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The week’s critic wrangle: Dancing the Apocalypso.

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"He's fucked."
+ "Apocalypto": On the pro side — Scott Foundas at LA Weekly declares the film "a virtuosic piece of action cinema," and beyond that, "while there has been no shortage of recent films that decry the horrors of war and man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, I know of none other quite this sickeningly powerful." Armond White at the New York Press is rapturous, writing:

Apocalypto runs second to the year’s most extraordinary example of silent film art, Julián Hernández’s Broken Sky, where clueless critics complained about the lack of dialogue. Gibson transcends that cultural barrier by insisting on linguistic realism (Yucatec with English subtitles), and this rigor compliments the integrity of his vivid imagery (photographed by Dean Semler). Scenes of Jaguar Paw chased by a jaguar or lying between tall tree branches bring to mind John Boorman’s anthropological vistas in The Emerald Forest. But the way Gibson connects Jaguar Paw’s agony and release to a sense of the world and the amazement of natural phenomena resurrects ancient movie virtues.

[This is the second "Broken Sky" mention White drops in this issue alone — it’s at least the fourth one since he actually reviewed the film three months ago. Not that we’re counting.]

Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly thinks that "the Mel Gibson part of the marquee is crucial to the full…appreciation of this astonishing, id-soaked work. And if astonishing, id-soaked’ ends up in the ads, then marketers have simplified my meaning." Still, she thinks it’s worthwhile viewing, even is "there’s so much dark material jammed into this complicated, conflicted, challenging, and charismatic man’s own noggin that sometimes he knows not, I think, what he’s done."

Not-so-pro: A.O. Scott at the New York Times, who praises Gibson’s technical skill and serious aspirations, while allowing that this "is not to say that ‘Apocalypto’ is a great film, or even that it can be taken quite as seriously as it wants to be." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon suggests the title should actually have been "APOCALYPTO!" — he writes that "Mel Gibson has serious issues with violence and masculinity, and if there’s really ‘Oscar buzz"’around this picture, then everyone in Hollywood really is an idiot. There are about 10 truly amazing minutes in ‘Apocalypto’… And that’s about it."

At Slate, Dana Stevens finds that "You don’t leave Apocalypto thinking of the decline of civilizations or the power of myth or anything much except, wow, that is one sick son of a bitch." Despite (or because of) this, she admits that "Apocalypto does have a weird and undeniable power." And over at the Village Voice, in a uncharacteristically sassy review, J. Hoberman cuts loose with his summary:

[T]his lavishly punishing picture is the third panel in Gibson’s "Ordeal" triptych. The Martyrdom of the Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ have nothing on The Misadventures of the Jaguar Paw, junior citizen of a generally jovial, practical-joke-loving 16th-century Central American social unit. Given the absence of any identification, and with regard to their good looks and family values (that is, keeping pet monkeys and having babies), these noble savages might be called the Sugar Tit tribe.

Needless to say, he’s not a fan.


"Would you let this man be your father?"
+ "Off the Black": James Ponsoldt‘s slight directorial debut stars Nick Nolte playing extra-disheveled, if that’s possible, and has gotten decent to "meh" reviews. Stephen Holden at the New York Times writes that

This modest film could easily have skidded into the mawkish marshland where countless mentor-protege, father-son dramas have suffocated. But for the most part it steers away from the worst clichés of that tear-drenched genre.

He also notes of Nolte (who seems to be the main reason for seeing the film) that in his recent wreck roles "you often have the sense of this wonderful actor casting a pitiless, smirking gaze into the mirror as he contemplates his own decaying magnificence."

Rob Nelson at the Village Voice
goes as far as to suggest that "Off the Black belongs on the shelf beside
recent peers Spring Forward and Old Joy; it’s not as deep or resonant
as those two, but despite extraneous supporting characters (i.e.,
women), it’s likewise concerned with lamenting, and dare we say
expanding the limitations of men’s communication skills."

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon finds that the film is "so restrained, and holds back so much on conventional plot and characterization, that its emotional impact is severely blunted. Nolte is excellent, I suppose, but we’ve seen this damaged-American-dude shtick from him before." And at indieWIRE, Nick Pinkerton adores Nolte but concludes that "Ponsoldt’s gentleness with his cast is promising, but there’s still a long way to go."


Becoming a good son.
+ "Family Law": This comedic drama from Argentine director Daniel Burman is also getting decent to "meh" reviews (well, where it is reviewed — tough time of year for the truly small indies). Ella Taylor at the Village Voice quite likes the film, writing that

Like his equally father-fixated, and equally wonderful, 2003 film Lost Embrace, Burman’s beguiling tribute to his Jewish father—or, for all I know, the one he wishes he had—is warm and deep enough to give humanism a good name.

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon labels that film "an alternately charming and frustrating comic entertainment," while Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly sighs that "Family Law is well acted, but if Antoine Doinel had been nearly this serene, Truffaut‘s career would have petered out after three films." Stephen Holden at the New York Times writes that "this likable, if undramatic film — the antithesis of Hollywood movies in which father-son Oedipal conflicts are resolved in embarrassing, teary-eyed clinches — makes a case for reticence." And Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE amusingly semi-praises that "I don’t go to the movies looking for modest intentions any more than your average baseball fan goes to the stadium hoping to see some well laid-down bunts, but Daniel Burman’s ‘Family Law’ is cause for exception," a sentiment that seems particularly relevant this year.

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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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