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When B-Listers Go Abroad

When B-Listers Go Abroad (photo)

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What do Robert De Niro and Coolio have in common? First, they’ve both worked with Michelle Pfeiffer — De Niro in last week’s “Stardust,” Coolio in the classic “Gangsta’s Paradise” music video from 1995’s “Dangerous Minds.” Second, they’ve both starred in a foreign production. Further similarities, however, end there: while De Niro’s trip overseas was motivated by a desire to work with Bernardo Bertolucci on 1976’s epic “1900,” Coolio, like a growing number of struggling B-movie actors and wannabe thespians, was just looking for another opportunity to show off his acting chops. Those chops are, unsurprisingly, pretty meager, but they still have value in the international film marketplace, where the presence of an American — any American, no matter how dubiously talented — translates into cachet (or at least novelty value) and, hopefully, extra receipts at the local box office. Thus, movies like this weekend’s “Marigold,” a joint US-Indian venture headlined by “Heroes”‘ Ali Larter that actually plays with the idea of unwanted American talent heading to Bollywood. And Russian gangster films featuring Michael Madsen. And Turkish action-comedies starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Herewith, a few choice examples of the budding phenomenon.

Gary Busey in "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq."Billy Zane and Gary Busey in “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq” (2006)

How to revive a flagging career? If you’re Zane or Busey, you find an anti-American propaganda film and sign on the dotted line. Zane stars as a U.S. military monster (and Christian zealot) who subscribes to a personal kill-’em-all Middle East policy, and Busey — in a role seemingly designed to once and for all ruin his credibility — lends minor support as a Jewish-American doctor with a fondness for carving up Iraqi corpses and selling their organs on the international black market. Based on a popular Turkish television show of the same name, and using a real-life event as its narrative foundation, the film is little more than a shoddily constructed exploitation film that mixes references to Abu Ghraib with the occasional sight of Zane wearing a safari hat and brightly colored scarf. Given the wholly predictable backlash that greeted news of the film in the States, one can’t help but wonder why either actor wanted to court such notoriety, especially in the case of Busey, whose subplot is so meager and tacked-on that his minimal employment (and, one must assume, minimal paycheck) couldn’t have been worth the negative press.

Michael Madsen in "Velvet Revolution."Michael Madsen in “Jacked$” (2004) and “Velvet Revolution” (2005)

“Reservoir Dogs” set Michael Madsen up for life, providing him with an unending stream of jobs playing tough guys, menacing criminals and/or homicidal maniacs. Given his flourishing career as the lead in direct-to-video clunkers, however, it’s hard to imagine Madsen’s motivation for traveling to Russia for by-the-books gangster comedy “Jacked$” — perhaps it was because the role of an underworld kingpin offered him the chance to act pissed off while obsessing over Elvis Presley? Regardless, his experience making Russian music video director Oleg Stepchenko’s feature debut must have been a happy one, since he re-teamed with the filmmaker one year later for “Velvet Revolution,” another derivative piece of crime cinema crap that opens with Madsen blatantly rehashing his “Dogs” glory by chatting it up in a diner and, shortly thereafter, torturing a man to death. After those two introductory scenes, he basically disappears from the film. Which, even in light of the ensuing lameness, isn’t all that disappointing.

Malcolm McDowell in "Mirror Wars: Reflection One."Malcolm McDowell, Armand Assante and Rutger Hauer in “Mirror Wars: Reflection One” (2005)

“Mirror Wars” is, in essence, a 116-minute commercial for a Russian fighter jet. And what better filmic way to sell a fighter jet than to enlist the services of Malcolm McDowell and Armand Assante, two actors intimately familiar with the art of crashing and burning. Still, it’s hard to fault the two for seeming lost and bewildered throughout this incomprehensible political-espionage adventure, which involves McDowell’s terrorist’s plans to steal a super jet so he can then shoot down Air Force One and, consequently, initiate a new Cold War. Scenery-chewing is apparently de rigueur, and both Americans are up to the task, albeit not enough to prevent every instance of human speech from making one crave more aerial plane footage. At least they’re given something to do, which is more than can be said about Rutger Hauer, who for reasons unknown decided to fly all the way to Russia to film a one-minute cameo.

Jean-Claude Van Damme in "Sinav."Jean-Claude Van Damme in “Sinav” (2006)

The Muscles From Brussels has never gotten much stateside respect, but Van Damme-it, anyone who can do splits on a kitchen countertop in his underwear and maintain a straight face is okay in my book. Having been consigned to direct-to-video purgatory for years, the former action star has recently begun peddling his brawny wares on international shores, and this recent Turkish film — about a group of teens determined to steal a university entrance exam, “Mission Impossible”-style — finds Van Damme in all his suave glory. Or at least, that’s what I can glean from the trailer (watch it on YouTube), as I was unfortunately unable to procure a copy of the film for full analysis. Van Damme reportedly so loved the script that he worked for free as “The Thief.” And, from the sight of him roundhouse kicking a young boy while decked out in designer duds, I’d recommend that Turkish audiences prepare to have their hearts stolen.

Coolio in "China Strike Force."Coolio in “China Strike Force” (2000)

“A Lam-Bo-Geeni! It’s Eye-talian!” With those initial lines in Stanley Tong’s 2000 Chinese crime film, Coolio makes a bid for international cinematic superstardom. And fails. Hilariously, and often. Starring as a gangster named Coolio (presumably to keep confusion to a bare minimum) who’s in China for a big drug deal, Coolio delivers plenty of cheesy gangster boasts while seizing every opportunity to engage B-movie staple Mark Dacascos in playfully racist banter. His perpetual bug-eyes and exaggerated movements seem perfectly at home amidst the rest of the cast’s similarly cartoonish expressions. Nonetheless, it’s his penchant for yelling dialogue like the type of knucklehead who thinks foreigners will better understand him if he dials up the volume — a habit made funnier by the fact that his co-stars all speak English — that truly catapults his performance into the loony stratosphere. Well, that and his reference to “Chairman Mayo.”

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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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