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Nowhere Men

Nowhere Men (photo)

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Remember that warm and fuzzy montage at the opening of “Love Actually,” where Heathrow Airport is the scene of dozens of reunions, with lovers, parents and children, siblings and old friends running into each other’s arms and sharing their affection for each other?

Those are not the friendly skies that Ryan Bingham travels in “Up in the Air”. For Bingham, portrayed brilliantly by George Clooney, airports, hotels and rent-a-car counters are his world, and it’s a world that allows him to avoid getting too close to anyone. Bingham’s business is firing people on behalf of managers who can’t face their own soon-to-be-axed employees, and business is booming. So while Bingham technically lives in a spartan apartment in Omaha, his real home is what novelist Walter Kirn called “Airworld” in his novel of the same name, upon which the film is based.

A seasoned pro at corporate travel, Bingham is a Zen master; the way he removes his laptop and shoes for airport security before briskly putting everything back in its place feels like a combination of choreography and time-efficiency training. There’s not an Admirals Club he can’t whisk his way into with the right card, nor a line at a Hilton or a Hertz he must endure. His motto? “The slower we go, the faster we die.” He’s got few possessions, fewer emotional entanglements, and his one goal in life is to reach ten million frequent flyer miles. So, naturally, Ryan Bingham is about to discover that he’s actually got a heart, in the process of getting it broken.

The first challenge to his fiefdom comes when recent college grad Natalie (Anna Kendrick) develops a method of firing people online in the hopes of saving the company the vast expense of sending its army of Binghams all over the country to do its dirty work. Bingham quickly proves that Natalie doesn’t really understand the niceties of job termination, so boss Craig (Jason Bateman) sends her out on the road with him to observe the master at work.

12022009_UpintheAir-2.jpgAlso rocking Bingham’s world is Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), who’s just like him — they flirt over their stacks of preferred-client cards and make long-ranging dates to rendezvous in other business hubs around the country. They seem to be operating happily within each other’s impersonal parameters, but when she accompanies him to his sister’s wedding — where the deeply commitment-phobic Bingham finds himself having to pitch the benefits of couplehood to nervous bridegroom Jim (Danny McBride), who’s gotten cold feet just before the ceremony — Bingham finds himself taking a harsher look at his glib and freewheeling life.

What’s so terrific about what director Jason Reitman (who co-adapted Kirn’s novel with Sheldon Turner) accomplishes here is that “Up in the Air” never falls in the obvious traps of a movie that’s about someone who realizes his life is a sham. We’ve watched so many protagonists learn their lessons before stampeding towards a happy, heteronormative ending, but every time we think we know what clichéd path this movie’s about to follow, the smart storytelling confounds our expectations and veers off into less-traveled, and more recognizably human, territory.

Ryan Bingham could be the ultimate George Clooney role — he’s a charismatic guy who’s got an easy way with charming guys and seducing women, but there’s always the sense that he’s giving you what you want while simultaneously looking right through you. It’s what Clooney generally does, even in his best roles; he’s an engaging performer, but there’s always that sense that he’s trying to crowd-please. When Bingham has to drop his own façade, it steers Clooney into some of most revelatory work to date.

Anna Kendrick fulfills the early promise she revealed in Todd Graff’s “Camp,” playing a young go-getter who’s still trying to figure out how the real world works. The scene where Natalie has a meltdown (in a hotel lobby, of course), followed by drinks with Bingham and Alex in which she makes one charmingly tactless observation after another, is a delight. For her part, Alex serves more as a plot device than as a character, but Farmiga makes her sexy, smart and unflinchingly pragmatic about her relationship with Bingham.

In portraying the downsized employees, Reitman fills “Up in the Air” with a mix of documentary-style footage of non-actors and performers who make an impact with a tiny amount of screen time — even though J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis turn up for one scene a piece, they resonate throughout the film, as do McBride and Melanie Lynskey as the couple whose wedding provides a detour for Bingham. (Horrors, he’s forced to stay in a hotel where he’s not a member of their Executive Level program!)

12022009_UpintheAir-3.jpgThe one thing I didn’t buy is Bingham’s sideline career as a motivational speaker. He uses a backpack as a metaphor for the spiritual weight of all the people and objects in our life, and it seems strange that his message — in a nutshell, don’t own anything or love anyone — would become so popular that he’d be asked to speak at a major event in Las Vegas. Unless we lived in a world where Thomas Malthus sold as many books as Tony Robbins, it just doesn’t scan.

That quibble aside, “Up in the Air” defies expectation and winds up being one of the best American films of the year. Audiences in today’s economy may not feel like lining up to empathize with a guy who fires people for a living, but that’s no fault of Clooney’s witty and moving performance.

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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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