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The week’s critic wrangle: A Spike Lee sublet? And “L’Enfant.”

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Our week’s review (it’s been a while). for "Stoned," is here.

"This ain't no bank robbery!"
+ "Inside Man"
: For while now, the mere flicker of Spike Lee‘s name across the opening scenes of a film has been enough to set people’s teeth on edge…so straightforward crime caper "Inside Man" might be Lee’s "Match Point" moment for the way most critics are calling it both great and completely lacking the bludgeoning sensibilities we’ve come to associate with Lee as a director. "Mr. Lee may have missed his calling (one of them, anyway) as a studio hire," muses Manohla Dargis at the New York Times,  who is not alone in calling the film his best in years, and who also lauds the performances of stars Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster, the film’s "holy trinity." Scott Foundas at the LA Weekly is even more impressed, gushing over the film as "a gripping, jugular entertainment that starts off wound-up and never winds down, and only much later do you realize the movie isn’t just playing the audience like a violin, it’s also saying something cunning about human nature and the price of success in the big city," and also claiming the film manages to form "a curious dialogue with Steven Spielberg‘s ‘Munich’" (okay, dammit, we’re intrigued). Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek loves Lee’s New York (as does Grady Hendrix at Slate) and Jodie Foster’s Madeleine White ("This is the best performance Foster has given in years").

At the New York Press, Matt Zoller Seitz outlines the tension felt be Lee’s attempt at splashing in the mainstream ("’Inside Man’ aims to sell out without selling out") but also likes the film despite the flaws he sees:

Some of Lee’s social tension seems shoehorned in, but the best of it plays like an earthbound answer to "Crash"‘s direct-from-1971 racist caterwauling—an accurate rendition of modern urban America’s infinite gradations of prejudice, and a true portrait of how such impulses get submerged and redirected so people can get ahead.

Others aren’t buying Lee as a commercial director, among them Roger Ebert (whose sanity, by the way, we’re seriously questioning after giving, hah!, three stars to "Ask the Dust"), who thinks the pacing’s off, the plot’s fishy, and Christopher Plummer unconvincing as a 90-year-old. Anthony Lane at the New Yorker has something (possibly spoilerish) to say of the subject of Plummer’s bank CEO Arthur Case too:

The document in question, as we learn early in the film, shows that Arthur Case had links with the Nazis. This cannot be true, for one reason: he is played by Christopher Plummer, and, excuse me, but Christopher Plummer does not make friends with Nazis. He sings at them! He plays guitar at them! In a daring, nun-assisted escape, he flees from them over the hills with an annoying child on his back! Come on.

Ha, ha…hah? The patron saint of all snark, Dorothy Parker, must be sloshing in her grave. Lane also argues that "Inside Man" is really "a study of racial abrasion" after all, while J. Hoberman at the Village Voice relishes Lee’s trademark "ethnic vaudeville," and salutes the film as an overlong, but successful, genre flick. And at New York, David Edelstein thinks the film both benefits from and is hampered by its leisurely pace.


Love in the time of social realism.
+ "L’Enfant"
: Our review of the film from those grand New York Film Festival days is here.

"To that small but intense percentage of moviegoers for whom all Belgian realism is a cause for joy, the arrival of ‘L’Enfant’ will be no less exciting than the birth of their own offspring." And then Anthony Lane launches into a rare bad (or, at least, not so great) review for a film that whose praises have been sung by an international choir of critics since it picked up the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year, which he acknowledges:

Viewers in Europe have swooned, it is said, at this movie’s painful
inching toward redemption. Against that, I have to report a slow drip
of disappointment.

Unrelated to the fact that we disagree with him on this one, how off is Anthony Lane this week? He’s never been the most insightful of critics, but he could usually be counted on to be his particular form of mild, British amusing. David Edelstein at New York is also not won over by the Dardenne brothers‘ latest, a story of a young homeless couple and their baby, which he calls "wholly predictable, alas," while also acknowledging there are many worth aspects to the film.

And then it’s all praise, some extremely breathless, from here on out, so we’re just going to pull quotes:

Ella Taylor at LA Weekly: "To call ‘L’Enfant’ a movie about growing up would be to trivialize its intention, as in every other movie by this indispensable duo, to bestow on its bruised souls what the writer Grace Paley sublimely calls ‘the open destiny of life.’"

Armond White at the New York Press: "The Dardennes’ storytelling is so highly conceptualized that their brilliant, politically conscious ideas don’t need show-off technique… Through plain, atmospheric camera work and Bruno and Sonia’s innocence, the Dardennes’ fully demonstrate that our morality (which is our politics) originates in how we value the life of others."

J. Hoberman at the Village Voice: "Above all, this is an action film—or, better, a transaction film. It’s not just that the Dardennes orchestrate an exciting motor scooter purse-snatching and a prolonged hot pursuit. ‘L’Enfant’ is an action film because every act that happens is shown to have a consequence."

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times: "[T]he Dardennes are not interested in passing judgment on a grievously flawed character; that’s why God and Hollywood were invented. Since there is no moral ambiguity in the act of selling another human being, there would be no point in such judgment, other than to indulge in some self-satisfied finger-wagging. Rather, what interests the Dardennes — what invests their work with such terrific urgency — is not only how Bruno became the kind of man who would sell a child as casually as a slab of beef, but also whether a man like this, having committed such a repellent offense, can find redemption."

James Crawford (who totally wins the ferventness medal) of Reverse Shot, at indieWIRE: "The way I feel about the Dardenne brothers is the way J. Hoberman praises Robert Bresson; to not understand them is to not understand the cinema. With their bleak, uncompromising, and astonishingly affecting dramas of marginal lives, they have thoroughly exploited the medium’s potential for laying bare real life (as fraught with complications as that notion might be). Godard‘s famous axiom that cinema is truth at 24 frames per second, seems to have been formulated with the Dardennes’ films in mind."

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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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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.


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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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….


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.


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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