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Rotterdam 2009: The Wrap-Up

Rotterdam 2009: The Wrap-Up (photo)

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The Rotterdam Film Festival has had a history of promoting the weird, the obsessive and the cultish in cinema, and there’s been little change as this year’s edition reaches its close. They’ve programmed a survey of recent Asian horror films, complete with a “haunted house” installation, and they’ve maintained their loyalty to unfashionable provocateurs like Aleksei Balabanov, whose acerbic takes on Russian history have always made their way onto screens here. That’s without even mentioning the festival’s support of debut filmmakers, three of which just received a 15,000 euro ($22,500 U.S.) prize from the VPRO Tiger jury (Ramtin Lavafipour’s “Be Calm and Count to Seven,” Yang Ik-June’s “Breathless” and Mahmut Fazil Coşkun’s “Wrong Rosary” took home the loot).

I went into “Susuk,” Amir Muhammad’s Malaysian black magic boondoggle, with high hopes, not least because of his pre-screening description of the film as “the first Muslim lesbian vampire movie.” It’s his initial foray into commercial filmmaking, as Muhammad is mainly known for his satiric essay works (“The Last Communist”), which were often banned in his home country. He’s now mainly a writer and publisher of “Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things,” among others. “Susuk” is a clumsy piece of social commentary dressed up as a horror film, as bosomy celebrity divas delve into voodoo to rocket them into stardom. Muhammad made up for this stumble with his “haunted house” installation, entitled “Reading Room.” His idea of horror is IKEA furniture set up in a modernist white cube, with only his volume of “The Malaysian Book of the Undead” as company. It was almost as frightening as a trip to the Scandinavian superstore itself.

Aleksei Balabanov barnstormed into the Rotterdam Film Festival last year with “Cargo 200,” a brutally nihilistic portrait of Glasnost-era Moscow that opened recently in New York. He spares little more sympathy for his early 20th century characters in “Morphia,” his latest evisceration of nostalgia for the Communist regime. An adaptation by the late Sergei Bodrov, Jr. (son of the “Mongol” auteur) of short stories by Mikhail Bulgakov, it’s a spurtingly bloody portrait of a country doctor at the time of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. It starts out as black comedy, with the young medic learning surgical techniques on the fly, until the humor leeches out and all that’s left is drug addiction and a grotesquely distorted vision of utopia.

02042009_lookingforcherryb.jpgHowever, the oddest film in the festival was probably Joe Odagiri’s absurdist comedy “Looking For Cherry Blossoms.” A huge star in Japan, Odagiri is often compared to Johnny Depp for general dreaminess, but Depp has never produced anything as mind-blowingly senseless as this. It’s a brisk 64-minute jaunt into insanity, given a structure because a young man discovers his grandfather is receiving postcards from a mystery woman. They all contain a photo of the same flowering cherry tree, which the man vows to find. He’s soon picked up by Jack, a blustery, tourettic cab driver who hijacks the movie for his own uncertain ends. Dressed like a deranged flight attendant, he claims to know the tree, and promptly runs down an aspiring boxer and sings an obscure rock song in staccato bursts. Their goal is forgotten, absorbed in a fog of non-sequiturs, raucous laughter and a rain-drenched music video performed in the nude. It’s next-level stupidity worthy of Will Ferrell.

It’s not all madness though. Rotterdam also acts as curator for the past year of festivals, and I managed to catch up with some invigorating work from around the world. Of most recent vintage is Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Bronson,” which recently premiered at Sundance. A forcefully entertaining take on the most violent prisoner in England’s history, it’s graced by a demonically physical central performance by Tom Hardy, who plays the psychopath with a grinning emptiness reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange.” The film is nothing more than a string of outrageous anecdotes strung together with a theatrical framing device, but Hardy’s riveting presence makes it more than worthwhile.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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.

via GIPHY

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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