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Jason Statham, Working Class (Action) Hero

Jason Statham, Working Class (Action) Hero (photo)

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Jason Statham is a worker. He’s released three films in 2008 alone (“Transporter 3” hits theaters today), and his characters are defined by labor, whether he’s playing a driver, a thief or an assassin. They have names evocative of union workers and hockey players: Frank Martin, Terry Leather, Chev Chelios. These are single-minded anti-heroes out to complete a mission. Nothing concerns them but the job, whether it’s a “Bank Job,” an “Italian Job” or a “Transporter” gig. The thrills in a successful Statham film come from this focus — the hurtling narratives rarely pause for backstory, concerned only with bridging the gap between a plan and its execution.

Statham’s route to tough guy stardom was circuitous. For a decade, he toured the world as a member of Britain’s national diving squad, finishing 12th on the platform at the ’92 World Championships, but amateur sports weren’t paying the bills. So he’d set up shop outside of Harrods, and, as he told IGN, “I used to put money in my pocket while working on the street corners, selling perfume and jewelry, and other goods that were supposedly expensive.”

Then he scored a modeling gig and caught the attention of Guy Ritchie, who was intrigued by his black-market experience. Roles in “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998) and “Snatch” (2000) followed, and this ex-diver/hustler/model would soon be shirtless on the big screen for years to come. “Lock, Stock” played on his working-class shyster past (Statham admits he plays a version of himself in the film), and that determined poor Cockney criminal has informed his performances since, from ruthless killers to small-time operators.

11262008_cellular.jpgThe plots in his best work abound with questions of geography, how to get from here to there. “The Transporter,” “Cellular” and “Crank” are all premised on a race against time, whether he’s tasked with breaking up a human trafficking ring, handling a kidnapping or finding a cure for an exotic poison. The action in all three is based on navigating urban spaces and improvising ways to keep moving at all costs. Such improvisation leads to some of the most imaginative action scenes in recent years — think of the oil slick brawl in the first “Transporter,” where Frank Martin douses himself in crude to slide away from his pursuers, or the mall chase in “Crank,” where Chelios wedges his car into an escalator and surfs it to the next floor. Statham isn’t the protagonist in “Cellular,” but he still manages to wheel through Santa Monica, snatching kids along the way. When asked how he’d describe “Crank,” Statham said, “”Run, run, fucking run. I do not stop. Well, that’s what the movie’s about.” It’s also a concise description of his entire output.

These ingenious set pieces were conceived by different directors, but the characters’ improvisatory spirit is similar. Whether it’s the balletic, over-the-top combat of fight choreographer/director Cory Yuen (“The Transporter”), or the straight-ahead brawling lensed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (“Crank”), Statham is great at conveying a fighter’s thought process. In “The Transporter,” Frank is a calm surveyor, so Statham plays him ramrod straight and narrow-eyed, exhibiting mulish determination in the most absurd of fight scenes, turning coconuts into boxing gloves and deploying a fire hose as a kick to the crotch. He walks with a tightly wound spring in his step, every sinew straining to be provoked. Obsessed with order and the principles of his job, his gestures are precise, his fights mathematical problems to be solved.

11262008_crank.jpg“Crank”‘s Chelios is Frank’s inverse: a frantic, dissolute jokester assassin, his face plastered with a dour smirk. Injected with a poisonous “Beijing cocktail,” the only thing that can delay its deadly business is a constant flow of adrenaline, an ingenious bit of self-reflexive plotting where action is an end in itself — the perfect expression of the Statham persona. In a cannonball of a performance, he blasts through Los Angeles, snorting nasal spray, injecting epinephrine and slamming his hand in a waffle iron, always on the edge of cracking up.

It’s a brilliant piece of slapstick, epitomized when he asks his cabbie to jack up the radio when “Achy Breaky Heart” hits the airwaves, and fruitlessly shudders to the music, trying to mosh in the backseat to release those precious endorphins. Whimpering the lyrics to stay alive, he cuts a pathetic figure, and along with exhibiting his sly, self-deprecating sense of humor, Statham introduces an unexpected note of melancholy. In the midst of a madcap hospital break-in, his face ashes upon entering an aged man’s deathbed, recognizing the decay in himself, echoed later in the exquisitely surreal final shot, calling his girlfriend one last time as he falls, incredibly slowly, to his death (although he’ll revive in time for the sequel, due next year).

With this year’s “The Bank Job” and “Death Race,” Statham continues to explore the melancholic and anti-heroic contours of his persona. He’s a blue-collar guy in both films (shady car dealer and factory worker), inadvertently roped into a criminal conspiracy that he must stubbornly unravel, through heists and (of course) murderous demolition derbies. His Terry Leather in “The Bank Job” is a low-life striver who engages in a subtle minuet of longing and retreat with the local femme fatale, consisting of a few passing glances in the midst of the post-heist intrigues. It’s a resourceful, solid turn, and another example of the remarkable continuity and elasticity of Statham’s performances, which are slowly testing his typecast boundaries by introducing mortal thoughts and flickers of romance into his overarching professional obsessions.

[Photos: “Cellular,” New Line Cinema, 2004; “Crank,” Lionsgate, 2006]

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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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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.

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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!

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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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