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Monsters Vs. Aliens: James Cameron’s Love/Hate Relationship with Technology

Monsters Vs. Aliens: James Cameron’s Love/Hate Relationship with Technology (photo)

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[Major spoilers ahead for “Avatar” and other James Cameron films.]

Like all of James Cameron’s six previous films, “Avatar” is a war of worlds both literal and figurative. Colonists from the planet Earth do battle with the native inhabitants of a moon named Pandora over the right to mine a rare and powerful mineral. Cameron casts the struggle as a conflict between the technological world (the humans and their advanced military) and the natural world (the natives, known as the Na’vi, who share a symbiotic relationship with their environment). Given that the humans are characterized as greedy and violent while the Na’vi are portrayed as caring and spiritual, it isn’t particularly surprising that the movie ultimately treats the Na’vi as the heroes and the humans as villains. But it’s a little curious when you consider that this condemnation of industrialization appears in a film made using some of the most cutting-edge moviemaking technology ever devised by man. To put it another way: A big magical tree like the one the Na’vi live in and worship as a conduit to their god didn’t help James Cameron make “Avatar,” sophisticated performance capture equipment did. But it’s the magical tree that Cameron prefers.

Cameron’s films have always have had a complex relationship with technology, both in front of and behind the camera. Cameron got his start on the technical side of the movie business, making effects and doing production design for Roger Corman before graduating to directing pictures of his own. Though we often associate Cameron’s work with major advances in the field of special effects – think of the watery alien tendril in 1989’s “The Abyss,” or the liquid metal T-1000 in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” – his movies consistently paint an unflattering portrait of technology, one that depicts it as something that is, at best, inadequate or, at worst, downright malevolent. Every film he has made since the original “Terminator,” even the ones that aren’t science-fiction or fantasy films like “True Lies and “Titanic,” has used state-of-the-art filmmaking tools to tell stories about the way technology fails human beings.

12242009_Terminator.jpgIt’s not hard to find either of those ideas in his “Terminator” films, which depict a world where technology grows so powerful it becomes capable of starting an apocalyptic nuclear war without any prompting from its human creators. Throughout the first “Terminator,” Cameron reinforces the idea that technology is an ever-present danger to society with several clever scenes that turn seemingly benign pieces of everyday mechanical equipment against their owners. Sarah Connor’s (Linda Hamilton) roommate doesn’t hear the Terminator sneak into her apartment because she’s wearing her Walkman and headphones. In the next scene, Sarah calls too late to warn her; the answering machine picks up instead (the recorded greeting: “Hi there. Hahaha, fooled you! You’re talking to a machine!”). Sarah leaves a message warning her already dead friend and telling her where she’s hiding. The Terminator, still in the apartment, hears the messages, and sets off to find her.

The series’ second entry features two Terminators: one highly advanced (Robert Patrick) and the other (Arnold Schwarzenegger) too obsolete to stop him. This is technology at its most all-consuming, even of itself; the newer Terminator doesn’t just try to kill the future leader of the human resistance, John Connor (Edward Furlong), he tries to destroy his predecessor in the process. Both Terminators also have the disturbing ability to pass for living beings, a concept that would continue in the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) from “Aliens” and reappear in new form in the avatars of “Avatar,” human piloted Na’vi bodies that look exactly like the real thing and are capable of walking amongst their society.

The more specific idea of the natural world coming into conflict with the technological one that’s so crucial to “Avatar” is not a new one for Cameron, either. In “The Abyss,” a highly sophisticated mobile drilling station is no match for Mother Nature, which nearly destroys the Deep Core base during a particularly nasty hurricane. Later, Ed Harris’ character goes on a dangerous mission to the ocean floor using a state-of-the-art diving suit with liquid breathing capabilities designed to withstand the crushing pressures of the deep. He needs to disarm a lost nuclear warhead (technology as danger), and while he is successful, he does not have enough oxygen left in his suit to return to Deep Core (technology as inadequate).

12292009_aliens.jpgEven earlier, Cameron made “Aliens,” the nightmarish counterpart of “Avatar”‘s utopian dream. In both films, human colonists and strange aliens clash on a distant planet; in both films, technology proves ill-equipped to defeat the natural world. It’s interesting, though, to consider how much Cameron’s new film inverts the earlier one, despite their numerous similarities. In “Avatar,” the Na’vi are basically alien hippies; in “Aliens,” the titular creatures are remorseless, bloodthirsty xenomorphs. In “Aliens,” the heroine, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) agrees to join the Colonial Marines on their mission only when they agree to annihilate, not subdue, capture or study, the aliens. In “Avatar,” Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) rejects his own species and decides to help the Na’vi because of the Marines’ desire to annihilate anything that stands in the way of their acquiring the minerals they’re looking for. Both films end with a showdown between an alien and a human inside an enormous robotic suit, though the ultimate outcome and the character who the audience is supposed to root for is quite different from movie to movie.

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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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