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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: “Grindhouse,” “Black Book.”

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The feet have it.
+ "Grindhouse": How to parse Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino‘s double-feature homage to le cinéma d’exploitation? Most critics are heaping superlatives on the film; a few detractors aim careful barbs intended to deflate the expected praise, and yet "Grindhouse" seems to evade solid insights. Is it possible to analyze a film that so valiantly

Samples from the big fans: Nathan Lee at the Village Voice gleefully observes that "Rodriguez, Tarantino, and Co. aim for nothing more noble than to freak the funk, and it’s about goddamn time. Go wasted, go stoned, go without your parents’ permission. In paying homage to an obsolete form of movie culture, Grindhouse delivers a dropkick to ours." "Growing up in the ’70s, I spent my share of time in grind-house theaters, and I can testify: This is exactly what it felt like," declares Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly. "Grindhouse wants to give you a ticky-tacky good time, and does, but it also taps the wild, jagged spasms of aggression that gave [grindhouse] films their primitive outlaw style." At the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas compares "Death Proof" to… "Inland Empire"? "Like Lynch’s movie, I suspect that Death Proof will throw some of its director’s admirers for a loop, though it may be the most revealing thing Tarantino has yet done — a full-throttle expression of a singular artistic temperament disguised, like so many gems of grindhouses yore, as a glittering hunk of trash."

At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek wonders if the Kurt Russell character in "Death Proof" isn’t an echo of Tarantino himself, in that he’s a devotee of pop culture that’s passed from the memory of his target audience. She adds that the film is "also recklessly joyous and deeply affectionate, a celebration not just of an all-but-lost approach to moviemaking but of the nearly lost experience of communal moviegoing." David Edelstein at New York echoes these thoughts:

There’s another reason that Grindhouse is, for some of us misfits, such a happy trip. It affirms our sense of community. No one at the time wrote much about grindhouse fare. It was mostly too sexist and lowbrow for the Voice, and way too lowbrow for the Times. (In her review of Dawn of the Dead, the sequel to the sixties’ most seminal horror film, Janet Maslin boasted about walking out in the first fifteen minutes.) It’s true that most of these films were depressingly bad. But there was something vital, something electric about the liveness of that culture. I’m sad that most people will see Grindhouse on video. It should be consumed (or, depending on your perspective, endured) in a theater full of shrieking, gasping, cheering, borderline-ashamed exploitation junkies. Nowadays, people smoke dope and drink and jerk off in front of TV screens in the privacy of their homes. They really need to get out more.

Dana Stevens at Slate compares Rodriguez to "a fourth-grade boy trying to elicit the biggest ‘ew’ possible from his audience," and finds that "Death Proof" "is a reminder of what there was to like about Tarantino in the first place." Keith Phipps at the Onion AV Club thinks that "Planet Terror" "could more easily pass as the genuine article" than Tarantino’s film, which will have "no mistaking it for anyone else’s work." He points out problems in both films, but also writes that "the film has a Russian-nesting-doll quality: Unpacking it steadily reveals more, both in the ways the two halves tie together, and in the substance beyond the scratchy surfaces."

Dennis Lim, popping up over at the LA Times, points out that "Grindhouse" is "an exploitation bonanza in which the most effectively exploited element is the marketing concept," but goes on to write that "setting aside the dubious coherence and suspect nostalgia of the enterprise, ‘Grindhouse’ is a fascinating exercise in genre reinvention, a showcase for two radically different approaches to homage." Over at the New York Times, A.O. Scott (who likes "Death Proof" and isn’t a fan of "Planet Terror") is another who sees the film as a salute to moviegoing. He suggests "when viewing ‘Grindhouse’ at home skip the commentary track and bring in a few drunks off the street to mutter and snore."

Not as fond: Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader, who perhaps misses the point when observing that "these two full-length features are each 20 minutes longer than they need to be, and neither one makes much sense as narrative." Jeremiah Kipp at Slant writes that the film is "disaffected and campy, but unlike a lot of those sleazy exploitation movies that stood the test of time, it lacks any real anger, machismo, or even sleaziness. In other words, it’s difficult to invest in anything that’s happening beyond regarding it as one big gooey lark." And Armond White at the New York Press, is, naturally, pissed off:

The entire experience is a throwback to Neanderthal cinema—not Pauline Kael “trash” or Manny Farber “termite” movies but worse: films without social responsibility, that are extravagantly disreputable—a decadent, rich culture’s wallow. There’s no way around this film’s junky, self-annihilating compulsiveness except to meet it head-on, call it crap and defy it."

