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On DVD: “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and “Diva”

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06172008_fourmonths.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

Maybe it’s jumping the gun to say so, but is the Romanian New Wave kaput already? The latest and most-Cannes-honored post-postmodern, hyperrealist, ex-dictatorship, young-auteur film movement seems to have already fizzled — after Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (2007) emerged with last year’s Palme D’Or, nothing new has appeared at the world’s festivals from Mungiu, Corneliu Porumboiu, Cristi Puiu, Catalin Mitulescu or Radu Jude, at a time when they should be leaping on their global visibility and market success like five-year-olds on a summer puddle. In his prime, Godard would’ve churned out five features and three shorts in the three years since the scent of Romanian sulfur first hit the air with Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005). Who knows what’s keeping them (Puiu hasn’t had a credit in three years), or what bureaucratic Kafka-ness they must battle to get one of their extraordinarily inexpensive movies made, but the worst-case scenario has us looking already elsewhere on the globe for a freshly imagined gout of cinematic energy.

“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” may be the best of the Romanians, in part because, like “Mr. Lazarescu,” it constitutes a kind of state-of-the-art naturalism, down to the longueurs, underlighting, open-ended narrative and extraordinarily confident use of off-screen space. (When it’s done well, nothing looks as easy as evoking a three-dimensional world outside the frame.) But it’s a cleaner-running, more mysterious machine, because while it’s equally cataclysmic, it lacks Puiu’s film’s deadened sense of inevitability. It’s an ordeal by anticipation; if you’re a newcomer, the less known the better. Let us say just that it’s about the struggle to obtain an illegal abortion, and the repressed crucible at the film’s squirming center does not belong to the pregnant character. We’re not immediately cued up to know who we’re supposed to be empathizing with, in a crowded co-ed dorm a few years before the fall of CeauÅŸescu — Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), the pregnant, nerve-wracked brunette or Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), her pragmatic blond roommate? Rolling out in long single takes that give the film an acute sense of ticking-clock anxiety (this is the way to do it, not clusterfuck-edit your material in a vain attempt to “make us feel” your story’s apprehension), Mungiu’s movie is about the minute-to-minute things that can and will go wrong, leading up to a hotel room face-off with a brooding, manipulative, completely unreadable abortionist in a leather jacket (Vlad Ivanov; both he and Marinca have netted critics’ awards) that plays so subtly and under-the-breath that only when it’s over do you realize the weight of what transpired. What we don’t see — as in, what’s happening during a long, mercilessly suspenseful birthday dinner scene that is more concisely conceived than any ten American films this year — is what Mungiu uses to knock the air out of us. It’s a raw, uncompromised and deliberately inconclusive film as a whole, and as such justifies its new wave hype by being antithetical in almost every facet to what American movies ordinarily do and how they’re shaped.

06172008_diva.jpgAmerican cinephiles, at least, like their new waves to have a sociopolitical purpose — battling oppression, recovering from totalitarianism, emerging from war or cultural anemia or pre-industrialized stasis. But the “cinema du look” French mini-wave of the 1980s enjoyed some eyeball-time here, although its only ambition was to be as glossy, cool and auto-Americanish as possible. To be fair, inaugural figurehead Leos Carax didn’t really belong in the grouping, but Luc Besson and Jean-Jacques Beineix certainly did, and their movies divided, and still divide, those who think they’re empty and glib, and those who think that style and ironic pulpiness are fab ends unto themselves. The announcement movie of the “movement” was Beineix’s “Diva” (1981), what with its supercool attitudinizing and cohesive vision of Paris as a parade of secret cultures, movie-movie posturing, quixotic passions, multi-culti matter-of-factness (years before it became truly chic) and post-punk fashion.

Here’s why “Diva” was a global hit: it conjured a modern urban universe in which everyone is an impulsive, hell-or-high-water artiste, whether they’re actually producing art or merely cluttering their rooms with wrecked cars and doing jigsaw puzzles. Everyone dallies and obsesses; aping Godard, Beineix sets up a suspenseful crime tale and then loiters in an apartment for a fat dose of flirting. The fugue of high and low Euro-culture is one of the school’s pervasive ideas, and here Beineix cooks up a dynamic in which a messy underworld of music piracy, murderous police corruption, kleptomania, chain-smoking, thuggery and movie fetishism revolves, bizarrely, around opera, and a particular reclusive, record-refusing diva (Wilhelmenia Fernandez) fond of “La Wally.” It begins, more or less, with a shoeless woman running for her life in a raincoat (nod to “Kiss Me Deadly”), graduates to tableaux of a nude-model Vietnamese girl coasting through a puzzle-piece-strewn millionaire’s loft on roller skates, and a moped chase through the Metro. Beineix’s idea of quickly transitioning from the street to the underground is to watch a passing woman get her skirt billowed up over an subway grate, and then cut to a shot from beneath. The film is not jacked on crank, exactly, but it’s restless and consistently inventive; nothing in it is ordinary, and no shot is drab or uninhabited. It may be Americanized after a fashion, but it’s also intensely French.

[Photos: “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” IFC Films, 2007; “Diva,” United Artists Classics, 1982]

“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (Genius Products) and “Diva” (Lionsgate – The Meridian Collection) are 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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GIFs via Giphy

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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