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The week’s critic wrangle: Two pre-Oscar docs.

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"...a resplendently color- coordinated (and inexplicably pink) rally..."
+ "Our Brand Is Crisis": "Call it spin-meisters abroad," says the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman of Rachel Boynton‘s highly praised documentary about American political consultants hired by Bolivian presidential candidate Gonzalo "Goni" Sánchez de Lozada. Hoberman points out the film is a kind of sequel to 1993’s "The War Room," not the least because it features an appearance by James Carville — about which David Edelstein at New York writes: "It’s hard to know whether to marvel or weep when James Carville goes into his Bill Clinton–meets–Looney Tunes act…the context is so morally topsy-turvy." Edelstein marvels at the "extraordinary access—bewildering access" that Boynton is given to the campaign,  and sums the films lesson up as "One American ideal (representation for all) has been trumped by another (win, win, win)." David Denby of the New Yorker makes a further (and more melancholy) point:

Among other things, "Our Brand Is Crisis" is about the failure of good intentions—a potent American theme at the moment. As the movie suggests, this failure, born of American arrogance, embraces liberals as well as neocons, though the liberals, to their credit, do occasionally take responsibility for their mistakes. In a long, unhappy interview, [the film’s focus,] Jeremy Rosner, pondering the futility of his actions in Bolivia, looks like an animal eating its young.

Of this week’s Reverse Shot reviewers at indieWIRE, Michael Joshua Rowin writes that "certain moments so
perfectly capture the absurdity of the political process that if
written as fiction they would be deemed exaggeration or ham-fisted
satire"; Michael Koresky suggests that the film is "feels like more of a revelation" than a campaign doc; and Chris Wisniewski likes that Boynton doesn’t appear to show a bias. And Laura Kern at the New York Times, in a tragic blurb of a review (surely a column more could have been spared from the Oscar coverage?), proposes that "the only thing left to be desired from this momentous documentary is a reference to the size of the consultants’ paycheck — or their consciences."


"[H]e's not a musician, but has devoted his whole life to 'Round Midnight'"
+ "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party"
: How much do we love Dave Chappelle? A lot, but not enough to be prepared for the avalanche of adulation for the comedian greeting this easy-going doc, directed by Michel Gondry, about a free Bed-Stuy concert Chappelle organizes with musical guests that include Dead Prez, Jill Scott, Kanye West and the surprise reuniting of the Fugees. "The first and last thing you need to know about ‘Dave Chappelle’s Block Party’ is that it’s a ’70s film," writes the New York PressMatt Zoller Seitz, who’s among many who compare the film to 1973’s "Wattstax," and who shares this tidbit:

"Do you like hip hop?" Chappelle asks a 50-something white lady. "I like you," she beams.

Even Roger Ebert, while playing up his terminally sweater-vested unhipness, is charmed by what he sees as "a fairly disorganized film about a fairly disorganized concert, redeemed by the good feeling Chappelle sheds like a sunbeam on every scene." Ebert touches on the fact that the concert was filmed a little over a month after Chappelle signed his $50 million contract with Comedy Central, and suggests that "you can see those millions nagging at him. His block party seems like an apology or an amends for the $50 million, an effort to reach out to people, to protect his ability to walk down the street like an ordinary man." Manohla Dargis at the New York Times similarly sees the film as "a tantalizing sketch-portrait of the artist amid an outpouring of hard beats and soul," and points out that, compared to "Wattstax"’s overt politicizing, "Block Party" "appears fairly tame by comparison. It is and it isn’t." She sees the film as a more savvy in its portrayal of celebrity, an aspect the Village Voice‘s Ed Halter also highlights:

[W]hile the mostly black and Latino Brooklyn audience may be demographically pre-planned, it is also an act of momentary utopia; as Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots remarks to Chappelle backstage, both performers share the frequent experience of playing to audiences that don’t look like them. Unfiltered observations like these give a critical edge to what otherwise would simply be a well-crafted concert doc shot during one gently sundowning autumn day.

Stephanie Zacharek, whose long review may be the most enchanted of them all, writes that:

At a time when our country feels divided to the point of cracking, "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party" feels like a salve. It’s a defiant act of optimistic patriotism. This is what Dave Chappelle’s America looks like, and now that we get the idea, there’s no reason we can’t live in it too.

The only complaint, voiced by Dargis and by Ernest Hardy at LA Weekly, is that Gondry cuts away halfway through many of the performances, not allowing the songs to finish — Hardy suggests that "you can’t help but feel that it is in the unhurried, option-laden possibilities of DVD bonuses that the real Block Party lies."

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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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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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