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"They're already making movies about it."
Of the countless shows based around the hypnotic and reliable rhythms of the crime procedural, our personal favorite, the relatively recent "Criminal Minds," is the likely apex (or nadir). While other shows have staked out their own fields of expertise — sex crimes, Las Vegas, missing persons — "Criminal Minds" wants for itself only the Most Dangerous of Criminals, more often or not that foie gras of the villainous world, the serial killer with a shtick. Its team of diversely attractive FBI agents darts around the country in a private jet, applying their profiling skills wherever needed ("That’s the second murder in a month. He’s escalating!") in order to wrap up a case in 44 minutes. It’s wretchedly silly and absurdly compelling, a show that presumes a world with such a surfeit of psychobabble-enabled malefactors that it necessitates a special government division.

"Zodiac," David Fincher‘s first film since 2002’s "Panic Room," is a procedural in the true sense of the word — it chronicles, in exhausting detail, the minutiae of the investigation into the Zodiac Killer in the late 60s and 70s, a case that remains unsolved. It is also, less successfully, an examination of obsession, of our fascination with and longing for the plotlines and the looming villains so easy to find in film, TV and airport novels, their unhinged minds ready to be unlocked by some intrepid investigator with the right insights. Life is not a paragraph; neither, at two hours and 40 minutes, is "Zodiac," a film that’s more interesting to write about than it is to watch. The real world may well fail to cohere to a convenient narrative; seeing this demonstrated on screen is, as you’d guess, unsatisfying.

"Zodiac" begins with a brutal make-out point murder that chills with its meticulously recreated details, a crime the killer takes credit for when he writes to the San Francisco Chronicle and two other Bay Area papers in August of 1969, demanding they publish a cipher. Political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is at the paper when the letter arrives; his interest is immediate — cryptography and puzzles are his hobby. But he jostles at the sidelines of the film for a long time; the investigation belongs to the competent, slightly showboating Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his long-suffering partner Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), and to reporter Paul Avery (the always fun Robert Downey Jr.). By the time Graysmith emerges as the main character, he seems to have won by virtue of sticking it out the longest; Toschi drifts away to other cases, Armstrong to other departments, Avery to obscurity, living on a houseboat, wallowing in drugs and alcohol. Graysmith, the Eagle Scout, the cartoonist turned amateur sleuth, can’t put the puzzle down, and so he gets to grace the film with the themes of obsession to which it eventually comes round as a seeming afterthought — after all, the real Robert Graysmith wrote the two books on which the film is based.

The Zodiac Killer loomed large in the imagination; he had San Francisco trembling in his shadow. But it’s likely he only actually killed five people, though he took credit for other murders he didn’t commit — a fact that Avery informs Graysmith, after which he observes "You almost look disappointed." Whatever prompted his first murders is unknown; what kept him going and kept him writing to the papers, on the other hand, is easily apparent. He enjoyed creating his own mythology, and the media was happy to help. A scene involving the killer’s proposed call-in to speak to a local lawyer (played by Brian Cox) on a live morning show could prompt nervous giggles — talking to the killer, on a live broadcast! Frightening, but great TV. It was good business for all involved — Graysmith is the only one without an angle, and the only one unable to put the case down when everyone else was ready to move on.

Fincher, himself responsible for one of pop culture’s most grandly gothic serial killers in "Se7en"‘s John Doe, does takes an ax to the conventions of the crime genre, if such a dramatic phrase can be used for a film that avoids all easy provocations. The murders, along with one late night roadside kidnapping, are all brilliantly staged, chilling in their unfeigned details, and over and done with early in the film. The point is not the killings themselves, nor the murderer, whose possible identity seems so diffuse by the end that everyone and no one could be a suspect. The grind is the point, the weeks passing until they’ve added up to years, the case resting not on dramatic interrogations but on handwriting analysis, evidence spread over four counties not prone to much communication. Fincher keeps his whiz-bang bag of camera tricks closed, keeping his direction unobtrusive save for the occasional flashy shot — one, overhead on the Golden Gate Bridge, has the untethered feel of a dream.

We’re given all of the details, the dead ends, the backtracking, and yet the cumulative effect is not a portrait of obsession, merely evidence of it. The Zodiac Killer, pinned down with the weight of all these documented facts, seems small, not worth dedicating decades to, and that revelation is hardly the equivalent of a one liner before the credits roll.

"Zodiac" opens wide today.

+ "Zodiac" (Paramount)

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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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