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DID YOU READ

Stuart Gordon on “Stuck”

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05272008_stuck1.jpgBy Aaron Hillis

Though cult filmmaker Stuart Gordon is most revered for his many screen adaptations of horror legend H. P. Lovecraft’s work (including “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond”), his latest could be read as the final leg of an angry American trilogy that began with 2003’s “King of the Ants” and continued with his 2005 adaptation of David Mamet’s “Edmond.” In just over an hour and a half, “Stuck” is at once a caustically funny economic drama, a moral thriller and a survival horror flick, all based on a bizarre but true story. Mena Suvari stars as Brandi, a nursing home caretaker who, after partying a little too hard one night, hits recently downsized sad-sack Tom (Stephen Rea) with her car. He doesn’t die, but is slowly bleeding to death while half-embedded in her windshield, forcing a panicked Brandi to stupidly decide to leave him in the garage as she vies for a meager work promotion the next day. Events escalate disastrously for both parties, but to say another word would ruin the experience of this taut, nasty, giddily compelling little film that barks volumes about the state of the country today. I spoke with Gordon about “Stuck,” Lovecraft and sneaking political agendas into gore flicks. [WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead.]

“Stuck” bounces between so many genres. How do you perceive what the film ultimately is?

It’s based on a true story, of course, and that is what drew me to it in the first place. I was reading about it in the newspaper every day for weeks and couldn’t believe what I was reading. I kept wondering, what would make a woman do something like this? Finding the answer to that question was what the movie was all about for me. My daughter had a great take on it — she said it’s about how people are all walking around in these little bubbles of self-interest and no one really cares about anyone else. I think it’s unfortunate that things have gotten to be that way, but that’s the way they are.

What was the creative bridge between the story you read and the pointed sociopolitical critique the film contains?

I think those things fell into place. It wasn’t a question of “let’s do a movie about social criticism.” It’s part of telling the story, the idea that people are so afraid of admitting that they’ve made a mistake or taking responsibility for their own actions. We live in a world where no one apologizes anymore. People think it’s weak to help other people. It’s a real dog-eat-dog world, and I think that’s the world we’re all unfortunately stuck with right now.

Why are we like this?

I think people are afraid. It starts with our leadership, going all the way to the top. [George W. Bush] created this atmosphere of fear to get himself… he wasn’t elected, but to get himself in power, to keep people afraid and afraid of each other. The Supreme Court appointed this guy, which is completely unbelievable — it’s like a coup d’état. I’m hoping with a new administration coming in, God willing, things will get friendlier.

There’s been a lot of talk about the anniversary of 1968, the same year you were arrested on obscenity charges for a college play [“Peter Pan”] you produced. How much has changed in the sociopolitical climate since then?

05272008_stuck2.jpgWhat I think is interesting is that this administration is still trying to destroy all of the work that came out of ’68. I was getting depressed about that, and then I realized it’s still about the strides that were made in all sorts of areas: civil rights, the environment, women’s rights. All of that started with the things going on in ’68. You’ve got these people who are now trying to question it, to wipe it out, to get us back to how things were in the ’50s. I’m hoping that we can start undoing all the damage that’s been done in the last eight years, and start getting back on track.

But there’s so much apathy. How can you be cynical and progressive at the same time?

I think people have given up. They feel like they’ve been beating their head against a wall and it’s pointless. I think what’ll happen is that, bit by that, they’re going to realize that they do have power. Again, I think that’s been part of this administration’s approach — it’s like those old villains in movies who go, “It’s hopeless to struggle, there is no escape, blah blah blah.” That’s what we hear all the time, and people just eventually throw their hands up: I can’t do anything about it. One of the things that is exciting about this election is that people are getting engaged again, and hopefully that will lead to change.

Do you find it hard to get audiences to accept politics in a non-political movie today?

