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Talking points: Issue films.

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"I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this."
What you need to know to engage in vaguely informed cinema-centric bar talk this week:

From Philip Kennicott at the Washington Post, that "History Boys" has an intriguingly complex and British viewpoint to present on sexually precocious boys and the adults who want to boink them:

The American drama of sexual abuse, played out almost weekly in hysterical terms on "To Catch a Predator," has very little room for the larger continuum of the sexual interactions between adults and youth suggested by [Alan] Bennett‘s play… NBC uses "reality" TV to fictionalize child sexuality as much as Bennett or Nabokov or any other author. But works such as Bennett’s and [Augusten] Burroughs‘s, and even the transcripts of the [Mark] Foley exchanges, suggest that there is a lot more to be learned about how sex is negotiated — especially between adults and youth who are almost adults — than American popular culture is quite ready to acknowledge.

From Tim Lott at the Guardian, that real mental illness is dreary and awful and not romantic at all and goddammit, why is it taking us to long to portray it that way in movies?

The idea was becoming fashionable that mental illness was a creation of, and a response to, social control – and the apotheosis of this idea was Ken Kesey‘s seductive One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, filmed by Milos Forman in 1975. The message of both book and film was unequivocal: mental patients, in this case specifically male mental patients, were the products of a combination of a repressive social system and domineering and dysfunctional mothers, represented by the icy and controlling Nurse Ratched. What they needed was a good dose of untrammelled id, or Jack Nicholson‘s Randall McMurphy, to set them free. But the system would do everything it could to prevent that happening. It would crush the glorious rebel. It would ensure the mad stayed mad for its own psychologically malign purposes.

From Zachary X. Hruby at the San Francisco Chronicle, that "Apocalypto" presents an offensive and historically inaccurate portrayal of the ancient Mayans:

The Maya at the time of Spanish contact are depicted as idyllic hunters and gatherers, or as genocidal murderers, and neither of these scenarios is accurate. The film represents a step backward in our understanding of the complex cultures that existed in the New World before the Spanish invasion, and it is part of a disturbing trend re-emerging in the film industry, portraying non-Western natives as evil savages.

"King Kong" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest" show these natives as uncaring, beastlike and virtually inhuman. "Apocalypto" achieves similar goals, but in a much subtler fashion.

From Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post, that "the supply chain" is the new movie evil — recent "SC" (catchy!) films include "Fast Food Nation," "Black Gold" and "Blood Diamond." Also on the topic, from (ahem) Rush and Molloy at the New York Daily News, "Blood Diamond"’s director Edward Zwick has started a "feud" (fueled, it seems, entirely by the gossip columnists themselves) with Russell Simmons over Simmons’ support of the current state of the diamond industry:

Take Simmons’ conclusion that the sale of "conflict diamonds" – used to finance the continent’s bloody wars – has dropped to less than 1% since the Kimberley Process was set up in 2003 to stop the vicious trafficking in those gems.

"That’s a funky number," Zwick said at his movie’s Hollywood premiere. "That number comes from diamonds that are mined in countries that are ‘war-declared.’ Conflict diamonds are also mined in countries where there is not a ‘declared war.’ If you want to know about conflict diamonds, you don’t go to Botswana and South Africa. You go to Sierra Leone and Angola. … Russell Simmons is being embarrassed."

From Stephen Applebaum at The Australian, that no one can decide if "The Queen" is pro- or anti-monarchy:

"This film turns out, much to my surprise, as a mirror in which people see their own feelings projected," [director Stephen Frears]  says. "So people say completely contrary things, like, ‘Oh, you’ve become a monarchist’ and ‘Oh, you’re so critical of the Queen’. I don’t know why that’s happened. I don’t think it’s happened on any other film I’ve made. Maybe it’s because we get it sort of right, so people see what they want to see."

And, from Zoe Williams at the Guardian, that "Happy Feet" has been accused of being "far-left" propaganda, and that one can totally amuse oneself by looking for "propaganda" in other animated films:

One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)

Message A few points to make. First, this is a bit of a dual-issue film, virulently anti-fur, passionately anti-smoking. And yet, there are some interesting financial undertones. Cruella de Vil is Ms Moneybags; she tries to buy Pongo’s puppies, and the other 84 have been legitimately bought from pet shops. The message is that money isn’t power, or certainly shouldn’t be – that just because you have the wherewithal to pursue your will, if that will is malign, it shall not prevail.

The overall impression is puppies cannot be bought. They will rise up, and anyone underestimating the intelligence of the puppy will come a horrible cropper. There’s a potent message of direct action. It’s probably the most radical cartoon of its era.

+ The Instructive Message of ‘History Boys’ (Washington Post)
+ Losing the plot (Guardian)
+ ‘Apocalypto’ does disservice to its subjects (SF Chronicle)
+ A Spike in Supply-Chain Muckraking (Washington Post)
+ Bad ‘Blood’ between Simmons and Zwick (New York Daily News)
+ We are most bemused (The Australian)
+ Political animals (Guardian)

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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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