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The week’s critic wrangle: “La Vie en Rose,” “Pierrepoint – The Last Hangman,” “12:08 East of Bucharest.”

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La Mome.
+ "La Vie en Rose": Coming out of a splashy premiere at Berlin early this year, this Edith Piaf biopic garnered endless praise for Marion Cotillard‘s bravura lead performance and general bemusement and displeasure with the uneven direction of relative unknown (his last film was "Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse") Olivier Dahan. Similar themes are popping up in the reviews as the film opens in limited release today. "La Vie en Rose trudges dutifully from one costumed ‘defining’ event to the next, building up to a kind of Piaf theme park that plays out like a bad parody of Dickens or Balzac," writes Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly, while saluting the way that La Cotillard "raises France’s poor, beloved chanteuse clean out of mundane pathos and into the ruined grandeur she deserves." "Cotillard’s Piaf is genuinely impressive," allows the NY PressArmond White. "But this showcase of phenomenal skill has to compensate for the movie’s totally unoriginal biopic framework."

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon complains of Dahan’s chronological choppiness: "His approach draws more attention to the filmmaking than it does to the life. Dahan seems to believe that chronology is bourgeois: Pure storytelling is all fine and dandy, but he wants us to know he’s making art." "It also turns out that," A.O. Scott at the New York Times observes, "while musical idioms sometimes have a hard time crossing the barriers of language and culture, certain narrative clichés are universal." David Edelstein at New York notes that the film has "some peculiar ellipses," most notable one between "1940 to 1947, omitting the small episode of Germany’s occupation of France at the height of Piaf’s stardom."

But there are others who like the film: Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly, while disliking the "’impressionistic’ time leaps," thinks that "Dahan uses the facts of Piaf’s story (her rise on the nightclub circuit; her affair with boxing champ Marcel Cerdan, whose plane-crash death destroyed her) to touch her greatness, which was her ability to draw the ardor of life out of tragedy, pouring it into song until tragedy and happiness became one." And Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE finds Dahan’s structuring fitting:

Privileging certain encounters (Piaf’s doomed relationship with boxer Marcel Cerdan, lent fairy-tale cadences as shot on artfully fake sets standing in for New York) while gesturing only slightly towards other significant experiences (a husband here, a fading friendship there, the loss of a daughter to disease seen in deathbed flashback), "La Vie en rose" operates as a kind of impressionistic shorthand, an onomatopoetic rendering of Piaf’s whirling dervish persona.


"The fruit of my experience has this bitter aftertaste."
+ "Pierrepoint – The Last Hangman": You may not think you know who Timothy Spall is, but you totally do. With a round, ruddy face and horsey teeth, Spall generally been kept to playing a variety of characters who are weak-willed, evil, serving as comic relief or some combination therein in dozens of films, most prominently the "Harry Potters" (as Peter Pettigrew), though he’s also acted in four of Mike Leigh‘s films. In Adrian Shergold film about the most prolific hangman in Britain, Spall gets to take the lead. "Pierrepoint’ is much more than straightforward fictionalized biography," writes Stephen Holden at the New York Times, impressed by the film’s take on capital punishments. "As this sad, shambling antihero swings from one pole to the other on the issue of capital punishment, you are inclined to follow every step of the way toward his tragic enlightenment." David Edelstein at New York finds that "the payoff, however emotional, relatively small," but he enjoys the director’s "attention to process and for all the ghoulish details."

At the LA Weekly, Ella Taylor writes that the film "reaches for complexity but ends up, as you’d expect from a partnership with Masterpiece Theater, rendering Pierrepoint palatable as a decent, principled chap who was just doing his job." She also suggests that "[t]here is no evidence, in Pierrepoint’s memoir or elsewhere, that he suffered a crisis of conscience, and his later admission that in his experience capital punishment served no deterrent purpose came with no sense of personal culpability. Indeed, when Pierrepoint retired it was because the government failed to compensate him for reprieved prisoners." Nick Schager at Slant likes Spall’s performance but dislikes the film’s turn into "a preachy, arid drag about the unjustness of capital punishment." Chris Wisniewski echoes these thoughts at indieWIRE, adding that the sometimes glib tonal shifts can make the film seem "the liberal art-house equivalent of, well, ‘300’: aestheticized death, packaged without the slightest trace of political sophistication, served up for our too-easy consumption." And Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club writes that "There’s nothing wrong with producing an anti-capital-punishment tract, but Pierrepoint’s main problem is that there’s nothing surprising about it."


"At last, a close-up!"
+ "12:08 East of Bucharest": Romania, Romania. Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club writes of Corneliu Porumboiu‘s black comedy and currently in vogue films of his countrymen: "It isn’t that the new Romanian films are devoid of style, but their virtuosity is expressed more in long conversations, allowed to play out in precisely composed frames." Of this film, he writes that "The story and situation are slight, but in the best possible way." "Focusing on personal eccentricities and foibles, East of Bucharest has a sly modesty reminiscent of the long-ago Czech new wave, exhibiting a sense of film form that evokes the best of the rueful Czech comedies," adds J. Hoberman at the Village Voice. "The movie’s circular structure suggests that if history is a joke, the forces that disrupt its progress are nothing short of miraculous."

Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE applauds how "Unexpectedly, and delightfully, Poromboiu uses the occasion of a two-bit civics lesson, poorly lensed by a youthful camera operator with cinematic ambitions, to spin out a droll meditation on both his chosen medium and the way history is shaped through personal reportage." At Slant, Nick Schager finds that its during the second half, when the film shifts over to a depiction of a live, amateurish local television show, "that the director produces his funniest material (much of it centered around awkward zooms and awful cinematographic framing) but also his most insightful reflections on memory, history, intolerance, and the ties between the personal and the political." And A.O. Scott at the New York Times writes that "Mr. Porumboiu’s film is, at first glance, as rumpled and unassuming as its weary, fatalistic inhabitants. Though it is modest, almost anecdotal, in scale, “12:08 East of Bucharest” is also characterized by a precise and sneaky formal wit."

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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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GIFs via Giphy

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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