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“Perfume,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”

“Perfume,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” (photo)

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Oh the horrible things we will do in order to smell good. Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” reveals that the natural order of the world is nasty and stinky. Its main character, as the title suggests, is a homicidal perfumer who creates the world’s most intoxicating scent by killing beautiful women, covering them in a viscous liquid, cocooning them, then placing them in a weird pickling device that distills them into “their essence.” Think about that this holiday season when you’re at the fragrance counter.

Based on the bestselling novel by Patrick Süskind and narrated by John Hurt, “Perfume” follows Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), born into the muck of a Parisian fish market, abandoned by his prostitute mother and saved only by his remarkably talented nose: the overpowering funk of the market causes baby Jean-Baptiste to cry out, alerting a passersby to his presence and implicating his mother in child abandonment (she’s the first of many who will die as a result of an association with Jean-Baptiste). After a catalogue of the degradations offered by 18th-century poverty — from the orphanage to indentured servitude to an apprenticeship for a master perfumer (played with zest by a powdery Dustin Hoffman) — Jean-Baptiste sets about on his life’s work: discovering a way to preserve scent, which he believes contains a person’s soul, even at the expense of killing the owner of that aroma.

Art direction nuts will flip their lids over Tykwer and production designer Uli Hanisch’s creation of 1700s France, but their world is so meticulously designed — even the filth looks pretty! — that they inadvertently generate an atmosphere of realism that clashes with “Perfume”‘s second half, when Jean-Baptiste sleeps in a cave for months, and later creates an aroma with supernatural effects. The resultant fluctuations in tone might turn off viewers who aren’t familiar with Süskind’s source material.

Tykwer’s camerawork is frequently witty: through the use of clever lighting, Jean-Baptiste is introduced nose-first, and a shot of a door with two keyholes suggests a nostril’s eye view of the world. But there seems to be a fundamental flaw in the film version of “Perfume,” in its focus on a sensory experience that is wholly absent from cinema: smell. A movie could captivatingly portray a person gifted with exception vision or hearing, but smelling is quite different. Without a “Polyester” Smell-O-Vision-style gimmick, Tykwer must somehow approximate Jean-Baptiste’s olfactory prowess, which leads to a lot of close-ups of his nose, flash frames of objects (flowers, fruit, entrails, dung) and a lot of heavy breathing on the soundtrack. The result is not entirely satisfying.

After spending months sleeping in a cave (long story), Jean-Baptiste discovers that though he is acutely aware of every odor around him, he himself has none of his own and, in a way, neither does the movie, not least of all because it is incapable of having one, as all movies are. Where Süskind could call to mind a tang with flowery prose, Tykwer has to rely on visuals to suggest smells, an inherently distanced technique in spite of its often beautiful presentation. It stinks, but that’s the way it is.

The world of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” is just as bleak as “Perfume”‘s and even more sumptuously adorned. Its frame is infused with equal parts beauty and death, and sometimes the two blend together in fantastic creatures that are amongst the most terrifying I’ve ever seen in a movie. The worst, the Pale Man, is an albino beast with droopy skin and eyeballs in his hands. Ick.

A young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her mother (Ariadna Gil) travel to a new home with her cruel new husband, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), a member of the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Ofelia moves between two worlds: the spooky landscape of her imagination (where characters like The Pale Man lurk) and the terrifying reality of the fascists, whose brutal assassinations and tortures suggest that the horrors of the real world far outweigh anything in a child’s imagination.

Del Toro has a knack for truly original movie monsters — his “Blade II” provided one of the first innovations on celluloid vampires in decades — and all of the supernatural beings in “Pan’s Labyrinth” brim with visual invention. Whatever his budget was (and it couldn’t have been much) del Toro’s technique seems totally uninhibited by monetary concerns. His effects are as seamless as his imagination is boundless. He takes classic kid fears like the monster under the bed or in the closet and invests them with a palpable sense of reality.

The film, which has the feel of a live-action “Spirited Away,” does suffer from some tired story twists; I, for one, have had enough of movies with seemingly responsible child protagonists who are explicitly told not to do something they then immediately do. But “Pan’s Labyrinth” graphic creativity outweighs any of its narrative hang-ups. It’s as ornate as a child’s fantasy and as dark as a nightmare.

“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” opens in limited release December 27th (official site); “Pan’s Labyrinth” opens in limited release December 29th (official site).

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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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