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DID YOU READ

Opening This Week: A Will Smith weeper, this year’s Cannes winner and Mickey Rourke

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12152008_theclass.jpgBy Neil Pedley

There’s a noticeably European flavor this week, combined with some good old-fashioned work-a-day miserablism just in time for the holidays. Laurent Cantet’s Palme d’Or-winning doc shows a French school in minor crisis, Mickey Rourke battles his demons and Jim Carrey flails about — all in good festive fun!

“The Class”
Considering that the ongoing debate over the education system approaches a national pastime in France, it’s not difficult to see why Laurent Cantet’s pseudo-documentary chronicling a year in a Paris classroom took home the Palme d’Or on its home turf in Cannes. Based on a semi-autobiographical account from former lit teacher François Bégaudeau, playing a similar role here for the cameras, Cantet delivers a studied microcosm of French society via a multiethnic school with an administration run by committee. During the course of a turbulent school year, every aspect of the human social dynamic is played out with points made, points scored, ideologies formed and doctrines rejected, all within the stifling confines of that most formative of environments. In French with subtitles.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles for a weeklong Oscar qualifying run; opens in limited release on January 30th.

“Moscow, Belgium”
Lacking the star attractions of “In Bruges,” this quirky, kitchen sink romcom from television director Christophe van Rompaey nonetheless offers another sunny stroll around a country best known for its waffles and as the place people pass through on their way to Holland. Barbara Sarafian (“8 ½ Women”) stars as Matty, a mother of three who finds herself at the center of an unconventional love triangle after her husband Werner (Johan Heldenbergh) leaves her for a nympho schoolgirl. As Werner’s affair/midlife crisis persists, Matty decides she deserves one of her own and hooks up with the young and rugged Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet), but when Werner returns with his tail between his legs, Matty is forced to make a decision. In Dutch with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Nothing But the Truth”
Hot on the heels of “Frost/Nixon” comes another story eager to paint the free press as the last bastion of moral courage and integral fortitude in a tainted world. Yet where Ron Howard might have embellished a few truths, former film critic-turned-writer/director Rod Lurie just out and out cheats, if the title of this thriller, loosely based on the Valerie Plame saga, is to be believed. Kate Beckinsale steps into the Judith Miller role (renamed here as Rachel Armstrong) as a journalist who goes to prison for refusing to reveal her source on a story that exposed high-level shenanigans, though whereas Miller was protecting her source to help the sitting administration, Beckinsale’s Rachel is intent on “bringing down the White House.” Still, it’s hard to blame Lurie — “Nothing Like the Truth” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Vera Farmiga, Matt Dillon and Alan Alda co-star.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; expands on January 9th.

“Scott Walker: 30 Century Man”
Director Stephen Kijak turns his attention from the obsessed film buffs of “Cinemania” to the reclusive and enigmatic musician whose work has been endlessly obsessed over by music fans. Detailing Walker’s transformation from 1960s boy band pin-up to avant-garde experimentalist, Kijak assembles a who’s who of British hipster icons (Blur, Pulp, David Bowie) to regale us with their tales of Walker’s impact and influence, not to mention a rare and extremely candid interview with the man himself. Though Kijak seems almost uninterested in Walker’s darker side — his alcoholism and much publicized battles with the fame monster — he does shed light on the musician’s creative process as he records his most recent album, “The Drift.”
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on February 27th.

“Seven Pounds”
Picking up where “The Pursuit of Happyness” left off, Will Smith reunites with director Gabriele Muccino for what might be the most depressing film of 2008, which is quite an achievement even after the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” was pushed into next year. As Ben Thomas, a tortured former aeronautical engineer consumed by guilt over a dark secret from his past, Smith dutifully seeks out seven unfortunate souls to bequeath them each a gift that will radically transform their lives, while secretly plotting to end his own. Rosario Dawson co-stars as a young artist on the transplant list who falls for Tim not knowing what his true intentions are. ‘Tis the season to be jolly?
Opens wide.

“The Tale of Despereaux”
In a December crammed to the gills with Holocaust allegories and suicide dramas (see above), we look to the usually family-friendly genre of animation for a little respite, though given the title we could be forgiven for bracing ourselves for some digital depression. Still, that doesn’t appear to be what “Seabiscuit” scribe Gary Ross and “Flushed Away” director Sam Fell are up to with this adventure film, despite having a lead that looks like the result of some genetic experiment involving Dumbo and Fievel. Our plucky titular hero (voiced by Matthew Broderick) defies Mouseworld and joins forces with fellow outcast Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) to save his beloved Princess Pea (Emma Watson) from a plot by an army of vengeful sewer rats who plan to take over the kingdom.
Opens wide.

“The Wrestler”
Never one to shy away from big risks, Darren Aronofsky — the man who brought us a bald Hugh Jackman floating through space in a bubble — chose to wager his next project against his ability to resurrect the career of an actor that no major financier wanted to touch. Going to the mat for his director and garnering some well-deserved Oscar buzz in the process, Mickey Rourke stars as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a one-time superstar now battling aches, breaks and faltering will on the indie grappling circuit. Trying to patch things up with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), while clumsily courting aging stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), Ram prepares for one last shot at glory in a high-profile rematch against his former nemesis “The Ayatollah.”
Opens in limited release.

“Yes Man”
Searching for a little of his old box office mojo, Jim Carrey teams with “The Break-Up” director Peyton Reed to trot out the familiar rubber-limbed hysteria that made him a star with this retread of “Liar Liar” with a slight twist. Loosely inspired by an autobiographical yarn from British humorist Danny Wallace that was itself born out of a drunken bet in a pub, Carrey plays a conservative square with strong risk aversion who is suddenly inspired to say yes to any and all suggestions, no matter how potentially catastrophic they might be. If this were in any way true of some of Carrey’s career choices, it could go a long way towards explaining “The Number 23.”
Opens wide.

[Photo: “The Class,” Sony Pictures Classics, 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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