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Breaking Down Pedro Almodóvar

Breaking Down Pedro Almodóvar (photo)

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The pop art films of Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar have certain trademark qualities (a vibrant, glossy look, melodrama blended with irreverent comedy and high camp, queer-friendly hedonism) that have made him an international critics’ darling for over two decades. His filmography is peppered with modern arthouse classics like “Law of Desire,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her” and “Bad Education,” but, even having turned 60 this year, Almodóvar has no intention of slowing down.

A follow-up to 2006’s “Volver,” his fourth collaboration with Penélope Cruz is “Broken Embraces,” a romantic, neo-noirish drama that flashes forward and back between the ’90s and today. Lluís Homar stars as a middle-aged screenwriter who gave up his career as a filmmaker once a car accident rendered him blind. Through an outrageous series of recalled memories and time-fractured reveals, the shaggy tale of his affair with Cruz’s aspiring actress and the wealthy producer who came between them is meticulously pieced together, sometimes during films-within-this-film. In true Almodóvar fashion, the final result is an audacious genre-hopper that worships Cruz’s beauty, not to mention desire itself and the art of making cinema. With some help from a translator, Almodóvar chatted with me about personal touches, images too sacred to be filmed, and how his life has changed since becoming a sexagenarian.

“Broken Embraces” chronicles a love destroyed by jealousy, fate, deceit and the power of creative control. Do even your thorniest screenplays ever start with a single character, theme or image?

Initially, I had the [beach] photograph that appears in the film that I took nine years ago. When I developed it, I realized there was that couple of lovers embracing at the foot of the picture. I got the impression that there was a secret not only behind that, but in the island of Lanzarote itself. Of course, the story had many different sources. You need more than one idea to develop a script. But in my case, they never came all at once. I take these stories with me and write them down over many years, and once I’ve gathered a certain volume of notes, that’s when I start writing the script. My method of writing is actually more similar to a novelist than a professional scriptwriter. The reason I make a film every two years is that I always have a number of ideas in the works, and they develop gradually.

The film is also largely about filmmaking, yet you’ve said that the unfinished comedy within this film, “Girls and Suitcases,” is not meant to stand in for your “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” It’s still fairly reminiscent, so I’m curious to know how personal this film is to you.

I absolutely want to say all about myself. One of the most important elements, despite the fact that it goes on in the characters’ backgrounds, is that they all work in cinema. Lena actually gives her life up in order to ensure that a film is finished, and I am as romantic as that. I think I would give my life up to finish a film. For instance, the main character, the film director, has many of my own pictures. The style of all the clothes he wears in the ’90s, those are all my own clothes, and some of his furniture is mine, too. Once he’s blind, he wants to watch some DVDs, and he says he wants to listen to Jeanne Moreau’s voice. All the directors he mentions, and Moreau herself, are some of my favorites. What’s most important about this director is his attitude, his philosophy towards his work, when he says that you have to finish a movie, even if it’s in the dark.

11192009_brokenembraces7.jpg“Women on the Verge” is present — obviously it’s a very free adaptation — but the reason for that is that I wanted to strike an opposition between the circumstances the characters are living in and the backdrop of comedy, to heighten how dramatic their situation is. If Penélope’s character arrived on set absolutely devastated by her own situation and was playing a drama, it would be a lot easier for her to do that than if she had to start playing a light comedy. That was trickier for her to do. [When we] see a few fragments of that film, I chose to use my own material since it was the most practical option, the cheapest, and I could feel very free with it. But it wasn’t until after we shot “Girls and Suitcases” that I realized that I’ve not only reviewed my own work, but it was a sort of déjà vu, because I thought that [we’d] been invaded by all these ghosts from the ship years ago. It was a very peculiar experience.

Not to be a jinx, but if you lost your eyesight, how would you continue trying to work in cinema?

When I mentioned the things that I identify with in this character, there are some that I don’t entirely identify with. I would never abandon a film for love. Or, probably, I would try to resolve the issues with the person I loved, but I would never walk away from a film on the editing table. I wouldn’t want to tempt fate, but you never really know how you’re going to react in this extremely tragic situation. But at least, in theory, I would definitely finish the movie. I would try to find out what happened and why the movie was so bad when it opened originally, but aside from those circumstantial considerations, I would probably keep on directing. I would direct theater.

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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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