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Opening This Week: Ed Harris goes Western, Keira Knightley goes corseted (again)

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09152008_allofus.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen put their signature on an oater, but they’re not the only ones to head west this week — an all-star cast led by Charlize Theron charge into Seattle, Wayne Wang follows the travels of a Chinese scientist visiting his daughter in Spokane, Neil LaBute tries vilifying the L.A.P.D. and Ricky Gervais heads across the pond to bring his schtick to an American comedy.

“All of Us”
In this documentary, filmmaker Emily Abt follows Dr. Mehret Mandefro, a young, Ethiopian-born, Harvard-educated physician working in the South Bronx, and her efforts to both treat and bring awareness to the plight of African-American women affected by the HIV virus. Through her research with two of her patients and their own candid stories and circumstances, Dr. Mandefro highlights some of the key factors that have led to a steep increase in the number of women who have become victims of this terrible disease and ultimately arrives at some intriguing conclusions for women as a whole.
Opens in New York.

The last time Ed Harris worked both sides of the camera with the 2000 release of “Pollock,” he quietly directed himself to an Oscar nomination for best actor and his co-star Marcia Gay Harden to a win for best supporting actress. Here Harris adds a co-writing notch to his belt with this adaptation of Robert Parker’s classical tale of stoic masculinity in the Old West, starring alongside Viggo Mortensen as a pair of career gunslingers hired to bring order to a lawless town ravaged by Jeremy Irons’ murderous cattle baron while trying to prevent Renee Zellweger’s alluring widow from coming between them.
Opens in limited release; opens wide on October 3rd.

“Battle in Seattle”
While the idea of a film about the Seattle riots that overshadowed the annual World Trade Organization conferences held there in 1999 might scream “documentary!”, it comes as no real surprise that as an actor, first-time writer/director Stuart Townsend figured, hey, why not make it a dramatization? Placed front and center amidst the chaos of those five days, we find a mischievous but nonviolent group of protesters (Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez, Andre Benjamin) clashing with law enforcement (Woody Harrelson, Channing Tatum) as their peaceful demonstration is hijacked by a group of anarchists who have their own agenda.
Opens in limited release.

“The Duchess”
Way back when the word Paris referred to the capitol of France and nothing more, Georgiana Spencer was the “It Girl” of her day. The talk of the town, she drank hard, partied harder, gambled and (prone to the odd public meltdown) did a flame-assisted job on her hair that made Björk’s swan dress seem like a well-considered fashion statement by comparison. Keira Knightley tightens her corset once again to play the 18th-century celebutante whose public life was one of constant turmoil and whose private life was one of abject misery when she failed to produce a male heir for Ralph Fiennes’ cruel Duke of Devonshire. Word from Blighty suggests the story parallels between Spencer and future relative Princess Diana may get lost amongst the bonnets, yet some critics are applauding the creation of an entirely new subgenre — “Frock Porn.”
Opens in limited release.

“Elite Squad” (“Tropa de Elite”)
“City of God” scripter Bráulio Mantovani teams up with “Bus 174” director José Padilha for the latter’s narrative debut that once again plunges us deep into the violent drug-infested favelas of Rio de Janeiro, this time from the point of view of so-called law enforcement. We ride shotgun with a special unit of military police that try to quell the violence in preparation for a visit from the Pope. At the center of the operation is the a world-weary Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura), who is charged with breaking in two idealistic recruits, Neto and Matias (Caio Junqueira and André Ramiro), to eventually replace him.
Opens in limited release.

“Ghost Town”
Fans of Ricky Gervais will have to wait until next year for the first film penned by the “Extras” and “The Office” co-creator (“This Side of Truth”), but frequent Spielberg collaborator David Koepp wrote and directed this comedy, which marks the first stateside starring role for the former David Brent. Gervais’ misanthropic dentist Bertram Pincus is definitely cut from the same cloth as Brent, and when he suffers a near-death experience, he is allowed to see the dead — and coaxed into helping Greg Kinnear’s very dead philanderer into halting his widow’s (Téa Leoni) impending marriage. Seeing as though films involving the supernatural often result in being the sleeper hit of the season or an unmitigated box office disaster, here’s hoping it’s more “Ghost” than “Ghost Dad.”
Opens wide.

