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DID YOU READ

“The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” “From Beyond” and “The Return of the Living Dead”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” IFC Films, 2006]

By now Ken Loach is no longer merely the last of the red-hot neo-realist British-Marxist filmmakers, but an international master, having rebounded from his ’80s semi-blacklisting with 12 features in 16 years (and more awards than Loach retains hairs on his aging head) that have become the world standard for doc-style naturalism and for the unvarnished depiction of working-class life, British socioeconomics and life-or-death social struggle. There is virtually no major issue Loach hasn’t touched upon, from homelessness (1966’s policy-influencing “Cathy Come Home”), to child abuse (1969’s “Kes”) to day labor (1990’s “Riff Raff”) to the civil war in Nicaragua (“Carla’s Song,” released in 1996), and he remains an uncompromised activist voice, and the Anglo lower-class’s most dogged champion. (My favorite Loach remains 1971’s “Family Life,” a family passion that may be the greatest movie ever about generational gaps, and which follows the downward emotional spiral of a teenage girl badly attended to by her overbearing, painfully repressed parents, played to brittle, insidious perfection by Bill Dean and Grace Cave. The film’s familial firefights could make the average dysfunctional-clan survivor break down with shuddering flashbacks.)

It’s taken Loach this long to address the Irish Troubles (beyond the based-on-a-true-story Belfast context for 1990’s political cover-up thriller “Hidden Agenda”), and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is a kind of brother film to the ordinarily contemporary-minded Loach’s period portrait of the Spanish Civil War, “Land and Freedom” (1995). Set in 1920, the movie is fairly methodical in its march through history: we begin with Cillian Murphy’s young doctor-to-be looking to flee Ireland to finish med school, before he is confronted too many times with British troops assaulting his countrymen. Once he takes his oath of allegiance to a Free Ireland, Loach’s film (written by longtime comrade Paul Laverty) follows this earnest naïf from plotter to guerrilla assassin to low-rung politician, refusing to obey the Government of Ireland Act treaty that would soon enough pit Irish against Irish. The story takes classic shape: Murphy’s Damien sees family torn apart and fellow patriots and childhood friends felled in the fight, making him more and more resistant to compromise and more resolved to die for his cause. (Sound familiar?) Loach’s objective, natural-lighting filmmaking is its own eloquent, humane statement, about history viewed as ordinary people’s lives, not as grand melodramas of the rich and powerful — why would anyone want to shoot period films any other way? Loach being Loach, the film is filled with revolutionary leftist cant, all of it sound and true and unimpeachable, and much of it concerned with Irish industry and economics — which is largely what the Republicans knew quite well they were fighting for, not merely for vengeance or justice. It’s safe to say that “The Wind” is the greatest, most observant and most authentic-feeling film ever made about the civil war (not that very many filmmakers have dared to begin with), and that Loach is a virtual godsend as a cultural voice, in these days of pernicious spin, political mercenariness and neo-imperial slaughter.

And for an aperitif, finally Stuart Gordon’s “From Beyond” (1986) and Dan O’Bannon’s “The Return of the Living Dead” (1985) arrive on DVD, blasts from the not-so-distant, Reagan-befouled past when horror farce wasn’t harmlessly Mel Brooks or “Scary Movie,” but something much more perverse and bizarre. Gordon, riding the mystery train that he started up in 1985 with the seminal “Re-Animator,” extrapolates on a Lovecraft story once again (this time, it’s pineal glands gone horribly, phallically amok) and strides happily into mucky, self-destructive territories otherwise only visited by Frank Henenlotter. (Frank, where art thou?) With the spectacularly game Barbara Crampton again as his accomplice, Gordon may’ve finished up the most audacious double whammy in modern horror. Dan O’Bannon, on the other hand, is an old-school genre freak who has largely rolled around for decades now in the cash being a co-creator of the “Alien” franchise has brought him. But his 1985 zombie satire — almost 20 years before “Shaun of the Dead” — is a ripping, grue-slicked riot, complete with schlock princess Linnea Quigley as a nihilistic punkette named Trash (“Hey, somebody get some light over here, Trash is taking off her clothes again!”), James Karen overacting, a plethora of Nazi in-jokes and cinema’s first sprinting, dashing, leaping flesh-eaters (17 years before “28 Days Later”). I know, zombies both grim and risible are glutting the mediascape right now, and if you see another, your head will messily, gorily explode. But O’Bannon’s film is the microgenre’s first slap in the face, and it’s still a hoot.

“The Wind That Shakes The Barley” (IFC Films), “From Beyond” and “The Return of the Living Dead” (MGM) 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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