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The week’s critic wrangle: Toil and trouble.

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Swing shift at the doll factory.+ "Bubble": Time will tell if "Bubble"’s day-and-date theater/TV/DVD release is as paradigm-rumbling as some of the breathless news coverage would have us believe, but Steven Soderbergh‘s latest effort, shot on HD on the cheap with all non-professional actors, is generating interesting (if mixed), reviews on its own. It’s "[e]asier to admire than love," says Manohla Dargis, a note several other critics sound: Matt Zoller Seitz at the New York Press calls it [l]ike a lot of Soderbergh’s recent work…a loose-limbed but fairly theoretical filmmaking experiment; as such, it’s more interesting to talk about than to sit through." Seitz, as much as he likes the idea of non-professional actors, is frustrated by the performances in the film and thinks it would have been better off with pros. Ella Taylor at LA Weekly finds the acting the bright spot in an otherwise lifeless production: "the fresh, unprocessed talent of [Debbie] Doebereiner — a Southern Ohio KFC manager — lends the movie a raw power it doesn’t quite deserve."

Taylor also thinks "Bubble"’s guilelessness "skates dangerously close to condescension" — a sentiment we recalls others bringing up when the film aired at the New York Film Festival last year. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, who gives it the harshest review, calls the whole thing needlessly grim and voyeuristic:

In one sense, it accomplishes its goals efficiently by making you feel, in less than 80 minutes, as if you’ve gotten permanently trapped in the dead-end, trailer-park lives of its working-class characters. I’ve never been so grateful to get out of a theater, turn my cellphone back on and plug myself into a $4 Starbucks latte.

Roger Ebert (ah, Roger) gives the film four stars and declares it "a masterpiece," but underneath what’s become fairly common praise from Mr. Grades on a Curve are some appealing observations about the characters and the people playing them:

The movie feels so real a hush falls upon the audience, and we are made aware of how much artifice there is conventional acting. You wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life watching movies like this, because artifice has its uses, but in this film, with these actors, something mysterious happens.

But the final word on the film seems to be that Soderbergh has always approached his subjects from outside their respective bubbles, looking in, and that emotional distance is still very much present in this attempt to return to some pared-down form of filmmaking. Dargis: "Mr. Soderbergh is not a naturally warm director, and while that doesn’t usually hurt his work, here his native chilliness makes it seem as if he were doing lab work rather than taking the measure of his fellow man." And Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice: "Soderbergh’s movie ambitiously focuses on movie-rare Americans…but never wonders what makes them tick."

Our review of the film from the New York Film Festival is here.


Steve Coogan. + "A Cock and Bull Story": Michael Winterbottom attempts, as is much pointed-out, to film the unfilmable source material (Laurence Sterne’s "Tristram Shandy"), and everyone’s fairly pleased with the result so far. Stephanie Zacharek at Salon says "it may be the most honest kind of adaptation imaginable" — in spirit, of course, as Winterbottom devotes most of the film to being about a film adaptation of the novel (these wheels-within-wheels also conveniently allow the director to cast Jeremy Northam as a stand-in for himself (he should be so lucky)). But the film rests on Steve Coogan, playing a nightmarishly vain and insecure version of himself. J. Hoberman at the Voice, who’s otherwise lukewarm on the film, finds that:

For all the on-set antics, appropriated Fellini music, and throwaway gags, the movie is most successful when Coogan is pulling faces for the mirror, aimlessly trading Pacino imitations with his sidekick [Rob] Brydon, or riffing on the color of the latter’s teeth.

And A. O. Scott at the New York Times, who likes the film very much, salutes Winterbottom for both permanently saving "Tristram Shandy" from any overly serious straightforward adaptations, as well as managing the following:

He has also paid loving, knowing tribute to the crazy enterprise of film-making, a torment to those mad enough to pursue it and a delight, at least in this case, for those of us lucky enough to sit and watch.

Our review of the film, also from those fond New York Film Festival days, is here.

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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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