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“Raining Stones,” “The Call of Cthulhu”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Raining Stones,” Koch Lorber]

It has been easy to underestimate and underappreciate Ken Loach, by far the most distinctive, profound and consistent filmmaker to work in Great Britain in the last 40 years. Being British has been something of a twin-edged fighting blade for Loach — just as his films routinely get distributed here (though, due to the muddy brogues and burrs, they do sometimes bear subtitles), it seems that Loach has been largely taken for granted. No one conjures his name when global filmmaking heavyweights are enumerated, even though on the European festival circuit a Loach film is considered a privileged annual event. A hard-bitten ultra-realist, and a Socialist provocateur for whom social activism is more important than cinema, Loach may well be too good at his game for his own good. This year, with his (roughly) 25th feature (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”), Loach again emerged on our shores, displayed his newest prizes from Cannes (he has won more major fest laurels than any other filmmaker alive), got his honorable reviews, and then went home, making precious little dent in the skull of American cinephilia.

We, it could be said, simply do not appreciate realism, when it’s so convincing you can smell the low-rent rooms the actors inhabit, any more than we care for narratives focused morally on the plight of the real working class. Have we been trained thus, by a media industry built upon distracting us from how much we spend on entertainment? Whatever: You survey Loach’s career, and the ambitions and priorities of most American filmmakers look gauche by comparison. It’s also a matter of style: ultra-realism is the most difficult special effect of all, and Loach has unparalleled deftness with naturally lit docudrama veracity, objective camera manner and the expressive grasp of off-frame space. Due to its palm-sized story, “Raining Stones” (1993) might be one of his more overlooked films — despite an almost obligatory Jury Award from Cannes — but it’s paradigmatically Loachian. Set in scrubby Greater Manchester, the movie trails after the hob-kneed efforts of one Bob (Bruce Jones) to earn a buck any way he knows how on the bottom rungs of the capitalist ladder. This starts, for us, as an episode of pratfall-packed sheep rustling with Bob’s rotund, worse-off buddy Tommy (Loach comrade Ricky Tomlinson, who before acting was one of the infamous Shrewsbury Three union members who were jailed in 1972 during a national building strike). Of course, nobody wants to buy the single sheep’s meat once the guys manage to slaughter it. Bob’s troubles earning a living accumulate, but for him a single issue rises above the rest: the absolute need, in his eyes, for his young daughter to wear a new, expensive white dress for her First Communion. To make this happen, Bob scrounges for work, scouts for scams and, eventually, makes the bad mistake of borrowing the money from a loan shark.

“Raining Stones” could be about virtually any mishap, incident or even utterly passive moment in this man’s life — or in the life of his community — and we’d still buy it whole hog, because it looks and feels as real as the tenth worst day of your year. (Still, the bump-&-grind of colloquialism-saturated North English accents makes “Raining Stones,” like “Riff-Raff” and other Loaches, splenetically funny.) Loach tolerates no movie-movie bullshit like American indie-makers often claim to do; if only we had even one lone ranger in our midst to fight so well the good fight.

However undisciplined, our own indies come in all shapes and sizes, including “micro” — as in microcinema, currently the name of a distribution company selling underground cinema on DVD, but also the label given to the new digital DIY independent film, rarely available to a wide audience but thriving nonetheless, making films that cost less than a good car. The lovely, innocent pro-am aura surrounding these films can be bewitching (or, perhaps, it can be to me particularly), especially if it strives to evoke antique form and a sense of primal matinee naiveté. Andrew Leman’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (2005) answers the siren: a “new silent” film, scrupulously faithful to H.P. Lovecraft’s seminal Cthulhu tale (first published in 1928), that runs only 47 minutes but packs enough storytelling and energetic incident to fill out a miniseries. (The film, and its publicity ephemera, is also superbly designed to fit into its period.) Leman and his H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society cohorts cut every corner and freely employ obvious miniatures to tell the tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale, from the Providence streets all the way to the mid-Pacific night (a blanket, scant nods toward a ship set, digitized perspective), the unmapped atoll covered with enigmatic ruins (cardboard, mostly), and the stop-motion appearance of the Old God himself. Call it pulp-geek nostalgia — which by itself seems hardly a dress-down to me — but the movie also actually manages to be creepy, in a cheap, unstable, kids-pretending-in-the-woods kind of way. It is innocent, and that alone makes it special.

“Raining Stones” (Koch Lorber) and “The Call of Cthulhu” (Microcinema) are now available on DVD.

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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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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….


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.


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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