Better known to most as the “Dakota Fanning Rape Movie,” the sophomore feature from former NYU professor Deborah Kampmeier is a lesson in the true meaning of a passion project, after having survived the bad buzz generated by a displeased former investor, who embellished some already tall tales to the media and stirred up a tirade of “ban this sick film” brouhaha that followed it all the way to Sundance ’07. Reportedly based on her own personal past, Kampmeier’s grim Southern gothic takes place in a backwater Alabama town circa the 1950s where a spirited young Lewellen (Fanning) tends to her deadbeat father (David Morse) and finds escape through the music of Elvis until a vicious assault by a local boy robs her of her innocence.
Opens in limited release.

It might be a little early for Halloween, but thanks to Tim Burton, the kooky goth-themed animated film has become as much a staple of the fall calendar as the Oscar-baiting biopic and the latest “Saw” sequel. French animation outfit Sparx* handles the pixels for this tale of an ambitious, put-upon, hunchbacked assistant (voiced by John Cusack) tired of suffering the abuse of his master. When said master croaks it a week before the big science fair, Igor enlists the aid of a talking brain in a jar (Sean Hayes) and Scamper (Steve Buscemi), an ill-tempered lab rabbit and prepares for his big chance to shine.
Opens wide.

“Lakeview Terrace”
Despite a few tacky, tabloid-esque “ripped straight from the headlines” undertones, this psycho next-door story boasts on paper the makings of a solid genre picture. Produced by Will Smith and directed by Neil LaBute, this “Unlawful Entry” redo with a twist stars Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington as a happily married interracial couple who think they’ve hit the jackpot when they move into their dream suburban home, but the situation isn’t so dreamy to their neighbor, a racist cop played by Samuel L. “Motherfuckin'” Jackson. Forgive us for cursing, but we felt we had to compensate for the fact that Jackson’s trademark won’t be part of this PG-13 affair.
Opens wide.

“My Best Friend’s Girl”
As Tank, a professional jerk-off for hire whose job it is to basically irritate people as much as possible and get paid for it, Dane Cook might just have lucked into the least challenging role of his career in this rom-com that tackles the age old conundrum; do women really prefer it when you treat them like crap? When Tank’s witless buddy Dustin (Jason Biggs) is given the elbow by his new girlfriend (Kate Hudson), he turns to Tank who promises to give her a night so terrible she’ll be back with him by morning — if he can only keep from falling head over heels for her himself. Alec Baldwin co-stars as a mentor to Cook, and no stranger himself to getting on people’s nerves.
Opens wide.

“Playing With Fire”
Making a brief cameo in theaters on its way to its likely late night slot on Skinemax, this softcore thriller comes courtesy of the very prolific, if slightly lowbrow, 15-year partnership between writer Matthew Jason Walsh and director David DeCoteau, whose collaboration has yielded the likes of “Final Stab” and “Bikini Goddesses.” Kelly Albanese stars as manipulative rich bitch Daphne, who uses and discards naive young men like martini glasses. When Nick (Kyle Jordan) rebuffs her advances, she targets his girlfriend Heather (Candace Moon) and so begins “a dangerous game,” according to the film’s web site — well, maybe just mildly threatening since former “Baywatch” stud Michael Bergin is the film’s biggest name.

“A Thousand Years of Good Prayers”
Wayne Wang continues his long, strange career by following the Queen Latifah comedy “Last Holiday” with something closer to his heart — an adaptation of Yiyun Li’s short story that stars Henry Q as Mr. Shi, an elderly Chinese widower who travels to Spokane to visit his adult daughter, Yilan (Faye Yu) in the wake of her recent divorce, but finds himself a stranger in a strange land. With this gentle story of cultural isolation and the often arduous father/daughter dynamic, Wang examines the plight of people cut off by the generation gap and left stranded on the far side of the global village’s many bridges. And like Wang’s “Smoke,” which inspired a second film, “Blue in the Face,” “A Thousand Years” gave way to a companion film, “Princess of Nebraska,” that will be available online in October.
Opens in New York.

“Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived”
With the most important U.S. presidential election of our time fast approaching, Japanese director Koji Masutani, in conjunction with the Brown University’s Global Media Project, examines original politic maverick John F. Kennedy and how history might have looked had he lived to continue his presidency and how that would affect the policies of today. Centering on political decisions made during key events prior to his death, “Virtual Kennedy” constructs a behavior model and applies it to the here and now to determine just how the former President would deal with the many challenges that face the contemporary world.
Opens in New York.

[Photo: “All of Us,” Pureland 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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