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On DVD: Two from Bertolucci; “Little Miss Sunshine”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “The Conformist,” Paramount]

Forget the Bernardo Bertolucci we’ve come to know since the ’80s — the suave, literate Parmesan who has been far too focused on disrobing his actresses and who seems, keeping in mind the box office lessons of “Last Tango in Paris,” to think having sex, or trying to have sex, or deciding when to have sex, is a grown-up narrative idea. (This goes even for Oscar-winner “The Last Emperor,” if not 1993’s “Little Buddha,” which is on an astral plain all its own.) His international rep would be many steps closer to the top shelf today if, in fact, he’d stopped when he was ahead, at 35, with seven features already under his belt, two of which — “The Conformist” (1970) and “1900” (1976) — are rapturous masterpieces.

At least two other early films — “Partner” (1968) and “The Spider’s Stratagem” (also 1970!) — would be peaks in another European director’s canon. But the eminence of “The Conformist,” in particular, is unassailable. Fleshing out novelist Alberto Moravia’s shadowbox of political compliance and personal shame with arguably the most bewitching mise en scène ever concocted for any movie, set entirely in rainy Euro-city afternoons and indigo evenings, the movie follows Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a would-be sophisticate lining up with Mussolini’s Fascists in the 30s for his own, very private reasons — as the title makes clear, this is participatory politics seen as psychosocial dysfunction. Being “normal” is an ideal the fiercely closeted Marcello talks about a lot, his desire to belong spiraling out to include marriage (to the fabulously pliable and obnoxious Stefania Sandrelli) and insinuating himself into the Party by framing up his old university mentor (Enzo Tarascio) and, by extension, the prof’s sexy, testy trophy wife (Dominique Sanda). “The Conformist” is both a bludgeoning indictment of fascistic follow-the-leader and an orgasm of coolness, ravishing compositions, camera gymnastics (the frame virtually squirms around, like Marcello) and atmospheric resonance. The actors vogue, Vittorio Storaro’s magical lens transforms every street and room into a catalytic baroque-ness, the clothes grip the characters like iconic mantles, the leaves blow with the roving camera across Marcello’s mother’s seedy estate. What a movie for a young man (only 29 at the time) to have made.

“1900” is a more troublesome creature, a true behemoth that runs over five hours and suffers the handicaps of being politically ironic, internationally cast (with multiple dubbing versions), more rueful than factual about class war, messy and subject to distributors’ whimsical cuts all over the world. But for those of us who care less about neatness than about bellying up to an endless banquet of melodrama, history, revolutionary fervor, food, sadism, Brueghel tableaux, war, peasant partying, and Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu and Dominique Sanda nude (yes, together!), “1900” is a savorable experience, with a poetic heart and a swoony Ennio Morricone score that rescue it from kitsch. The long-awaited Paramount DVD sets for both films come clotted with several making-of featurettes each.

That’s your weekend right there, so you’d have no pressing need to rent “Little Miss Sunshine” and see it all over again, except perhaps to suss out if in fact it’s the dependie wonder-comedy it’s been cracked up to be, or if the backlash against the acclaim and the stunning box office (more than 1000% return on budget, in a year when “M:I:III” didn’t manage to break even) is more on the money. But maybe you will in any case, knowing as you do that hype is prone to cut on the back-swing, and that Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s movie is modest in conception — eccentric family hits the road to participate in that most revolting of American rituals, the preadolescent beauty pageant — but executed with consummate wit and Swiss timing. It might boil down to the cast: give pros like Alan Arkin, Steve Carrell, Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear open road, and they will race like the devil.

“The Conformist (Extended Edition)” and “1900 (Special Collector’s Edition)” (Paramount Home Video) are now available on DVD; “Little Miss Sunshine” (20th Century Fox) will be available on DVD December 19th.

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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.


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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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.


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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