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“Burn After Reading”

“Burn After Reading” (photo)

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It doesn’t make a lot of sense to follow up a movie as dark as “No Country for Old Men” with one as downright silly as “Burn After Reading,” which is why it works for the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan have done this before — they made “Raising Arizona” after “Blood Simple”; “The Big Lebowski” followed “Fargo” — and if there’s one thing these brothers savor, it’s upending their audience’s expectations. The only thing people didn’t like about the almost uniformly beloved “No Country” was the film’s controversial ending and its handling of a sudden off-screen death of one of the main characters. In “Burn After Reading,” they push it farther, refusing to show you the chain of events that set the film’s entire blackmail plot into motion.

They’re not just messing with you; by taking their last film’s most significant criticism and making it even more noticeable, they’re also making fun of themselves, and that idea of self-parody reverberates through every frame of their latest movie. This is a spy picture in which nobody does any actual spying (at least not for the government; plenty of people are snooping around on their spouses) and where the intelligence community is portrayed as a world inhabited wholly by people without intelligence. Just about everybody whose name appears on the poster is skewering their onscreen persona, the most obvious being the picture’s two biggest stars, George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Pitt actually has a small supporting role. When his name shows up in the credits, it reads “And Brad Pitt.” The very notion that any movie might have such an important cast that one of the world’s biggest movie stars would get tossed in as an afterthought seems like a joke in and of itself. He plays Chad Feldheimer, a personal trainer that’s the very antithesis of the characters Pitt typically plays onscreen — not the slightest bit cool or suave, with no sense of personal style, nor even a whiff of intelligence, and a truly obnoxious haircut. Chad works at a Hardbodies gym in Washington D.C., where he finds a CD full of “intelligence shit” in the women’s locker room and starts dreaming of a big finder’s fee. The top-billed Clooney plays Harry Pfarrer, a philandering U.S. marshal swept up completely by accident into the world of espionage. When you see the movie, you may note that Clooney, sporting a thick beard, looks very much like Bob Barnes, the CIA agent he played in “Syriana,” a very serious spy movie. That surely is no accident.

09112008_burnafterreading2.jpgPfarrer is involved in two affairs at the film’s outset: one with Katie (Tilda Swinton), the wife of CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich, the cast’s true standout), who loses his classified information-laden memoirs, and Linda (Frances McDormand), the plastic surgery-obsessed Hardbodies employee who recovers them along with Chad. (We never do see the disc being lost or recovered.) Linda and Chad want to blackmail Cox but they’re not exactly the sharpest crayons in the box. And despite his bowties and his drunken behavior and the ridiculous way he pronounces the word “chèvre,” Cox isn’t a pushover.

I like that the Coens don’t take themselves seriously. They made a serious, brutal movie and didn’t feel like making another one just yet. Winning a Best Picture Oscar has gone to the heads of many filmmakers, but that’s clearly not the case here; this is one of their zaniest, most immature films in the best possible way. There’s a looseness to their work in “Burn After Reading,” and with it comes a sense of unpredictability as well, and if a comedy is going to work, it had better catch us by surprise.

And yet the movie does have some things on its mind behind cracking jokes. The “Enemy of the State” knockoff credits sequence, where the camera gives us a spy satellite view of the earth and slowly zooms in until it’s at ground level in Langley, Virginia, suggests “Burn After Reading” will be a parody of paranoia thrillers where innocent people are done in by a corrupt and egregiously powerful government. Not so; in fact, in the Coens’ view, humanity is more than capable of destroying themselves without the assistance of power-mad governmental evil (who, in their eyes, are too clueless to pose a real threat). Paranoia is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy; one moment you’re seeing unmarked sedans everywhere, the next you’ve killed someone with that firearm you swore you’d never have to discharge on the job.

McDormand’s character Linda has the most important lines in the movie. “I’m reinventing myself,” she says. “I’ve gone just as far as I can go with this body!” (Linda, who works in a gym, never even considers the idea that she could work out to improve her figure). Like a lot of people in this country, Linda and the rest of the characters of “Burn After Reading” are plagued with the disease of free-floating dissatisfaction: they’re not happy in their lives and they’re constantly searching for that one missing thing — whether it’s sex or a new job or a facelift — they think will magically solve everything. The movie really nails that vibe and why shouldn’t it? Who knows the art of reinvention better than the Coen brothers? They do it to themselves every movie.

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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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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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