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DID YOU READ

Dear Moviegoers: Happy Holocaust! Love, Hollywood

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12152008_boyinthestripedpajamas.jpgBy Nick Schager

The Holocaust is a serious subject. And November and December is serious subject matter time in Hollywood. No surprise, then, that every awards season sees its fair share of dramas set in and around WWII concentration camps. But even in light of this predictable pattern, 2008 has, to put it diplomatically, lost its freakin’ mind. In the last two months of this year, there will have been six — SIX?!? — films released that, in one way or another, deal with Nazis. Part of the problem is simply quality, as all of these releases barely rise to the level of mediocre. Yet the issue of quantity seems just as troubling, as their basic, simultaneous existence calls into question not only the continuing viability of extracting drama from this most momentous (and, consequently, well-trod) of historical tragedies, but also, fundamentally, the growing absence of originality or ingenuity in mainstream cinema, especially during the Oscar-hungry stretch run.

To even suggest putting Holocaust dramas on hiatus is probably going to be taken by some as an example of insulting ignorance on the part of yours truly. Yet when viewed in the context of 15 years worth of post-“Schindler’s List” cinema, the recent preponderance of highfalutin’ cinematic sagas about the “Final Solution” has created a situation in which there’s virtually nothing left to say about anything — about heroism, sacrifice, cowardliness, treachery, collusion, intolerance, mass hysteria, etc. — through the prism of Nazi Germany. What we’re left with are stories that either regurgitate familiar lessons about the Holocaust, or ones that use the genocide to give added weight and importance to their stock morality play lessons. The following sextet is a collection of such functional, faux-prestigious dullness that the greatest moviegoing tribute one could pay to those who perished in (or survived) the death camps would be to skip this dispiriting lot and instead rent “The Sorrow and the Pity.”

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”

In Mark Herman’s adaptation of John Boyne’s novel, an eight-year-old German boy befriends a Jewish kid through a concentration camp’s fence, wholly oblivious — as the title implies — to the fact that the former is a prisoner rather than simply too lazy to get dressed for the day. This premise is, ahem, problematic on a number of levels (is the German kid dim? Since when could Jews loiter about camps’ barbed wire fences?), and its child’s perspective hardly enhances truths apparent to anyone over the age of, well, eight. The result is an overwrought clunker that comes off like a parody being played straight.

12152008_adamresurrected.jpg“Adam Resurrected”

This film is in effect Paul Schrader’s “Dog People”; Jeff Goldblum’s popular German clown (shades of Jerry Lewis’ infamous “The Day the Clown Cried”) grapples with the trauma of having been made during the war to act like a pooch by Willem Dafoe’s concentration camp commandant. Lucky for him, a boy conveniently shows up in his cuckoo ward behaving just like a dog — redemptive healing, here we come! Schrader treats his material seriously, but between the canine role-playing, Goldblum’s unchecked overacting and the third-act appearance of a burning bush (don’t ask), it’s no wonder the film is tonally helter-skelter.

“Good”

Like “Adam Resurrected,” “Good”‘s most powerful moment involves a death-march serenade by violin. Other than helping to cement this as 2008’s defining Holocaust-movie image, however, Vicente Amorim’s film (an adaptation of C.P. Taylor’s 1981 play) merely uses Nazi Germany as an obvious, easy setting for its complicity-via-passive-acquiescence sermon. As the spineless professor who goes with the world-domination flow rather than standing up for his ideals, Viggo Mortensen effectively, and aptly, dials down the hunkiness. Once 20 minutes have passed and the central point about human behavior has been definitively made, however, the urge to see the “Lord of the Rings” star broadsword someone becomes overwhelming.

“The Reader”

There’s plenty of talk in Stephen Daldry’s film about a German teenage boy’s relationship with an older woman who, it turns out, was an SS guard years earlier. And it all amounts to: “Paging Mr. Oscar!” One of those prim-and-proper sub-“Masterpiece Theater” efforts that equates “tastefulness” with intelligence, Daldry’s follow-up to “The Hours” is ostensibly interested in the German population’s conflicted feelings over the horrific WWII actions of their ancestors, though the real focuses that emerge are Kate Winslet’s gawked-over nude body in Part I, and her lacking old-age makeup in Part II. Exploiting the Holocaust for shallow psychologizing and sexual MILF fantasies? Now there’s something to feel guilty about.

12152008_defiance.jpg“Defiance” and “Valkyrie”

Daniel Craig! Tom Cruise! Killing Nazis, or dyin’ tryin’! Phooey with moral complexity and ghastly tragedy — we need a hero, and preferably, he’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight. Directors Ed Zwick and Bryan Singer clearly agree, lavishing googly-eyed affection on their respective National Socialist haters — Craig’s freedom fighter, who created safe haven communities for his Jewish brethren in the Belarussian forest, and Cruise’s wannabe Hitler assassin — who can deliver guns-and-explosions action under a “true story” guise. And, in Cruise’s case, can do so while wearing an awesome eye patch to boot! Who said the Holocaust wasn’t fun?

[Photos: “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” Miramax Films, 2008; “Adam Resurrected,” Bleiberg Entertainment, 2008; “Defiance,” Paramount Vantage, 2008]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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