One of the great things about horror movies is that it’s one of the only genres to address and make political statements. It’s appalling when you think about how few movies have really made a statement of any kind. The biggest ones come from horror movies. One of the most obvious is Joe Dante’s episode of “Masters of Horror,” [“Homecoming”], where the dead soldiers come back from Iraq to vote out the president who sent them there. Since 9/11, horror movies have become the most important and popular genre because they’re dealing with what’s on people’s minds. “Cloverfield,” “War of the Worlds,” “28 Days Later” — they’re all making very strong political statements and they can do it because it’s in the guise of fantasy, of something impossible. In actuality, they’re dealing with the here and now.

“Stuck” is a bit booby-trapped with the ambiguities between heroes and villains. How did you approach the dynamics between Brandi and Tom?

We didn’t want to make her into a monster — the idea is that she’s an ordinary person who finds herself doing some terrible things. They always talk about the banality of evil. By making wrong decisions, she goes down this path and has to follow through with it. Both Stephen Rea and Mena Suvari pointed out that [in the script] both of their characters get stronger as the movie goes on. They’re fighting for their lives. Stephen said, “After this movie is over, I don’t think that Tom is going to be on the streets much longer.” Tom has found that strength to get himself out of this situation. The same is somewhat true of Mena’s character, that she has to take things into her own hands. She grows in the course of the film. It’s fun watching it with an audience because their sympathies go back and forth between the two characters.

You have a long history in theater, but you’re more renowned for your films. Artistically, how different are the two mediums for you?

Theater is the most difficult art form. It takes tremendous concentration. Unlike a movie, you can’t stop and do it over again. It’s also a real dialogue with the audience. The actors and the audience are communicating with each other throughout the performance, where a movie is an optical illusion projected on a wall. I try with my films to get that sense of involvement, to let the audience participate and engage their imaginations. My favorite kinds of movies are the ones where you forget you’re watching a movie. You forget there are actors, a script, a director, and you just get lost in it. Theater has the power to change people, and I think films do, too.

05272008_stuck3.jpgI’ve never seen any of your theater productions, but here’s a free idea for you: “Re-Animator: The Musical.”

[laughs] It’s funny, it’s actually been suggested to me to do a musical version of “Re-Animator.” I’m trying to figure out how to accomplish that. It would be a bad idea, really. The kinds of plays I like to do are [those in which] the audience actually plays a part. I did a play called “Dr. Rat” in which all the characters were laboratory animals, and the whole audience were put in cages. At a certain point, there’s a revolution in the lab and the animals open the cages and let everyone out. The audience is given the choice to stay in their cages, or to join the characters onstage. By the end of the performance, there’s literally 150 audience members onstage with the actors. It was quite extraordinary.

You’ve done so many H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, many of which were considered unadapatable. What makes him so vital to you in cinematic form?

You can’t top Lovecraft for imagination, what a mind! His ideas are still so far out there. We haven’t even caught up with him yet, 70 years since he’s left us. He creates universes, and the thing I love about his work is there’s a connection between his stories. How many writers have created a whole sort of mythology like Lovecraft has? He’s so incredibly rich, and he’s got so many stories. That’s the other thing I discovered early on — they’re all public domain. Anyone can do a Lovecraft story right now. There’s a festival every year in October in Portland where amateur filmmakers do Lovecraft adaptations. I think they’ve done all of them at some point or another, so he’s a treasure trove.

Have you made any plans for a sixth Lovecraft film, if we’re including your “Masters of Horror” episode “Dreams in the Witch-House”?

I’m prepping “The Thing on the Doorstep,” and I’m hoping that’ll be the next thing I do. It’s the only Lovecraft story that has a strong female character, and I really think it was written about his marriage. He was married for only a few years, and so it’s a horror story about marriage. For a while, I was hoping to do “House of Re-Animator,” but found that people were so afraid to do anything that might offend the Bush administration because the story was set in the White House. Thinking about it got me back in this “Re-Animator” world, and I would like to come back at some point.

[Photos: “Stuck,” THINKFilm, 2007]

“Stuck” opens in limited release on May 30.

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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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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….

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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.

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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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