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The week’s critic wrangle: How good is that German, really?

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"There's always something worse."
+ "The Good German": Not so good, according to most of the critics — Steven Soderbergh‘s dirrty 40s experiment seems to have left most cold. Manohla Dargis at the New York Times sighs that "while the language routinely waxes raw in ‘The Good German,’ the most striking difference between it and a Hollywood film like ‘Casablanca’ aren’t the expletives, the new film’s calculated cynicism or even that glimpse of bedroom coupling; it’s that the older film feels as if it was made for the satisfaction of the audience while the other feels as if it was made for that of the director alone." Similarly, J. Hoberman at the Village Voice notes that "if Casablanca was the acme of wartime romanticism, The Good German is its self-conscious antithesis. Soderbergh wants to show the birth of postwar moral relativism. It’s hard to believe in anything—his characters most of all."

At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek writes that Soderbergh and screenwriter Paul Attanasio "seem to think they’re giving old-timey sentimental crap a good licking, but all they’re really doing is proving how little they understand postwar (or wartime) American filmmaking in the first place." Anthony Lane at the New Yorker punctuates his typical musings ("What would he have used if the action took place in, say, 1380? Cameras woven from thatch?") with this question: "I hate to ask, but can a filmmaker be too much of a movie buff?"

"It’s all very beautiful, high-minded, and remote," writes David Edelstein at New York, while Ella Taylor at LA Weekly sums it up as "[s]umptuous, clever and cold." Michael Koresky at indieWIRE concludes that "[t]he past (movie and otherwise) doesn’t come to life here; the film remains haplessly sealed off, an object way out of reach." And Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, a bit fonder of the film than everyone else,  nevertheless writes that "The good student will filter Attanasio’s intentionally ‘modern’-sounding dialogue through the actors’ ‘old-fashioned’ declarations and may experience a thrill of time-and-again cinematic dislocation. The leisure-time viewer will say, ‘Hey, this is sort of like Casablanca, so why play it again?’ "


"He doesn't like to be with the others. He's a loner, too."
+ "The Secret Life of Words": Mixed reviews for the second English-language film from Spanish director Isabel CoixetMichael Koresky at indieWIRE:

Coixet’s humanist drive and reach for topicality set [the film] apart from the usual onslaught of good-intention indie films, and, thankfully, its central performance, by the always wonderful Sarah Polley, profoundly committed and convincingly melancholy, goes a long way in helping Coixet make her case. Unfortunately the devastating portrait of historical trauma that makes up the spine of this film, too often succumbs to indie platitudes, and "The Secret Life of Words" falls to pieces trying to put itself together.

Stephen Holden in the New York Times thinks that this film is much better than Coixet’s earlier "My Life Without Me," and that the "exquisitely coordinated performances elicit an empathy as powerful as anything I can remember feeling in a recent film." He does add that "Ms. Coixet may be wonderful with actors. But when it comes to the mechanics of storytelling, she is often ungainly and tin-eared." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon declares the film "a tantalizing and beautiful picture made with tremendous integrity, and anchored by two marvelous performances," but adds that it "still, somehow, doesn’t quite work." Nevertheless, he calls it "a film not to miss." At the Village Voice, Ella Taylor finds the film "exceptionally banal."


"Coming home is the real battle."
+ "Home of the Brave": "The kindest description of ‘Home of the Brave,’ the first Hollywood movie to examine the experience of American soldiers returning from Iraq, might be that it is fueled by noble intentions," writes Stephen Holden at the New York Times, neglecting until the end of his review to also note that Irwin Winkler‘s film does also star one Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, being all Serious Actor. Holden, who sums the film up as "an honorable dud," does note that "Home of the Brave" would like to be the "Best Years of Our Lives" of our era, an aspiration also called out by Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, who sighs that Winkler has "copied the wrong masterpiece at the wrong time. And he’s done so with a crayon. As a result, he’s ended up with a Hallmark TV drama about the very antithesis of a Hallmark moment." Some of the same thoughts from Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, who writes that "at its weaker moments, ‘Home of the Brave’ feels like issue-of-the-week filmmaking." Still, he sees it as a sort of pragmatic production:

[I]t marks the beginning of what may be a long on-screen discussion about the Iraq war and its consequences. None of the Iraq documentaries released so far has found any audience at all, and Winkler’s foursquare dramatic mode and evenhanded approach may reach many American families who feel understandably conflicted about the questions it raises.

Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE also admires the film’s intentions, but concludes that "trite and inept filmmaking places us at a remove just when we want to get close to these people, simplistic stand-ins for much more complex actual veterans." Nathan Lee at the Village Voice writes that "[b]lunt as it is, the movie avoids partisan grandstanding and easy irony; I much prefer its simple heart to the exploitative cynicism of an embarrassment like Blood Diamond." And Armond White at the New York Press of course champions that film, which "clears the air":

Winkler has gone against the political vogue by making an Iraq War drama that offers little of the typical left-leaning, liberal dissent. This film looks at the war for its impact on the lives of Americans at home, coming close to the ambivalence found in some country music and felt outside the New York/Los Angeles media centers.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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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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.


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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