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DID YOU READ

“Babel.”

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Post-tower life.
You can’t fault "Babel" for its ambition — the far-reaching film ties together storylines in Morocco, Mexico and Japan to reassure us that we are all united in our human misery. Here’s what you can fault it for: grievous self-seriousness and self-importance, and the squandering of some of the year’s finer performances.

We’re tempted to lay the blame at the feet of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, who’s collaborated with director Alejandro González Iñárritu on three films now, and whose fondness for interlocking storylines may demand an intervention. In "Amores Perros," the first and best of the three, the trinity of storylines flowed from to another, their thematic ties at least as important as their narrative ones. "21 Grams" balanced out its more portentous ideas about fate with temporal trickery. In "Babel," the pieces snap together as neatly as a jigsaw puzzle, and for what? If you haven’t already guessed the connections by the final reveal, you still won’t get a whit of satisfaction from them. "Babel" wants to portray individuals lost and adrift in world in which they are unable to communicate, where they are left to rely on underlying human goodness and empathy to carry them through, but the film can’t just let these ideas emerge. Instead, they’re threaded together via awkward convulsions of narrative — if a butterfly flaps its wings in northern Africa, there will be five plot devices in San Diego the next day.

In Morocco, a vacationing American couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) are trying to patch up their marriage after the death of a child. A local family has just made a major purchase: a rifle, intended for keeping jackals away from their goats. The two adolescent sons impulsively decide to try out the gun’s range by firing at a bus rounding a turn on the road below, unintentionally wounding Blanchett’s character. The bus is halfway between towns — the nearest hospital is hours away. In San Diego, a housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) is stranded with her two tow-headed charges on the day of her son’s wedding. At a lost for what to do, she takes them with her across the border to Mexico, but trouble at the border on the way back leaves the three stranded in the desert. In Japan, a sullen deaf-mute schoolgirl (Rinko Kikuchi) rages inwardly against the place she’s been given in society, and struggles in her distant relationship with her father (Koji Yakusho).

"Babel" is an infuriating film because there are near-brilliant moments mixed in with all the ham-fisted storytelling and simplistic sentiment. Kikuchi is incandescent, particularly in a scene set in a crowded Tokyo nightclub where periodic point-of-view shots remind us that for her, everything is unfolding silently. Pitt is admirably anguished and meat-headed; his American is more a incoherent one than an ugly one — that duty falls to the (well, European) tourists on their bus and the border guards in Tecate. Barraza is very good in the most ridiculous of the storylines, one that relies on Gael García Bernal as a disreputable relative to do something so unbelievable it’s impossible to take what follows seriously.

The title of the film refers to the story in Genesis in which God renders mankind unable to communicate in a single language after a united attempt to build a tower to heaven, but it also brings to mind the fall of other, more recent towers. "Babel" is a less egregious example of congratulatory liberal self-flagellation than "Crash," but it does find its way up there, as the American government seizes upon the random gunshot as a terrorist attack and engages in diplomatic bullying with the Moroccans, which prevents any help actually reaching the couple in need. Pitt’s character, frantic on the phone with the embassy, tries to get an ambulance to his wife before she bleeds to death, but receives only assurances that whoever did this will be punished. We can flip on the news and hate ourselves in the comfort of our own home with more nuance, thank you — worth a thousand times more is the moment when he tries to thank the guide who has stayed with them, hosted them and helped them steadfastly throughout the ordeal. His face registers that the gesture is clumsy and tawdry, but he helplessly reaches into his wallet anyway and tries to hand the man a wad of cash.

Opens in New York and L.A. on October 27th.

+ "Babel" (Paramount Vantage)

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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.

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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…

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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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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.

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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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