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The week’s critic wrangle: Bewitching the Dead, Yes!

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Simon Abkarian and Joan Allen+ Yes: Despite our fears that many critics would think it was just hilarious to review Sally Potter‘s film in the rhyming iambic pentameter in which its written, only one ventures that far. And it’s Anthony Lane, of course:

You may get off on this enthralling stuff,

But after half an hour I’d had enough.

He actually does quite a good job of it, and seems to thoroughly enjoy pretending he’s the love child of Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde (now there’s a grand romantic pairing for you). Anyway, he doesn’t buy the verse gimmick, finds the film padded, and while he admires Joan Allen and the ambition behind the film, he ultimately finds it lacking. So does A. O. Scott: ""Yes" is not just a movie…it’s a poem. A bad poem."


He has many issues with the film, particularly with Potter’s high-minded attempts at commentary on the state of the post-9/11 world: "’Yes’ offers a case study in the moral complacency of the creative class, and its verbal cleverness cannot disguise the vacuous self-affirmation summed up in the title."

We suspect our personal preferences are seeping through here, so for the record, we do not care for the films of Ms. Potter. Perhaps we go so far as to loathe them and find them insufferably dull, humorless and agonizingly self-important. That being said, many did care for "Yes." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon finds that the film works despite itself, and is particularly impressed by Joan Allen’s apparently smokingly hot performance, though he finds the film falls apart at the end. Holly Willis at the LA Weekly is impressed by Potter’s use of verse to represent the social structures that prevent her characters from connecting:

He and She may quarrel, but their inchoate rage must find expression in verse. The result is at once frustrating and striking. We desperately
want them to connect, but they can’t step outside the codes that at once enable and debilitate them.

Laura Sinagra at the Village Voice finds "Yes" cautiously refreshing, and the week’s indieWIRE/Reverse Shot crew like it/love it, Jeannette Catsoulis with the lead review in particular finding Potter’s wide-ranging embedded political commentary impressive.

Eugene A. Clark+ "Land of the Dead": All hail the return of the zombie king. George A. Romero’s newest addition to the undead canon to which all aspire is getting praise all ’round (at least from the critics we care about).

Perhaps Sally Potter should take a leaf from Romero’s book (of the dead! bwahaha!). His film seems to offer more complex politically commentary than her overtly messagey one. La Manohla points out that:

With "Revenge of the Sith" and "Batman Begins," "Land of the Dead" makes the third studio release of the summer season to present an allegory, either naked or not, of our contemporary political landscape… One of the enormous pleasures of genre filmmaking is watching great directors push against form and predictability, as Mr. Romero does brilliantly in "Land of the Dead."

She notes that as Romero’s films have progressed, the dead seems to become more human, while the living seem less and less in touch with their humanity.

David Edelstein finds "Land" "more formulaic than its predecessors"; nevertheless, "The zombie with the flip-top noggin is an instant classic. And the sociopolitical subtext is good, too." Edelstein heralds each of Romero’s previous "Dead" films as classics in their own way, though the greatest remains, of course, 1968’s "Night of the Living Dead": "I saw it at age 12, and it didn’t just scare the living crap out of me, it turned my world inside out."

Roger Ebert attempts to understand the mechanisms of Romero’s world:

The most intriguing single shot…is a commercial for Fiddler’s Green, showing tanned and smiling residents,
dressed in elegant leisurewear, living the good life. The shot is intriguing for two reasons: (1) Why does
Fiddler’s Green need to advertise, when it is full and people are literally dying to get in? and (2) What is going through the minds of its residents, as they relax in luxury, sip drinks, shop in designer stores and live the good life? Don’t they know the world outside is one of unremitting conflict and misery?

Of course, that’s Romero’s point.

Nicole Kidman+ "Bewitched": Roger Ebert‘s the only one unfamiliar with Nora Ephron‘s source material, which is perhaps why he liked it the best ("tolerably entertaining", two and a half stars). We’ve seen maybe two or three episodes of the original show ourselves, so we were mildly surprised to see it declared and defended from various sides as a subversive somethingerother, though perhaps it looks better in comparison to this "reimagining." Anthony Lane, on the earlier televised incarnation, claims "You could read Samantha’s gifts as subversion in deep disguise or as a smiling gesture to the radical—just enough to leave the status quo refreshed," while Armond White sites the "legitimate antecedents" of the "witch longing for a normal life" genre.

Stephanie Zacharek declares that Nicole Kidman has proven she can rise about the most dismal of material, while her performance works for Manohla Dargis for a different reason:

Because the ethereally beautiful Ms. Kidman no longer resembles a real person, having been buffed to almost supernatural perfection in the way of most modern stars, casting her as a witch was inspired.

For David Edelstein, though, "she’s playing Meg Ryan—and even Meg Ryan has moved beyond playing Meg Ryan." He says the movie is at least not as bad as Ephron’s last few, while reminding us that he’s "grading on a curve that dips, at its lowest point, into the abyss." He is particularly put out by the use of R.E.M.’s anti-suicide song "Everybody Hurts" over a montage of Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell, um, hurting, but it’s Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice who should get final say on the musical montages here:

As always a fool for wealth porn, Ephron also jams her scenes with swatches and memorabilia from the old show—postmod!—and virtually every sequence change is an occasion for a song interlude. "Witchy Woman," "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead," Sinatra on "Witchcraft," the Police’s "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." I’m dying!

We’d twitch our nose and make it better if we could, darling.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 and the IFC app.

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