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DID YOU READ

“Eastern Promises.”

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"Stay away from people like me."
The summer of the awkward teenage boy is over: bring on the rough-jawed paragons of manhood. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in "3:10 to Yuma" did dapper & deadly and noble & haggard so well they almost made the film’s preposterous conclusion work, while Clive Owen in "Shoot ‘Em Up" showed off an ability to repel bullets with the force of his bad attitude. But none have anything on Viggo Mortensen as Russian mob enforcer Nikolai in "Eastern Promises," a man pickled in Slavic world-weariness, a man who can put a cigarette out on his tongue while cutting the fingers off a corpse before dumping it and make the gesture look nigh charming, a man who turns out to have a squishily honorable heart.

"Eastern Promises" is a sleek, claustrophobic thriller that’s disappointing only because it’s the follow-up to "A History of Violence," David Cronenberg‘s brilliant, bruising genre-smasher about our love affair with righteous brutality. Like "A History of Violence," "Eastern Promises" finds Cronenberg making only half an effort to color within the lines of a mainstream film, in this case one about how Anna (Naomi Watts), a London midwife, follows information in the diary left behind by a 14-year-old Russian girl who dies giving birth in the emergency room, and find herself tangling with a circle of Russian mobsters, the vory v zakone. The tone is once again intriguingly off, removed and almost arch, though this time without any placeable purpose — whatever is underneath the surface of "Eastern Empire," it stays there, out of reach.

Anna is the film’s wide-eyed Alice, stumbling into an Russian expat underground of both flesh and blood and crime families headed by deceptively twinkly patriarch Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), whose son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel),
is an unpredictable, sodden mess relying heavily on the help and
enforced friendship of his driver, Nikolai. Anna, still yearning for her late father, himself Russian, is at first
drawn to Semyon, who spots her vulnerability but not her reckless
determination. He learns that the diary includes incriminating tales
about himself and his son, and dispatches Nikolai to retrieve it.

Nikolai is nursing a few agendas of his own — how apparent they are was a point of debate amongst those we saw the film with, but we’d seen them coming from further off than we’d have liked. Kirill is Nikolai’s in with the vory v zakone — Cassel, not one to leave scenery unchewed, presents Kirill as both
demanding and dramatically insecure, his sexuality an unspoken barrier
to his success, and Nikolai must be at once his confidante, servant and sublimated lover while simultaneously proving his value to Semyon. The hypermasculine old world of the Russian mafia is a kind of sterile marriage, a point hammered in with no excess of subtlety in the film. Nikolai is presented to the family heads in nothing but briefs so that they can scrutinize his tattoos, and his cautious courting of Kirill is rewarded by the nude bathhouse assassination attempt scene that’s justifiably talked-about, a scene exhilarating in its corporeal clumsiness, men grappling each other to the death without the benefit of elegant choreography.

No one does violence like Cronenberg, and from the opening scene, in which a throat is sloppily sawed open, "Eastern Promises" is alive with an agitated awareness that people are all just assailable, fragile flesh. That fact, along with Mortensen’s slyly soulful performance, make it more of a shame that story and screenplay, written by "Dirty Pretty Things"Steven Knight, is so unexceptional, a workmanlike passage through another of London’s unseen microcosms underlined by the film’s strangest choice, segments from the diary of the dead Russian girl describing her descent into forced prostitution and drug use, dictated in a heavily accented voice-over backed with sad string music. These moments are so blunderous you suspect that Cronenberg has some other, more subversive agenda in mind. But what? The title turns out to be accurate; "Eastern Promises" presages more than it delivers.

"Eastern Promises" opens September 14th.

+ "Eastern Promises" (Focus Features)

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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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