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“Diggers,” “Zoo”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Diggers,” Magnolia Pictures, 2007]


Given how silly his other project at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival was, it’s a bit of a surprise to see how mature and downright serious Ken Marino’s “Diggers” can be. Marino’s “The Ten,” in which he served as a co-star/producer/writer, is a collection of absurdist vignettes inspired by The Ten Commandments, and, tonally speaking, it’s not all that far removed from the sketch comedy show that Marino and his collaborators (including director David Wain) cut their teeth on. “Diggers,” in contrast, is a melancholy piece of nostalgia with a couple of laughs sprinkled in to leaven the drama.

By chance, or perhaps not by chance at all, Paul Rudd stars in both movies. In this one, he plays Hunt, a Long Island clam digger like his father before him. When his old man dies, Hunt gets the opportunity to reevaluate what he wants out of his life. Hunt’s story intertwines with those of three of his buddies, most importantly Frankie (Marino) who has a wife and a bunch of kids he’s struggling to feed. Now that a big corporate fishing interest called South Shell controls the waters of the Long Island Sound, it takes little fishermen like Frankie or Hunt three days to make what used to be a day’s pay, and times are getting tough. Even if they want to uphold a longstanding family tradition, it isn’t economically feasible anymore.

Both Hunt and Frankie are cornered by their respective familial responsibility: now that his dad’s passed away, Hunt should be able to finally move away from Long Island, but he still needs to look after his sister (Maura Tierney) and his father’s old boat; Frankie hates South Shell and everything it represents, but he’s forced to consider applying for a job there when he can’t support his large family on his miniscule income. He needs to save every penny, literally: one scene shows the whole family sitting around the kitchen table, rolling pennies.

For a movie about a bunch of hard-drinking buddies, “Diggers” is unusually sensitive to the women in their lives, no doubt due to the presence of director Katherine Dieckmann. Tierney is good, as is Lauren Ambrose as Hunt’s love interest from the big city, but best of all is Sarah Paulson (who’s great on the seemingly cancelled “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) as Frankie’s put-upon wife. The pair has an impressively lived-in onscreen relationship, one that oscillates with eerie accuracy between arguments and intimacy. Though Rudd’s the lead, Marino gave himself the meatiest role, as Frankie has both the funniest lines and the biggest emotional moments. In both ways, he completely steals the picture. Marino was always one of the most talented comedians from “The State” repertory company, but here he proves himself a fine actor to boot: the scene where Paulson and Marino discuss a shocking bit of news could not have been played better by either participant.

The ending is a bit too “Good Will Hunting” for my tastes, although a climactic, celebratory middle finger is a nice touch. According to Marino, “Diggers” is an autobiographical story (his father and grandfather were clam diggers on Long Island) and the picture is steeped in atmospheric authenticity, physically and emotionally. Having seen the movie, I feel like I’d visited the time and place it portrays. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. But, hey, neither would Hunt.


“Zoo” begins by invoking the imagery of the American West: glorious vistas, the open road, lush natural beauty. But this is a decidedly unusual horse opera. Here the animals aren’t mere conveyances — they’re the objects of their cowboys’ lust as well.

This restrained sorta-doc is based on a lurid real life scandal. In July of 2005, a businessman was dropped off at a hospital in the Pacific Northwest with a perforated colon. Ultimately, his death was attributed to an ill-fated lovemaking session with an Arabian stallion. During their investigation into his death, police found videotapes of the man (referred to in the film as “Mr. Hands”) performing acts of bestiality, and he wasn’t alone: in fact, Mr. Hands was part of a group of zoophiles who met to socialize with each other and the animals. Because bestiality wasn’t illegal in Washington at the time, no one was ever charged.

Director Robinson Devor (“Police Beat”) approaches the material as a poet rather than an investigator. Instead of trying to pump up the seamy details, he lets the surviving participants try to explain themselves and matches their stories up to dialogue-free reenactments. Two of the zoophiles, “H” and “The Happy Horseman,” appear only as disembodied voices, their physical appearances in the recreations provided by actors, while a third, named “Coyote,” appears as himself.

Devor’s restagings involve a few half-seen graphic details scattered around a host of abstract imagery and spacey, droning music. His pacing is slow and even, and the methodical march towards Mr. Hands’ death has the feel of a nightmare you’re aware of but can’t wake from. The actors are shot from behind or with their faces obscured by shadows. The overall mood is mysterious and ethereal; the tone is somber and thoughtful. There are no jokes at the zoophiles’ expense. It ultimately looks like the most lyrical episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” ever filmed. All that’s missing is Robert Stack’s voice.

Despite its palpable sense of atmosphere, Devor’s film has its flaws. With so few real names, and with so little visual information to go by, it’s easy to mix up the various participants and their roles in the Mr. Hands affair (a fact that, given Devor’s rather meticulous visual style, may be intended). Devor’s hands-off approach certainly yielded access to interview subjects who would otherwise have been hesitant to divulge the more intimate facets of their sexual preferences, but it also kept the film light on revelations. Much as we might want him to, Devor doesn’t probe men’s personal lives or this particular incident too deeply. As a result, “Zoo” feels mysterious but not especially curious.

Like another recent picture, Mike White’s fictional “Year of the Dog,” “Zoo” is about people who love their animals to a fault. Both filmmakers show a great deal of empathy towards their subjects though it would arguably be easier to treat them as objects of derision or scorn instead of misunderstood humanity. Still, “Zoo” is a short movie (at about 80 minutes), and I walked away from it feeling like I didn’t entirely understand these men and their motives. One of the animal rights workers says that investigating Mr. Hands’ case let her approach an understanding of these people without actually achieving one. Perhaps that’s exactly where Devor wanted to take us as well.

“Diggers” opens in limited release April 27th (official site); “Zoo” opens in New York on April 25th (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.


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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