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Opening This Week: Dot-com days, period magicians, Eddie (sigh) Murphy

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07072008_august.jpgBy Neil Pedley

This week finds the U.S. Army bringing war games to a whole other level, a ’60s sex icon getting an exposé, Ron Perlman returning as the defender of small fluffy kittens everywhere and Eddie Murphy taking cinema egotism to new heights.

After the warm reception his first feature “XX/XY” received at Sundance in 2002, director Austin Chick returned to the snowy slopes of Park City to debut his sophomore effort, which seemed to impress our own Matt Singer when he saw it in January. Assembling an noteworthy ensemble that includes the likes of Robin Tunney, Naomie Harris, Rip Torn and David Bowie, Chick follows Tom and Josh Sterling (Josh Hartnett and Adam Scott, respectively), two brothers desperately trying to right the sinking ship of their failing dot-com company in the weeks leading up to the devastating September 11th attacks.
Opens in New York.

“Days and Clouds”
“Bread and Tulips” director Silvio Soldini looks at the life of a comfortable middle-class housewife (Margherita Buy) who struggles to deal with downgrades in lifestyle after her husband is forced out of the shipping company he used to run.
Opens in New York.

“Death Defying Acts”
Achieving both critical acclaim and commercial success is an act of magic in itself for any movie these days. So when such a feat was conjured by both “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist” in the same year, the only wonder remaining is how another dark and brooding period piece about an obsessive magician didn’t arrive sooner. Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong, who herself is reappearing after last helming the 2002 Cate Blanchett historical drama “Charlotte Gray,” oversees fellow countryman Guy Pearce as Harry Houdini, who offers $10,000 to anyone who can contact his deceased mother and retrieve her dying words. Catherine Zeta Jones co-stars as an impoverished con artist who sets her sights on the money, if she can only get by his suspicious and protective manager (Timothy Spall). Then again, he might be easier to deal with than Houdini purists who cried foul at Pearce’s portrayal of the magic legend when the film premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Eight Miles High”
A “Factory Girl” for Germany, this film is a biopic of the Edie Sedgwick-esque Uschi Obermaier, a Bavarian runaway turned ’60s fashion model and counterculture icon who traveled the globe in a hippie-approved Mercedes Benz bus and became a symbol of the sexual revolution with a string of high-profile affairs with the likes of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Unfortunately, the majority of reviews have suggested that the film is much like the lady was herself — very good-looking, but ultimately a little thin. Still, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t intrigued by the notion of German actors Victor Norén and Alexander Scheer playing Mick and Keith.
Opens in New York.

“Full Battle Rattle”
Winner of a Special Jury Award at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss’ documentary takes us inside the dizzyingly surreal world of the U.S. Army’s sprawling Iraqi simulation complex in California’s Mojave Desert that serves as a fully functional training exercise and the last stop for troops shipping out. Befitting of a place described by one trooper as “one giant reality TV show,” there’s a hair, make-up and wardrobe department that outfits the nearly 1600 soldiers that engage in live field exercises designed to prepare troops for the reality of war, without all that nasty death and destruction stuff, of course.
Opens in New York.

“Garden Party”
From a million bedroom windows across the world, the twinkling lights of Los Angeles burn bright, but it’s the idea of burnout in LaLa Land that holds limitless appeal for indie filmmakers. Ten years after Jason Freeland made his directorial debut with the noir “Brown’s Requiem,” his second film doesn’t so much owe Robert Altman’s masterful “Short Cuts” a wink and a nod — it owes the ensemble dramedy a dinner and a show. Offering his own take on how the town sucks its inhabitants dry, Freeland co-scripted this tale of jaded residents and newly christened Angelenos swapping stories as they loosely drift in and out of each other’s lives searching for that shining promise that drew them there.
Opens in limited release.

