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DID YOU READ

“The Boss of It All,” “Red Road”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “The Boss of It All,” IFC Films, 2007]

The Danish-slash-global mini-revolution known as the Dogme movement, initiated by bratboy-auteur Lars von Trier and a few cineastes, lasted only a few years — ostensibly a pledge of bullshit-free purity in moviemaking, it was always a questionable set of strictures, and von Trier himself put the decisive nail in its coffin with “Dancer in the Dark,” which featured decidedly impure musical dance numbers. It was quite obviously von Trier’s ship to sail from the beginning, because he has revealed himself in the long haul to be not only an ingenious artist and master of melodrama (meant in a good, Aeschylus-Hardy-Sirk-Fassbinder kind of way), but also a self-flagellating imp who loves struggling with a straitjacket (and loves watching others struggle as well). “Breaking the Waves,” “Dogville,” “The Idiots,” “The Five Obstructions” — each are defined by formal restrictions von Trier himself imposed on the filmmaking process. “The Boss of It All” is a Dogme film in most particulars — no music, natural lighting, etc. — but it’s also got an extra set of thumbscrews: this time, von Trier’s decided to semi-automate the creative procedure, and leave the camera angles and placement up to a computer program, nicknamed Automavision. The director only imposes his will upon it when the software produces a wholly unusable image; as it is, Von Trier gives the machine pretty free reign, and the film is filled with oddball angles and absurd cutaways, ostensibly revealing the perspective of a binary-code brain on a visually simple modern comedy scenario.

Of course, that’s not entirely the case; whatever brilliance and idiocy went into the programming just comes out again on the other side, like food. But for “The Boss of It All”, the affect works wonders: however “unmotivated,” the movie’s disruptive, off-kilter syntax fits the story like a rubber glove. Von Trier was of course careful to concoct a plot in which hierarchal social structures, like boss over employee, are never what they seem. Von Trier vet Jens Albinus plays a self-obsessed but not terribly bright actor hired by the true owner of what might be the world’s most neurotic IT firm (Peter Gantzler) to masquerade as the company’s mythical CEO, a canard he contrived to maintain a sense of warm camaraderie that has evolved into a workplace prone to outbursts, indulgences, fistfights and desk sex. The reason for the sudden need for a big boss in the flesh is a plan to sell the company to a Dane-hating Icelandic businessman (a hilariously gruff perf from Reykjavik filmmaker Friðrik Þór Friðriksson), which in itself creates emotional turmoil and ethical compromise every which way. It’s savagely clever down to the sound of the copy machine, and suggests yet again that von Trier’s yen for experimental penitence may be merely the smoke of his sideshow, obscuring his real achievements in storytelling and directing actors (there hasn’t been a misjudged performance in a von Trier film in the two decades since “Medea,” and there’s been a wealth of world-beaters). Has anyone told him?

Andrea Arnold’s “Red Road” is also a post-Dogme entity, borne out of an idea by Dogmatists Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen (three films by first-time filmmakers, using the same set of preordained characters), and it also involves the action of robotized camera visuals. This time, it’s in the sauce: we’re introduced to Jackie (Kate Dickie), a bony, haunted middle-aged woman working as a monitor to Glasgow’s plethora of CCTV surveillance cameras. Think of it as “Rear Window,” exponentially expanded — with as much echo of our experience sitting in the dark, feverishly watching. Her life is otherwise an empty shell; her tether to humankind is in being an official voyeur, taking pleasure in children, sympathizing with the owner of an ailing dog and getting off surreptitiously observing back-alley sex. Things shift into high gear, plotwise, when Jackie spots a familiar face — the post-coital mug of a man she’d hoped never to see again. So she keeps watching, and begins entering the frame herself, as it were, revisiting places where she’d seen him and eventually crossing over into his social sphere.

Resonant and atmosphere-saturated, “Red Road” withholds its heroine’s motivations and thoughts for a very long time, gratifyingly — not knowing reflects eloquently back on how much she doesn’t know about the lives she watches on her bank of video monitors. When the subterranean story surfaces, the film loses a lot of its gas, partly because arousing mysteries are being demystified, and also because the backstory revealed is close to cliché. To circumvent that eventuality, Arnold would’ve had to go out on an art-film tangent all her own — metaphysical, post-modernist, or otherwise — and it’s a shame she didn’t. But had she, “Red Road” may not’ve won its trunkful of fest awards, including a Jury Prize at Cannes.

“The Boss of It All” (IFC Films) and “Red Road” (Tartan) are now available on DVD.

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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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