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DID YOU READ

“Ocean’s Thirteen”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Ocean’s Thirteen” Warner Bros., 2007]

The number one and essentially only question asked of this writer upon the mention that he’d seen the new “Ocean’s Thirteen” is “Is it better than ‘Ocean’s Twelve’?” Not “How is it?” or “How does it compare to the first one?” Just “Is it better than ‘Ocean’s Twelve’?” occasionally followed by “‘Ocean’s Twelve’ stunk.”

Where does the animosity for “Ocean’s Twelve” come from? Critics largely dismissed the 2004 sequel to the vastly more popular 2001 film “Ocean’s Eleven” (itself a remake to the most famous movie from Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack), and audiences didn’t respond as enthusiastically as they had to the original (with a corresponding dip in box office receipts). Even the guys who made the freaking movie have spoken out against it, describing this year’s “Ocean’s” as “the one we should have made last time.”

Is “Ocean’s Twelve” as good as “Ocean’s Eleven?” Of course not. Did you really expect it to be? If so, that’s your fault, not director Steven Soderbergh’s. Watch the movie again, as I did last week, and reconsider it as an exceedingly stylish, beautifully paced, and sometimes shockingly romantic caper movie. While conceding that the plot is a tad on the convoluted side and that the ultimate explanation seems anti-climactic, look again. There’s an added layer to that ending, one that’s never explicitly stated but hanging just below the surface. And, like the first “Ocean’s,” it’s just a whole mess of fun.

Same goes for this latest installment, which once again reteams George Clooney’s dashing Danny Ocean with his ten roguish rogues, including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac and the rest. The only no-shows from the previous crew are Julia Roberts (Danny’s long-suffering wife Tess) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Pitt’s love interest from “Twelve”). Their absence is explained away quickly with a few lines of dialogue and they’re supplanted by Al Pacino as evil casino owner Willy Bank and Ellen Barkin as his right-hand woman. Frankly, they’re not terribly missed.

Bank double-crosses Elliott Gould’s Reuben, which sends the rest of the Eleven off on an elaborate revenge plot called a “reverse big store.” Without revealing much (because the core of the pleasure in any “Ocean’s” is the way in which Soderbergh reveals his plot twists), they must jury rig every game in Bank’s brand new casino simultaneously so that it makes all of its customers rich and bankrupts him. Easier said than done — or rather it would be if not for the air of insouciance Soderbergh and company leaven into each of these pictures, whereby the most impossible tasks are made to look utterly effortless by Ocean’s impossibly well-styled posse. Things here are easily said and easily done.

A couple of the items in this reverse big store don’t really sell and Soderbergh cheats a bit when he employs a nearly identical twist from “Twelve” in a nearly identical way here (it involves Damon’s character). And it’s hard to argue that “Ocean’s Thirteen” isn’t more clever than smart. But that doesn’t really get in the way of the entertainment value, which is still high.

Even though “Thirteen” is, of course, a large money-making operation &151; one that Warner Brothers hopes will clear more money than even the most lucrative Danny Ocean heist — it doesn’t feel nearly as desperately cash-grabby as a lot of the other sequels in this crowded summer marketplace. No sense of sequel fatigue — where the characters appear more motivated by the actor’s contractual obligations than by story concerns — has crept into any of the performances and Soderbergh continues to use the series as an outlet for his playful side, which tends to make these movies a lot more engrossing than the “important” pictures he makes in between them.

Which is a long prelude to explaining that while “Ocean’s Thirteen” is better than “Ocean’s Twelve,” that’s not necessarily damning with faint praise. This “Thirteen” is better than “Twelve” sentiment is coming from an unabashed fan of “Twelve.” But does the fact that I enjoyed “Twelve” where others didn’t therefore mean that those who didn’t won’t like “Thirteen”? Perhaps that’s best left to the audience to decide for themselves.

“Ocean’s Thirteen” opens wide June 8th (official site).

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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