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“Old Joy,” The Jean Renoir Collection

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Old Joy,” Kino, 2006]

American indies should, it is legended, do what mainstream Hollywood movies can’t — and sorry, that does not include crazy violence or eccentric comedy, both of which the studios can do well enough, thank you. (If only independent filmmakers who think exclusively in those terms would fill out their resumes shooting commercials like their supposed to, instead of turkey-stuffing the indie niche with recycled dross and tired “dependies”…) Of course, as Kelly Reichardt’s film “Old Joy” amply demonstrated last year, a real, unique, originally voiced indie appears on the radar and, despite unanimous critical hosannas, it is all but ignored by a supposedly authenticity-hungry audience. American movies don’t come much smaller, subtler or swoonier with tactile experience than Reichardt’s festival hit — a rare commitment to heartfelt naturalism, the most difficult special effect of all, keeps the movie free of bull and cool-indie toxins. The narrative (from a short story by Oregon author Jon Raymond, which was published as an coffee-table book illustrated by photographs) is almost absurdly simple. In Portland, one old college friend calls another: let’s get lost, just for a few days, in the Cascades. Mark (Daniel London) is a watchful, even-tempered father-to-be with a high-pressure job; Kurt (Will Oldham) is an unmarried searcher, still living the West Coast dorm paradigm with odd jobs, a headful of weed and unconvincing stories of spiritual awakenings. Their post-hippie pasts are behind them, and the future appears either stressful or non-existent. They head for a hot-springs retreat in the forest, can’t find it, camp elsewhere, hit a diner, then arrive and kick back.

That’s it, but we see much more: “Old Joy” might be the only film ever specifically made about that universal moment when the bonds of youth begin to rust and fade and become irrelevant against the bombardments of age and responsibility. Not that anyone in the film says as much — Reichardt’s strategy is entirely a matter of looks, pauses and unvoiced subtexts, making it a film by and for wide-awake grown-ups. (The acting, in what is essentially a duet, is so genuine and low-key it makes you sit forward and listen carefully.) The moist wilderness around the protagonists is unforgettably sensual, but it’s the men’s unspoken conflict, with the onslaught of time as much as with each other, that haunts your thoughts afterwards.

In many ways, it’s a tradition in film that began with Jean Renoir — humane camaraderie, the plain beauty of social respect and unexpected mutual empathies, the painful distance between the poles of a friendship under pressure. Saying that Renoir is one of maybe seven unassailable masters in the history of cinema is not unlike saying the ocean is large and blue; demonstrating a shrugging nonchalance for his best films should and will peg you to those that know as a pretender. You can never have too much Renoir in your life, and, in what might be the season’s premier DVD launch for die-hard cinephiles, Lionsgate has released a lovely three-disc Renoir set, much-needed context for the well-known masterpieces (“Grand Illusion,” “Rules of the Game”) that should be permanent furniture in every educated person’s cultural boudoir. In addition to two rare featurettes (1927’s bizarre jazz-sci-fi “Charleston Parade” and 1928’s “The Little Match Girl,” both starring then-Mrs. Renoir Catherine Hessling), we get five features, from either end of the maestro’s career. Renoir’s first film, “Whirlpool of Fate” (1925), is a class-conscious melodrama, and “Nana” (1926) is a robust, roomy adaptation of Zola; both prefigure Renoir’s spacious use of mise-en-scène later in his talkies, and both star Hessling, a beady-eyed beauty the Renoir divorced, thankfully, in 1930. “La Marseillaise” (1938), smack in the middle of his richest period, is a fabulous, boisterous, joyous account of the French Revolution from the peasant’s point of view (Renoir’s always hunting for the most modest perspective).

“Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier” (1959), on the other hand, is a document from Renoir’s aging years, a strangely self-conscious made-for-TV version of the Jekyll/Hyde scenario that features famed pantomime Jean-Louis Barrault as the proper doctor and his bestial alter ego, played here as a medical-fuck-up mix between Lon Chaney’s ape man from “A Blind Bargain” and Harpo Marx. The capper is “The Elusive Corporal” (1962), Renoir’s last full-on feature film and a refreshing, buoyant compatriot-film to “Grand Illusion,” tracing the escape-happy travails of three French soldiers (led by the late Jean-Pierre Cassel) held as POWs in German camps during the Occupation. For Renoir, even the Nazi guards are people boggled by duty, amusement, guilt and love, and his essential humanism is, as it has always been in a public sphere that prefers cut-and-dried good and evil, a balm for the soul.

“Old Joy” (Kino) will be available on May 1st; The Jean Renoir Collection (Lionsgate) is now available on DVD.

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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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