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The week’s critic wrangle: “Offside,” “The Page Turner,” “First Snow.”

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Sima Mobarak-Shahi.
+ "Offside": Jafar Panahi may be Iranian cinema’s most accessible filmmaker, and "Offside," a comedy about a group of girls who are caught attempting to disguise themselves and sneak in to a Bahrain-Iran World Cup qualifier match (women are banned from the stadium) is both entertaining and politically acrid (our New York Film Festival review of the film is here). At indieWIRE, Michael Koresky compares the film to another dealing with Iran (well, Persia) that’s currently in theaters:

[N]ot only does "Offside"’s very contemporary look at Iranian youth culture act as a nuanced corrective to Zack Snyder‘s conveniently "unintentional" Iran invasion propaganda (known before the mid-Thirties as, you guessed it, Persia) but also both films are literal calls to action — "Offside" for young women to assert their independence in a hideously patriarchal society that’s ever so slowly evolving due to burgeoning youth activism; "300" for Americans to stomp, slice, and hack their way through anything, or anybody, of a different color.

Meanwhile, Andrew O’Hehir at Salon notes that while Panahi’s films have almost all been banned from theaters in Iran, he had trouble getting a visa to come the US to promote the film either: "I am shocked, shocked, to report that when it comes to genuine questions of liberty, the Bush administration and the Iranian mullahs are on the same side."

Of the film itself, "Offside confounds expectations regarding genre as well as gender," writes J. Hoberman at the Village Voice. "Panahi has things both ways—his movie is critical and utopian, cinema verité and political allegory."  Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly considers the film "a light counterweight to [Panahi’s] sadder 2000 feminist drama The Circle," a film that A.O. Scott at the New York Times declares "one of the best works of cinema to come out of Iran in the past decade." He praises "Offside"’s "rich, pointed comedy," while noting that "the lightheartedness is often shadowed by the threat of real trouble, since even the lighthearted breaking of a silly rule can have serious consequences."

Keith Uhlich at Slant writes that while "Offside" "doesn’t lack for striking images," "Panahi is so concerned with a particular social problem (a law that forbids women to enter Iran’s spectator-sporting facilities) that he fatally neglects the cinema—the handheld DV camerawork flattens the argument as much as the visual texture." Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club likes the camerawork, writing that "What might’ve come off as stage-bound, like a didactic one-act play, instead contains the energy and tension of a major sporting event, as Panahi moves the camera between the women and their jailers, as though following a series of scoring rallies."


Beware the butcher's daughter.
+ "The Page Turner": Revenge, lesbian lustings and chamber-music trios abound in Denis Dercourt‘s thriller, which stars Déborah François of "L’Enfant" as a thwarted piano prodigy who inveigles herself into the life of the woman who disrupted an audition of her years before. Nick Schager at Slant is one of many to see echoes of the films of Claude Chabrol, but sighs that it’s no "Merci Pour Le Chocolat"; it’s "a French thriller without a single thrill (but plenty of chuckles)." Manohla Dargis at the New York Times similarly declares that the film "is finally ersatz Chabrol, absent the master’s perverse wit, complex psychology, social sensitivities and visual flair." She does allow that while the film’s "parts don’t really fit together…individually they are just fine," calling out Julie Richalet in particular as the younger incarnation of the character François plays as an adult.

Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE praises François’ performance, but cautions that "It may be subtitled, but don’t be fooled: ‘The Page Turner’ isn’t a great deal more sophisticated than ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.’" Jim Ridley at the Village Voice muses that "Dercourt’s overbright visual scheme aims for a Michael Haneke–esque bourgeois chill that comes off instead as curiously bloodless," but likes the classical score and François, "effective as an opaque dose of pretty poison." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon is a fan, writing that "it’s a fine example of the excellence of French genre film right now: A dark tale of revenge with an inscrutable heart, ice in its veins and an electric undercurrent of eroticism, it also might be the best-photographed picture I’ve seen so far this year."


No "Memento."
+ "First Snow": Guy Pearce stars as New Mexico salesman who’s death is predicted by a fortuneteller in the directorial debut of Mark Fergus, one of the screenwriters behind "Children of Men." Stephen Holden at the New York Times is fond, calling it a "pointed little thriller with metaphysical pretensions" and "a mind-teaser that speaks the flat, evasive language of its seedy characters." Ella Taylor at LA Weekly salutes the films "great acting and pretty good writing," but finds that while it "has a fine sense of place and a small but terrific turn by veteran actress Jackie Burroughs… other than some instant messaging about living well as the best revenge on the certainty of death, it doesn’t have much on its mind." Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE sums that film up as "an alternately witty and dull psychological thriller intriguingly lacking in suspense. Simplistic and yet not unintelligent, it only spottily achieves its canny aspiration: to produce tension despite having already divulged its end point."

At Slant, Eric Henderson is generally unimpressed by film’s determination to remain "resolutely low-key," but writes hilariously in praise of its star:

Pearce, whose jaw muscles increasingly look like vaginal lips even as his choice of parts continue to serve penance for playing cinema’s all-time hottest drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, unravels marvelously, even as his character alternately believes and disbelieves in his mortal interruption at the worst possible moments.

Jim Ridley at the Village Voice dismisses the film as a "moody, tedious anti-thriller about ineluctable fate"; Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club is scornful, observing that "First Snow echoes Pearce’s signature film Memento just closely enough to suffer by comparison."

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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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