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Actresses, actors.

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Serious Acting.
We’re still trying to sort out what irritated us so about Lynn Hirschberg‘s New York Times Magazine piece on Vera Farmiga and the difficulties of being a Serious Actress these days. There’s much to choose from, between the strange mythologizing of Meryl Streep and prudish head-tossing at celebrity and beauty. For instance, this:

Like Streep, who insisted on auctioning off all her designer costumes from “The Devil Wears Prada” for charity, Farmiga is wary of the red-carpet dress-up component of show business. Hollywood has always been the land of dreams, of gorgeous people in stunning clothes. But in the eras of Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and even Cher, Oscar gowns were not an opportunity for product placement. The red carpet has become another marketplace, and most of the top actresses today (Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Julianne Moore and others) sign lucrative advertising contracts with fashion or cosmetics companies. To a point, this kind of fame does help when courting the studios; studio executives are interested in brand recognition, as long as the brand is not too tawdry or disruptive. But even Kidman, with her Oscar, global name recognition and photo in nearly every issue of US Weekly, could not lure audiences to “The Stepford Wives” or “Bewitched,” two recent expensive studio flops. As an actress, Kidman was more interesting when she was less of a style icon. In a movie like “To Die For,” in 1995, she dissolved into the character of a ruthlessly aspiring TV personality. Now she has become too famous as Nicole Kidman to disappear fully into any other persona.

Yes, she must be punished, punished, PUNISHED for being the face of Chanel No. 5! Who would want those wicked trappings of fame? Hirschberg seems to want things both ways: Classical Hollywood stardom is dignified and thus fine, while the "new generation of female stars" "did not attend drama school" and therefore are "programmed for stardom rather than for acting," which is not fine — they could not possibly have ambitions beyond being red carpet bobbleheads. Hirschberg also writes that "[a]s recently as the 80’s, women were often the sole stars of mainstream studio movies like ‘Terms of Endearment,’ ‘Moonstruck’ and ‘Out of Africa’… But today, women in
mainstream films more often populate the margins as girlfriends,
mothers and wives, often with stereotypical personalities. Meryl Streep‘s challenging role as a Polish holocaust survivor in ‘Sophie’s Choice’ in 1982, to pick perhaps the most famous example, is an increasingly distant memory." Christ on a cracker, these must be dire times indeed if we’re yearning for the days of "Terms of Endearment" and "Sophie’s Choice"?

We’re not trying to poo-poo the idea of acting as a craft, but Hirschberg’s earnest stratification of actresses is simplistic and often silly. Unfortunate, because the lack of solid female lead roles (which is still not enough to make us wax nostalgic for 80s melodrama) is a topic that deserves some pointed discussion.

Meanwhile, Alice Fisher at the Observer pens a rather worshipful portrayal of Scarlett Johansson, who she sees as a starlet who’s handling celebrity the right (iconic) way:

If Scarlett Johansson can continue to land the roles that showcase her brains as well as her beauty, she really will be in with a shout of being the modern-day equivalent of the golden Hollywood sirens. Wowing crowds at film festivals is one thing; a true screen icon requires a little more.

Charles McGrath in the New York Times deconstructs the recent evolution of Jodie Foster‘s increasingly tough on-screen persona, culminating in his set visit to the now-filming "The Brave One":

A scene filmed over a couple of sweltering nights under the Macombs Dam Bridge, on the edge of Spanish Harlem, called for her to comfort a drugged-out teenage prostitute in the back seat of a shabby pimpmobile and then, when things turned ugly, to blow the pimp away. The prostitute was not much older, come to think of it, than the one Ms. Foster played in "Taxi Driver," 30 years ago, and now here was Ms. Foster turning into a kind of Travis Bickle.

On to the men. Stephen Hunter at the Washington Post finds something essential lacking in today’s action heroes. Regarding John Wayne‘s Ethan Edwards in "The Searchers"

He had something else as well, and it’s the missing ingredient from today’s movies: He knew it was all right to be hated. Hollywood historian David Thomson once called Wayne "the crown prince of difficult men." The stars of his generation knew that the price of heroism, of domination, of certitude, of command, was loneliness — or possibly, since they were so disconnected from their emotions they’d never acknowledge such a thing — aloneness.

Michael Thornton at the Daily Mail writes about Laurence Olivier and how "Olivier’s bisexuality has been subject to denial, prejudice and an extraordinary kind of censorship." Of course, the only remedy is to rattle off all kinds of juicy anecdotes:

In 1950, when the Oliviers returned to Hollywood for Vivien [Leigh] to film her Oscar-winning role as Blanche du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire, opposite Marlon Brando, David Niven walked into the garden of their Hollywood mansion and discovered: ‘Brando and Larry swimming naked in the pool. Larry was kissing Brando. Or maybe it was the other way around.

"I turned my back to them and went back inside to join Vivien. I’m sure she knew what was going on, but she made no mention of it. Nor did I. One must be sophisticated about such matters in life."

Mary McNamara at the LA Times takes on Ben Affleck‘s career as it parallels George Reeves  (sans mysterious untimely death, at least thus far):

Though Affleck’s career and, one hopes, mental health have never sunk as low as Reeves’, there is a certain poignancy in the role choice and the performance. The actor’s own salad days — the Butch and Sundance partnership with Matt Damon, the 1998 Oscar win, the magazine covers, the breathless universal interest in what he would do next, whom he would date next — have been over for quite some time.

And David Thomson at the Independent writes that Tom Cruise‘s problems had nothing to do with the crazy, or the religion, and everything to do with the universal plague of actors and actresses everywhere: "[I]n the history of Hollywood box office very few people – men or women – have had their best days still to come at the age of 44."

+ A Film of One’s Own
(NY Times Magazine)
+ The classiest act in Hollywood (Observer)

+ On These Mean Streets, Going a Little Travis Bickle (NY Times)
+ The Lost Action Hero (Washington Post)
+ Larry gay? Of course he was (Daily Mail)
+ Don’t call him a movie star (LA Times)
+ Film Studies: You’re risky business, Tom (Independent)

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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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