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From Russia With Obviousness

From Russia With Obviousness (photo)

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Somewhere between the 40- and 60-minute marks of Nikita Mikhalkov’s “12,” a sparrow flies through a window into the school gymnasium that’s serving as an ad hoc jury room for a supposedly routine Moscow homicide case. This is unusual for one or two reasons, the most obvious of which is that it’s the dead of winter. (The window isn’t open, mind you; it’s broken, as is forcefully pointed out by one juror who sees the gym’s sorry shape as emblematic of “40 years of running in place.”) This ups the ante for what’s already shaping up to be an overstuffed socially conscious allegory with its roots in the American, um, classic “12 Angry Men.” “This is it,” this viewer thought, a trifle giddily, remembering an old song by King Missile; “this is mystical shit.”

Because, really, if you’re going to make a self-aggrandizing quasi-allegorical modern epic (160 minutes!) about the state of contemporary Russia, encompassing not just the Chechen problem but the Communist problem, the Jewish problem, the gangster problem, the entrepreneurial problem, the drug problem, the building corruption problem, the culture problem and every other damn problem, why not have a sparrow fly into the proceedings and provide occasional chirpy commentary before setting up an explicitly religious punch line? “12”‘s conceit is, initially, every bit as simple as that of the Reginald Rose/Sidney Lumet drama; after a disorienting montage of what we’ll later learn were scenes from the defendant’s childhood, the director places 12 putatively representative types, all male in this case, into a makeshift jury room in order to deliberate over a seemingly simple crime. An orphaned Chechen adolescent is accused of murdering the Russian Army officer who adopted him and brought him back to Moscow. Of course he did it, the first line of thought goes. These Chechens are all animals, one of the smirkiest of this group of middle-aged guys notes. But wait! A soulful engineer (Sergei Makovetsky) stands up and tells his sad life story, building up to the conclusion that, you know, the quality of mercy is not strained. Then an elderly Jew (Valentin Gaft) takes up that theme. He gets a lot of guff from the smirky guy. And then a surgeon from the Caucasus (Sergei Gazarov) waxes profound, albeit in shaky Russian, on cultural rifts. And so on, and so on. And then they get around to actually considering the evidence. And then all of the jurors but one — no, not the smirky guy, who turns out to be a cab driver with major women issues (Sergey Garmash) — gets to undergo a dark night of the soul. It’s only after all this that the jury foreman — played by director Mikhalkov, very probably as himself, articulates the conundrum that will be the young Chechen’s fate regardless of the verdict.

03042009_12movie2.jpgAnd if that isn’t enough…well, while the Rose/Lumet film stuck to the confines of the jury room — that was part of the whole formal challenge of the piece, to keep within boundaries without seeming stage-bound — Mikhalkov throws in a whole lot of bombastic flashbacks to the war that the Chechen child was caught up in. These are, admittedly, executed with some brio. Of particular distinction is a truly harrowing firefight that breaks out in two seemingly blasted-out, deserted buildings. Then there are the frequent shots of the defendant pacing in his cell, and eventually breaking out in a Chechen dance that made this viewer wish for Russia to reinstate its death penalty, just for this guy. That sounds glib, but you watch it. Mikhalkov also frequently cuts to a flashback shot of a smoky battlefield, homing in on a dog trotting towards the camera, in blurry focus, with a large object in its mouth. The reveal of the large object is saved for the very end — the better to contrast with that sparrow, you see, but it won’t surprise anybody who’s seen “Yojimbo.”

The polish of the filmmaking here collides with a crudity of thought so staggering as to make “12” something of a unique object. If you, like myself, found the Rose/Lumet film schematic, heavy-handed and well-intentioned to a fault, well, Mikhalkov’s take on the material may cause your mind to split open. As ridiculous as this will sound, it’s the truth: this bombastic film is to its inspiration what the “1812 Overture” is to “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.”

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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.


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…


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.


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).


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.


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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