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DID YOU READ

“Cassandra’s Dream”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Colin Farrell in “Cassandra’s Dream,” Weinstein Company, 2007]

Each new Woody Allen movie should be looked at as if it were a cinematic Venn diagram. His latest film always lies at the intersection of two or three of his older ones. In the case of “Cassandra’s Dream,” it’s a mix of “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and the first picture from Allen’s English excursion, “Match Point.” From the former, Allen reexamines the morality of murder, as well as the nature of God and punishment; from the latter, Allen returns (just two years later) to the debate over luck versus fate and the violent pursuit of upward mobility. In standup comedy terms, he’s not really writing new material, he’s just reshuffling how he delivers his old stuff, and his delivery, in this case, is agreeable, if fairly predictable.

The title derives from the name of a boat, owned by two lower class English brothers Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell), which was itself coined from a 60-to-1 longshot that came in for Terry at the horse track. Ian’s a gambler too — though he works at their father’s restaurant, he’s constantly meeting with investors about high-risk, high-reward ventures. As the film begins, Terry’s on a wild streak of luck, but it ends along with the first act and suddenly, he’s deep in debt and goes to Ian for help. But Ian needs money too — to finance a move out to California with his new actress girlfriend Angela (Hayley Atwell) — so both look to their rich Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) to bail them out of trouble.

The true nature of Uncle Howard and the details of his offer are too crucial to the plot to spoil here; suffice it to say, they don’t involve a low interest loan. What Terry and Ian actually do is probably less important, anyway, than what they are willing to do and why they’re willing to do it. Money is the quick, obvious answer, but Allen’s themes go deeper than that. In “Cassandra’s Dream,” characters repeatedly refer to having a life here, but wanting to do something in a non-specific there. Terry and Ian’s day-to-day are full of obligation to marker holders or loved ones. “Cassandra’s Dream” represents a sort of symbolic release from that world, but Uncle Howard’s proposal, distasteful as it might be, gives them the chance for real freedom.

It’s possible to read that sort of desire into Allen’s own move to England in 2005 after almost 30 years of shooting exclusively in New York City. Maybe he was truly stuck in Manhattan — certainly, the transatlantic change has done his reputation and commercial reputation well. Still, I’m not entirely sure why he’s stayed this long. Is it callous to assume that he’s still working in Europe only because that’s where people still go see his movies in large numbers? Who knows? Regardless, McGregor and Farrell’s working class accents sound totally flimsy (though that could just as easily be a product of Allen’s flimsy working class dialogue). Given that, and Allen’s occasionally contentious relationship with the critical community, it’s difficult not to see something in one character’s line about how looking closely at something will always “reveal all its nasty imperfections.”

The imperfections are there whether Allen wants us to see them or not. So are the obvious parallels to Allen’s earlier work. Whether that’s a good or bad thing will depend upon your viewpoint — young viewers who are just learning about Allen and haven’t seen his 1980s work might find “Cassandra’s Dream” refreshing; devoid of a larger comparative context, it works pretty well. Auteurists looking for overarching themes will find plenty to work with here as well; to them, the obvious repetitions of theme and subject matter will be a plus rather than a minus.

But a less macro-minded Woody Allen fan — one wise enough to accept the director whether he’s working blue or blue blood — might want a little more originality, particularly because prior knowledge of the director’s filmography spell out some of the story’s twists well before they’re revealed onscreen, which takes some of the wind out of “Cassandra’s Dream”‘s sails. Some level of repetition is probably inevitable for any director working as long as Allen, but some level of freshness is desirable regardless of a filmmaker’s decades of experience. You could make a Venn diagram out of this as well — authorial voice in one circle, innovation in another, and in the middle, the ideal movie.

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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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