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Dancing Souls

Dancing Souls (photo)

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Envy me, because Werner Herzog’s “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” is more fun to write about than it is to watch, and it is barrel-of-monkeys fun to watch. Everything about it is wrong, so wrong that categorizing it that way is meaningless, but wrong nonetheless, down to its title (that awkward “the” on the film’s opening title card, that anachronistic and irrelevant “port of call,” the subtitle itself, erroneously suggesting sequel-hood, etc.).

Of course, the film has no relation to the 1992 Abel Ferrara film, except it involves a police detective who is “bad,” insofar as he dopes, gambles and isn’t very effective as a cop. In the first film, the character’s self-immolation was an existential passion; here it’s… I don’t know what it is. Herzog was brought on as a director-for-hire (which is very wrong, in the grand cultural scheme of things), after screenwriter William Finkelstein (“Doogie Howser,” “NYPD Blue”) was enlisted to sorta, kinda, remake Ferrara’s film, the producers’ initial intention. Star Nicolas Cage decided it would take place in New Orleans because he likes the city. One head-shaker after another. One imagines that by the time Val Kilmer was signed on for a worthless supporting straight-man part, the whole project was a giant rolling snowball of wrongness, headed inexorably toward us.

Oh, but if only movies were tidy little jigsaw puzzles, the assembly of which is either complete or not, rather than, sometimes, messy, impulsive, psyche-eating juggernauts within which visionaries, imps and opportunists have a unstable chemical romance and burn the place to the ground. Herzog’s long and great career, after all, can be seen as one long timeline of deliberate and horrifying accident-making, and so in that sense, if few others, “Bad Lieutenant” is quintessentially Herzogian. It’s the first time in the man’s fictional films we’ve smelt the singed carbon of self-parody, or at least tongue-in-cheekness, but in Werner’s world, the film itself can be scanned as another absurd, grotesque pageant, like the procession in “Even Dwarfs Started Small,” or Bokassa’s gold-plated ceremonies in “Echoes of a Somber Empire.”

Amid the chicanery — which only begins with an impulsive leap into Katrina floodwaters, and crests, perhaps, in the hallucinated presence of fat iguanas at the scene of a stakeout — there’s the brittle skeleton of a standard TV police procedural plotline, tracking down drug-cartel killers, by way of interrogations and evidence-hunting. Forget it, because although Herzog couldn’t quite, he obviously sighed with relief whenever he concocted a means to detour away from Finkelstein’s script (the iguanas, snapping at the camera to the tune of bluesman Sonny Terry’s “Old Lost John,” as Cage glares at them from the background, serve such a purpose).

The remaining 75% of the movie is comprised of the pas de deux between Cage and Herzog, as the two try almost anything that pops into their heads. Cage’s Terence McDonagh begins with a back injury, which nets him a Vicodin habit, which quickly graduates to crack and smack — hilariously, this heavy load of recreationals does not represent a “Leaving Las Vegas” death wish, but is merely a comically spiraling addiction scenario, fueled by itself, not by primal angst. (“I did what I thought was coke,” he explains woozily to hooker girlfriend Eva Mendes, “but it was heroin and I have to be at work in an hour.”)

McDonagh isn’t terribly irate about anything, and he doesn’t spend much time loathing himself — he’s just a dolt, a sloppy cop more worried about his access to his department’s property room and its stashes of powder (a great running gag) than his job or, really, anyone else’s well-being. Herzog never before seemed to be a filmmaker interested in the drama of addiction and recovery, and here he’s not either: he’s just letting Cage’s mayhem play out like any natural force run amok, as if the Hollywood filmmaking machine and the ego fireworks of one of the world’s most bankable stars is a warped spectacle on the level of the dancing chicken in “Stroszek.”

11182009_BadLieutenant5.jpgBut even that doesn’t “work” — we know how to watch a high-wire, no-rules actory tear. Cage is strangely subdued most of the time, and never approaches the incendiary lunacy of his earlier peak moments, in “Vampire’s Kiss,” “Peggy Sue Got Married” or “Wild at Heart.” Have so many stolid action movies tamped down his pilot light? Beyond an early conniption in a pharmacy, and a slew of late scenes in which crack reduces him to a yowling mess, McDonagh manages to keep his behavior under check, despite eventually lurching around with a rather Karloffian glower when having a hard time finding a fix, speaking as if he has a mouthful of bad dentures built from soft wax. For insurance, the film is stocked with other Industry eccentrics and inebriates, from Kilmer to Fairuza Balk, Michael Shannon, Brad Dourif and Jennifer Coolidge, and the vague conjunctions with David Lynch’s filmography seem organic and inevitable. (Lynch produced Herzog’s next film, “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done,” with several members of “Bad Lieutenant”‘s cast.)

Herzog has never been deft at comedy, and has rarely tried, and so this film has the ramshackle air of one made in an experimental spree, strapping a camera to a crocodile for a roadside P.O.V. (this after a lovely tableau of crushed croc roadkill, a blood trail and a car wreck), letting Cage frame out his scenes as if he were a stand-up comic imitating Klaus Kinski in Herzog’s “Nosferatu the Vampyre,” envisioning a drug thug’s post-shootout “soul” breakdancing, and so, crazily, on. In the most trivial ways, “Bad Lieutenant” is an anemic shadow of Ferrara’s knucklebuster, but for the most part, it is an animal apart, bristling with a set of conflicting and half-baked agendas, and as spellbinding as a Ferris wheel coming off its pylons.

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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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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….

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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.

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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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