderson is finally skipping the nostalgia for childhood and taking it head-on with a stop-motion animation version of Roald Dahl’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Jon Favreau, whose “Swingers” and later “Made” defined a type of late-twenties L.A. life, is wrapping up “Zathura,” a retro space escapade based on a Chris Van Allsburg picture book. And Spike Jonze, prince of the bright young things, is adapting Maurice Sendak’s classic “Where the Wild Things Are.”

This being said, “Millions” is an odd bird, somewhere in between a film meant for children and a film about being one. In a recent New York Times article about the New York International Children’s Film Festival (where “Millions” made its US premiere), Boyle was quoted as saying that though “Millions” wasn’t conceived as a children’s film “it’s very much told from the kids’ perspective, and that’s why it deserves to be in [the] festival.” The film’s protagonist, Damian (newcomer Alex Etel, selected from a nationwide search), is a wide-eyed boy who just moved to a new house in the Midland suburbs with his father and slightly older brother. The boys’ mother died not too long ago, and there’s an underlying current of trauma that cuts through some of the coyness of Damian’s magical realism-style visions of the Catholic saints. The new house, which, it’s implied, is a bit out of their harried father’s (played by James Nesbitt) price range, represents a fresh start for the family. The new development they live in is a smugly cookie-cutter suburban settlement that could be anywhere in the world, with identical houses lining lamp-lit streets, neat lawns, and a trio of blond Mormon boys just down the road.

Damian’s brother Anthony is a typically, even exaggeratedly materialistic tween, taking easily to the family’s plusher accommodations and new school. Damian, on the other hand, immediately isolates himself from his peers (and his bewildered teacher) by cataloging some of the more grisly deaths of the saints whose lives he’s memorized, and ends up playing by himself by the railroad tracks in a fort he constructs out of moving boxes. It’s in this self-made refuge that he imagines conversations with amusingly earthy versions of the saints who provide him with advice, and it’s into the refuge that a massive duffle bag of money literally crashes.

The arrival of the money creakily puts the plot in motion, and suddenly the dreamlike world we’ve been seeing through Damian’s eyes, of brilliant green fields of grass and eerie still suburban streets is lost to bustling trips to the shopping center and Anthony’s taking charge of what Damian does. Whether this is intentional or not, the shift of gears is jarring. The money, which Damian assumes is from God, as it appeared to drop from the sky, is actually loot from a daring train robbery, the details of which are recounted in a Guy Ritchie-esque montage in the middle of the film. The robber, looking for his cash, starts lurking around the boys, and, as it turns out, England is finally giving up the pound for the euro, which gives the pair only a few days to spend the cash before it’s rendered useless in the transition.

In the face of all of these contrivances, Damian only wants to do good, but he finds it notably difficult in the sheltered suburb in which he lives. In search of poor people to buy food for, he finds a group of grubby activists who are only too happy to invite more and more friends to dine out on his tab. He stuffs the Mormons’ mailbox with cash, and they go out and splurge on electronics. Everyone who touches the money becomes cartoonishly infected with greed and pettiness, including the boys’ father and a charity worker who visits the school and is drawn to the family.

By simplifying the message of the film to a rather didactic anti-materialism in the end, “Millions” is certain to frustrate most adults while probably not being enough to hold the attention of the average child. For a while, the film effectively puts us in the almost otherworldly grip of childhood. To then plunge us into a downtown filled with shoppers frenzied with Christmas approaching and the currency changeover has all the subtlety of an anvil dropping, and makes the actions and motivations of the angelic, snub-nosed, befreckled Damian unbelievable as those of a real boy. Which we hope wasn’t the point.

“Millions” is currently in limited release. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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