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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: Walking the Line to Pluto.

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No new long review from us this week — our NYFF review of "Breakfast on Pluto" is here.

Mrs. and Mr. Oscar? Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix.+ "Walk the Line": The consensus seems to be that James Mangold‘s Johnny Cash biopic is good, but not great. There’s near universal acclaim for leads Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (David Denby at the New Yorker says "As I watched Phoenix sling his guitar around and gun it at the audience
in Cash’s shambling style, I couldn’t imagine anyone better suited to
play the role," while Ella Taylor at LA Weekly claims that Witherspoon "brings not just vivacity but a depth and breadth" to the role of June Carter), but not so much for the general direction of the film. David Edelstein at Slate feels that Mangold "gets the big things right," but has the typical biopic arc and gaps; David Denby just generally finds "Walk the Line" to be "a lot less interesting than
it might be": "Can the central lesson of Johnny Cash’s life really be that he was a loser until a good woman shamed him into growing up?" A.O. Scott compares the film to "Ray" (as does almost everyone else) and finds it lacking: "Mr. Hackford structured his
film around Ray Charles’s creative life, inviting us to understand how
he fused various elements of the American musical vernacular into a new
and distinctive sound. While Johnny Cash achieved something comparable,
Mr. Mangold’s film offers more tribute than insight." And Ella Taylor, while generally enjoying the film, finds there’s something a little too pat about the story.

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon, on the other hand, argues that "Walk the Line" may be conventional, but that "its conventionality is part of its power": "This is a democratic and accessible picture." And Roger Ebert of course raves about the film (though he stops short of giving it the full four stars), but says most interesting that he went into the film not knowing that Phoenix and Witherspoon were doing their own vocals:

Knowing Cash’s albums more or less by heart, I closed my eyes to focus on the soundtrack and decided that, yes, that was the voice of Johnny Cash I was listening to. The closing credits make it clear it’s Joaquin Phoenix doing the singing, and I was gob-smacked. Phoenix and Mangold can talk all they want about how it was as much a matter of getting in character, of delivering the songs, as it was a matter of voice technique, but whatever it was, it worked. Cash’s voice was "steady like a train, sharp like a razor," said June.

But the massive monetary prize for our favorite review of the week surely goes to the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman, who sounds epically world-weary as he describes "Walk the Line" as a perfectly functional, formula-following movie that leads him to the following prestige-pic-punch-drunk conclusion:

The fact is that neither "Walk the Line" nor the even more tedious "Ray" exerts nearly the fascination of last year’s "Beyond the Sea," an obviously bad movie about a limited performer of minor cultural significance and yet a weirdly compelling psychodrama, allowing director-star Kevin Spacey to match Bobby Darin‘s patented insincerity with his own. In no way obsessive, "Walk the Line" is more sincerely—which is to say, more boringly—sincere. It doesn’t leave you with much to think about, except maybe the empty vibrato of effective ventriloquism.

 

Cillian Murphy.+ "Breakfast on Pluto": What’s oddest about Neil Jordan‘s latest and possibly most bizarre film is the way that both Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir and the New York Times’ Stephen Holden seem to have talked themselves into liking it. We’re not trying to say that it’s impossible to give the film a good review, but Holden’s piece parrots the extensive press notes that came with the film a little closely, and O’Hehir sort of sidesteps much opinion on the film, simply using it to introduce a lengthy interview with Jordan.

It’s hard to blame them, though — who doesn’t carry a bit of a torch for Jordan? His films may be all over the place, but they’re never not interesting (well, with the possible exception of "High Spirits," which we’ve never seen but which looks truly awful), and he’s so dedicated to the mechanics of film — no seams showing, each film’s rawness seeping in slowly and where you least expect it.

Anyway, the New York PressMatt Zoller Seitz reluctantly calls the film a failure:

It’s all so wide-ranging and eccentric that I really wish it worked.
"Pluto" is the kind of movie that a great director’s fans will be tempted
to overrate. It touches on so many established Jordan elements
(ideologically driven violence, personal and physical transformation,
the hidden sensitivity of brutish men, the coexistence of polite and
impolite society and social outcasts’ instinctive tendency toward
fellowship) that it sometimes feels richer, more precise and more
complete than it really is.

(He also points out one of the great filmmaking truths: "In movies, when a character puts on an animal suit, it’s only a matter of time before he beats somebody up.") Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice is less hesitant in finding flaws:

"Breakfast on Pluto" may be Jordan’s wildest mis-shot yet, so dense with dying fizzle and limp ideas that I began to wonder if Jordan has an evil twin, or if there are in fact several Neil Jordans, among them at least one literate stylist and one humor-handicapped village idiot.

Alas.

Quote of the day: From La Manohla‘s "Harry Potter" review (emphasis ours):

[N]othing prepares you for the malevolent force that is Lord Voldemort and the brilliance of the actor playing him, Ralph Fiennes. Dressed in a flowing black robe that seems to float off his body rather than hang, Mr. Fiennes moves with lissome grace, his smooth white head bobbing like a cork on a sea, his fluttery hands and feet as pale and bright as beacons. For years, the movies have tried to transform this delicate beauty into a heartthrob, but as "Schindler’s List" proved, Mr. Fiennes is an actor for whom a walk on the darker side is not just a pleasure, but liberation. His Voldemort may be the greatest screen performance ever delivered without the benefit of a nose; certainly it’s a performance of sublime villainy.

At the very least, that should merit its own MTV Movie Award category.

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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.

via GIPHY

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!

via GIPHY

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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