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DID YOU READ

A Tale of Two Vampire Movies

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12042008_twilight.jpgBy Matt Singer

I wouldn’t say I liked “Twilight,” but I think I get it. The action is clumsy, the acting is clunky, but the core mythos of Stephenie Meyer’s source material survives the transition to the big screen intact, and while it doesn’t necessarily appeal to me, I can see why it might to others (at least as a novel; the movie, I’m not so sure). The world that Meyer created — a teen soap opera against a backdrop of supernatural intrigue in which clans of vampires walk the earth, some protecting humanity, others methodically eating them — is a chick-lit twist on the classic formula of the “X-Men” comic books. “Twilight” was previewed for the press at a multiplex in Times Square to give critics a taste of what the authentic experience is like: the theater was packed with teenage girls. These young women, by and large, looked approximately like what I would have at that age with a gender swap: big glasses, frizzy hair, questionable fashion sense. Girl nerds, in other words — “gerds,” as we used to call them in high school — and this stuff is catnip for them.

This was true particularly in the case of teenage vampire boytoy Edward Cullen, whose name was on the Twilighters’ quivering lips long before a single frame of celluloid unspooled. The film is the story of his blossoming romance with a human girl named Bella (Kristen Stewart), who moves from Phoenix to the tiny town of Forks, Washington to live with her dad. Despite the fact that Bella is a sulky bore and a bad friend, she’s lusted over by all the boys in her new school. But she’s only interested in the mysterious Edward who, like the rest of his pale weirdo family, tends to call in sick when the weather turns aggressively sunny (a rarity in the Pacific Northwest). As played in the film by British actor Robert Pattinson, Edward’s sort of a bloodsucking version of James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” — brooding, moody, and unbearably handsome — and he walks a clever fine line of attractiveness: he’s a bad boy (what with the bloodsucking and all), but an unusually non-threatening one (Edward, like the rest of the Cullens, are “vampire vegetarians,” eating only animals to survive). In fact, “Twilight” is easily one of the least bloody vampire movies in history; it’s much more about the romantic mystique of the vampire figure than it is the day-to-day reality of the walking undead. Like I said, I think I get it. He’s a vampire James Dean — and I don’t think I’ve ever met a sensible woman who didn’t carry a torch for James Dean.

Stewart and Pattinson have good chemistry onscreen, though not so good that it justifies the titters that filled the theater whenever the pair silently smoldered at one another. The audience kept reacting to things that must have alluded to moments they savored in the novels but were invisible to “Twilight” neophytes. If, like me, you haven’t read one of Meyer’s novels, watching the film can be like a friend telling you a story that’s supposed to be hilarious and, when it proves not to be, ends with the line, “I guess you had to be there.” Sometimes the central pair look like they’re yearning for each other so hard they’re giving themselves stomach aches.

The movie’s ultimate message is one of restraint and self-control; characters are deemed heroic not necessarily for what they do, but rather for what they want to do and don’t, and Edward’s noble ability to control his thirst for human blood is clearly equated with his refusal to deflower the willing Bella (by taking either her virginity or her humanity; Bella’s so “irrevocably” in love with Edward she’s ready to give him either and both all at once). As much as the vampires’ pale skin is a narrative side effect of their fear of sunlight and strange dietary habits, in “Twilight,” it also comes to symbolize their moral purity.

12042008_lettherightonein.jpgThat’s in stark contrast to the recently released “Let the Right One In,” another movie about interspecies attraction between human and vampire teens, where the color white is used in visual opposition to the film’s teenosferatu and her nasty habits. Sweden’s snowy landscape dominates the frame, and many of the film’s images — including a country house, a life preserver, even a Rubik’s cube — balance oceans of white with splashes of red.

In “Let the Right One In,” lonely Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) has no outlet for the frustration caused by perpetual bullying at school and perpetual disinterest in his mother at home. He strikes up a friendship, mostly out of sheer desperation, with a shy girl who moves into his apartment complex named Eli (Lina Leandersson). While Oskar dreams about killing his tormenters, Eli, with the aid of a guardian who may or may not be her father, actually kills people to drink their blood. After Oskar discovers Eli’s secret, he confronts her about what she does, and she throws his own fantasies back in his face. “I don’t kill people!” Oskar says. “But,” Eli counters, “you’d like to if you could.” He doesn’t disagree.

Oscar and Eli’s budding co-dependent relationship is both troubling and touching, which makes it even more troubling. And, to my surprise, the effects in this tiny Swedish indie are far superior to those in “Twilight,” where Edward and his cohorts running at super-speed or gliding ethereally through the air often look like human actors approximating the clunky moments of puppet action in “Team America: World Police.” “Let the Right One In” features characters convincingly bursting into flames, and plenty of gore and dismemberment, all enhanced by director Tomas Alfredson’s sense of restraint, as when Eli’s assistant blocks our view of a victim as he slices his neck, leaving us only the sickening sound of the knife cutting through the flesh to give our imagination something to quease over. The effect is a love story as unsettling as “Twilight”‘s is comforting, and the climactic “justice” in both films has the same net result (i.e. the “bad guys” are defeated), though the implications of the two actions are vastly different.

There is no doubt that “Let the Right One In” is a better movie than “Twilight” — and certainly a scarier one — just as there’s no doubt that “Twilight is the better and easier sell. Everyone in “Twilight” is so pretty — the subway posters with the whole cast scowling lustily at the camera looks like the ad for a new series on The CW — and I think we’d all like to hope that if we were to fall in love with a vampire, it would be for all the right reasons. That is fantasy, and we all love fantasy. I get that too.

[Photos: “Twilight,” Summit Entertainment, 2008; “Let the Right One In,” Magnet Releasing, 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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