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The week’s critic wrangle: “Babel,” “DoaP,” Herzog.

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+ "Babel": Swelling with importance or self-importance, Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s "Babel" arrives in theaters and divides the critics. Reoccurring thoughts: "Babel" is like "Crash," but better. The Japanese storyline is the most compelling. The connection of the Japanese storyline to the other two is a little thin. When you try to lay out the film’s larger meaning, it’s either elusive or a little silly.

One of the fondest of the film is Slate‘s Dana Stevens, who writes that "Babel has great expectations for itself: It wants to be a movie about big ideas and big emotions at the same time. Aided by gorgeous locations and classy trappings (cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, theme music by Gustavo Santaolalla), it succeeds for the most part." Scott Foundas at LA Weekly believes that the film is like "Crash" in that it "share[s] a similarly reductive view of human nature," but also writes that "Babel has an undeniable power, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s at its most contrived and implausible."

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott salutes the film’s power while allowing:

That the film possesses unusual aesthetic force strikes me as undeniable, but its power does not seem to be tethered to any coherent idea or narrative logic. You can feel it without ever quite believing it.

Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum is more skeptical:

Measured in anything other than biblical cubits, the sum of Babel’s many parts turns out to be a picture that suggests Americans ought to stay home and treat their nannies better.

At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir believes that Iñárritu is "one of the purest talents to emerge in this medium since Martin Scorsese," but notes ever so nicely of "Babel"’s striving for themes of connection and isolation:

[T]he risk that "Babel" takes, in laboriously and lovingly connecting the private tragedies of four families in four different countries, is turning that observation, which may be lovely as a momentary flash of insight, into a stoned college freshman’s profound theory about the universe. Tremendous resources have been expended here so that Cate Blanchett can lie on a dirt floor and moan, while we ponder why we can’t all get along, and whether we aren’t all the same under the skin.

David Denby at the New Yorker also writes of Iñárritu’s talents, but deplores the way "he abuses his audience with a humorless fatalism and a piling up of calamities that borders on the ludicrous."

Among the scornful: David Edelstein at New York, who sighs that "Tricky storytelling is an irritant when you can’t trust the storyteller." Jim Ridley at the Village Voice calls the film "Crash rewritten by Yoda"; he finds the film’s politicking heavy-handed, but concludes that "the sentiment is less galling than the narrative contortions that put it across."

And Armond (oh, Armond) White at the New York Press calls it "Crash for hipsters," and goes on to marvel that "It’s a weird sensation to watch an American-financed movie that condemns U.S. culture and the people who produced it, yet intends those same suckers to watch it."

And in summary:

A.O. Scott: "In the end ‘Babel,’ like that tower in the book of Genesis, is a grand wreck…" And David Denby: "’Babel’ is an infuriatingly well-made disaster."


+ "Death of a President": Armond White, being ever so quotable this week, believes that Gabriel Range‘s faux-documentary depicting the assassination of President Bush "may be the ugliest movie moment ever presented to a rational public." He’s the only one who manages to be perturbed about this film, which doesn’t seems to be generated nearly as much controversy as its distributors surely hoped after its Toronto debut.

Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader believes the film shouldn’t been labeled a mockumentary; he finds it engages the news format more than, perhaps, the documentary form, but that it also struggles to be a thriller: "[the film] wants to function as a mindless thriller that eventually makes us think — and only after the film is over question the form that encouraged us to be mindless. These are incompatible agendas, and in the end neither is fully successful."

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon would disagree; he finds the "the tone of mournful elegy [Range] strikes here is both convincing and — believe me, I’m shocked to be writing this — moving." Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman similarly thinks that "Death of a President begins as a disturbingly clever stunt but concludes as a contradiction, a political nightmare of haunting banality."

But for others, that banality precisely the problem. At the Village Voice, J. Hoberman labels the film "[d]ramatically inert but a minor techno-miracle," concluding that:

Death of a President is ultimately just an exercise. There’s a far more subversive political mock-umentary coming next week. I invite President Bush, Senator Clinton, and all politicians to get down with Borat.

And A.O. Scott at the New York Times writes that the film is "in the end, neither terribly outrageous nor especially heroic; it’s a thought experiment that traffics in received ideas."


The Andromedan.
+ "The Wild Blue Yonder"
: Getting a smidgen of a release is Werner Herzog‘s "science fiction fantasy," which features documentary footage mixed in with narration by Brad Dourif, playing a stranded alien. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon declares it "Not a major Herzog work or one that will draw a large audience, but a must-see for those who suspect (as I do) that he’s one of the greatest talents now working in this medium." The New York PressArmond White, on the other hand, thinks it is "one of his very best films" and that Herzog is the savior of the documentary.

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times believes the film "works better as an experience than it does conceptually," and adds that even when images are included for their own sake, "[t]here is pleasure in such useless beauty, of course, and pleasure too in drifting with the jellyfish amid the wild blue yonder of a great filmmaker’s imagination."

And Ed Halter at the Village Voice writes that "[t]hough occasionally striking, the footage doesn’t pack the evocative punch Herzog intends, and segments that should be lyrical mind trips only result in overstretched longueurs."

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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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