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The week’s critic wrangle: “Zodiac,” “Black Snake Moan,” “Into Great Silence.”

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+ "Zodiac": David Fincher‘s highly anticipated chronicle of the Zodiac Killer, who haunted the San Francisco Bay Area and its surrounding areas in the late 60s into the 70s, does not disappoint the critics (we’ll post our own review shortly). Amongst the film’s biggest supporters are Nathan Lee, who, by his own admission, geeks out with one of the longest reviews we can recall running at the Village Voice. "As a crime saga, newspaper drama, and period piece, it works just fine. As an allegory of life in the information age, it blew my mind," he writes, calling out three particularly skillful shots and the film’s relationship to Fincher’s best known film to date, "Se7en." At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis points out the film is an "unexpected repudiation" of that earlier, flashier serial killer film. She also writes that Fincher’s "polished technique can leave you slack-jawed":

There is mystery in this minutiae, not just virtuosity, and maybe, to judge from reports of his painstaking process, a touch of madness. Like his detectives and journalists, Mr. Fincher seems possessed by the need to recreate reality — to revisit the scene of the crime — piece by piece.

Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly dubs the film "[a] procedural thriller for the information age," and suggests that the film’s unending investigation is "an analogue of the post-9/11 world, where the enemy is specific yet, by virtue of his self-projection, omnipresent, and therefore impossible to pin down." "Zodiac is the sort of vast, richly involving pop epic that Hollywood largely seems incapable of making anymore," sighs a blissful Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, while Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club is one of several critics to writes that this "feels like [Fincher’s] most personal and accomplished work to date." Nick Schager at Slant salutes the film’s "portrait of obsession run amok, and of the multifaceted influence of the media—and the cinema—on society."

Of the few voices of dissent: David Edelstein at New York finds a lot to admire in the film, particularly the opening scene ("among the most brilliantly cruel sequences I’ve ever seen") but finds the "the movie itself feels like an unfinished puzzle." Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader writes that "I’m not convinced this had to be 158 minutes long, so it’s all the more annoying when essential material gets elided"; Armond White at the New York Press (who dubs Fincher "the brainless Kubrick" — we’d disagree, but still: hah!) claims:

Fincher’s technique distracts from a resolved mystery or narrative closure; it encourages apathy that suggests resolution and absolution are impossible. Zodiac’s ending is a shocking let-down, not because it’s gruesome but because it nullifies itself. This time, Fincher puts everybody’s head in a box.

And Stephanie Zacharek at Salon writes that

Bits of the picture are fascinating to look at, but eventually, exhaustion kicks in, to the point where we’re not sure what we’re looking at, or why. And Fincher can’t stop himself from portraying the murders (in one case, in extremely graphic detail), as if addressing them more obliquely might possibly dilute their horror — as if their horror could be diluted. His approach, and his coldness, may be some kind of point-of-pride demonstration of artistic objectivity. But is there any such thing as an objective artist? And if so, do we want, or need, one?


+ "Black Snake Moan": Craig Brewer‘s third film, with an even more outrageous premise than his last, "Hustle & Flow," opens to mixed if often bemused reviews. Writes Roger Ebert (!) at the Chicago Sun-Times:

"Black Snake Moan" is the oddest, most peculiar movie I’ve seen about sex and race and redemption in the Deep South. It may be the most peculiar recent movie ever except for "Road House," but then what can you say about "Road House"? Such movies defy all categories.

He’s quite fond of the film, though he does writes, apparently meaning it as a complement, that Christina Ricci‘s "work defines the boundaries of the thankless." "Brewer knows how to guide his leads through this improbable story, and he kept me interested in spite of everything," shrugs Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader, while a fonder Nick Schager at Slant calls the film a "B-movie with an A-list cast, it’s an audaciously confrontational, button- and boundary-pushing work, marked by a sharp wit and a gleeful desire to see just how much it can get away with."

Dana Stevens at Slate has some problems with the boundaries that are being pushed, and doesn’t mince words:

I’m sorry, but in the age of Abu Ghraib and Alberto Gonzales torture memos, it seems important to say it again: Chaining people and holding them against their will is not the right thing to do. By that I don’t mean, simplistically, that Jackson‘s character is "bad" and should be punished at the end of the film. I mean that the questions—ethical, sexual, racial, whatever—that are raised by this initial act of violence are never addressed.

Armond White at the New York Press has other issues: "Black Snake Moan is so full of bad ideas and misrepresented ethnicity that people who are ignorant of black Southern culture, or feel nothing for it, will misread the film’s blunders as daring provocation."

At New York, David Edelstein calls the film "outlandish, hilariously overripe, and possibly sexist," but adds that "I loved the picture’s tabloid energy and heart." At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek, who likes the film quite a bit, calls Brewer "a humanist in wolf’s clothing"; Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, who less impressed, calls him "an old-fashioned guy," writing that "Black Snake Moan is, at its core, a fairly straightforward variation on George Bernard Shaw — Pigsfeetmalion, if you will."

A.O. Scott at the New York Times suggests that the Samuel L. Jackson character is nothing but "a tried-and-true Hollywood stock figure: the selfless, spiritually minded African-American who seems to have been put on the earth to help white people work out their self-esteem issues." He writes that underneath the provocative surface of the film is "a heart of pure, buttery cornpone"; Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly cautions that one should "be prepared to collapse into a hoot and a howl of hilarity at all the wrong moments." Rob Nelson at the Village Voice suggest that halfway through the film, "the filmmaker begins to direct his grindhouse fantasy of female enslavement as if it were Our Town." And Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club agrees that "it’d be nice if the execution matched the startling audacity of its premise.


+ "Into Great Silence": Monks. Doc. Three hours.

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott observes that "you surrender to ‘Into Great Silence’ as you would to a piece of music, noting the repetitions and variations, encountering surprises just when you think you’ve figured out the pattern." He concludes "I hesitate, given the early date and the project’s modesty, to call ‘Into Great Silence’ one of the best films of the year. I prefer to think of it as the antidote to all of the others."

An impressed Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE writes that "It’s almost as if Groning, having lived alongside the brothers and participated in their rituals for six months, was left by the experience disinclined to hew to any standards of linear narrativity when constructing his film, drifting instead towards an impressionistic wash of images and, yes, sounds that are often impenetrable, but always seductive." At Slant, Keith Uhlich suggests that as one falls into the rhythms of the film, "The monks still maintain their unique distinctions of self, but are now united (as are we) in common purpose and singular pursuit. Pursuit of what exactly? Call it God. Call it Cinema."

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon acknowledges the challenging nature of the film: "Gröning’s film asks you to do, in miniature, the same thing that the Carthusians ask their novices to do: Give up the outside world. That’s a devilishly difficult thing to manage, at first, but a delightful release once accomplished." And Michelle Orange at the Village Voice allows that "the point, however, is solidly made by the two-hour mark, and epiphany fatigue sets in; the more gimlet-eyed may turn to thoughts of heresy, or at least tire of exalting the supposedly pure existence of a bunch of men playing house on a hill, oblivious (and useless) to the world of need and suffering beneath them."

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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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