This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


“The Forsaken Land,” “Team Picture”

“The Forsaken Land,” “Team Picture” (photo)

Posted by on

Ah, minimalism, the miserable hairshirt pajamas so many critics still love to put on in the semi-privacy of their vocations, ostensibly separating them from the herd of passive filmgoers like enlightened monks separated from the peasantry — or, at least, so it may seem to the mainstream, who have been trained from the cradle to desire only distraction, and for whom a movie that deliberately fails to deliver narrative excitement is akin to water torture. Honestly, both are fair and comprehensible positions, and if you can decry the ignorant impatience of the many viewers intolerant of the new movie by Jia Zhangke or Pedro Costa or Tsai Ming-liang, you could also legitimately wonder when and where art film asecticism steps over the border into pretentious tedium. (Just because it’s not a terribly commercial gambit doesn’t mean it can’t be overexploited by filmmakers — take Costa’s “Colossal Youth,” please.)

Everyone has to draw their own line, naturally, even if, let’s face it, minimalist art film, done insightfully, rewards attentive viewing with transformative experience in ways cluttered, noisy, manipulative narrative films can’t. A prime core sample, Vimukthi Jayasundara’s “The Forsaken Land” (2005) is a Sri Lankan ode to desolation, set in a dune-beset desert range and haunted by the memories and present-moment traces of war. New Yorker Video is framing the film in the context of the 2001 cease-fire between the Sinhalese government and the Tamil Tigers, the result of which was increased military presence in the country, but Jayasundara is so sparse with cultural or historical cues you could imagine it takes place anywhere, or nowhere. What we get mostly is the flat Sri Lankan wilderness, magnificently photographed in various stages of thunderhead menace and shining dusklight. A civilian guardsman lives in an outland shack with his young and unfaithful wife and unmarried sister, other guardsman dally, the army comes and goes in trucks, tanks patrol the weeds (and always, slowly, retarget their gun barrels at the camera), a dead body is found, a monsoon breaks, sexual frustration percolates. Spent artillery shells are glimpsed lost in the sand, visits to an outhouse are observed in their entirety, impulsive copulation and voyeurism tempts nearly everyone. Late in the game, the uneasy protagonist is taken by the soldiers to a wasteland where he is instructed to finish beating a sheet-wrapped prisoner to death, which he does.

There is less a story here than an unassuming, aimless ramble of images and incidents, and ample opportunities for the characters to brood at the landscape while thinking about things we haven’t seen. My sense of it is that Jayasundara was not as careful as he could have been about allowing enervation to flow from the mostly mute characters to the audience. But his use of off-screen sound and incident are powerful (those alone are quantities the average moviewatcher has to be trained to notice), and once the ellipses and silences add up, “The Forsaken Land” comes off as having an undeniable sense of suspended apprehension that seems to be evocatively Sri Lankan, of waiting both for the war to resume and for life, such as it may be, to begin again. What’s that worth to you? Less or more than CGI explosions and costumed superheroes?

09162008_teampicture.jpgIn homegrown America, the paradigm is more like “mumblism,” and as cynical as I’d like to be about the new run of D.I.Y., HD twentysomething shrug-&-hangout features (a world, you could say, where no one owns a bed, just a mattress), I still find myself appreciating the low volume and the 4-D characters and non-stories they offer. Andrew Nenninger’s “Team Picture” (2007) is a new fave, differentiated from the Swanberg-Katz-Bujalski pack by being decidedly Southern-suburban (the low-rent Tennessee neighborhoods here are one heavy rain from simply being decaying weed jungles), and by being decidedly unhip. Nenninger (who directed the film as “Kentucker Audley,” supposedly to shield his family from the shame of it) plays himself, essentially, a nowhere guy in the Middle Earth of rotten farmhouses, blow-up lawn pools, no-business strip malls and routines for time killing. Skinny, dull and completely affectless, Nenninger’s hero avoids college, quits his job working for his aging jock stepfather (a caricature possibility which is instead treated, like all of Nenninger’s people, with gentle respect), watches his live-in girlfriend walk out, opts out of his friends’ weekend trivialities, meets another girl, dabbles in songwriting, drives to see his father in Arkansas. No conclusions are reached, but moments are found amid the barely audible deadpan comedy — “Do you like enjoyment?” he asks the new girl, right before we’re gifted with the real-to-touch tableau of the lanky Nenninger lounging in the three inches of pool water as the girl (Amanda Harris) sips a beer on the twilight lawn and a train passes in the distance.

On one level, both Nenninger and his co-star/co-cinematographer Timothy Morton (who plays a gabby, loafy roommate) seem ready for their own MTV slacker anti-sitcom; on another, we cannot be prosecuted for wondering why we’re hanging out with these people, if they can’t even decide what to do with themselves as a real, ordinary person routinely does, day to day. Movies at their most basic are about rewardingly occupying our time with something other than own our lives, right? Charming as it is, maybe like Jayasundara’s film, “Team Picture” isn’t realism but rather a heightened Beckettian void, emptied of purpose or action or cause, reducing life to the downtime between words and vital events… maybe.

[Additional photo: “Team Picture,” Benten, 2007]

“The Forsaken Land” (New Yorker Video) and “Team Picture” (Benten Films) are now available on DVD.

Watch More

WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

Posted by on

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

Watch More

Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

Posted by on
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.

Watch More

G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

Posted by on

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.

Watch More