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State of Decline

State of Decline (photo)

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It’s a measure of the smarts at work in “State of Play” that while none of the characters’ motives are clean, the movie never lapses into cynicism. This tense, cleanly made thriller, directed by Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”), plays off the faux scandals of the Clinton years (the Lewinsky affair) and the genuine outrages that occurred under Bush (contracting mercenaries to fight in Iraq) and says that what remains of the press is no longer able to tell the difference between real news and fake news.

The plot takes off with the seeming suicide of a young congressional aide. It’s quickly discovered that the dead woman was having an affair with her boss, a rising congressman (Ben Affleck) who’s holding hearings on the government’s business dealings with a company that supplies mercenaries. Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), a reporter for a high-profile Washington paper, was the congressman’s college roommate, and what begins as advice to his friend on how to weather the scandal quickly turns into an investigation that connects the dead girl to a double murder and all three deaths to the mercenary merchants under investigation.

The real subject of “State of Play,” though, is the death of newspapers. In the movie’s view, the 24-hour news cycle, the rise of the internet and corporate media takeovers have combined to make a perfect storm that will cripple journalism and give crooked pols and corrupt, murderous organizations a freer hand than they already have.

Cal is aided in his investigation by the paper’s young Beltway blogger Della Frye. In the role, Rachel McAdams seems to be playing a new archetype: the journalistic naïf who acts — and writes — as if she’s seen it all already. Anyone who’s been around a newsroom or magazine in the last few years has encountered Della: she’s the kind who combines an easily aroused — and thimble-deep — sense of indignation with the calculated instincts of the born careerist. Her copy is a mess of hearsay and selective facts, with nary of whit of reflection to temper any of it. McAdams uses her whippet-thin build and big eyes to great comic effect — she’s all hunger and ambition and certain that Cal is a dinosaur who can’t teach her anything. McAdams is even funnier when Cal arouses Della’s passion to be a real journalist. Every questionable shortcut Cal employs, every lie he instructs Della to tell to further the story causes her to channel her inner journalism student and complain that, well, that just isn’t ethical. She’s like the flustered virgin who realizes her boyfriend expects her to go all the way on prom night. It’s a terrific performance.

04142009_StateofPlay.jpgThere’s a slyness, too, in Crowe’s portrayal of Cal. I’ve never seen anyone get at the mixture of antiauthority conviction and traditionalism that defines most beat reporters, the fierce loyalty and the willingness to betray. With his shaggy hair, grad student wardrobe and the gut that years of sitting at his computer and snarfing junk food has gotten him, Crowe’s Cal is the type of talented pain in the ass who’s proud to be an anachronism, and Crowe, who understands wised up is not the same things as cynical, gets you immediately on Cal’s side. No one this sly is a saint, but Cal is the hero because, in a craft rapidly becoming an entry on a balance sheet, he’s one of the few left who gives a damn. And that’s what brings him into conflict with the paper’s editor, played by Helen Mirren.

Casting Mirren in the role is a particularly canny move. She’s one of those rare actors we expect to be entirely free of bullshit, and when we hear her berating Cal for passing up a cheap, gossipy and probably false story because the paper’s new corporate masters will expect her to have it and to have it first, it brings home just what dire straits journalism is in. If someone with the backbone of Helen Mirren can be swayed by the worms sliming their way into ownership positions, what hope is left?

Macdonald shows a real feeling for what the physical presence of actors brings to their role. As the party hack advising Affleck, Jeff Daniels uses his thickened build to convey a career of glad-handing corruption. And in a sensational performance as a sleazy young operator caught up in the scandal, Jason Bateman makes you feel as if his boyish face is being eaten away by the rot inside him. In her one scene, Viola Davis is, as usual, utterly believable, and as Affleck’s wife, Robin Wright Penn is free of the actressy manner that’s cluttered up her work in the last few years.

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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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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.


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.



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 and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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