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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: “Sicko,” “A Mighty Heart.”

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"If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people."
+ "Sicko": "Sicko" is only open in New York this week, so we’ll be returning to it in the next as more reviews are published. So far, so relatively good for the latest film from Michael Moore, whose wielding of the documentary as a polemical tool has not always endeared him to cinephiles or those hoping for balance. J. Hoberman at the Village Voice notes that "[a]s filmmaking, Sicko sometimes resembles an infomercial for Ozark real estate and elsewhere demonstrates a Kenneth Anger-like flare for vertical montage." He finds the film’s collection of health care horror stories "devastating," but is troubled by Moore’s rose-colored portraits of the universal coverage in Canada, Great Britain, France, and, yes: "If the American health-insurance industry is Moore’s unspoken metaphor for Capital (feeding vampire-like on human labor), Cuba is his unconvincing socialist paradise."

At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek writes, "[W]hile ‘Sicko’ is, in my view, the most persuasive and least aggravating of all of Moore’s movies, it still bears many of the frustrating Moore earmarks — most notably, a deliberately simplistic desire to render everything in black-and-white terms, as if he didn’t trust his audience enough to follow him into some of the far more complex gray areas." Despite this, she finds "there’s plenty to admire and respect," though not as much as does A.O. Scott at the New York Times, who justifies what he admits is "a bit of theatrical faux-naïveté" on the filmmakers part by adding "Yes, the utopian picture of France in ‘Sicko’ may be overstated, but show me the filmmaker — especially a two-time Cannes prizewinner — who isn’t a Francophile of one kind or another." He concludes that "’Sicko’ is the least controversial and most broadly appealing of Mr. Moore’s movies. (It is also, perhaps improbably, the funniest and the most tightly edited.)" Michael Koresky at indieWIRE suggest that "’Sicko’ must be tagged as a qualified success. At this point, it can’t be ignored that Moore is this country’s most popular and persuasive capturer of the details and nuances of the American lower middle class. And that’s no small accomplishment." And, according to Ed Gonzalez at Slant:

[W]ith Moore, it is almost necessary to take the good with the bad, and Sicko features some of the filmmaker’s more insightful and embarrassing moments… Only a monster would be unaffected by Sicko, but a smarter exposé of our country’s health care system might openly argue that the tenets on which our government is built would need to be completely reconfigured for us to attain the basic right of universal health care.

 

"I am not terrorized."
+ "A Mighty Heart": There are two discussions dominating the reviews of Michael Winterbottom‘s depiction of the days following the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. First is the question of what the film’s purpose is in mining such a relatively recent tragedy, and second, and apparently more pressing, is the issue of Angelina Jolie, who plays Pearl’s widow, Mariane. So let’s start with that; it is the lamely glib basis of a decent portion of Anthony Lane‘s piece in the New Yorker, who finally comes around to write that "We brace ourselves for a star turn, a hundred minutes of vanity project, but here’s the thing: it never happens." J. Hoberman at the Village Voice observes:

No less than Jolie, the actual Mariane ascended the red carpet at Cannes; in the movie, her character is imagined as a star. Possessed of an iron will and a miraculous presence of mind, she’s surrounded by an entourage yet awesomely solitary in her tragic isolation. When the worst inevitably occurs, no one is able to hug or even comfort her—she goes off alone. The movie is fundamentally a solo, and the creepiest thing about A Mighty Heart is the ease with which this terrible tale becomes a meditation on divadom.

At Slate, Dana Stevens adds that the final portion of the film is "a hagiographic chronicle of the martyrdom of Mariane Pearl": "After more than an hour of dense, layered storytelling that took pains
not to turn into The Angelina Jolie Show, it was baffling to watch A
Mighty Heart trade on Jolie’s status as tabloid saint, U.N. goodwill
ambassador, and all-around ‘best woman in the world.’" Mariane Pearl wasn’t "the real story" at the time, argues Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, Daniel was, and "[d]espite the best of intentions, an actress who makes her own headlines gets in the way of the big picture." Ed Gonzalez at Slant, deeming the film "useless," does write that "Winterbottom recognizes the actress’s iconicity as a force that must be reckoned with—which is to say, disguised. Except the tricks he employs to help the actress disappear into the film’s tapestry of uncertainty aren’t exactly new and reek of evasiveness." At the Onion AV Club, Scott Tobias lauds the way, "one major misstep aside, she slips into Winterbottom’s wide-ranging
procedural and asserts herself only when dramatically necessary."

As for the film itself, Manohla Dargis at the New York Times calls it "surprising, insistently political work of commercial art," suggesting that "in its modest, at times awkward, way, this little movie with the big movie star tries to bring us into a conversation that, at least in this country, is often relegated to the bummer front pages of your daily paper or glimpsed on television in between diet tips and, yes, news about Brangelina." The LA Weekly‘s Ella Taylor admires the way the film’s "primary purpose is to place us sympathetically inside Mariane’s crisis, and only tangentially to parse the wider significance of this horrible event." Roger Ebert (!) agrees that the film "is notable for what it leaves out… What is best about ‘A Mighty Heart’ is that it doesn’t reduce the Daniel Pearl story to a plot, but elevates it to a tragedy."

"I think," reflects Stephanie Zacharek at Salon, "Winterbottom proceeds from the notion that politics always touch us personally, whether we’re aware of it or not, that things happening half a world away can change us, harm us or enrich us in ways we can never calculate." David Edelstein at New York notes that the film does not recreate Daniel Pearl’s videotaped death, something he’s both glad and regretful of: "Winterbottom shows admirable respect for Mariane Pearl and the memory of her husband, but the film needs an exclamation point, something visceral to drive home the fate of Daniel Pearl."

And at the New York Press, Armond White, no Winterbottom fan (he breaks out his favorite vilification, "smug"), writes that "While a simple tearjerker about a freedom-loving widow would risk an embarrassing emotional display, Pitt, Jolie and Winterbottom maintain their cool status with this fashionably cynical propaganda film. Its effect is not cathartic, just frustrating."

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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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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.

via GIPHY

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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