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DID YOU READ

“The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On,” “Deep Red”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On,” Facets/Kino International, 1987]

“Kamikaze documentary” — that was the phrase used by more than one critic when Kazuo Hara’s bristling, intensely odd film “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” cut its slim but recalcitrant swath through the world’s theaters in 1987. It earns the label. Documentaries themselves are, in a way, the safest kind of movie — safely moral in concept, safely conventional in form, and usually unadventurous as a viewing experience. Unless you’re Werner Herzog (a veteran kamikaze), you’re most likely to make a non-fiction film about an injustice or social situation to which there are a limited amount of conceivable responses. As entertainment, docs can be safe to the point of tedium, never voyaging out into unknown waters or testing our role as viewers.

There are exceptions, of course, that tend to lodge in the memory because they exude the electrical charge of risk and danger. (I’m thinking Herzog, natch, but also “Winter Soldier,” Frederick Wiseman’s “Titicut Follies,” the Maysles’ “Grey Gardens,” the genuine war-in-the-streets frisson of Patricio Guzman’s “The Battle of Chile,” etc.) Life, as it happens, uncontrollable and chaotic, is the documentary’s secret, and too often unemployed, mega-weapon. So it is with Hara’s film, a rough-and-tumble chronicle of the present life of a sociopathic moralist as he dramatically confronts postwar Japanese society. Kenzo Okuzai is that rare animal — an authentic anti-authoritarian who, because he’s willing to lose everything, cannot be intimidated or daunted by social norms and laws. By the time filming begins, the “anti-emperorist” Okuzai already has a long record of domestic resistance (including publicly pelting Hirohito with marbles in 1969, a notorious episode in modern Japanese lore), and is now committed to uncovering an illegal killing during WWII while his platoon was stationed in New Guinea.

Investigating a murder that took place in the midst of the hellacious Pacific war of the ’40s has an ironic taste to it, but Okuzai is dead serious, and nothing stands in his way — demanding the truth be told, he routinely assaults and kicks his aging and sometimes ailing fellow veterans, who are naturally reticent to talk about 40-year-old crimes. He duplicitously presents his own family to the witnesses as survivors of the murdered soldier, and even pulls admissions of cannibalism from the old men. (They’re more relaxed about owning up to hunting the presumably more game-like natives for food; only when the Guineans proved too fleet and clever did the Emperor’s warriors resort to killing and eating each other.) Throughout, Okuzai carries himself with a bizarre mixture of polite Japanese stolidity and feverish anger; when the police deal with him (which is frequently), they are at a loss as to what to do — the man’s rampaging behavior, even if he’s responsible for very little damage to limb and property in the end, sets society’s fragile structures shaking. Of course, Hara colludes with his subject (the film crew gives Okuzai’s crusade a legitimate feel), and reportedly the megalomaniacal Okuzai attempted to take over the film at several points. It’s a film in seething flux from scene to scene — kinda like life.

Dario Argento’s is a more easily stomached style of frisson — the Italian horror-maven/style-geyser has been such a popular name brand among psychotronica fans that by now he may seem like yesterday’s news, or perhaps may be known only as Asia’s dad and as the director of the gorier episodes from Showtime’s Masters of Horror series. But go back to 1975’s “Deep Red (Profondo Rosso),” and you see what still fuels Argento’s reputation as Europe’s premier pulp wizard. A ridiculous giallo serial murder plot set in Rome, with slumming star David Hemmings (star of Antonioni’s “Blow-Up,” a fact hardly lost on Argento) as the wrong-man investigator-cum-target, is all you need to know about the film’s nods toward traditional “content.” The story turns out to be so baroque and hermetic that you end up just surrendering to Argento’s boggling visual density — the film is a moody, sadistic opera bouffe of swooping camera moves, infectious Old World atmosphere, compositional clues and nutsy set-pieces that don’t speak to the ostensible psychosis of the killer so much as to the obsessive imagination of the filmmaker.

“The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” (Facets) and “Deep Red” (Blue Underground) will be available on DVD on February 27.

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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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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.

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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