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The week’s critic wrangle: The shopping, the kissing, the class action lawsuit.

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Steve Martin and Claire Danes.+ "Shopgirl": Compare and contrast: A. O. Scott‘s rave ("[I]t’s true that none of [the characters] are perfect. From where I sit, though, the film they inhabit comes pretty close.") and Andrew O’Hehir‘s scathing tear-down ("[I]t’s basically a dreadful film that should never have been made.") (O’Hehir is on fire with the snark this week — see him slap down the admittedly ridiculous-looking "Stay" here). We admit, we’re startled by both — Anand Tucker‘s adaptation of Steve Martin‘s novella (in which Martin also stars) looked more than a little "Garden State" slick-whimsical-self-important to us (we haven’t seen it), but we’d never guess it to be the kind of thing that would lead someone like O’Hehir to muse "There’s so little sexual chemistry between the actors in this film that it seems like a kind of accomplishment. I’ve seen shows on C-SPAN that were hotter than this." Part of the disagreement here falls to the film’s treatment of the uneasy "kept-woman" aspect of the Martin-Claire Danes romance at its center: Scott sees it as something refreshing that adds complexity; O’Hehir’s just grossed out. Jessica Winter at the Village Voice falls somewhere in between on the film: she acknowledges that it’s a bit of a mess, but likes the strangeness of Danes’ character: "’Shopgirl’ is a strangely hybrid creature: a hollow store mannequin with a broken, beating heart."


Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr.+ "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang": Let’s let Roger Ebert take on the title here:

"All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun," as I so tirelessly
quote Jean-Luc Godard. Pauline Kael refined that insight after seeing a
movie poster in Italy which translated as "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." These
four words, she wrote "are perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of
the basic appeal of the movies. The appeal is what attracts us and
ultimately makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom
movies are more than this."

("[T]hat whirring sound is the critic rotating in her grave," J. Hoberman asides.) Despite building much excited advance buzz from its various festival jaunts, Shane Black‘s meta-meta directorial debut (and return to screenwriting after years off) isn’t thrilling anyone, though no one’s particularly put off either. A. O. Scott:

I could say that its syncopated editing, its switchback chronology, its fourth-wall-breaking voice-over narration and its hectic mixture of humor and violence represent a fresh and exciting twist on sturdy noir conventions. In fact, I would say just that – if it were 1995 and I were the kind of person whose mind had just been blown by the cinematic possibilities revealed in "Pulp Fiction."

"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" seems to be most interesting as a cultural document: both Hoberman and the New York PressMatt Zoller Seitz devote large chunks of their review to Black’s career to date: at age 22, he sold the screenplay to "Lethal Weapon," and went on to shape, for better or worse, the modern action movie. "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" is so meta that it seems to prompt Hoberman to barely touch on the film itself; he gets lost in what it means as a career reinvigorator, but does share that it’s "[e]ssentially a pumped-up screwball comedy with a big body count and a soupçon of gross-out." Seitz spends a lot more time on the many mechanisms of the film (which include a voiceover-as-screenplay-pitch from star Robert Downey Jr.), and finds that: 

The fourth-wall-breaking riffs (brilliantly executed by Downey, who has perfected a modern version of Bob Hope’s fast-talking coward/weasel character from the Road pictures) suggest that we’re going to see a mildly subversive commercial thriller that combines escapism with self-critique. But Black can’t or won’t deliver on that implied promise because his commercial instincts are too strong.



Charlize Theron.+ "North Country": Before we start: we found Niki Caro‘s "Whale Rider" to be a shamelessly manipulative bit of moviemaking that wasn’t content to tug on those heartstrings: it yanked. That said, it destroyed us; we wept like we were back in middle-school gym class. Caro seems to be making a career of wielding her filmmaking skills as a weapon, working in the confines of a certain type of formulaic and awards-friendly Hollywood film to make these unabashed feminist fables. Are we going to see "North Country"? Probably not. But we find it admirable.

On that note, compare and contrast: LA Weekly‘s Ella Taylor ("’North Country’ isn’t reductive either; it doesn’t divide neatly into beastly men and intrepid woman warriors, and [Charlize] Theron invests Josey’s growth from a downtrodden loser into a fighter with a delicate vulnerability; you understand there’s as much at stake in her fight with herself and her family as there is in her institutional battles.") and Slate‘s David Edelstein:

In interviews, Theron and her director, Niki Caro, have said that the original screenplay (by Michael Seitzman) was a little too black-and-white, and that they tried to introduce "shades of gray." I can only infer that said shades are moments when some of the men—after hissing the c-word and pushing over a Port-A-Potty with one of Josey’s co-workers (Michelle Monaghan) in it, who emerges screaming and sobbing and covered in liquid shit—are shown, for a second or two, with a look of shame. But those looks are fleeting. There is, after all, harassment to be done.

Roger Ebert (who, not to disrespect the man, seems to always and immediately cave for anything with a whiff of "prestige film" to it — his smaller reviews are far more interesting) hearts it; Manohla Dargis offers a measured review in which she acknowledges the film’s gritty heart as well as the problem of it’s quintessential movieness:

That the film works as well as it does, delivering a tough first hour only to disintegrate like a wet newspaper, testifies to the skill of the filmmakers as well as to the constraints brought on them by an industry that insists on slapping a pretty bow on even the foulest truth.

Jessica Winter is less impressed: the ending spoils it for her, and she, with plenty of advance warning, spoils it for anyone who cares to read, enraged by what leads up to a moment she’s not alone in comparing, not fondly, to "Spartacus."

And Armond (Arrrrr!) White goes for the full bile; this is this type of film he loves to hate (possibly even more than those irony-heavy productions beloved to his nemeses, the "hipster critics"). A sampling:

"Inspired" by a true story, Theron and director Niki Caro don’t have to follow rules of truth, fairness or art; they simply push post-feminist self-righteousness with crude storytelling techniques that only a fool would find persuasive. (Caro made the dreadful "Whale Rider," which dulled and infantilized the same feminist and ethnic issues that were powerfully realized in "Once Were Warriors.")…In all, this is the most infuriatingly unfair portrait of an American community since…"Monster."

Armond, we’ve missed you, you ol’ curmudgeon, you.

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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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