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An Appreciation of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

He stands, with perfect posture, brandishing a 2×4, a scimitar, a rail gun — searching for an endpoint to a tale test-screened and ghost-written until it’s been sapped of any life and coherence. And yet there he is, a presence curiously untainted by all the Hollywood accoutrements. His physical solidity is continually undermined by a penchant for self-parody — this whole hero bit is absurd, ain’t it (as he snaps a goon’s arm in two). So he flashes his shark’s grin, grits those incisors, and does what he can. And what he does is carry a film — not into greatness, but at least to hearty pulp, the kind that leaves a bewildered smile on the face of audience members, because the effort and love were there if the material was not. This isn’t the age of the action hero — times are too depressing, too conspiratorial — but The Rock soldiers on, his solid sobriquet reflecting his endurance of the industry that lacks an Aldrich or Fuller to expand upon his voluminous gifts.

Today he’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, character turned man, as the grip of huckster/genius Vince McMahon loosens and more sober screenplay choices open up. Next is the male weepie “Gridiron Gang”, a bit of football uplift that leaves enough sharp edges to make the plot-mush go down smoother. The Rock inhabits the role of the coach convincingly, the troubled kids turning to organized sport mirrors his own youthful misadventures, and his craft betters with each turn of the spool. He cries with grit and yells with tenderness. Legitimacy might not improve his films — but he’s courting it whole-heartedly. He wants to be liked — that’s what made him a star in the WWE/F. His showmanship was unparalleled, each rote punch and kick caricatured into a shimmering shimmy of exaggerated power. Every motion underlined, but not put in quotes — because this fight, while choreographed, was serious for the fans and therefore serious to him — no one worked harder in the ring, took as many bumps. The Rock is a stickler for realism, at least when it comes to blows — listen to him boast on “The Scorpion King” or “Walking Tall” commentary track on the commitment to those sequences — the consultations with Army Special Forces types and doing his own stunts. His background forbids anything else.

This sticks out — the fact he has a background. Today stars want to be stars as kids — all actors know is acting. The Rock is an exception — he made his living playing football in the Canadian Football League until a bum shoulder forced retirement. Then he played cities all over the world as “The Rock” in the ring, honing performance, timing, expression. Every move he makes speaks to this experience, adds weight to when he puts the pads on in “Gridiron Gang” to challenge a kid to knock him down (and even this dramatic moment is undercut by the sight of his frame bursting out of the high-schoolers jersey).

The films got better — “The Rundown” (2003) was graced by Christopher Walken’s cracked monologues, while The Rock further honed his self-deprecating muscle-man persona, aided by the jibes of Sean William Scott. Another wrinkle — he refuses to use guns (until the corpse piling climax), a principled stand also taken up in “Walking Tall” (2004), his most emblematic work. It contains quick and dirty fight scenes, campy humor, and a rigid belief in the value of hard work — a bizarre combination embodied in the smirking, chiseled visage of the man himself. Johnny Knoxville takes over the Scott role in cutting him down to size.

He internalized the sarcastic conscience of Scott/Knoxville in the “Get Shorty” sequel “Be Cool” (2005), explicitly parodying the self-image that he had already so thoroughly deconstructed in straighter films. But his performance is brilliant — as gay bodyguard Elliot Wilhelm, he outs his love of performance, no longer masked under blood and guts. No, here he just emotes — spectacularly so in his one-man rendition of a scene from “Bring It On,” playing both sides of a cheerleader bitch session. It dwarfs the rest of the film by its utter fearlessness — what comparable box-office draw would have the confidence to pull off such a feminizing stunt? It’s remarkable, and his version of Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough” might even top it.

“Doom” (2005) was cheap red meat for his core audience, bland, workmanlike, and thoroughly forgettable (despite the fact his hero turns psychopathic villain) — but then he went and starred in Richard Kelley’s infamous “Southland Tales” (2006), an apocalyptic satire so derided by critics at Cannes it may never see the light of day. He plays an action star stricken with amnesia — a further elaboration of Elliot Wilhelm, the chiseled body stricken by an identity crisis. Let’s hope Sony doesn’t mutilate it too badly.

The Rock is the ideal post-modern action star — a self-referential comedian who breaks down his image at every turn yet manages to satisfy our (my) primitive urges for beat downs with earnest conviction and immense physical prowess. He’s utterly fascinating and completely ignored, but hopefully “Gridiron Gang” will turn the expected buck and some middlebrow maestro (Ridley Scott? Paul Haggis?) will cast him in some piece of revolting Oscar bait. With a modicum of control over his projects afterward, the matinee adventure film, driven by character and wit, would ease back into theaters, and our afternoons would be richer for years to come.

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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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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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