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The week’s critic wrangle: Gitmo, 9/11 and SoCal skate rats.

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"I understand their concerns. I'd like to end Guantanamo. I'd like it to be over with."
+ "The Road to Guantanamo": It’s almost impossible to look at Michael Winterbottom‘s latest as a film to like or dislike (or in any sense enjoy), but the highly charged hybrid doc in certainly interesting. Our beloved Armond White snarls "This whacked-out piece of anti-American propaganda, pretending Human Rights rhetoric, is a Weapon of Crass misInstruction" and goes onto to grumble that if Winterbottom has "come down to pardoning the Taliban regime just for narrative fodder, then it’s time he folded up his digicam." At the Village Voice, J. Hoberman finds the film "effectively grueling," and writes (with apparent complementary intent) that it is "one of the most oppressive accounts of life in a military detention since Jonas Mekas‘s ‘documentary’ version of ‘The Brig’ or Peter Watkins‘s ‘Punishment Park.’"

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott writes that "Guantanamo," while being "far from a great movie, nonetheless effectively dramatizes a position that has been argued, by principled commentators on the left and the right, for several years now: that the abuse of prisoners, innocent or not, is not only repugnant in its own right." At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir in our favorite review examines both the contents of and the nature of the film, and declares that "’The Road to Guantánamo’ will drive you crazy, if you aren’t crazy yet. It documents a period of acute insanity, and all possible responses to it will sound paranoid to someone."

David Edelstein at New York, questions (as does every other critic) the veracity of the account given by the Tipton Three, or, at least, the film’s faith in this veracity.

The movie is propaganda, and Winterbottom and Whitecross could have bolstered their credibility by challenging some particulars of the Tipton Three’s story—a story that’s probably true but does leave room for suspicion (or eye-rolling). It might, for example, have been prudent for these men to wait longer than ten days after 9/11 to fly to Pakistan for Asif’s arranged marriage and to hold off on a trip to Afghanistan until after the inevitable carpet-bombing.

At the New Yorker, David Denby expresses a similar sentiment: "In some ways, the movie is poorly made, and it is possibly disingenuous. What works in it, however, works terrifyingly well," while at LA Weekly, Ella Taylor muses that the film "falls into a familiar trap of agitprop filmmaking — turning the victim into a hero." Regarding the need to question the Three’s tale, Slate‘s Dana Stevens remarks that "A defender might counter that, given that the United States couldn’t come up with a justification for their detention even after the case went before the Supreme Court in 2002, the burden of proof hardly rests on Michael Winterbottom." And at indieWIRE/Reverse Shot, Nick Pinkerton concludes

The film doesn’t fly as art or entertainment–saddled with off-the-cuff DV cinematography that constantly fumbles for photojournalistic iconography and undistinguished characterizations. The film is a very poor example of either–but it’s intended to function as more than a movie, as an "event," a public advocacy campaign (the film’s British premiere was a national broadcast on Channel 4, watched by 1.6 million) for its protagonists/storytellers.

"She's going to present a ganache?"
+ "The Great New Wonderful": A.O. Scott sums up Danny Leiner‘s post-9/11 drama as a series of "quiet, tidy vignettes," and, while noting that Leiner "has a good eye for the small absurdities of ordinary life, and in particular for the unacknowledged," is frustrated by the studied obliqueness of its messaging. David Edelstein calls the film "spottily affecting," while an extremely unimpressed Ben Kenigsberg at the Village Voice notes that "Ironically, Leiner’s two monuments to pothead delirium seem vastly more coherent than this hazy attempt to mine the zeitgeist, a film every bit as pointed as its nounless title."

The "Mexican Ramones."
+ "Wassup Rockers": Has Larry Clark finally gone soft? Of his latest, and apparently benign skate punk-adventure, J. Hoberman writes that "bod-caressing camerawork aside, it seems as though Uncle Larry’s underlying fantasy might be a neorealist remake of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ or a goofball ‘West Side Story.’" Andrew O’Hehir, who saw it in an earlier form at its premiere, claims that "even at its two-hour Slamdance festival length, it gradually developed its own rhythms and immersed you in these boys’ half-macho, half-naive worldview," and that "[i]f Clark’s attempts to weave in both tragedy and farcical comedy don’t completely click, this journey to the end of the night has an unexpected sweetness and joy at its gooey center." And at the New York Times, Stephen Holden, while not seeing the film as quite the departure others do, notes that "However you respond to ‘Wassup Rockers,’ it is completely alive, unlike any number of teenage Hollywood movies with their stale formulas and second-hand puerility."

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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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