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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: The weatherman goes to three extremes, and “Paradise Now.”

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Michael Caine and Nicolas Cage.+ "The Weather Man": We know this isn’t kosher, but we loved/feared Gore Verbinski‘s "The Ring," more so than the Japanese original. We dunno if it was his intent, but Verbinski managed to make a horror movie so sparse and strange it was almost expressionist. Kept us up for days. He’s a very interesting, if scattered, commercial director (Remember when he sprayed fake tanner on Gene Hackman and had him pretend to be ethnic in "The Mexican"? What the hell was that?), one who jumped right in to the mainstream (see "Mousehunt") without splashing around in the indie…pond (it’s too early in the day to extend metaphors) first. Our point is, clearly he’s gotten the urge for an indie moment, and here we are. Nicolas Cage faces stylish mid-life angst.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Roger Ebert argues:

One of the trade papers calls it "one of the biggest downers to emerge from a major studio in recent memory — an overbearingly glum look at a Chicago celebrity combing through the emotional wreckage of his life." But surely that is a description of the movie, not a criticism of it. Must movies not be depressing? Must major studios not release them if they are? Another trade paper faults the movie for being released by Paramount, when it "probably should have been made by Paramount Classics. For this is a Sundance film gussied up with studio production values and big stars."

I find this reasoning baffling. Are major stars not allowed to appear in offbeat character studies? Is it wrong for a "Sundance film" to have "studio production values?"

He likes the film. Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek does too — to an extent. As she puts it: "[Y]ou don’t have to be a middle-aged man (or even just middle-aged, or a man) to sympathize with [Cage’s David] Spritz — although even just writing that phrase somehow, inexplicably, makes me want to kick him." She finds that the Spritz’s mid-life sad sackeries, while well done, get wearying very quickly. And both Slate‘s David Edelstein and the New York TimesManohla Dargis point out that "The Weather Man" is one in a long line of male existential crisis movies. It works for Edelstein (who calls it "a fine movie, beautifully acted, but it isn’t easy to love — or to watch") far more than it does for La Manohla, who bemoans that "the film’s most promising idea, which glimmers faintly only to be pusillanimously extinguished, is that David’s pursuit of the beautiful house and beautiful wife, to invoke an old Talking Heads song, has left him wondering how he got here."

 

Miriam Yeung.+ "Three…Extremes": The hipper and slightly more international of your two Halloween gorefest options opening today, both of which, as J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader points out, fall solidly under the banner of the nouveau exploitation film (our favorite "Saw II" quote goes to the LA Weekly‘s Christopher Orr, who muses that "’Saw II’ distinguishes itself from its forebear chiefly in the depth of its unpleasantness: It contains enough slashing, screaming, mutilating, bludgeoning, burning and bleeding to make the earlier film seem, in retrospect, like a drawing-room comedy. If there’s a ‘Saw III,’ it will doubtless feature nuns and orphans being slowly pushed through a hand-cranked meat grinder."). "Three…Extremes" is an anthology film, featuring a trinity of 30-40 minute shorts from two of the current big names in edgy Asian film (Japan’s Takashi Miike and Korea’s Park Chan-wook) and the less well-known, artier Hong Kong director Fruit Chan. As with all anthology films, the result is, by critical consensus, an uneven thing. Jones likes the Park segment, "Cut" (which, he points out, does have almost the same premise as "Saw II") so much he doesn’t even address the other two. Roger Ebert, who sees the film as horror for grown ups (finally), declares Miike’s "Box" the "most complex of all," though he also seems to like Chan’s "Dumplings," for all that he ponders how many people will walk out of the theater when the figure out the premise. Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice also hearts "Dumplings," which he says "may be the most viciously conceived piece of social satire the continent’s seen since ‘Tetsuo’"; he’s pleased with the film as a testament to the renewed strength of the short form film. And Dana Stevens at the New York Times, in a short review, sums the film up as a relatively tame sampler of Asian extreme cinema: she also prefers "Dumplings."

Our old NYAFF review is here; we’d advise you to see the film if only for "Dumplings," which also happens to have Chris Doyle as DP, making it something equally lovely and horrific, as well as dark, dark, dark. Here’s hoping Chan’s full-length version of "Dumplings" finds a US distributor soon, if it hasn’t already.

 

Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman.+ "Paradise Now": Hany Abu-Assad‘s suicide bomber opus is only opening in New York and L.A. today, so reviews are limited thus far (we’re painfully curious as to how the film will play). Good things as yet: J. Hoberman at the Village Voice calls it "[c]ontrived but chilling," liking it overall while acknowledging:

A Palestinian-Dutch-German- French co-pro, "Paradise Now" was also
workshopped at Sundance, and as has been pointed out, it has certain
Amerindie characteristics — including a carefully worked-out backstory
and a number of didactic scenes in which the action grinds to a halt to
allow for the expression of varied points of view.

It all works for the New York TimesStephen Holden, who says that "[p]olitics aside, the movie is a superior thriller whose shrewdly inserted plot twists and emotional wrinkles are calculated to put your heart in your throat and keep it there."

And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Armond White at the New York Press adores the film, calling it an emotional rich, complex, humanist work that is also intensely cinematic (he points out a segment in which the characters try to discuss their lives in terms of movie genres: "Is there a genre as boring as life?" asks the unhappy main character).

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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.

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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…

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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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