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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: “All the King’s Men,” “The Science of Sleep.”

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Leer, Sean, leer!
+ "All the King’s Men": After being brutalized at its premiere in Toronto, Steven Zaillian star-packed adapation of Robert Penn Warren‘s novel (adapted once before in 1949) limps into theaters to thwacked around by the critics again. Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader complains that "the unfocused story is so bereft of any clear sense of period or location that the political melodrama sometimes seems to be taking place inside a cigar box." A.O. Scott at the New York Times states flatly that "[n]othing in the picture works," and goes on that "[i]t is rare to see a movie so prodigiously stuffed with fine actors, nearly every one of them grievously miscast." Ella Taylor places the fault at the feet of the director: "[I]f ever there was a wrong man for the job of committing to film this Democrat idealist and thug, it’s the fastidious Steven Zaillian, the brains behind the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, who also wrote and capably directed the intelligent 1993 chess drama Searching for Bobby Fischer." At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek would agree, though she also wonders at Sean Penn‘s starring role.

So what the hell does Sean Penn think he’s doing in Steven Zaillian’s bizarrely conceived re-slapdashtation of "All the King’s Men"? Both the performance and the movie around it are virtually incomprehensible. This is supposed to be a story about a charismatic and ambitious politician who earns the loyalty of the populace by telling it to them straight, and yet half the time we have no idea what Penn’s Willie Stark is going on about — or what Zaillian wants us to think about him.

In fact, that film seems to prompt such rhetorical questions: Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly asks "How could such dullness defeat the retelling, when Willie Stark is one of the most vivid characters in 20th-century American popular culture?" At the Village Voice, Michael Atkinson amusingly notes both that Penn’s "hick-Eraserhead hair [encourages] us to place this cracker politician somewhere between Penn’s special kid in I Am Sam and his obliviously narcissistic guitarist in Sweet and Lowdown," and that "As if the film had a ponderous-metaphor deficiency, Stark’s hollerin’-governor press conferences are staged like fascist rallies, on the nighttime capitol steps. (Not that symbology wasn’t available—the film was shot in a pre-Katrina Louisiana that appears to be virtually devoid of black people.)" And David Edelstein at New York writes that

Halfway through, the director, Steve Zaillian, cuts to Willie in different settings—a swamp, a park, a main street—to show how the candidate has taken his message to the road, and for some reason the composer, James Horner, scores the speech with elegiac, cradle-of-democracy strings that quiver and swell. By the time the sequence ended, I thought I’d seen five of the stupidest minutes in an American movie since Lady in the Water.

We’re not sensing an Oscar in your immediate future, Mr. Zaillian.

 

"Isn't life already in 3-D?"
+ "The Science of Sleep": Mostly good reviews on Michel Gondry‘s latest adventure, which we personally found a pale shadow of "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind." Others would disagree, directly, in the case of Andrew O’Hehir of Salon, who believes the film is be "a far more intimate and personal film than Gondry’s 2004 hit ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’" He does observe that "This movie walks a fine line, and it’s going to drive some viewers absolutely bats." Armond White at the New York Press is (somewhat surprisingly, given Gondry’s undeniable hipster status) fond of the film:

With childlike innocence, Gondry shows that Stephane needs to use his imagination in order to communicate and love. This goes beyond the boho solipsism in Andrew Bujalski films. Gondry reconnects moviegoers to the anxiety of socializing—the reasons we pine for a love of our own. I can’t think of another film that made the pain of relationships such a vivid daytime nightmare. Patient viewers will take Gondry’s movie to heart and keep it there, because its truth, though shamefaced, is revelatory.

At the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas also notes that "the soul of Gondry’s work, it seems to me, is neither its soaring flights of visual fancy nor its sometimes crude slapstick, but rather its pained understanding of a generation hopelessly tongue-tied when it comes to matters of the heart." J. Hoberman at the Village Voice, also a fan, writes that it "is an extraordinarily playful movie. The mood is borderline fey. But no less than its hero, the movie is too strange and even infantile to be whimsical." A. O. Scott at the New York Times has tempered his praise: "[W]hile “The Science of Sleep” may not, in the end, be terribly deep, it is undoubtedly — and deeply — refreshing."

At Slate, Dana Stevens likes Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s performance: "[E]ven with her hair uncombed, perpetually wearing the same raggedy sweater and horn-rimmed glasses, Stéphanie is the most believably desirable love object I’ve seen onscreen since, well, Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine. If she were my neighbor, I’d build a robotic felt pony for her, too."

On the less enchanted side of things is Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, who, after noting that Gondry wrote the screenplay, writes that he "reveals himself to be an incurable advocate for never-ending childhood. On cranky days, I’d call never-ending childhood a nightmare, but hey, it’s his party." At New York, David Edelstein find that ultimately

The hero emerges as just another jealous, overmothered, self-pitying asshole—a bad bet. Gondry must think that the movie’s dark, realistic, unresolved finish is a mark of his integrity. But in the great madcap love stories (among them Eternal Sunshine), the magic carpet flies over the abyss: You get a great view, but you don’t take the plunge. Gondry loses faith in his carpet—which is to say, his own artistry. He drops you like a stone.

At the New Yorker, Anthony Lane has similar thoughts: "’The Science of Sleep’ is a frantic and funny diversion, but it pales and tires before its time is up. It doesn’t know the meaning of enough." And this week’s Reverse Shot three, James Crawford, Kristi Mitsuda and Elbert Ventura, are mixed. Mitsuda likes the film, Crawford thinks that "Gondry perhaps needs Charlie Kaufman to bring his ethereal personality back down to earth," and Ventura finds genius in its end.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

via GIPHY

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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com 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….

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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.

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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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