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The Island of Lost Souls

The Island of Lost Souls (photo)

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It’s a good week for fans of movies about paranoid loners who stumble on enormous conspiracies while investigating seemingly innocuous crimes on remote, stormy islands filled with figurative ghosts. Funny how two movies that fit that basic description might be released in the same week. Funnier still that the films are from two master directors — Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski — which means it’s a good week for fans of movies, period. For cinephiles, this is the equivalent of the Super Bowl and Game 7 of the World Series being played on the same day. And for the most part, both sides of the double bill live up to expectations — and would, in fact, make a really good double bill together. These are two strong films from two icons who, coincidentally enough, have used a lot of the same raw setting and story materials to make two very different thrillers.

Scorsese’s is “Shutter Island,” named after a small, rocky speck of land off the coast of Boston that houses the Ashecliffe Mental Hospital. Foreboding and impossible to escape, it makes Alcatraz look like Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure. Standard operating procedure for movies about seemingly benevolent institutions that might be hiding dark secrets demands you begin with the picture perfect exterior that covers the evil hiding beneath, and slowly tease the audiences with glimpses of horror. Scorsese takes the opposite tact by making the dangerousness of the island clear from the first very first moment Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at Ashecliffe, with the ominous, practically operatic music pulsating through the soundtrack like an alarm warning them not to enter as the two drive through the hospital’s enormous gates.

02182010_ShutterIsland2.jpgThe atmosphere only gets darker from there. Teddy and Chuck go to Ashecliffe to investigate an unusual mystery. A delusional inmate somehow managed to escape her locked cell and vanish without a trace. How did she get past the staff? Where did she go? And most importantly, what is the meaning of the note she left hidden under her bed that reads “The Law of 4. Who Is 67?” This piece of evidence is of particular interest to Teddy, who has personal reasons for taking the case and coming to Ashecliffe. Cagey psychiatrist Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) claims to have no idea of the significance of either number, but later mentions that there are 66 patients currently undergoing treatment on Shutter Island. Could the note be a reference to a 67th?

Teddy’s investigation is important to “Shutter Island,” but in some ways, it’s just the window dressing on Scorsese’s own investigation into Teddy’s damaged soul. Hounded by migraines, burdened by dark dreams of his dead wife (Michelle Williams) and war atrocities, Teddy is literally haunted by memories of the bad things he’s done and the worse things he did not prevent. At age 67, Scorsese’s got a big bag of tricks, and he reaches deep into it to bring the audience into Teddy’s fragile psyche. Some of the visual techniques are demonstrative — like the elaborate, gorgeous dream sequence where Teddy holds his dying wife in his arms as she turns to ash and crumbles through his fingers — and some are more subtle. Teddy suffers from migraines and light sensitivity; observe how Scorsese places a fire in between Teddy and another character during their key dialogue scene so that the flames kick up through the bottom of the frame. The unpredictable pattern of flickering and flashing is disorienting, and gives the audience their own feeling of light sensitivity.

02182010_ShutterIsland3.jpgIn the character of Teddy, Scorsese and DiCaprio have created an even more powerful portrait of the debilitating nature of guilt than they did in their last collaboration, 2006’s “The Departed” (at the same time, they’ve also made a more disturbing portrait of mental illness than their collaboration before that, 2003’s “The Aviator.”). And that’s ultimately the reason to see “Shutter Island.” The main mystery turns out to be something of a bust — with a conclusion that was pretty easy to spot from the film’s very first trailer — but the character study is worthy of comparison to classic Scorsese. Fans will spot affinities with “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” and “The King of Comedy” amongst the many references to other directors’ work ranging from Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.” The ending will definitely divide audiences; I’m a bit divided on it myself. I was initially disappointed, but the more I consider it, the more I admire how it reinforces the fact that the movie is less about a woman’s disappearance or a murder or a conspiracy than it is about one man’s struggle to cope with his guilt. That might frustrate viewers who are just looking for a simple crime story. But a Scorsese film is rarely just one thing, and “Shutter Island” is no exception.

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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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