His memorable conclusion: "It’s an Abu Ghraib action extravaganza." So, by our rough count: Rodriguez 2, Tarantino 8. We’d like to add that we think Rodriguez is joshing everyone who’d see something timely or meaningful in "Planet Terror"’s bin Laden reference, which is so ludicrous it is, if anything, is a jab at critical claiming of the zombie-as-metaphor movie. Sometimes a zombie is just a zombie.

 

"It's about surviving in a world populated by assholes."
+ "Black Book": But it is art? Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch filmmaker who wallowed in Hollywood making shiny, ballsy trash for decades, has lately been taken up by certain members of the cinephile community and granted auteur status. "Black Book," his first Dutch film since 1983, is being presented as an art house effort — Sony Pictures Classics is handling this release.

Liking it: Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club writes that the film is "a rollicking wartime movie-movie, replacing awards-bait clichés with a strong dose of two-fisted action, frank sexuality, and coal-black cynicism… In the end, Black Book may be one of the most fun movies ever made about how people basically suck."  David Edelstein at New York muses:

For all the moral upheavals of the first days of the post-war era, something is kerflooey when you’re rooting for the Jewish girl to end up with the nice Gestapo fella. In spite of my cavils, I urge you not to pass up Black Book, especially on a wide screen. It’s a marvelous movie-movie, with a new screen goddess. [Carice] van Houten has a soft, heart-shaped face on top of a body so naturally, ripely beautiful it has its own kind of truth.

J. Hoberman at the Village Voice similarly salutes the film’s heroine: "Cool,
courageous, free-spirited, totally affirmative, and loyal to a fault,
Rachel is compared at various points to Jean Harlow and Greta Garbo;
she’s pure life force as well as a star—late in the movie she hurls
herself off a balcony as if into a mosh pit."Armond White‘s a fan of the film’s Nazi-movie reinventions, describing it thusly: "Imagine a Fassbinder movie, deliberately self-conscious for the new century. Rachel suggests Maria Braun or Lili Marleen only not simply transplanted to The Netherlands (lewd name for a Verhoeven location) but to the realm of comic books—oops! graphic novels—to use a term that implies Verhoeven’s Pop Art boldness."

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times cautions against those who’d overintellectualize the film, which, she allows, is "pretty much a hoot": "Designed for distraction (the frequently timed gunfights suggest as much), ‘Black Book’ works only if you take it for the pulpiest of fiction, not a historical gloss, its stated claims to ‘true events’ notwithstanding." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon writes that "One of the knocks on Verhoeven has been that his disposition is so ironical and he’s so pathologically addicted to ambiguity that his films have no moral bottom line. It’s not an inherently stupid reading of his work, but it’s also not quite fair."

Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly suggests that "Black Book may be the looniest use of the Holocaust as a playground since Roberto Benigni served up his infernal clown act in Life Is Beautiful." She finds "there’s little collective value to the assembled transgressions." Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE likes the film, though he writes that "this is far from the Verhoeven’s most dexterous filmmaking," Ed Gonzalez at Slant is also fond but disappointed:

Based on true events but not a true story (at least according to a sly Verhoeven), the film imagines Nomi Malone’s vagina dentata laying waste to the Nazis. This is an enticing proposition, except this voluptuously directed epic crumbles beneath the weight of its well-oiled but mechanical plot.

Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly writes that the film is "a viscerally effective thriller ends up a repugnant exercise in moral relativism, delivered with the grandstanding swagger of the self-styled provocateur." And at the New YorkerAnthony Lane is also grossed out: "This is trash pretending to serve the cause of history: a ‘Dirty Dozen’ knockoff with one eye on ‘Schindler’s List’":

At one point, the sanitization is literal: Rachel, arrested as a traitor, is stripped to the waist and drenched in human excrement. There may be grounds for showing such maltreatment, but there are none for what happens next—a shot of our heroine, scrubbed and untraumatized, leaving the scene with her rescuer, a Resistance friend, and walking out into the sunshine. Is that how Verhoeven thinks that individuals, let alone countries, emerge from humiliation?

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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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