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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: “Marie,” “Running,” “Requiem” and “51 Birch Street.”

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"We are too young to reign."
+ "Marie Antoinette": It seems silly to label this film divisive — we liked it quite a bit, but we imagined responses to it would fall somewhere on a sliding scale of "Indifferent <——-> Enchanted." Then again, Sofia Coppola seems to inspire all the derision a girl auteur could ask for. On the yea side, we have:

A recovering Roger Ebert, who writes "Every criticism I have read of this film would alter is fragile magic and reduce its romantic and tragic poignancy to the level of an instructional film."

A.O. Scott at the New York Times, who calls the film "a thoroughly modern confection, blending insouciance and sophistication, heartfelt longing and self-conscious posing with the guileless self-assurance of a great pop song. What to do for pleasure? Go see this movie, for starters."

Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly notes that "it’s tempting to read autobiographical identification into the filmmaker’s madly chic, tauntingly shallow biopic," but that the film "is the work of a mature filmmaker who has identified and developed a new cinematic vocabulary to describe a new breed of post-postpostfeminist woman."

At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek thinks that the film "is Coppola’s silk-embroidered fantasy sampler of the inner life of a queen we can never really know: It’s a humanist comedy-drama decked out not in sackcloth but in ribbons — instead of flattering our ideas of our own virtuousness, it asks our sympathy for this doomed queen even as we can’t help envying her privilege." Of the film’s decadence, she goes on to suggest

Maybe it stems less from a girly love of glamour than a Catholic taste for pageantry and excess — a taste that her father and his fellow Italian-American filmmaking contemporaries, Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma, have all shown in their movies. The lush draperies and ornaments of Versailles are baldly ecclesiastical, perfectly fitting for rulers who were supposed to be guided by God. Why wouldn’t Coppola be attracted to that setting?

David Edelstein at New York (who offhandedly notes that Coppola’s "signature shot" is of "the strange new world viewed from behind her heroine’s tush") does draw the autobiographical parallels: "Having partied with the rich and hip, [Coppola] understands the pleasure in escapism, as well as the sense of alienation it can reinforce. In the film, as Marie Antoinette takes up gambling and gamboling—lawn parties with booze and drugs and sex—you can feel the desperation under her drive for pleasure." He chalks the film’s flaws up to its script; J. Hoberman at the Village Voice would blame them on the gravitas of the ending: "the filmmaker’s attempt to redeem her heroine’s shallowness reveals her own."

And the naysayers: Armond White (sigh) at the New York Press calls it "entertainment weakly, blatantly flaunting idiocy as art—to justify bourgeois indulgence at any cost." Then he accuses it of ripping of "A Knight’s Tale." Oof. Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly finds the autobiographical connections a negative thing: "this project seems to me inspired less by artistic urges than by the solipsistic desire to fold one of history’s most fascinating figures into Coppola’s own history as a poor little rich child of movie aristocracy." Dana Stevens at Slate‘s complaint is that it is "impossible to tell is what, if anything, this film has to say about its objects of desire, its subject herself, the waning years of the French aristocracy, or the present day." She takes issue with what Vanity Fair calls Coppola’s "unwitting" political stance:

It seems disingenuous to suggest that a movie about the fall of the
French monarchy could be anything but political. I don’t ask Coppola to
be unsympathetic to the young queen, or even to devote any screen time
to her arrest and decapitation. But just because the
film’s heroine has nothing to say about politics, revolutionary or
otherwise, doesn’t justify Coppola being similarly dumbstruck.

Finally, Anthony Lane at the New Yorker, who would never do something as gauche as getting his long knives out, jabs with a hat pin instead:

Coppola films Versailles with a flat acceptance, quickening at times into eager montage, and declares, in her notes on the film, that she sought to capture her heroine’s “inner experience.” Her what? This is like a manicurist claiming to capture the inner experience of your pinkie.

We have yet to read a review (our own included) that really expresses what we thought of this film, which we found inexpressibly hard to pin down. We’re no Coppola apologist, but we were surprised and a little put-off by the glee with which some of our colleagues have greeted negative reviews of the film rather off-putting. And yes, that is rich, coming from us. Perhaps we’re going through a holier-than-thou period.

 

"Are you ready to play 'Doctor'?"
+ "Running With Scissors": Mixed-to-bad for "Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy‘s adaptation of Augusten Burroughs‘ memoir. A. O. Scott at the New York Times anoints Annette Bening‘s performance as "a minor classic in the monstrous-movie-mom pantheon," and salutes the performances of others before adding that "the problem is that the efforts of the actors don’t add up to much more than a series of uncomfortable, funny-horrible vignettes in a scattered, shapeless movie." David Edelstein at New York
believes that the "director does gravitate toward the cute, but that’s
in keeping with the detachment of his source: The feelings of loss and
alienation are woven into the portrait of the time-into the
otherworldly fluorescent seventies fashions and sitcoms in which its
hero seeks escape." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon
likes the actors and the sympathy, but complains that "the movie’s
madcap mission to flash a beam of sunshine on every whacked-out flower
in Burroughs’ garden ends up feeling a bit too reductive… Too often
the movie veers dangerously close to that dread ‘They’re not crazy,
they’re special’ territory."

Less fond are Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, who calls the film "quite a feat of dullness," and Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly, who writes that

Murphy, creator of the far superior television series Nip/Tuck,
has an episodic sensibility far more suited to the small screen (this
is his first feature), and he appears to have gone through Burroughs’
memoir with a highlighter, culling bits of weirdness to hammer into
something resembling a narrative.

And Armond White at the New York Press proclaims that it "displays the worst elements of popular gay cinema," that "[n]othing in Running with Scissors is credible," and that it is "guaranteed Oscar bait: Every Bening scene is a mad scene."

 

Goodbye Emily Rose.
+ "Requiem": Hans-Christian Schmid‘s "Requiem" is based on the same true story that inspired "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," only, you know, sans that whole Scopes Trial/faith wins/horror thing. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon calls it "absolutely astonishing," "closer in spirit to Ingmar Bergman‘s ‘Through a Glass Darkly’ than to TV demonology." Jim Ridley at the Village Voice writes that star Sandra Hüller "invests Michaela’s terrified, possibly schizophrenic outbursts with unholy conviction" and Jeannette Catsoulis at the New York Times also cites "Hüller’s astonishingly physical performance."

Also tackling the film is this week’s Reverse Shot trio, actually a duo: Kristi Mitsuda marvels at the film’s "eloquent humanism," and concludes that the film "casts a vastly more complex and durable spell of disquiet," while Michael Koresky also drops an h-bomb (hyuck!), claiming that "’Requiem’ might not have been intended as an antidote to the culture of shock-horror exorcist flicks, but that’s exactly how it functions."

 

All about my mother (and father).
+ "51 Birch Street": Doug Block‘s documentary about his parent’s marriage (an unfair understatement of a description) opened in New York on Wednesday to plenty of praise. Samplings: A.O. Scott declares it "one of the most moving and fascinating documentaries I’ve seen this year":

Everyone in it seems so familiar that by the end you can’t quite believe that you have known them for less than 90 minutes. Mr. Block has put his parents’ life, and his own, into this film with such warmth and candor that it may take more than one viewing to recognize it as a work of art.

Ella Taylor writes that it is a "marvelous home movie…Open-minded, probing but never prurient, 51 Birch Street is much more than a portrait of suburban ennui. It’s a loving, painful map of the gulf between thought and word, between word and deed, that props up good marriages, and sends bad ones to hell." And, catching it at SXSW earlier this year, Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir called it "a sad, delightful and half-accidental movie."

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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!

via GIPHY

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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