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Fear and Learning

Fear and Learning (photo)

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Evil is a bitch in “Paranormal Activity.” Notwithstanding a few things that go bump in the night, Paramount’s supernaturally successful Slamdance pickup — promoted this week from midnight cult-film spooking to a limited release in normal business hours — might more accurately be called “Scenes From a Hellish Relationship.”

Living sinfully in San Diego, young day trader Micah (Micah Sloat) and his English-majoring girlfriend Katie (Katie Featherston) bicker over how to deal with ghosts in the house — otherwise known as skeletons in the closet. Asserting in various ways that the place is his to protect (he paid for it, etc.), manly Micah hooks up a camcorder and keeps it trained on the bed after dark. This makes Katie increasingly uncomfortable, not only because her beau naturally hopes to capture some late-night nookie along with the paranormal action. Meanwhile, Katie, armed with lower-tech tools, scares Micah silly with her nagging demeanor — as unemployed live-in girlfriends are presumably wont to do.

With frights like these, who needs horror? Certainly not Oren Peli, whose minimalist mock-doc tease mostly limits its nightmare to unsettling sounds, a swinging door and footprints in baking powder — give or take Katie and her, uh, possessive habit of keeping an eye on Micah at all hours. Nervously at first, then impatiently (or with a yawn), the viewer scans Micah’s milky black-and-white surveillance-cam footage for something that might go boo — until it’s plain as day that nothing dangerous is going to appear that hasn’t already been introduced.

Far more ingenious as a work of economic crisis-era penny-pinching than of genre (or gender) play, “Paranormal Activity” is virtually unimaginable without an earlier low-budget horror sensation (take a wild guess), to which it pales in comparison. The film’s one and only opening credit has Paramount thanking Micah and Katie along with the San Diego Police Department — the “real” source of the feature presentation. But the studio’s true debt, like Peli’s, is to “The Blair Witch Project.” If Katie were any more wicked, she’d know enough to pin this particular haunting on poor Heather Donahue.

10072009_AnEducation.jpgAs you may have heard, a star is born in “An Education.” As Jenny, an early ’60s suburban London teen who considers giving up Oxford for a man almost twice her age, Carey Mulligan is a stunner — quick-witted and graceful in the old school rom-com tradition. The movie, too, is a snappy throwback to earlier charms — part of the current pre-sexual revolution revival, along with “Mad Men” and the Beatles reissues (the first half of them, anyway). Pleasingly conventional, “An Education” teaches us again that there’s almost nothing harder to resist in movies than a girl’s makeover, particularly when the change is philosophical as well as cosmetic.

In Danish director Lone Scherfig’s believably bright frame, Mulligan’s prep-schooled Jenny goes from balancing books on her head and reading Camus to singing along with Juliette Gréco LPs and dating David (Peter Sarsgaard), who coaxes her out of the rain and into his car under the guise of deep concern for her cello. With the reluctant approval of Dad (Alfred Molina), Jenny attends a concert with dreamy David, who could be referring to “An Education” when he calls the performance “as classical as you can get.”

And predictable, too, is this trifle, as adapted by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s memoir — but so what? Jenny, who starts skipping school to attend auctions of pre-Raphaelite art and the like, falters in her studies, but excels at receiving David’s too-good-to-be-true courtship — no surprises there. David, telling little white lies alongside bigger ones, charms the pants off Dad before doing the same, but literally, with Jenny, whose devirginized deadpan quip is one for the ages: “All that poetry and all those songs about something that lasts no time at all?”

Indeed, it doesn’t take long before Jenny gets her diploma from the school of hard knocks, her education bumping hard against those pre-revolutionary gender codes. If, Oxford or no, all she’s expected to do is marry well, then why not have a little fun first? It’s a credit to Scherfig and Hornby — and Mulligan — that “An Education” remains enjoyable even as it’s administering its profoundly simple lessons.

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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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