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DID YOU READ

List: 2008’s Comeback Kids (For Better or Worse)

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01062008_mickeyrourke.jpgBy Nick Schager

Americans love comebacks, meaning that for all the domestic and international turmoil of the past 12 months, the country must have dug 2008’s cinematic offerings. Sure, typical sequelitis plagued summer cineplexes for better and, more often than not, worse. Yet familiar franchises weren’t the only ones to return to the big screen spotlight — some of the year’s most critically and commercially triumphant films and performances were the handiwork of once-beloved artists attempting to rebound from prior misfires or, in the case of one gifted-actor-gone-to-seed, coming off of decades’ worth of obscurity. So, as we put 2008 to bed, we salute and decry, respectively, the year’s best and worst in return engagements.

THE BEST

Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
The once electrifying Rourke’s slow climb out of obsolescence began with 2005’s “Sin City,” and finished with this, director Darren Aronofsky’s saga about a washed-up wrestler’s last shot at marquee stardom. It’s the performance of a lifetime, in large part because it’s one that piercingly resonates as a self-portrait, though Rourke’s magnificence isn’t simply the byproduct of fiction-mirroring-reality. With a flick of his long blonde locks or the slow, methodical way his battered body grinds into motion, Rourke nails wrestling realities, while also capturing something universal about pain, about sacrifice and about the dignity of knowing, and embracing, one’s inherent self.

01062008_dannyboyle.jpgDanny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Having, with “28 Days Later…” and “Millions,” recovered from a string of flops following 1996’s “Trainspotting,” Danny Boyle again somewhat lost his way in 2007 with the part-Kubrick, part-“Event Horizon” sci-fi saga “Sunshine.” The British director found himself back on terra firma, however, with “Slumdog Millionaire,” a boisterous Dickensian tale of childhood, friendship, love and game shows infused with both aesthetic electricity and heart. It’s not as fantastic as its growing collection of year-end awards might suggest, but Boyle’s distinctive, rowdy crowd-pleaser is nonetheless his finest effort in years.

David Wain, “Role Models”
No amount of goodwill wrought from his time on MTV’s ’90s sketch comedy show “The State” or his awesomely funny 2001 film “Wet Hot American Summer” could excuse actor/director David Wain for his 2007 flop, “The Ten,” a slapdash collection of bible-themed skits tied together by a running adultery gag featuring Paul Rudd’s most middling work since his stint on “Friends.” Both Wain and Rudd came back nicely, however, with “Role Models,” an adults-cursing-at-kids comedy that accomplished something that few of its brethren managed this year: generating profane laughter undiluted by Judd Apatow-style sentimentality.

01062008_indianajones.jpgTHE WORST

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Virtually no one wanted a fourth Indy adventure starring 66-year-old Harrison Ford, yet in their infinite wisdom, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg pressed forward anyway. The result was a misbegotten summer blockbuster along the lines of “The Phantom Menace,” whose box office success was predicated not on quality but on affection for the series’ preceding classics. With lame extraterrestrial artifacts, lamer Russian villains, and, lamest of all, a tree vine-swinging sequence featuring a pompadoured monkey (seriously) — “Crystal Skull” was so disappointingly “meh” that one wishes the script had remained buried at the bottom of Lucas’ desk drawer.

“Star Wars: Clone Wars”
Speaking of Mr. Lucas, his latest “Star Wars” miscarriage is one that discerning moviegoers should remain far, far away from. An animated adventure that fills in the unimportant gaps between “Episode II” and “Episode III” and serves as little more than a launching pad for a Cartoon Network TV series, this kids’ film featured stilted CGI, a story with no dramatic import and a new, feisty female character whose main positive attribute was not being quite as intolerable as Jar Jar. “Clone Wars” feels like a trivial, creatively uninspired cash grab, making it no different than Lucas’ recent live-action prequels.

01062008_righteouskill.jpgRobert De Niro and Al Pacino, “Righteous Kill”
Michael Mann’s superlative direction, and specifically his key decision to grant the legendary actors only one face-off, allowed “Heat” to live up to its billing as De Niro and Pacino’s titanic maiden showdown. “Righteous Kill” reteams the two as cop partners, though with director Jon Avnet — he of the equally wretched Pacino vehicle “88 Minutes” — indulging in spastically flashy visual devices and both stars having long since reduced themselves to caricatures of their respective personas (De Niro the raging bull, Pacino the loudmouthed smooth talker), the once-great thespians’ reunion was as painfully embarrassing as any drunken high school anniversary get-together.

[Photos: “The Wrestler,” Fox Searchlight, 2008; “Slumdog Millionaire,” Fox Searchlight, 2008; “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Paramount Pictures, 2008; “Righteous Kill,” Overture Films, 2008

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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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