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DID YOU READ

“Even Money,” “Severance”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Left, “Even Money,” Yari Film Group, 2007; below, “Severance,” Magnolia Pictures, 2007]

Even Money

Per the opening credits as well as the official poster, “Even Money” is “A Mark Rydell Production” of “A Film by Mark Rydell.” So does that mean he’s doubly to blame for this overblown mess of ham(my acting) and cheese(y dialogue)?

“Even Money” is a drama in the mould of “Crash,” in that it presents a very serious topic — in this case, gambling, in all its addictive and destructive forms — and tries so hard to be important it forgets to be engrossing. It features a lot of good actors, including Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta and Forest Whitaker — but few good characters. The actors do a lot of screaming and cursing and crying and fighting, but the characters just sort of sit there at a remove from all the extravagant performances.

Take the characters played by Basinger and Liotta. They’re a married couple, he a professor of literature, she a writer who claims she’s working at the local coffee shop when she’s really at the casino, blowing the family’s life savings. The two have several high-tension on-camera dustups, including one in front of a fireplace where Basinger melodramatically shudders and gasps “I’m an addict!” But they never seem like an actual couple, even one with marital difficulties, except maybe the one scene where Basinger directly addresses Liotta’s penis.

Like “Crash,” the plot follows several loosely related storylines. Nick Cannon is a basketball star whose older brother (Whitaker) is heavily in debt to his bookies (Jay Mohr and Grant Sullivan), who are feuding with a more powerful bookie played by Tim Roth. Roth’s character is being investigated by a crippled cop (Kelsey Grammer in a hideous fake nose), and bothered by a washed-up magician (Danny DeVito). Only Whitaker, appropriately tragic as a born loser, gives something resembling a third dimension to his part.

Even more frustratingly, the narrative hinges on a series of dubious coincidences. Sullivan’s character’s girlfriend is oblivious to his activities until she bumps into an old friend she hasn’t seen in 12 years. The old friend drops a blunt (and incredibly convenient) bombshell on the order of: “Hey, your boyfriend broke my husband’s jaw! Nice seeing you again for the first time in over a decade!”

Some elements are totally unbelievable: no police force would let a cop as severely impaired as Grammer’s do anything more physically demanding than a desk job. Other times, the characters are just too damn stupid: Liotta’s character is shocked to learn that Basinger’s has completely drained their finances, after he finally grows suspicious and takes a look their recent bank statements. Doesn’t this guy even glance at the screen when he goes to the ATM?

What “Even Money” ultimately needs is someone like Robert Downey Jr., who understands addiction and could bring to the piece a much needed sense of reality. Producer/director Mark Rydell, who has made just six movies since he was nominated for an Oscar for directing “On Golden Pond” in 1981, was so proud of the movie he put his name on it twice, but he should have spent a little less time crafting the film’s color palette (the rich cinematography is “Even Money”‘s only flawless aspect) and more time crafting the film’s emotional one.

Severance

“Severance” is to “Hostel” as “Shaun of the Dead” is to “Night of the Living Dead.” As such, it’s yet another pun-intended stab at combining scares and laughs with mixed results. I’m always amazed by how often filmmakers try to marry these two antithetical concepts. As genres go, horror and comedy aren’t peanut butter and jelly; they’re not even peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Terror and joy are at such odds, they don’t make very good bedfellows, even in a movie as good as “Shaun of the Dead,” which is funny at first, and scary at the end, but rarely both at the same time. In his recent appearance on KCRW’s “The Treatment,” “Shaun” director Edgar Wright even admitted that, successful as his film is, it doesn’t really mesh the gags (as in laughing) with the gags (as in choking as you gorge yourself on human flesh).

“Severance” doesn’t really either, which is not to say that it doesn’t have individual moments that are very funny, as well as moments that are very scary. Its quite superb marketing campaign makes it look like a slasher set in a post-Gervais office, but that’s not entirely accurate. In fact, it follows a group of co-workers on a team-building weekend at a remote cabin (in horror movies, cabins are always remote) somewhere in the menacingly wooded foothills of Eastern Europe. Unfortunately for the team, which includes Danny Dyer, Laura Harris and Toby Stephens, they find themselves at the mercy of a brutal serial killer who stalks them and murders them one by one.

Your appreciation of the movie will vary based on your tolerance/enjoyment of torture-vacationer-slashers in the “Turistas”-“House of 1,000 Corpses” vein. As with “Shaun,” this is more genre reconstruction than deconstruction: you point out some hackneyed scare tactics, then you use them anyway in a particularly aggressive manner. So there is a good deal of gore, killings, mutilations, torture, carnage, explosions, and in at least one case, beheading (to some, I may have just made this film sound a good deal more appealing). While you’ll laugh more (at least intentionally) at “Severance” than you would at, say, “Saw,” you’ll still be rendered plenty disgusted and, depending on your temperament, maybe even a little offended.

The screenplay, by James Moran and director Christopher Smith, has at least two genuinely witty moments that involve bodily dismemberment, but that’s still at least a couple short of being a true horror-comedy. This is more “horror, comedy.” Not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but rather two different sandwiches, one PB, one J, which you’ve got to eat all at once.

“Even Money” opens in New York and L.A. May 18th (official site); “Severance” opens in New York May 18th (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.

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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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