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This week sees an impressive list of heavy-hitters make a late December showing as Clint Eastwood and Peter Jackson deliver their latest, Werner Herzog assembles the unlikely pairing of Udo Kier and Verne Troyer, and Tom Ford unveils his directorial debut.

“According to Greta”
Hilary Duff adds the title of executive producer to her résumé by backing the feature debut of veteran music video director Nancy Bardawil. After demonstrating a dark side on “Gossip Girl” this season, Duff continues to shed her good girl image as a rebellious 17-year-old who proves to be too much of a handful for her mother (Melissa Leo) and is sent off to spend the summer on Jersey Shore with her grandparents (Ellen Burstyn and Michael Murphy), to whom she promises she will kill herself by her 18th birthday. In the midst of plotting her suicide, she begins a romance with a troubled short-order cook (Evan Ross) who leads her to rethink things.
Opens in Los Angeles.

“Invictus”
Oscar season just wouldn’t be complete without a Clint Eastwood drama, and the Old Master shows no signs of slowing down despite being just a few months shy of his 80th birthday. He confounds expectations once more by trading the despair and tragedy of “Changeling” and “Mystic River” for hope and triumph with a drama cooked up from such unpalatable ingredients as racial politics, funny accents and unfathomable foreign sports. Having tried in vain for many years to bring Mandela biography “Long Walk to Freedom” to the screen, Morgan Freeman finally realizes his dream of playing the iconic leader in this adaptation of John Carlin’s account of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, during which time Mandela made the audacious gamble of uniting his fractured nation behind their underdog team, led by captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), on the unlikely chance that they could go all the way.
Opens wide.

“The Lovely Bones”
If any director is capable of infiltrating a big studio Oscar-baiter born out of weighty literature and smuggling out an art film brimming with ideas, then surely Peter Jackson is that man. Marrying the grisly subject matter that first garnered him acclaim with the ethereal, other-worldly spectacle that has come to define his recent work, Jackson, along with co-writers Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh, bring to life Alice Sebold’s somber bestseller about a sadly all-too-literal heavenly creature, embodied here by the young “Atonement” star Saoirse Ronan. The unfortunate victim of a terrible murder, Ronan’s Susie Salmon peers down at her family from a celestial purgatory as her grieving mother and father (Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg) struggle to move on, and her inconspicuous killer (Stanley Tucci) prepares to murder again.
Opens in limited release.

“My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?”
Not waiting around for a distribution deal after it puzzled some audiences in Toronto, Werner Herzog’s second film of ’09 and his first collaboration with David Lynch (who’s an executive producer) stars Willem Dafoe as a detective who treads lightly onto the murder scene of the matriarch of the McCullum family (Grace Zabriskie). After being implicated in her death, her son (Michael Shannon) locks the doors to his own home across the street and takes hostages, all the while Herzog lingers on supporting players ranging from Udo Kier to Chloe Sevigny to Verne Troyer. Lynch is self-distributing through his Absurda label.
Opens in New York.

“Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year”
Given India’s status as the call-center capitol of the world, it’s somewhat surprising that the workplace comedy isn’t a more prevalent genre in Bollywood cinema, though the gray, soul-sucking cubicle isn’t perhaps the first stop on the quest for escapism. Still, Bollywood powerhouse Yash Raj Films wistfully blends office doldrums with a swaggering, hip-hop sensibility, courtesy of “Chak De! India” director Shimit Amin. Ranbir Kapoor stars as the eponymous desk jockey whose disillusionment with the suit and tie brigade leads him to brainstorm an idea to make the fast-exploding Indian economy work for him for a change (and no doubt sing about it). In Hindi with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

“A Single Man”
Colin Firth gives what’s being touted as a career best performance as the linchpin of Gucci guru-turned-first-time director Tom Ford’s adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s seminal gay novel where the Hampshire fuddy-duddy portrays a crushingly lonely fellow on the verge of suicide after the loss of his longtime companion (Matthew Goode) in a car accident. In the foreign sands of Santa Monica, Firth’s British ex-pat George quietly goes about putting his affairs in order on what he plans to be his final day, set to culminate with a dinner at the home of his old flame and confidant Charley (Julianne Moore), but before he can execute his carefully laid out plan, his head is abruptly turned by a sultry student (Nicholas Hoult).
Opens in limited release.

12072009_ViciousKind.jpg“The Vicious Kind”
The sophomore effort from Lee Toland Krieger shares executive producer Neil LaBute’s questioning of the delicate dance between genders with a blackly comic tale of Caleb, a construction worker (Adam Scott) who chaperones his brother (Alex Frost) and his brother’s new girlfriend Emma (Brittany Snow) to Thanksgiving eight years after their mother’s death. Things get complicated when Caleb attempts to dissuade his brother from seeing Emma, first because of his distrust of women following a recent break-up and then because he starts to feel attracted to Emma as the holiday wears on. Scott and Krieger recently picked up Spirit Award nominations for best actor and best screenplay, respectively.
Opens in Los Angeles.

“Yesterday Was a Lie”
Metaphysical sci-fi noirs don’t come down the pike too often, but James Kerwin’s has been in the works since 2006 and premiering first at the Park City Film Music Fest in 2008 before a two-year festival run. Kipleigh Brown stars as Hoyle, the enigmatic gumshoe who is as much of a mystery to herself as the case she’s trying to crack when we’re first introduced to her, but begins to find an identity as she investigates the death of a diplomat and finds that her latest job has literally universal implications. Sharp-eared NPR listeners might want to pay attention for the voice of Robert Siegel, who has a small cameo.
Opens in Los Angeles.

[Additional photo: Adam Scott in “The Vicious Kind,” 72nd Street Productions, 2009]

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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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GIFs via Giphy

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.

via GIPHY

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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