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DID YOU READ

“Flannel Pajamas,” “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Flannel Pajamas,” Hart Sharp, 2007]

Despite the hoopla, genuine indies, the kind of passion-made, personal film without slumming stars or boutique-studio funding, are rarer than we think, and often just as difficult to define as such. (Indie cachet is a vital marketing factor, after all.) Here’s one way to tell: if a film eschews the compromises required in being bought up and shipped into theaters by Fox Searchlight or Sony Pictures Classics or Lionsgate, and is instead — gasp — self-distributed. It’s hard to question the authentic indie-ness of a filmmaker who shoulders the Herculean task of self-promoting, self-selling and self-financing his or her film’s theatrical run. 2006 saw a few, among them David Lynch’s “Inland Empire,” Andrew Bujalski’s “Mutual Appreciation” and Jeff Lipsky’s “Flannel Pajamas.” Lipsky, a principal figure in the post-Reagan rise of “independent film” (an experienced executive, he co-founded the now-defunct distributors October Films and Lot 49), isn’t a rising young hotshot ready to defect to the Industry once his resume film is recognized at Sundance (think about how quickly Darren Aronofsky, David Gordon Green, Jared Hess and Gavin O’Connor surrendered their careers to the machine). “Flannel Pajamas” — his sophomore feature as a writer/director — is instead an eagle-eyed, mature, true-to-thyself piece of cinema made for the sheer making, a film in which the people count more than the PR footprint the movie might make in the Park City snow.

The material is simple: two New York singles (Julianne Nicholson and Justin Kirk) meet, woo, fuck, fall in love, move in together, mix up with each others’ messy families, marry, grow disillusioned and break up. That’s it — Lipsky’s entire intent is to tell the truth, to examine the arc that virtually everyone endures at least once in our lives and yet films (American films, anyway) always ignore. Even so, the movie doesn’t feel generalized or iconic — the textures of the characters’ lives are specific, thorny, culturally alert and thrumming with surprise. These people talk, like you and your friends do, to entertain each other and to cover up their weaknesses. Kirk’s slightly goofy theatrical marketeer is so forthcoming and generous you begin to look for secretive chinks in his White Knight armor; Nicholson’s country girl is utterly beguiling except when she is moody and hypersensitive. (A busy but yet-to-be-discovered wonder best known for the 2000 indie “Tully” and plenty of episodic TV, Nicholson is one of the most addictively watchable actresses of her generation.) Egos bump and grind, sexual politics create emotional blisters, the matter of children never gets resolved, family darkness emerges from the background, all of it orchestrated in an off-hand way that evokes how real lives plow forward and intersect, not how movie plotlines rise and fall with oceanic predictability. Did Lipsky try and fail to get distributors interested in “Flannel Pajamas”? If so, the state of Indieville is far more dire and anemic than we ordinarily think.

On the other hand, Stanley Nelson’s documentary “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple” found a theatrical distributor — in many ways, non-fiction is the new indie — and the day you see it in any context might be the darkest day of your year. Entirely orthodox in its ways and means, “Jonestown” has a truly apocalyptic story to tell: of how a lonely, poor and mildly disturbed Indiana boy named Jim Jones adopted the Pentecostal business plan of his Midwestern outlands and created the Peoples Temple, a socialist, multi-racial, utopian ministry that drew in thousands of starry-eyed devotees before it began to go crashingly, sickeningly wrong. In the years since its immolation via cyanide and Kool-Aid in 1978, Jonestown has become something like a cultural scar we can only chuckle about if we dare to think on it at all. But Nelson’s film matter-of-factly reiterates the details, interviewing dozens of Temple survivors, who recall both their rapturous experience finding love and community as a member of the congregation, and their eventual awareness of their abused, delusional state of near-slavery under the increasingly deranged Jones. Today, the tale plays as a proto-fascist/totalitarian paradigm in miniature, with Jones employing the gamut of Stalinist tactics (informant dread, paranoia, threats, limited media, work-worship, etc.) to maintain his control. It’s a revolting parable on power, as well as a devastating inquiry into the religious impulse, ending with the modern era’s most spectacular auto-da-fé. You may learn all there is that is known about the Jonestown phenomenon, but the central mystery — how could intelligent, loving parents be persuaded to pour cyanide down their own toddlers’ throats, and then drink it themselves while holding their cold children? — remains imponderable, chilling and all-American.

“Flannel Pajamas” (Hart Sharp) and “Jonestown: The Life & Death of Peoples Temple” will be available on DVD on April 10th.

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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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