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Opening This Week: Comedy in the Muslim world, infinite playlists and Jonathan Demme

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09292008_allahmademefunny.jpgBy Neil Pedley

At the multiplex this week, we have some pre-Halloween gothic fancy, films about the two things guaranteed to start a fight in any elevator — religion and politics — and a little music from Nick and Norah and Jonathan Demme’s infinite playlists.

“Allah Made Me Funny”
When Albert Brooks went looking for comedy in the Muslim world, he perhaps didn’t consider that it was alive and well inside our shores. Filmmaker Andrea Kalin picked up her camera and hit the road with Muslim American stand-up comics Azhar Usman, Mo Amer and Preacher Moss, who started the tour in 2004 to combat the negative stereotypes associated with their faith by sharing their unique brand of humor. The film intersperses their routines with personal vignettes that show how the comedians employ laughter as a tool of information to entertain, to educate and to show that a good mother-in-law gag simply knows no boundaries.
Opens in limited release.

“An American Carol”
He might have been pretty quiet this election cycle, but there are still those out there who believe Michael Moore to be a disingenuous, self-promoting, hypocritical windbag — and those include people who do like his movies. Produced and directed by David Zucker of “Airplane” (yay!) and the “Scary Movie” sequels (well, not so much), this unabashedly zany slap in the face of the anti-everything crowd stars Chris Farley’s younger brother Kevin as Michael Malone, an activist filmmaker campaigning to abolish the Fourth of July when he is visited by the spirits of America’s past (Jon Voight, Kelsey Grammer and Trace Adkins). The question remains whether this could possibly do any more damage to Moore than the documentarian’s poorly received foray into comedy, “Canadian Bacon.”
Opens wide.

“Ballast”
Winner of the dramatic directing award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this spare directorial debut might not seem like the work of a visual effects designer who helped create Gotham City for “Batman Forever,” but writer/director Lance Hammer captures an equally vast portrait of the Mississippi Delta in this tale of a fractured family rocked by tragedy and trying to make ends meet. Tarra Riggs, Micheal J. Smith Sr. and JimMyron Ross star as the trio forced to confront their mutual resentment as they struggle to piece their shattered lives back together.
Opens in New York; opens in limited release on October 17th.

“Beverly Hills Chihuahua”
In a world where animators have cornered the kiddie market with big green ogres and trundling dust busters, it seems as though the once mighty talking animal picture might be all but dead. Yet leave it up to Disney to create a renaissance in the anthropomorphic genre with the tale of an all-too-literal rich bitch named Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore, perhaps because Paris Hilton wasn’t available), who takes one wrong turn on Rodeo Drive and finds herself alone on the streets of Mexico. George Lopez voices Papi, a streetwise Chihuahua smitten with the pampered pooch who assembles a crack team of four-legged friends to save the day. Andy Garcia, Paul Rodriguez and Cheech Marin round out the voice cast. We’re just thanking our lucky stars we don’t have to watch the trailer again… or watch other people watch the trailer again.
Opens wide.

“Blindness”
The fact that Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago spent much of the last decade turning down offers to adapt his 1995 post-modernist novel for the screen before finally settling on writer Don McKellar and director Fernando Meirelles should’ve only inspired confidence and rightly so as Meirelles’ career output thus far has exhibited more layers than a wedding cake. Then the film premiered at Cannes where it wasn’t exactly a hit with the critics. Now, minus the film’s original narration from co-star Danny Glover, audiences will see for themselves the drama starring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo as a married couple trapped as part of a mass quarantine in the wake of an unexplained outbreak of blindness. As panic begins to take hold and supplies run short, the delicate situation begins to unravel as various factions vie for power.
Opens wide.

“Flash of Genius”
Combining the two things America is most fond of — underdogs and suing people — longtime producer and first-time director Marc Abraham chronicles the heart wrenching true story of engineer Robert W. Kearns and his bitter legal battle with the automobile industry after he learns they’ve stolen his invention of the intermittent windshield wiper. Greg Kinnear plays Bob Kearns, the earnest engineer who comes to discover that when it rains, it pours — his marriage collapses and he slowly descends into bankruptcy during the many years of litigation that followed. Lauren Graham and Alan Alda co-star.
Opens wide.

“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”
Simon Pegg looks to bounce back from the mixed comedic bag of “Run Fatboy Run” with this loose adaptation of Toby Young’s memoir of the same name that detailed his disastrous five-year excursion to the U.S. as a contributing editor of Vanity Fair. All names have been changed to protect the innocent, or at least keep open the career options of anyone associated with the film, so Toby has been rechristened Sidney Young, a bungling pond hopper lured with a job offer by Jeff Bridges’ high-flying publishing executive to the bright lights of the Big Apple where he finds the Devil apparently isn’t so discerning over his outfit. Kirsten Dunst, Gillian Anderson and Megan Fox make the transition a little harder for Pegg’s Sidney in the feature debut from frequent “Curb Your Enthusiasm” director Robert B. Weide.
Opens wide.

“Just Buried”
With the arrival of October, matters once again turn to the macabre, the diabolical becomes the delightful, and first-time writer/director Chaz Thorne delivers this black as coal comedy from the great white wilderness up north. If Napoleon Dynamite spent less time practicing dance moves and more time killing people, he might look a lot like Oliver Zinck (“Undelcared”‘s Jay Baruchel), a nerdy ne’er-do-well who inherits his estranged father’s failing funeral home. With bills piling up a lot faster than bodies, Oliver is railroaded into a diabolical scheme by his girlfriend/embalmer Roberta (Rose Byrne) to take a more pro-active approach to start rolling in the dough.
Opens in limited release.

“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”
Long before MySpace, the ritualistic making of the mix tape was the quintessential way to use other people’s poetry to define your own individuality. Armed with a soundtrack full of buzz bands such as Vampire Weekend and We Are Scientists, “Raising Victor Vargas” director Peter Sollett is putting his spin on the teen comedy. Michael Cera, the supreme master of the awkward pause, and Kat Dennings star as the titular duo that is forced into an evening together in pursuit of a secret concert of their favorite band when their exes (Jay Baruchel, Alexis Dziena) rear their no-so-ugly heads. Other familiar faces spotted throughout the night include John Cho, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Seth Meyers, Andy Samberg and Devendra Banhart.
Opens wide.

“Religulous”
Political satirist and known atheist Bill Maher unleashes himself on unsuspecting members of the public to religious officials and scholars in an effort to establish what makes the divine and raptured tick. Accompanied by “Borat” director Larry Charles, who knows a thing or two about ambushing people, Maher travels everywhere from the Vatican to Jerusalem to Washington D.C. asking people to expound their religious beliefs and then ponders aloud why they’re likely wrong.
Opens wide.

“Rachel Getting Married”
Described by director Jonathan Demme as a salute to the organized chaos of the late, great Robert Altman, this fragile, handheld portrait of familial dysfunction and squabbling siblings once again shows that nothing brings about despair like a wedding. Rosemarie DeWitt is Rachel, the overlooked eldest daughter who is thrilled to finally have a big day all to herself until the arrival of her jittery, maladjusted sister Kym, straight from rehab, threatens to steal the limelight. Anne Hathaway dirties up her porcelain good looks to play Kym, while Debra Winger and Demme regular Bill Irwin co-star as the exasperated parents caught in the middle, not to mention the five or six musical acts Demme booked to play at the ceremony, including Robyn Hitchcock.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

[Photo: “Allah Made Me Funny,” Truly Indie, 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…

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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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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.

via GIPHY

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!

via GIPHY

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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