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DID YOU READ

Two From Sundance 2008: “August,” “Sleepwalking”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Josh Hartnett in “August,” 57th & Irving Prod., Periscope Entertainment, 2008]

“August”

Directed by Austin Chick

We never learn how Land Shark, the dot-com at the heart of “August,” is supposed to make money. Characters tell us that the brand “speaks for itself. Nobody does what [they] do,” but what exactly that might be is left to the imagination. Given the fact that the company is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, it’s possible we don’t know what Land Shark does because its employees remain foggy on the matter as well.

The Land Shark name is a reference to an old sketch on “Saturday Night Live,” in which Chevy Chase, dressed in cheap shark costume, would get women to let him into their apartment by mumbling a bunch of innocent gibberish (“Plumber, ma’am…,” Candygram…”) until they’d peek their head out to see who it was. The scenario mirrors the way that Land Shark goes about its business under the stewardship of Tom Sterling (Josh Hartnett), who can talk his way into any deal, assuming the other party is stupid enough to open the door and let him in.

“August” opens with a well-edited montage that establishes those heady days of the early aughts when our biggest concern was whether Tom and Nicole would tough things out together. Cut to five months later, and things don’t look as bright as they once did at Land Shark. While he lavishly spends money his company doesn’t have to keep up appearances, Tom and his tech-savvy brother Joshua (Adam Scott) must figure out how to keep the company afloat long enough for their business model to work. The brothers figure that might take three years. At the rate they’re burning through capital, they won’t last another three months.


Austin Chick’s drama is about the lengths people will go to cling to illusions they love: Tom, in a surprisingly strong performance from Hartnett, fully understands the depths of his problems, but he’s too intent on projecting the image of success he’s hyped to a nation of investors to let on. Tom’s public persona is contrasted with the one seen in scenes with his family, with a mostly wasted Rip Torn playing Hartnett’s dad, and his ex-girlfriend, played by Naomie Harris. Though these sequences would seem crucial to fully understand Hartnett’s character, the script by Howard A. Rodman is shakiest here. Where the world of power lunches and high finance is a mysterious and alluring one, the world of Tom’s home life is a clichéd one of uncomfortable family dinners and old loves lost.

Still, Hartnett skillfully anchors this mostly impressive drama, which captures its pre-9/11 New York City milieu with wit and nuance. Chick makes subtly pointed references to the horror that looms just on the horizon with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them background shots of the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers, and deploys a number of clever visual metaphors, the best of which may be the game of pinball Tom and Joshua often play in their local bar. They initially think they’re like the flippers, keeping this ball up in the air while everything around them keeps trying to knock it down. By the close of “August,” they’ve begun to realize they’re more like the ball — buffeted about by forces they can’t control.

“Sleepwalking”

Directed by William Maher

What an appropriate title for a movie that seems to be working solely from a checklist of Sundance movie tropes. There’s a precocious child, wise beyond her years, yearning for escape from her crummy small town life, and a dysfunctional family road trip, and a serially depressed young man who is confronting his past and coming of age, and bad parents galore. It’s not too late to make an inventive movie using all of these ideas, but it is too late for “Sleepwalking,” whose sole creative contribution to the Sundance movie canon is to deploy this motley crew of motifs as a means of justifying and even celebrating murder and a host of other crimes.

Nick Stahl stars as James, a quiet young man who is sleepwalking through life. We know this because he tells us straight out near the finale that “I feel like I was in a dream. Sleepwalking. But you helped me. You woke me up.” It’s an uncharacteristically blunt statement from a character who has spent the previous 95 minutes completely shielding us from his feelings until we eventually stop wondering or caring whether he has any at all.

Currently, James’ biggest problem stems from his sister Jolene (Charlize Theron, in another of her “dirty and disheveled equals important” roles), who’s run off and left him in charge of her 11-year-old daughter Tara (AnnaSophia Robb). Tara is another character we are supposed to care about and don’t; mostly because Maher and screenwriter Zac Stanford seem to think her crummy mother excuses her whiny attitude, poor behavior, and her willingness to turn her poor uncle James into a fugitive from the law. In short order, Tara gets James fired from his job, then convinces him to free her from a foster home and set out on an ill-advised road trip that could get James in a mess of hot water. James insists to anyone who’ll listen that Tara’s “a good kid,” totally oblivious to the fact that this sour apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

For the first two-thirds of the movie James seems shy, depressed and quiet without any good reason. In the final third, we discover the source of his problems: his overbearing ranch hand father, played by Dennis Hopper as if Frank Booth had given up the city life and the huffing to decamp for Wyoming to start a horse farm. At first, it’s kind of a gas to see Hopper let loose on such a primordially malevolent character — he, at least, is willing to call Tara on her poor behavior — but then he quickly becomes a cartoonishly overbearing tyrant, bellowing in his terrified grandaughter’s face about how his mares are going to get colic.

Let’s give credit where credit’s due: The final act, which finally breaks free of the Sundance stereotype shackles, is so gosh-darn wonky you’ll never see it coming. But it’s also so gosh-darn wonky that it’s more than a little ridiculous, and maybe even a bit unintentionally funny (even the capital crimes involved in the climax are handled so poorly they’re worth a chuckle or two). By the time James wakes from his stupor, it’s too late to roust us from ours, or the movie from its own, for that matter.

[Additional photo: “Sleepwalking,” Overture Films, 2007]

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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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