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NYFF: “Paradise Now.”

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Ali Suliman as KhaledHere’s the thing: there’s nothing we dread more than a film that’s been labeled "important," one that "everyone should see" (well, ones that are "based on a true story" come close). Who wants to see something that’s presented like a recommended daily serving of vegetables? So ignore the way they’ll inevitably promote "Paradise Now" as a chore, a didactic missive — it’s a startlingly good film on its own; at the very least, it’s the most emotionally profound and heartbreaking of the festival.

Maybe it’s not fair to compare them — Hany Abu-Assad‘s tale of suicide bombers in the West Bank deals with a subject matter so raw and relevant to global politics that it sears the screen. Abu-Assad, a Palestinian living in the Netherlands, actually shot much of "Paradise Now" in Nablus, the unstable city in which the film is set, setting up in refugee camps and filming in the midst of gun- and missile fire until several of his crewmembers quit and another was kidnapped. This isn’t filmmaking like you’ve seen before — often, when the actors quiver with nervousness or distress, it seems more genuine than perhaps is comfortable to watch.

The film follows two twenty-something friends, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), who work together as mechanics. They hang out, they smoke a hookah; Said has an ongoing flirtation with the pretty, cosmopolitan Suha (Lubna Azabal), who seems to come in to get her car fixed more often than necessary just to talk to him. And then, suddenly, they’re both called upon for the "honor" of serving in the first suicide bombing mission in the area in two years, a retaliation strike in response to a Mossad assassination. They’d clearly agreed to this years ago, requesting to go together — the man who comes to claim Said, staying at his family’s house with him throughout the night, taught the boys when they were younger ("A good education is important," he, smiling, tells Said’s mother, who isn’t informed that he’s sending her son off to die the next day). We see all of the steps leading up to the pair clambering through a hole in the fence close to Tel Aviv, outfitted in trim black suits and explosives — at which point, something goes wrong, and the two are separated, left to spend the day searching for each other and questioning what they’re doing.

Abu-Assad set out to make a film that, while certainly not condoning suicide bombers, does attempt to humanize them, which means that there are quite a few discussions of different points of view on the matter of Palestinian oppression: impulsive Khaled tows the extremist party line and doesn’t seem to have given the issue much thought beyond how heroic he’ll appear; Suha, who’s works as a Palestinian rights activist, finds the act harmful to their cause and, when she figures out what’s going on, attempts to save the two; handsome, sad-eyed Said has the most complicated motivations of all, a mixture of the political and personal that he lays out in a devastating monologue towards the end of the film. For the most part, these dialogues seem unforced — lord knows, it’s a topic that would be on your mind most of the time.

Beyond a revelatory performance from Kais Nashef in what is his feature debut, the film’s highlight is its gentle, all-encompassing sympathy for its characters’ fundamental humanity, while refusing to pull punches as to the terrible nature of what they’re going to do. In one scene, Khaled, holding an automatic weapon, gives a pre-written martyr speech to a camcorder, to be distributed after the bombing. His delivery is frightening — and then he remembers something he never had a chance to tell his mother, and starts in that he saw cheaper water filters at another store, and that she should start buying them there. It’s a singular moment (not the least because that’s a hell of a ballsy place to slip in comedy) — but it works. Dare we say it? Everyone should see this film.

"Paradise Now" opens in New York and L.A. on October 28.

Click here for all the NY Film Festival reviews thus far.

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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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