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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: Red-Eyed Sympathy.

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Song Kang-ho and Shin Ha-kyun+ "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance": "’Vengeance will never be mistaken for ‘Broadcast News,’ and it’s
guaranteed to prompt the usual style-over-substance and
exploitation-posing-as-art complaints,’" drawls Matt Zoller Seitz of this first installment of Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy ("Oldboy," the second film, was released first here in the US). And he’s right, and he and La Manohla make an interesting point/counterpoint on the subject. Ms. Dargis devoted much of her "Oldboy" review to this topic:

The fact that ”Oldboy” is embraced by some cinephiles is symptomatic of a bankrupt, reductive postmodernism: one that promotes a spurious aesthetic relativism (it’s all good) and finds its crudest expression in the hermetically sealed world of fan boys.

Though she’s kinder to "Mr. Vengeance" ("At least initially, Mr. Park seems to be grasping at some kind of larger meaning with his beautifully framed images, frenzied violence and vague nods at Korean politics"), ultimately she still doesn’t buy Park’s talk of his films as great, warped morality plays, finding the film merely a beautifully made exploitation flick.

Seitz, in a very interesting review, finds the film the director’s best: "one of the most savagely intelligent movies of recent times…the violence in a Park film rarely seems to have been devised solely to
shock audiences, provoke censors or achieve a savagely decorative
effect."

Every person who commits violence in a Park film is convinced he’s
righteous, but the righteousness is arrived at through a tortuous
series of rationalizations that collapse as the story unfolds and the
bodies keep piling up (the Macbeth effect). Neither antagonist ever
really manages to step outside his passion and see himself as anything
but the righteous, driven hero of his own personal epic. Park’s
characters are locked in their own fevered heads, ruled by desperation
and grievance. But the filmmaker exercises his prerogative to step
outside and adopt a more detached, dispassionate view of events. The
tension between subjective and objective filmmaking techniques makes
‘Vengeance’ darkly humorous. What’s funny about Park’s filmography isn’t
the violence itself, which is depicted as grotesquely childish and
deeply traumatic, but our realization that the universe has no opinion
on it.

We haven’t seen "Mr. Vengeance" yet, though we very well might this weekend, but in terms of "Oldboy," we fell somewhat more towards the Dargis side of the scale — most of it seemed like some glorious exercise in over-the-top noir. But that first half-hour or so! That was something quiveringly vital and exciting, a promise the rest didn’t live up to, but that had us riveted. We’re sure Park has an entire good film in him somewhere (not counting "J.S.A.," which was excellent but not on the path of his apparently cinematic obsessions) — maybe someday he’ll make it.

Of this week’s Reverse Shot trio, Brad Westcott begins by discussing the film in terms of Tarantino, apologizes for this Anglo-centrism, then continues with it (hee). He and Karen Wilson were thrilled by it, Nick Pinkerton found the film "roundly competent" while not feeling quite as fond. And James Crawford focuses on the film as social critique, which for him lends it weight:

No director diagnoses the dolorous underbelly of contemporary Korea as perceptively as Park, who examines a nation reeling from economic free fall: unemployed masses, unmoved (and even bemused) employers, Seoul blanketed in shantytowns of which the upper class is blissfully unaware, and hospitals treating only those who can pay. Though deserving of retribution, Ryu acts out of a deterministic miasma of human indifference—precisely why there is sympathy for this avenger.

"As fate would have it, my business is all about you."
+ "Red Eye": "What a treat," chortles David Edelstein. And everyone else is pretty happy too about Wes Craven‘s return to old-school form with a taut thriller mostly set on (dreadful!) a crowded overnight flight. "Craven plays us like an orchestra of violins, and most of the fun comes
from our own recognition that we’re responding exactly as he wants us
to. We fall for his tricks, and then laugh at ourselves for doing so —
punk’d! ‘Red Eye’ doesn’t just stick to the basics — it reminds us why
they still matter," says Stephanie Zacharek.

Much of the film’s apparently success stems from it’s stars, bright young things Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy. Murphy gets particularly attention; he is: "right on the border between dreamboat and spooky freak" (Edelstein); "enough of a picture-perfect villain here that his agent should worry about typecasting" (Manohla Dargis); "both innocently newborn and barroom dissolute" (Zacharek); and "a deliciously foppish villain" (Dennis Lim). Though Zacharek also points out that "his lips are almost as pillowy as [McAdams’] are," and Dargis that "the rather more robust Ms. McAdams appears as if she could take Mr. Murphy down on the count of three." Mostly, everyone agrees that the film is fulfills its modest aims perfectly, a great B movie that might even be slyly subversive — Lim gets the last word:

If anything, given its gently misanthropic view of the general populace
as rude, pushy, self-absorbed Dr. Phil readers, "Red Eye" could even be
called anti-American—a parable on the horrors of flying coach, from one
red state to another.

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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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GIFs via Giphy

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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