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“Down to the Bone,” “Hands Over the City”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Down to the Bone,” Hart Sharp Video]

As any goggle-eyed witness to Scorsese’s “The Departed” knows, Vera Farmiga — she played the police psychologist who improbably slept with both Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon — has a face that can haunt your dreams. We first saw her in the odious Richard Gere-Winona Ryder romance “Autumn in New York,” and Farmiga’s unusual aquiline visage, with its startling moon-blue cat eyes and a toothy smile that breaks like glass under pressure, made the rest of the film vanish from sight. She’s a formidable actress, too, as she proved last year in “Down to the Bone,” a raw indie in which she plays an upstate-New York supermarket cashier with a working-class husband, two kids, a small suburban house, and a jones for cocaine she thinks she can control. Farmiga’s Irene does, in fact, keep her habit under wraps most of the time — hunting for inebriation opportunities with her looming eyes even as she dresses her boys for trick-or-treating and cooks dinner. As the season gets colder, Irene gets more desperate — and then, surprisingly, and because she seems a little too smart to get lost in complete irresponsibility, checks into rehab (much to the chagrin of her co-snorting hubby).

Doper melodramas can be repetitious and dull, but Debra Granik’s movie stays so close to Farmiga you can hear her breath accelerate when cocaine is near. Irene’s plight is in any case far from a smooth ascent out of or descent toward junkiehood — in the 70s style, the film respects the struggle between clean sanity and polluted self-satisfaction, and comes as close as any film in its strange subgenre to suspending judgment. (If you had Irene’s dire low-rent life, you’d want to get high, too.) Farmiga is a show onto herself — and the suspense from here on in lies with what Hollywood will do with this brilliant, disconcertingly beautiful siren now that they have her. The new DVD comes with audio commentary by Granik and Farmiga, and Granik’s original 1997 short “Snake Feed.”

Another kind of clear-eyed essay on inequity, Francesco Rosi’s masterful 1963 “Hands Over the City” takes on an entire political system, Italian neorealist-style. A poison-pen rendition of a polluted urban bureaucracy, Rosi’s film comes off as a “Syriana” for the city of Naples, more interested in the textures of power and corruption than in individual psychology. It’s a tough kind of movie to make, and nobody has done it as well as Rosi — his “Salvatore Giuliano,” released the year before, chronicles the career of the titular Sicilian insurrectionist-cum-bandit without ever making him a character in the film. Instead, the sociopolitical hellfire erupting around him, from both sides of the law, is documented and dissected. “Hands Over the City” begins with a rampaging developer (Rod Steiger) hawking the city’s northern ghettos for profitable gentrification to Parliament members. Then, on the eve of an election, a building in the project collapses, killing two and crippling a child. (Rosi shoots this cataclysm in a breathless montage that leaves you wondering how the cameramen survived.)

From there, a tapestry of molten social conflict is crafted, as Leftist politicians insist on an investigation and attempt to head off the backroom collusion between Steiger’s all-business moneymen and the government’s “center” faction. There’s nothing dry or pedantic at work here — it’s feverish, vital drama with essential political morality at stake. (The Parliament sessions come close to blows.) Steiger’s presence may’ve sold the film in 1963, but he’s merely a single figure in an ensemble that sometimes seems to include all of Naples. The upshot is an expansive and tumultuous community portrait in which the lives and welfare of real people are decided by flabby, middle-aged men in expensive suits. (Rosi is not above cutting from the now-legless ghetto urchin on crutches to a rotund politician exercising on a rowing machine beside his built-in pool.) The film is fiction, but, Rosi tells us in an ending title, “The Context Is Real.” And universal, and timeless, he could have added. The Criterion supps include several new interviews with Rosi and several European film critics, and Rosi’s “Neapolitan Diary” (1992), a feature-length documentary about the city, the film and Rosi’s life making movies.

“Down to the Bone” (Hart Sharp Video) is available on DVD on October 31st; “Hands Over the City” (Criterion) went on sale October 24th.

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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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