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Reality Bites

Reality Bites (photo)

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The 2010 version of the 1941 Universal Horror classic “The Wolf Man” shares more than just a title (sans space) with its predecessor. In a lot of ways, they’re the same movie — same core group of characters, same premise about a guy returning to his family’s estate to deal with his brother’s death, and the same basic story of said guy getting gnawed on by a werewolf and becoming cursed to transform into a beast himself whenever the moon is full. But despite all that, 2010’s “The Wolfman”, directed by Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park III”), also boasts some pretty stark differences from the version directed by George Waggner nearly 70 years ago, differences that are telling about the way Hollywood has changed in that time.

In 1941, it was enough for “The Wolf Man” to be a 68-minute-long psychological thriller heavy on gothic atmosphere and light on graphic horror. It got by with just a bit of cutting edge monster makeup by artist Jack Pierce; it used shadows, tricks and clever visual storytelling to help our minds fill in the rest. Now, “The Wolfman” clocks in at over 100 minutes, drenched in blood and buried beneath layers of complex latex and hair appliqués by Rick Baker, and padded out with additional action, horror and chase sequences not featured in the original. No longer just a character drama and a monster movie, the new “Wolfman” is also something of a slasher film and a superhero movie, with just a dash of torture porn sprinkled on top. It’s as if the original film was bitten by a werewolf, and then transformed into this uglier, louder, angrier version of itself.

02092010_wolfman2.jpgLon Chaney Jr., the original Wolf Man, often cited the role of Lawrence Talbot as the best he ever got the opportunity to play. His respect for the part came across in his performance. Chaney didn’t just phone it in and assume that all people cared about was the monster; he acted his guts out in every scene. One could argue Chaney’s intensely emotional style was too overwrought for a taut supernatural scares film — no other Universal Horror protagonist spends quite so much time blubbering — but you can’t deny that he brought genuine pathos, not to mention a deeply personal connection, to the material (like Talbot, Chaney Jr. was a man who lived his whole life in the shadow of a powerful, overbearing father).

Despite the fact that he’s credited as a producer on the film, Benicio Del Toro frankly looks a little bored in his turn as Talbot, a Shakespearean actor who becomes the subject of his own tragedy after he returns to his family’s enormous, decrepit English manor after decades abroad. Del Toro musters a little interest in his dead brother’s fiancé Gwen (Emily Blunt), but he doesn’t seem the slightest bit concerned or confused by the strange behavior of his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins). If you returned to home and your father was living in filth, wearing garish leopard print robes and occasionally shooting at people with a shotgun, wouldn’t you be at least a little worried about his mental health? Larry doesn’t bat an eye. It doesn’t help matters that Hopkins looks only slightly more invested in his performance than Del Toro, and that he seems to be having trouble maintaining his British accent, which is especially strange, since last I checked, Anthony Hopkins is British.

Where this new “Wolfman” shines, where it unquestionably outperforms its inspiration, is in the realm of production design and special effects. The makeup by Baker, while clearly inspired by the distinctive look of the Chaney-Pierce werewolf, is far more credible and convincing than the original and fairly terrifying in its own right. And the transformations, now done almost entirely with CGI (as opposed to the time lapse dissolves of the 1940s or the practical effects of previous Baker lycanthropic escapades like “An American Werewolf in London”) are anatomical freakshows in the best possible sense. I also admired the way production designer Rick Heinrichs manages to evoke the feel of that tiny, foggy forest on the old Universal backlot while working on a much bigger and more lavish canvas.

02092010_wolfman3.jpgJohnston and Baker also increased the level of gore significantly. While the film looks on the surface like a throwback to an earlier type of horror film, “The Wolfman” actually attempts to graft modern gore spectacle onto that old school model. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing will vary by taste, but if you go to see “The Wolfman” for the graphic beheadings, I think it’s safe to say you will feel like you got your money’s worth.

But even at its very best, this is a good-looking production in search of a better movie. The genuine sense of human tragedy Chaney brought to “The Wolf Man” and even lesser follow-ups like “Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man” is barely present in Johnston’s version. Del Toro plays a character who is fighting for his soul with all the intensity of a man falling asleep while he watches a late night infomercial. And speaking of lesser follow-ups, without spoiling anything, Johnston’s film does leave plenty of room for its own sequel. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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