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The week’s critic wrangle: “Hot Fuzz,” “Syndromes and a Century.”

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"You ain't seen 'Bad Boys II'?"
+ "Hot Fuzz": How good is the new film from Team Wright/Pegg? Good enough for even the New York PressArmond White to overcome his dislike for hipsters and comedy to twice deem Wright’s work "Godardian." He writes:

It’s a British Music Hall version of the social myths that cop movies inherited from American westerns. They’re paying tribute to what is most human in an increasingly dehumanized pop genre now gone global. When Angel and Danny get inspired by a drugstore rack of cop-movie DVDs, these clichés are revitalized and given back their roots in cultural/social anxiety. This moment of truth derives from Danny’s infatuation with Kathryn Bigelow’s exotic 1991 film Point Break—a cop/surfer movie, freedom/friendship/fatherhood apotheosis. When Keanu doesn’t shoot the President Reagan-masked robber, it beautifully distills one’s ambivalence toward authority. Referring to Bigelow’s profound incident, Hot Fuzz proves our modern political crises are also cultural.

We worship at the altar of "Point Break" more than anyone, but we admit, "Bigelow’s profound incident" made us snicker… and, perhaps, touched our heart. Going on — Manohla Dargis at the New York Times is most tickled by the film as a reaction to the standard British cinematic import: "Think of it as ‘The Full Monty’ blown to smithereens." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon writes that "Wright and Pegg are masters at balancing great, dumb, obvious jokes with ticklish, oblique ones, gags that zing by, only half-glimpsed." She salutes that way the film is "at once deeply affectionate and sharply observed: There’s never anything smart-alecky about Wright’s approach as a director."

"After Team America: World Police, this brand of blockbuster lampooning is itself something of a tired formula," allows Nick Schager at Slant, still won over by the "sheer, giddy vigor with which Wright and Pegg… faithfully pay tribute to their corny source material." He also writes:

That it self-consciously chooses the odious Bad Boys II as one of its stylistic templates (replete with pointlessly circling pans and slow-motion) is forgivable considering that its other prime influence is the ne plus ultra of modern Hollywood action films, Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break, a superlatively cheesy classic whose most overwrought—and unintentionally funny—moment becomes a key plot point during Angel and Butterman’s investigation.

(We’d never have dreamed so many critics harbored a secret fondness for Bigelow’s film — it’s thrilling.)

A nameless Onion AV Club staffer finds that "[l]ike Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz is characterized by an all-too-rare sense of childlike joy in the possibilities of filmmaking, collaboration, and a night out at the movies," while Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly surveys the cast and declare that "[t]his movie set, clearly, was a VIP room for the cool kids." Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE, while not finding in the film the depths seen by Armond White, is nevertheless charmed, particularly by Pegg and costar Nick Frost: "they even pull off the inevitable buddy cop-latent homosexuality gag with winning understatement, never getting all het up and panicky." Robert Wilonsky at the Village Voice calls "Hot Fuzz" "a cult film writ humongous"; David Edelstein at New York ultimately finds that the film is "fun, and it’s nice to see all the English character actors who aren’t busy in Harry Potter films, but it lacks its predecessor’s freshness."

And at the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas observes:

For most of its running time, it’s an enjoyably unpretentious celebration of the guilty pleasure we can take from a stupid-as-all-get-out car chase or from watching things blow up real good. Then, in its final half hour, Wright and Pegg ratchet up the absurdity tenfold and enter the realm of the sublime: Beware of the shotgun-wielding grannies and double-barreled vicars!


"Normally, I sing about teeth and gums. But this album is all love songs."
+ "Syndromes and a Century": Shifting gears — Apichatpong ("Joe") Weerasethakul‘s fifth feature film is at least as deserving of the description "sublime," but proves both less populist and much more difficult to pin down in print. "When I’ve written about Joe’s work in the past, I’ve received angry e-mail from readers who say they tried to watch a Joe movie and were bored out of their skulls," warns Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek. "As with all films that don’t cling to strict narrative structures, one person’s rapturous, pointillist dreamscape is another’s ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’" For her, the film comes down to the following:

Joe has said, "The mind doesn’t work like a camera. The pleasure for me is not in remembering exactly but in recapturing the feeling of the memory — and in blending that with the present." The suggestion is that Nohng and Toey are dream-memory versions of Joe’s parents: He can’t, of course, have known them as young people, so he has to slip back in time to paint them, as their younger selves, with watercolor washes of imagined memory.

A.O. Scott at the New York Times (who also cautions that Weerasethakul’s films are "resistant to summary, at times even to understanding") writes that "’Syndromes and a Century,’ like its curious title, has the logic of a dream, a piece of music or perhaps a John Ashbery poem. Its coherence is evident; it is too lovely and lucid to be frustrating or dull. But it takes place just on the other side of conscious apprehension."

J. Hoberman at the Village Voice muses that "the 37-year-old director’s distinctively casual cine-nigmas are anything but predictable—except, perhaps, in their unaccountable happiness." Nick Schager at Slant writes:

Via his elliptical editing and his tales’ penchant for drifting, on a whim, into flashbacks or visual asides, the director captures the way in which memories subconsciously operate—how they gently blend into one another with little concern for clear-cut sequential arrangement, and how our reminiscences of certain moments in life are often colored by our lucid, almost-tangible recollections of the specific places in which they occurred (hence his frequent cut-aways to empty rooms, hallways, and fields).

Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club notes that the film’s "individual sequences spin along, lovely and mesmerizing, and they’re not really all that hard to understand, in and of themselves. It’s in figuring out how they all fit together that Syndromes And A Century can become maddening. So don’t try too hard."

And Armond White at the New York Press comes in with the dissent that’s actually yet another protracted and hopeless campaign to declare the brilliance of Julián Hernández‘,s "Broken Sky," the film that continues to be White’s Rosebud-like obsession. White writes that the film’s enigmatic nature "allows Western critics to condescend, investing Weerasethakul’s lackluster cinema with inordinate significance. They prefer this bland repetition of what other filmmakers do with excitement. If Syndromes and a Century’s blandness passes for mysteriousness, it indicates a decline in art-cinema culture." Having read the piece twice, we can only glean that White’s complaint is that there’s not enough sex in "Syndromes," which is a powerfully strange thing on which to pin such a negative review — though what do we know about art-cinema culture? 

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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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