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2007: Five Directors Who Shifted Gears for the Better

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By Nick Schager

IFC News

[Photo: Frank Darabont’s “The Mist,” MGM, 2007]

Tilling the same ground over and over again is easy. Just ask Eli Roth. Or Michael Bay. Or Wes Anderson. Or the countless others who delivered new movies in 2007 that strongly evoked — if not outright replicated — their prior works. But taking a gamble, both narratively and aesthetically, is a feat worth celebrating, even if the end results aren’t wholly successful. These following five filmmakers all embraced projects that challenged them in new and exciting ways.

Paul Thomas Anderson — “There Will Be Blood”

2004’s “Punch-Drunk Love” seems to have been the liberating experiment Anderson needed since “There Will Be Blood” finds the director thrillingly marrying his formidable technical skills to a legitimately epic saga devoid of his trademark (and now played out) pop culture riffing and favorite auteur homages. “Blood” is an astoundingly controlled period-piece-cum-horror-show whose form is awe-inspiringly in harmony with its content. From its elegant tracking shots to its employment of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s magnificent and otherworldly Kubrickian score, the film stands as the most vital turning point in Anderson’s career to date, an impressive shift from agreeably showy stylistics to exceptional, imposing artistry.

Frank Darabont — “The Mist”

Setting aside the feel-good, Capra-esque schmaltz that had characterized his post-“Shawshank Redemption” output, Frank Darabont went fast, loose and nasty with this adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novella about a group of small-town Maine residents trapped in a grocery store by a mysterious fog. Shooting all his action with two roving cameras, Darabont’s latest has an intense in-your-face claustrophobia that balances out his script’s more preachy tendencies with a swift ferocity that culminates in a decidedly bleak finale. A less “important” genre film than his prior efforts, to be sure, but “The Mist” is more excitingly visceral than those heralded predecessors as well.

David Fincher — “Zodiac”

Like Anderson, David Fincher’s storytelling gifts have often been overshadowed by his dexterous craftsmanship. And as with “There Will Be Blood,” “Zodiac” stands as a defining moment in the filmmaker’s career, exhibiting none of the self-conscious cinematographic frippery that infected his prior “Panic Room.” Stunningly synthesizing narrative and technique, Fincher’s “Zodiac” takes a wholly different approach to the serial killer genre that made him famous with 1995’s “Se7en,” concentrating less on traditional suspense tropes and jazzy visuals than on the rigorous process of journalistic and police investigation, as well as the immense personal toll wrought from obsession. It’s his masterpiece, for the time being.

Francis Ford Coppola — “Youth Without Youth”

Having spent the last decade working on his dream project “Megalopolis,” Francis Ford Coppola finally returned to actual filmmaking — and delivered this bonkers philosophical head trip, which involves an old Romanian man (Tim Roth) in the 1930s who is struck by lightning and, consequently, becomes young again with supernatural powers. Oh, and then he rediscovers his long-dead lover reincarnated in a beautiful stranger who winds up being possessed by an ancient Indian woman who’s traveling backwards in time. Make sense? No. But with a new collaborator in cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. (not to mention composer Osvaldo Golijov’s beautiful score), Coppola’s luscious widescreen photography has a grandeur that’s nonetheless entrancing. The director’s adventurousness is commendable, even if the end result is not.

Lasse Hallström — “The Hoax”

Lasse Hallström’s preference for high-toned sentimentality can be insufferable, which is why it was such a pleasant surprise to find those directorial impulses largely absent from “The Hoax,” a mostly factual tale that, at least during its opening half, has a gleeful, rollicking vivacity. Things eventually fall apart once the story transforms into a flaccid pseudo-thriller that aspires to cast its protagonist Clifford Irving (Richard Gere), who tried to sell Houghton Mifflin a counterfeit memoir of Howard Hughes, into a big, fat symbol of Nixon’s dishonest America of the ’70s. But the film’s initial verve and vibrancy is so compelling that it almost absolves Hallström for making “Chocolat.”

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 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….


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.


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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