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DID YOU READ

The mid-week’s critic wrangle: Sleeping alone, brands, brains, day, night.

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Athletic team.
+ "I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone": Who could be more elliptical a filmmaker than Apichatpong Weerasethakul? Possibly his New Crowned Hope-commissioned colleague Tsai Ming-liang, whose seventh feature opens in New York today. "Albeit closer to ballet than drama, this urban nocturne is one of Tsai’s most beautiful and naturalistic films—at least in terms of its rich, humid, almost viscous ambience," writes the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman. "The narrative, however, is pure fable—complete with a mysterious ending that leaves the protagonist and his lovers bobbing like a cork on a sea of chaos." "On the subject of angles," adds A.O. Scott at the New York Times, "Mr. Tsai may be modern cinema’s reigning genius of camera placement, with an ability to turn simple, homely spaces into zones of psychological mystery." He goes on:

In spite of the austerity of his methods, Mr. Tsai’s meticulously composed fables of longing and disconnection are lurid and comical as well as poignant. His most memorable scenes are formalist jokes, deadpan sight gags that combine sex and slapstick humor.

Michael Koresky at indieWIRE believes that Tsai may be "the visual narrative stylist par excellence working in cinema today; an entire story, a life, a world, breathes through his films, even as he rarely burdens them with language." He points out that in choosing to set the film amongst immigrant workers Kuala Lumpur, a city in his native Malaysia, "Tsai has even found a more direct motivation for his preference to tell stories through images rather than dialogue: the great language divide of his main characters." Keith Uhlich at Slant detects for the first time "a sense that the director is treading water, ineffectually replaying themes better explored in earlier works." Still, he finds it "a…minor effort, though one still worth experiencing for [Norman] Atun‘s stellar performance as Rawang." Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club has similar thoughts: "[F]ew directors can approach Tsai’s formal mastery, but his latest work, I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone, catches him on the downward slope. His signature long takes, once suffused with deep melancholy and unexpected humor, occasionally lose their dynamism here, especially in the first half, which finds his aesthetic minimalism stripped to the bone."

 

Orphans.+ "Brand Upon the Brain!": Guy Maddin‘s silent film arrives with a live orchestra, foley artists, celebrity narrators and, possibly, a castrato in tow. "Yet," observes Fernando F. Croce at Slant, "the theatrical experience isn’t a William Castle-type gimmick any more than Maddin’s feverish melodrama is a blur of shards from Feuillade, Borzage, and Gance. The director’s profoundly felt biographical obsessions and love for film history go beyond parody and homage and into poetically inexplicable private reveries." "Mr. Maddin’s adoration for early cinema — in particular, its delicate charms and now-exotic flourishes — hasn’t made him a slave to that love, which is why ‘Brand Upon the Brain!’ is as much deconstruction as a tribute," continues Manohla Dargis at the New York Times.

In interviews he has explained that the story was partly inspired by events in his life, but the intensely personal nature of this tour de force would be evident even without such insider dope. In “Brand Upon the Brain!,” the Mother sometimes watches over the children using a searchlight to pick them out in the shadows. As the light sweeps over the island, it becomes at once an old-fashioned movie camera and a projector, seizing hold of these beautiful bodies in the rapture of their immortal youth.

At the Village Voice, Aaron Hillis cautions against passing up the live events for the film’s eventual wider theatrical release, which will run to a prerecorded soundtrack.

Not to discredit its wild artistry by saying the gimmick’s the prize,
but . . . the gimmick’s the prize. Without all the hoopla, there simply
isn’t enough variation to this stylized fever-dream to justify its
fatiguing running time, nor to call it anything less than predictably
Maddin–esque.

Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club agrees that "coming after the inspired trifecta of Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary, Cowards Bend The Knee, and The Saddest Music In The World, Brand feels a little like boilerplate Maddin rather than a fresh burst of inspiration."

A less tolerant Armond White at the New York Press grumbles that the film’s "primary virtue is that it almost—but not quite—sustains interest to the end… These gestures toward the avant-garde supposedly make Brand Upon the Brain! an art event, but Maddin’s extremely mannered films are actually rear-guard. He exhibits a Canadian mediocrity, combining derivativeness with gentility."

We do like that — "Canadian mediocrity." Perhaps we shall start a band.

 

"Everybody dies. My death will be for you."
+ "Day Night Day Night": Julia Loktev‘s purposefully narratively curtailed suicide bomber film also opens in New York today. "Terror is existential in this highly intelligent, somewhat sadistic, totally fascinating movie," writes J. Hoberman at the Voice. "However low-budget and minimalist, this digitally shot, quasi-guerrilla production is a new-style disaster flick—as experiential in its way as the ritual ordeal provided by United 93." At New York, David Edelstein puts it this way: "The film is, in fact, a cunning exercise in subjectivity and withheld information—and once you accept those parameters, it’s riveting." He concludes "I’m frankly flummoxed about what Day Night Day Night adds up to, but its ‘You Are There’ allure is potent." Michael Koresky at indieWIRE has his own questions:

"Day Night Day Night" has the texture and stripped-to-the-core accuracy of allegory – which doesn’t exactly meld with its literal hot-button hook. No doubt that Loktev’s intellectual approach to the material was honorably trying to skirt sensationalism, preferring a more experimental tone, but does "Day Night Day Night" really bring us any closer to an understanding of our world, or does it simply approximate it?

Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club is frustrated by the "preponderance of coy ‘humanizing’ touches": "[J]ust as the ‘last day on Earth’ context gives scenes of nothingness more theoretical weight, so it also works against Loktev’s attempt to make a suicide-bombing thriller devoid of politics."

Ed Gonzalez at Slant finds that lead (and first-time) actress "Luisa Williams‘s fear is credible but her talents are not so grand to elevate what is a lazy abstraction of a character. In the end, Day Night Day Night is nothing more, nothing less than another exercise in sadistic immediacy." And at the New York Times, Stephen Holden writes that "Unless they go out of their way to make you despise the major characters, you tend to root for their success, no matter how mad and sociopathic their behavior. That may be the moral lesson of ‘Day Night Day Night.’ It draws you in enough to make you feel strangely culpable."

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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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