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Rian Johnson’s Last Con

Rian Johnson’s Last Con (photo)

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How do you follow up a film that managed to be both a faithful noir throwback and an unusually effective teen movie? Rian Johnson knew before he finished his 2005 debut “Brick” that his next feature was going to be about con men. But “The Brothers Bloom” is as much about the relationship between two siblings as it is about graft — Bloom (Adrien Brody) and his brother Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) are the greatest con artists in the world, and like so many of their cinematic brethren, it’s the personal problems that do them in. Bloom, who’s point person in all of Stephen’s artful plans, wants out of the game, but is pulled back in for one last job, one that may have been tailored by Stephen to give his brother everything he’s ever wanted, including the love of an lonely, winsome heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). I talked with Johnson about Europe, Wes Anderson comparisons and “Paper Moon.”

What’s the appeal of genre been to you? “Brick” and now “The Brothers Bloom” have both been located in very specific niches of film language.

The appealing thing about working in genre is it gives you a defined playing field, a chessboard to play on. It also gives you a certain set of audience expectations, both to play with and to play off of, and the discipline of that is something I really like. Those kind of limitations — the space that the thing has to fit into — that’s something that I welcome. Otherwise, it’d be very easy for me to go off the deep end and make four hours of nonsense. (laughs)

Where would you place “Bloom” in relation to the typical conman movie? It exists in a sort of alternate universe.

The conman genre is a pretty flexible one. You’ve got everything from the more intellectualized “House of Games” to broad comedies, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” to fable-type things, “Paper Moon”… I’d say it probably slides more towards the scale of “Paper Moon” if I had to place it in the context of other movies, but I wasn’t really thinking of it that way when I was conceiving it. It came from a place of wanting to take a crack at a character-based conman movie, wanting to do something where the payoff at the end wasn’t a plot twist, but was an emotional payoff, and the challenge of doing that in a genre where the audience is trained to not trust the characters.

Bloom himself is a conman movie archetype, the character who wants to get out of the game, but who gets called back in for one last con.

05132009_brothersbloom4.jpgThere’s definitely that element of it, which, again, sets up a familiar dynamic for the audience, which I hope in some ways helps cushion things, especially towards the end of the film when everything doesn’t end up paying off the way that you expected. Obviously Stephen writes these grand fictions and lives his life through a process of storytelling, and Bloom is trapped in a story that he didn’t write, which is something that has a lot of resonance for me. There’ve been plenty of times in my life, in all of our lives, where we kind of take a look around and realize that we’re doggedly playing out a role in a play that we don’t particularly like.

The other easy parallel to make is that of actor and filmmaker — Stephen’s cast his brother as the leading man in all of their cons.

Absolutely… (laughs) I have an immediate reaction to divorce it from those terms just because the way I’d elaborate on that would sound condescending to actors as a trade, so — divorcing it from that, it’s the passivity of Bloom playing these parts as opposed to the activeness of Stephen creating them. Bloom’s journey is going from passive to active and hopefully writing his own story at the end as opposed to just reciting lines.

How do you feel about the Wes Anderson comparisons? Was there any kind of intentional relationship?

There were absolutely no intentional comparisons at all. It’s weird. I’m a big Wes Anderson fan. I love his movies, and if people are going to compare me to something, it’s good to be at least compared to something good. But at the same time, it’s kind of a shallow comparison, especially when it’s put out there dismissively — it indicates to me that maybe they weren’t paying very close attention to the film. It’s mainly a loose connection between the visual styles, and the soundtrack and the fact that Adrien Brody’s in it… But there are so many other films that I stole from more! I’m more surprised I don’t get called out for stealing the whole scene on the steamer ship from “The Lady Eve” or the bearskin rug scene with Shirley MacLaine in “Being There.” I guess I should be thankful that the accusations of theft are so short-sighted. (laughs)

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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.


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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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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