Sibling rivalry may have taken its toll on Abigail’s brother Spencer Breslin, but who’d have imagined it would result in male pattern baldness in high school? That’s the scenario imagined in T. Sean Shannon’s offbeat teen comedy, which is actually the full-length incarnation of a short film he adapted from a “Saturday Night Live” skit he penned. Since Harold finds himself subjected to swirlies as the target of bullies, it’s up to Cuba Gooding Jr’s. goofy but cunning school janitor to intervene and teach Harold his own brand of survival skills. Not surprisingly, former “SNL”-ers Rachel Dratch, Chris Parnell, and Colin Quinn round out the supporting cast, in addition to Ally Sheedy, who costars as Harold’s scatterbox of a mom.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”
Perhaps all too aware that the juggernaut that is “The Dark Knight” is a mere week away, Universal has initiated a carpet-bombing marketing campaign of truly epic proportions that’s virtually guaranteed that there are undiscovered tribes in the heart of the Peruvian jungle that know this movie is coming out on Friday. No stranger to sequels, director Guillermo del Toro follows up his Oscar-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth” with a second installment to his 2004 sleeper hit “Hellboy.” Ron Perlman reprises his role as the foul-tempered, cigar-chomping, kitten-loving badass who ably delivers both punches and punchlines when the tentative truce between humans and the fantasy realm is shattered and the forces of darkness prepare to wage war. Fun fact: Luke Goss, the steely-eyed actor who played the villain of del Toro’s last sequel, “Blade II,” returns to torment the director’s current hero.
Opens wide.

“Journey to the Center of the Earth”
Two-time Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig seems ideally suited for the job of directing this latest screen adaptation of Jules Verne’s pioneering adventure tale. Brought to us in stereoscopic 3-D, the same technique employed by last year’s “Beowulf,” this “Journey” stars Brendan Fraser as Trevor, a volcanology professor who, accompanied by his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) and a mountain guide (Anita Briem), follows notes left by his late brother that take them to Iceland and a deep pit that leads to the Earth’s core.
Opens wide.

“A Man Named Pearl”
With a massive, and dare we say it, almost “fashionable” preoccupation with global warming, Iraq and the Israel/Palestine conflict exhibited by filmmakers today, the term “feel-good documentary” is almost an oxymoron. Co-directors Brent Pierson and Scott Galloway look to change that with a portrait of topiary titan Pearl Fryar that’s as bright as the blue skies of Fryar’s home state of North Carolina. Understandably a little irked that his application to a gated community was turned down on the ignorant assumption that black people don’t keep up their yards, Fryar sets about winning the local yard of the month contest by becoming a real-life Edward Scissorhands.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on July 25th.

“Meet Dave”
Originally titled “Starship Dave,” this film’s implication that Eddie Murphy is, in fact, a highly sophisticated spaceship crewed by tiny beings from another planet that don’t fully comprehend our cultures and customs would certainly go a long way to explaining a few of his career choices (oh fat suit, how you beguile us). “Norbit” director Brian Robbins reteams with Murphy in this high-concept farce, co-scripted by Bill Corbett of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fame, that sees Murphy play both the awkward ship and its wildly enthusiastic miniature captain who navigates the treacherous streets of New York to save his planet from destruction. Presumably Murphy wasn’t asked to drive around in the 15-foot tall float in his image that could be seen around Times Square this past weekend, because the idea of Eddie Murphy in Eddie Murphy in Eddie Murphy would really make our heads spin.
Opens wide.

“The Reflecting Pool”
Taking one of the defining, divisive and most emotionally charged events of our time (9/11) and adding a subjective narrative to it is always going to alienate half your audience. Kudos, then, to Russian-American filmmaker Jarek Kupsc for going ahead and doing it anyway. Kuspsc not only culled together the vast and plentiful conspiracy theories about the attack being an inside job, but takes on the lead role as an investigative reporter hired by the father of one of the plane crash victims to dig deeper into the events of that tragic day.
Opens in New York.

“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”
After premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this provocative documentary about one of Hollywood’s most celebrated and vilified artists is receiving a limited theatrical run. Armed with a treasure trove of archival footage, Marina Zenovich extensively chronicles the events leading up to Roman Polanski’s conviction for unlawful sex with a minor and his subsequent and equally unlawful escape to France where he remains in exile to this day. If catching this in the theater would first involve catching a plane, as is the unfortunate case with many limited releases, you can still thankfully see this one on HBO, where it has been doing the rounds for the past month.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on July 18th.

“The Stone Angel”
Prolific Canadian director Kari Skogland writes and helms this brave stab at adapting Margaret Laurence’s celebrated, controversial, and some would say, unfilmable novel of the same name. Told through a series of vignettes, the film is grounded by the irrepressible and always excellent Ellen Burstyn, who stars as Hagar Shipley, a defiantly proud 94-year-old woman who skips out on her well-intentioned son and his less than well-received plans to plant her in a nursing home to journey through Manitoba trying to reconcile events from her turbulent and colorful life. On a somewhat related note, someone really needs to pass a law forever banning the use of Thomas Newman’s “Dead Already” from any trailer for a film about an aging person rediscovering his or her vitality. Ellen Page, Cole Hauser, Kevin Zegers and Dylan Baker co-star.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: “August,” First Look International, 2008]

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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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