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Opening This Week: A doc on beauty culture and an acclaimed Sundance drama

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07282008_americathebeautiful.jpgBy Neil Pedley

This week’s offerings find twilight twenty-somethings longing for love in Los Angeles, “The Mummy” franchise heading East and a gruesome subway slasher trying very hard not to scare people clean out of the theater, at least not before the movie actually starts.

“America the Beautiful”
At 12, Gerren Taylor was a bright young model who strolled the catwalk of Fashion Week in Los Angeles. By 13, she was considered a has-been. Director Darryl Roberts traces Taylor’s early entrance and exit from the runway to paint a far larger picture of the inner workings of the fashion industry, examining the class system of models and the advertisers and designers who relentlessly manufacture a feeling of negative self-image among consumers and then prey upon it to get us to dip into our wallets. Through interviews with fashion industry experts, the first-time documentarian learns that beauty isn’t skin deep — it’s retouched, glossed over and as a business, just plain dangerous.
Opens in limited release.

“Back to Normandy”
French director Nicolas Philibert embarks on a romantic, nostalgic quest to find his filmmaking roots by returning to the beautiful, bucolic heartland of Normandy where his career began some 30 years previous as an assistant director on his first industry gig, the historical murder-mystery thriller “Moi, Pierre Rivière.” Searching out the village locals who helped serve as cast and crew on the film, Philibert encounters old friends and colleagues who recount how the project touched them in different ways and their unique experiences since. In French with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

“Frozen River”
Having scooped a Grand Jury Prize for Drama at Sundance earlier this year, writer/director Courtney Hunt’s debut actually began life as a short film whose run at the 2004 New York Film Festival impressed enough people that she was able to secure financing to adapt it into a feature. Shifting the plot from simple cigarette smuggling to the current hot button issue of illegal immigration, the film offers a rare leading role to Melissa Leo as a desperate mother forced to turn to Misty Upham’s wily border runner for some quick paying jobs after her deadbeat husband gambles away the house payments.
Opens in limited release.

“In Search of a Midnight Kiss”
Taking the old adage of writing what you know, “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” is another semi-autobiographical slice of life from writer/director Alex Holdridge charting the journey of Wilson (Scoot McNairy), a listless screenwriter who searches for love in the lonely wilderness of Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve. Desperate to find companionship to help offset a terrible year, Wilson turns to Craig’s List where he discovers Vivian (Sara Simmonds), a caustic misanthrope who grants him until midnight to prove to her he is worthy of her time.
Opens in New York.

“Love and Honor”
After a hugely successful stint on the Asian festival circuit, the final installment of Yôji Yamada’s intimate and graceful samurai trilogy arrives following the director’s acclaimed “The Twilight Samurai” and “The Hidden Blade.” Again returning to his familiar themes of duty and sacrifice, Yamada’s story follows the lowly samurai Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura), the shogun poison taster whose dreams of opening a casteless samurai dojo are shattered after a careless mistake leaves him blind, forcing his wife to take certain steps to ensure their survival. In Japanese with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Midnight Meat Train”
Japanese horror director Ryuhei Kitamura’s first English language foray into gore gleefully cobbles together some really horrific and terrifying elements, and we’re not just talking about Vinnie Jones’ acting. Jones stars as a crazed butcher who stalks the subways in New York for passengers, including a freelance photographer (Bradley Cooper) who tries tracking down the killer for an upcoming gallery exhibition. The only thing more bloody than the butcher’s thrill kills has been the battle behind the scenes to give the film a proper release — Barker sent an open letter to fans to inundate Lionsgate with e-mails and phone calls after the film was rumored to be going direct to DVD.
Opens in limited release.

“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”
With its thunder somewhat stolen by the very franchise that was its inspiration, the summer’s second most eagerly anticipated archaeological adventure arrives in theaters. Brendan Frasier returns as swashbuckling explorer Rick O’Connell, this time aided by his fast-growing son (Luke Ford), as well as series regulars, Jonathan (John Hannah) and O’Connell’s feisty wife, Evelyn (Maria Bello, stepping in for Rachel Weisz, as Matt Singer chronicled here). Though nowhere near the 19 years it took Indiana Jones to dust off his fedora, “The Mummy” is attempting a reboot of its own by shifting focus and location from the pharaohs of Egypt to the warlords of China where Jet Li’s entombed tyrant is mistakenly awakened and our heroes’ only chance to defeat him lies with Michelle Yeoh’s ancient sorceress and her army of the undead slaves.
Opens wide.

“Profit motive and the whispering wind”
Loosely inspired by historian Howard Zinn’s celebrated book “A People’s History of the United States,” this poetic concept film comes from Emerson College professor-turned-director John Gianvito. Billed as a visual meditation on our progressive history, the documentary silently tours cemeteries and monuments, including the headstones of Malcolm X and César Chávez, as Gianvito spans 400 years of history in less than an hour, but nonetheless marks the hardship and sacrifice this nation was built on.
Opens in New York.

“Sixty Six”
Brendan Fraser isn’t the only one double-dipping this summer. Following rom-com “Made of Honor,” Brit director Paul Weiland’s rite-of-passage yarn comes stateside to offer something of a mutual cultural exchange, as — let’s be honest — British audiences are about as in tune with family-based Jewish comedy as their U.S. counterparts are with soccer. Ably propelled by historical ironies, this good-natured comedy finds young Bernie Rubens (newcomer Gregg Sulkin) employing everything from panicked plots to voodoo rituals to combat soccer fever as he tries to prevent the scheduling of his bar mitzvah on the same day the 1966 British team play in the World Cup final. Helena Bonham Carter and Eddie Marsan star as Bernie’s exasperated parents.
Opens in limited release.

“Swing Vote”
The idea of the reluctant but incorruptible everyman suddenly finding himself with his hands on the nation’s highest levels of power is an American cinematic tradition dating all the way back to Frank Capra and Mr. Smith. Yet Capra probably never would’ve envisioned the ill-tempered, apathetic single dad, played by Kevin Costner, who suddenly finds himself the center of a worldwide media frenzy as he’s courted by the presidential candidates from both parties (Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper) when the election comes down to his single deciding vote. Besides Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci as dueling campaign managers, everyone from Arianna Huffington to Tucker Carlson weighs in during the satire that might not seem so funny come November.
Opens wide.

[Photo: Model Gerren Taylor in “America the Beautiful,” First Independent Pictures, 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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