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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: “Is there no hope in Nazareth?” Cause there ain’t in Brazil.

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Comparing God-baby bumps.
+ "The Nativity Story": In one of the odder combinations of talent and target audience, "Thirteen" director Catherine Hardwicke helms a Biblical film that stars "Whale Rider"‘s Keisha Castle-Hughes and several actors who are of the correct ethnicity for the time and place of the tale but who are, due to the ironic confluence of history, most familiar to audiences here for playing terrorism-related characters: Shohreh Aghdashloo, "24"‘s Dina Araz; Alexander Siddig, who’s also guested on "24" and who played the prince in "Syriana"; and, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role, Kais Nashif, the hot suicide bomber in "Paradise Now." At the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas writes that:

Hardwicke’s most radical conceit, however, at least for a movie positioned as a red-state holiday perennial — there is already a soundtrack album featuring “Christian & Country artists” performing “Christmas favorites inspired by the film” — is that most of the major roles are acted by performers of Algerian, Iranian, Israeli and Sudanese descent… In short, their skin is dark, which makes The Nativity Story the first Hollywood religious picture in memory (if not ever) to imply, for most of its running time, that Jesus Christ probably looked more like Jim Brown than Jim Caviezel. Until, that is, the newborn Lord makes his cameo appearance at the end, bearing a decidedly milky complexion.

Otherwise, he finds that "too often, the actors register as little more than set dressing, and despite Hardwicke’s resolve to give us the real Nativity, as we’ve never seen it before, much of the movie smacks of convention." Dana Stevens at Slate thinks that "Hardwicke’s new retelling of the Gospel account of the conception and birth of Jesus, is fatuous, sappy, and dull, but it’s neither sadistic nor bigoted" — in short, that it’s no "The Passion of the Christ," the prequel.

Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly notes that everyone in the film speaks with an "Esperanto accent," and sighs that "The movie industry is eager to beckon and serve Christian viewers, yet as long as it thinks of those viewers as another market slice, a demo, it may end up pandering to them with cautious and stultifying reverence. The Nativity Story is a film of tame picture-book sincerity, but that’s not the same thing as devotion. The movie is too tepid to feel, or see, the light."

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon writes that "I was a lot less bored by ‘The Nativity Story’ than I feared I’d be." And A.O. Scott at the New York Times quite likes the film, praising the fact that "[r]ather than trying to reinterpret or modernize a well-known, cherished story, the filmmakers have rendered it with a quiet, unassuming professionalism."

 

"Go home."
+ "Turistas": The latest attractive-television-stars-dying- violently flick also marks the launch of Fox Atomic, a specialty distribution arm created mainly to put out other films featuring attractive television stars dying violently. David Edelstein at New York writes that

The awful, offal-ridden Turistas—textbook torture-porn—would be too disgusting to discuss were it not for its efficiency at exploiting the fear that haunts our post-Iraq American dreams, and that can be discerned in works as various as the Oscar-bait ensemble drama Babel and the cringe comedy Borat: how our combination of arrogance and ignorance has left us hideously vulnerable in a world that hates our guts.

At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis notes that

Like “Hostel” (a critique of American arrogance, don’tcha know), which seems the most direct inspiration for “Turistas,” this film involves first-world tourists who are violently punished for traveling into a third-world (or third-world-like) country. “Turistas” plays this political angle more openly than does “Hostel,” since Zamora defends his blood lust by donating “gringo” organs to his country’s poor. Yeah, yeah, yeah, and Jason and Freddy donate regularly to their local blood banks.

Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader sums the film up as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Goes to Brazil," while Nathan Lee at the Village Voice thinks that the goal of the film’s villain, a crazed surgeon who hopes to "exact payback on behalf of third-world misery," is "not an entirely unsympathetic cause," given the dullness of the aforementioned attractive television stars. And Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly calls the film "Hostel without sadism, thrills, or funky severed-limb F/X."

 

"Muchas gracias, kindly celebrity!"
+ "10 Items or Less": Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek writes that Brad Silberling‘s film is "less a full-fledged movie than an extended sketch, a chance for two actors — Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega — to stretch out and loosen up. But the bare-boned simplicity of ’10 Items or Less’ is more a strength than a liability." At the New York Times, A.O. Scott agrees, calling the film "a lovely antidote to the bloated, self-important movies that tend to dominate the season. This is a picture with nothing to prove, and not all that much to say, but its modesty and good humor make it hard to resist." Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader blurbs that the film is "an amiable demonstration of how two charismatic actors and a relaxed writer-director can squeeze an enjoyable movie out of practically nothing."

Others are not so fond. Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly writes that "I don’t know if it’s ickier to assume that writer-director Brad Silberling thinks the culture-clash jokes he pushes in 10 Items or Less are charming because they’re earnest, or because they’re tongue-in-cheek." Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE allows that "the director just keeps his project from careening headfirst into fathomable depths of dreck, via a clean style; that is until the final reel when he typically loses all sense of restraint and indulges in the expected cheese-out. You can see it coming from a mile away when Freeman first puts the question to Scarlet–ten items or less, what do you treasure most in life? –but that doesn’t mitigate the sheer soppiness when the latter finally concedes, ‘this.’" And Nathan Lee at the Village Voice snarks that

10 Items or Less goes from oblivious to oblivion when it pulls into the perkiest car wash since Car Wash. Polishing rag in hand and Ritmo Latino bumping on the soundtrack, Freeman frolics in solidarity with a crew of blissed-out immigrants. Muchas gracias, kindly celebrity! Class consciousness is hardly to be expected from the dude who brought Casper to the big screen, and if nothing else, 10 Items or Less is a case study in cluelessness.

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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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