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DID YOU READ

“The Lookout” and “The Hawk is Dying”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Paul Giamatti in “The Hawk is Dying,” Strand Releasing, 2007]

“The Lookout”

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) can’t get a grip, literally or figuratively. The car accident that robbed him of a promising future and Sundays at the hockey rink also damaged his brain, leaving him mentally and physically impaired. Glasses and bottles slip through the unresponsive fingers of his left hand the way thoughts fall through the cracks of his crippled noggin. He’s constantly writing himself reminders in his little pocket spiral notebook so he stays on his routine and doesn’t forget to brush his teeth. Chris is better off than Leonard from “Memento,” but they could both benefit from the same therapy classes.

Like Leonard’s, Chris’ handicap is a bridge to a dark criminal underworld that he would never have known existed before his accident. In movies, people with memory loss are very susceptible to criminal activity. You never see someone in a movie bump their head and goes to work for the Peace Corps but, then you never really see anyone go to work for the Peace Corps in movies. It’s not nearly as cinematic a subject matter as bank robbery, and so that is where Chris’ destiny lies.

His only friend his blind roommate Lewis (Jeff Daniels), Chris is desperate for some human (not to mention sexual) contact, and that’s exactly how a shady but charismatic character like Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) is able to sink claws into him. Sidling up next to Chris at a Kansas City bar, he plies him with companionship, free drinks and his kewpie doll bombshell buddy Luvlee (Isla Fisher). Chris is so happy to be amongst people again he barely notices when Gary begins to make intimations about robbing banks; just by coincidence, Chris works as a late night janitor in a local bank. Cue the planning, robbing, deceiving, shooting and dying.

This sooty concoction comes from Scott Frank, a talented screenwriter (“Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty”) making his directorial debut, and he exhibits some classic screenwriter-turned-director attributes. It’s a meticulously written film, from Chris’ ironic voiceover (which is supposed to sync with the notes he leaves himself in his notebook, but often doesn’t) to the integration of good storytelling lessons into a narrative (Lewis advice to Chris, and perhaps Frank’s advice to aspiring screenwriters: “You can’t tell a story if you don’t know where it’s going.”). Another director might have excised some of the clunkier elements, but they do add a refreshing directness to the film; sometimes a big, thudding cross-hanging-over-Chris’-shoulder metaphor (which Frank employs not once but twice during “The Lookout”) can do us all some good.

Though it doesn’t really look like a traditional entry in the genre, “The Lookout” falls into the world of film noir on the strength of its tragic hero. Chris is more loser than innocent; the car crash was his fault and the mistakes he makes in its aftermath are all his. He’s a pathetic guy, but not exactly a likable one and, as Levitt plays him, he has a dark side that manifests itself via outbursts that bubble up when he can’t figure out how to make himself dinner or snag a loan from his parents.

Levitt’s become one of the most talented and reliable young actors on the indie film scene. With “The Lookout” and other recent standouts like “Brick” and “Mysterious Skin,” a pattern’s emerged: he’s drawn to socially awkward loners, particularly ones with dark secrets in their past that they can’t atone for or deal with. What about that appeals to Levitt is unclear; does he feel like he must atone for “3rd Rock”? Dude, it wasn’t that bad.

Never terribly outstanding (except when Daniels is on screen), “The Lookout” is nonetheless a solid genre picture, carefully plotted and acted, with a nice balance of style and substance. Unlike most modern day stabs at noir, it’s more reserved than flashy; like Chris himself, the movie is withdrawn and subdued, sometimes charming and a little bit sad.

“The Hawk is Dying”

The movie I most anticipated and disliked from Sundance 2006, “The Hawk is Dying” — based on the novel by Harry Crews — comes with a fine creative pedigree and a murderers’ row of a cast, including Michelle Williams, Michael Pitt and Paul Giamatti as George, a man obsessed with capturing and training birds. After the death of his nephew, George dedicates himself to training a wild hawk. Until his task is complete, he will not eat or sleep or, lamentably, make a good movie.

Despite the talented cast and creators, the project never gels and, like a lot of festival films, it’s drenched in human anguish, heavy on the symbolism, and light on entertainment or enlightenment. And mostly it’s just Giamatti with a big leather glove on his hand and a hawk on his arm grunting and sweating as the hawk flaps and squawks around. For two hours.

“The Lookout” opens in limited release on March 30th (official site); “The Hawk is Dying” opens in New York on March 30th (official site).

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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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