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“Once,” “Feed”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Once,” Fox Searchlight, 2007]

Even before I’d seen “Once,” the tiny Irish musical that could, it was apparent that those who had seen it and loved it — which was all of them — constituted a kind of epiphanic tribe, attempting unconfidently to communicate to the rest of us their magical experience. Once I saw it, I helplessly joined their frustrated company and word of mouth, handicapped by “just go” inexpressiveness, has kept the film in theaters for seven lovely months (so far, amounting to a roughly 100-to-one profit-to-budget ratio). Of course, John Carney’s modest movie can suffer as any movie could from the toxicity of hype surplus, which may be one of the reasons why articulation of “Once”‘s pleasures has been so difficult. The other reasons, I suspect, have something to do with “Once”‘s essential sincerity, unvarnished simplicity and basic movieness — why else have people been drawn to cinema since 1890, if not for the empathic connection for fellow humans and bearing witness to their expressive dramas?

“Once” is nothing more than a romance-that-never-happened idyll, set in Dublin and taking place entirely between an itinerant busker (full-time folk rocker Glen Hansard) and a Czech immigrant (real-life folkie Markéta Irglová) as they meet and, simply, begin to make music. Of course, Hansard’s keening, aching songs (several of which were culled from his years as front man to The Frames, of which Carney was also a member) work their peculiar magic, and Hansard sings them with selfless passion. But what makes this aspect of “Once” so powerful is the songs’ context: Hansard’s earnest, nameless street musician is, under his friendly surface, virtually boiling with grief over the betrayal and loss of his girlfriend, now in London. He only expresses himself in the songs, and once they begin to explode into such naked wailing, it’s hard to imagine any viewer remaining untrammeled by their visceral thrust.

In conjunction with that, there’s Irglová playing a completely disingenuous single mom with an errant husband, and her rapport with Hansard comes so easily that while neither can embrace the other, the film plays much like the “In the Mood for Love” of folkie indies. Its grown-up assumptions about adult behavior and history are bracing. (No one in the film resembles a stock dramatic character — even Hansard’s gruff vacuum shop “da” is revealed to be matter-of-factly gracious and generous, introvertedly bowled over by his son’s first effort at recording). It may be a film that’s impossible to dislike, despite the fact that it’s formally and visually the cruddiest movie released to American screens since “Chuck & Buck.” But like Miguel Arteta’s film, it hardly mattered — the honest glimpse of lost humanity did the work. It’s also, for what it’s worth, a perfect answer to the question of what happened to the musical. Instead of attempting to reconstitute the naïve tropes of the ’30s-’60s musicals, tropes which were themselves leftover constructions from vaudeville or fall into the camp abyss, “Once” integrates the songs into the action realistically with not only the timeworn but sensible let’s-put-on-a-show numbers, but also otherwise — as with the exquisite long traveling shot of Irglová walking home at night listening to one of Hansard’s lyricless tunes on earphones and singing her own words to it as she goes. Everyone will have a personal reaction to the film, and everyone will respond from their stomachs to different moments, but I’ll say this: the first impromptu of Hansard’s “Falling Slowly,” pieced together by the two musicians in a piano store, convulsed me and may be the most transportive moment I’ve had at the movies since I can’t remember when. There, I’ve overhyped it.

Hype is as hype does: We’re well into election season these days, although it’s not even the election year yet, and for this, political documentaries are an essential antidote. Indeed, what could deflate the rhetoric and posturing quicker than film visions of past campaigns, successful or failed, and the sight of long forgotten pasty-faced aging white men in white shorts and ties struggling to convince everyone they meet that they’re not weaselly goldbrickers? No film does this as concisely as Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway’s “Feed” (1992), a found footage portrait of the 1991 campaign circus, in and around the New Hampshire primaries, that eventually led to Bill Clinton’s party nomination and presidency.

The primary visual tool at work here is the satellite feed, the video footage sent out to the networks (and therefore out into space, only to be captured by satellite geeks) during the unbroadcast moments of the candidates — Clinton, Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, George H.W. Bush, Bob Kerrey — combing their hair, making lame jokes, picking their noses, chatting inanely with makeup people, and often sitting and doing nothing at all. The upshot is access to precious visions of our ostensible leaders, whose political machines work so hard to exalt them as leaders, as little more than opportunists, showbiz canards and empty-headed buffoons. The film goes a certain way towards demonstrating that, in many ways, Bush II is something of a culmination of tendencies in American politics — one could only dream about what his stray satellite footage looked like, and the measures taken somewhere to prevent it from reaching public eyes. Rafferty and Ridgeway fill out the movie with public appearance footage of all kinds, much of which, 15 years later, has its own lessons to tell about the catastrophic distance between why we elect certain types of men to office (and what types of men want to be), and exactly what the job might require. A few years from now, when it’s not profitable news but appalling history, the Obama-Clinton-Guiliani-Romney-Huckabee-etc. carnival will offer the same sort of spectacle.

“Once” (Fox Searchlight) will be available on December 18th; “Feed” (First Run Features) is now available on DVD.

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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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