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No Laughing Matter

No Laughing Matter (photo)

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On the first night of SXSW at the “Predators” sneak preview, someone leaned over to me and asked “Have you been to Comic-Con?”

I knew where the question was headed, and although he was speaking specifically about the presentation we were about to see, where no full film was shown and the studio carefully curated a few clips and a Q&A with Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal, it wouldn’t be terribly off the mark to compare the two events, where art is still celebrated and the audiences are passionate, but the lines have grown longer and you may be handed a “Kick-Ass” bumper sticker while you wait.

As festival producer Janet Pierson acknowledged early in the festival, these are good problems to have as a programmer — a film like Aaron Katz’s brilliant new “Cold Weather” fiercely competed for crowds with the likes of “MacGruber” (which, to be fair, cost a relatively cheap $10 million according to its filmmakers). But it’s a more complicated proposition for audiences, who are being asked far more to stand in two-hour-plus lines to see a film that they may or may not get into. It’s a festival of extremes, and not just for the fact that they showed the incendiary “Serbian Film,” but of the evolving complexion of the attendees (Jason Reitman came in just to see movies) and the types of films they’re showing.

03242010_GondryPierson.jpgThe filmmaker who symbolized this dichotomy most was Michel Gondry, who was peppered with questions about his upcoming “Green Hornet” film while promoting the deeply personal “The Thorn in the Heart,” arriving in Austin after its premiere at Cannes. One of the highlights of the festival was the first screening of his documentary (and an accompanying Q&A with John Pierson) about his aunt Suzette, a retired French schoolteacher whose life was well-documented in home movies made by her son Jean-Yves, who has come to resent her in recent years.

This being a Gondry production, there are scenes of children fooling around with greenscreen during a game of dodgeball and a toy train that guides you along Suzette’s tour across France to reunite with former colleagues and pupils, yet its most enduring image is of a young Michel sprawled across the ground on his stomach, face-forward as he listens to his aunt telling a story in the forest, displaying the reverence that is the heart of the film.

The throngs of people standing inside the Austin Convention Center the next morning waiting for his conversation with IndieWire‘s Eugene Hernandez were nearly as reverential, taking the 30-minute delay of the panel’s start and the absence of scheduled moderator Elvis Mitchell in stride. Noting the crowd, Hernandez disagreed with Gondry at one point when the director played down his fame, to which Gondry demurred, “[I’m] famous to people who like me,” before telling a story of being puzzled when he was recognized only on a particular New York street corner before realizing it was in front of a film school dormitory.

Gondry rewarded the audience’s patience with plenty of details regarding his upcoming films, including an animated collaboration with his son Paul and “Ghost World” scribe Daniel Clowes called “Megalomania” (The Playlist has all the details on that and an IMAX 3D collaboration with Björk), a look at his book of portraits culled from fans who sent in their picture to his website (of the thousand that Gondry drew, three were in the crowd, leading to an on-stage compare-and-contrast between one of the real guys and Gondry’s watercolor-enhanced sketch of him), and a screening of his stitch-heavy music video for Steriogram’s “Walkie Talkie Man.” That led into a discussion of Gondry’s obsession with abnormally sized hands, which originated with his memories of a nightmare he had as a child and a visit to a museum where he became fascinated with nerve endings (“I think it was the sort of misfit between how I would feel it and how my body would not be able to enclose my sensation,” Gondry said.) He explained earlier, “I’m a terrible sleeper, but… if you miss a night of sleep, then you’ve got to dream double.”

There was one point during the “MacGruber” panel where Ryan Phillippe only thought he was in a dream, recoiling from the table and muttering a “this is so weird” under his breath as a fan from the SXSW interactive side of things begged the assembled cast and crew to help her make a viral video. (The result, in which “MacGruber” director Jorma Taccone gets the crap pummeled out of him by his cast, is here.) It wouldn’t be the only weirdly wonderful moment from the panel, which extended the vibe of the “SNL” spinoff’s premiere the night before (and their subsequent interview with our own Matt Singer). Phillippe and a clearly amused Val Kilmer, who said the script was the best thing he’s read since “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” joined “Saturday Night” players Kristen Wiig and Will Forte and writers Taccone and John Solomon in a discussion about “Rambo III,” “courtesy pillows” (the patch used between Wiig and Forte’s naughty bits during a sex scene) and the Boner Ghost, a prank Forte pulled on a visiting Seth Meyers, who sat in Solomon’s lap as he recounted the tale:

03242010_DirectingtheDead.jpgThere was, however, genuine horror discussed at the “Directing the Dead” panel, which disappointed initially since Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth had dropped out of their scheduled appearances on the dais, but was still left with Ti West (“The House of the Devil”), Neil Marshall (“Centurion”), Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”), Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”) and last-minute substitute Robert Rodriguez, who naturally stole the show in front of the hometown crowd with stories of not splattering Mickey Rourke with blood (on “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” he threatened to ruin Rourke’s custom suit with a squib; Rodriguez offered up his best Rourke impression, delivering a gruff “thanks, brother” as the actor’s response when he opted for digital blood) and being afraid of asking Jaime King to go topless for “Sin City” (for an early shot in the film that would give the impression there was a lot more nudity than there really was in adapting Frank Miller).

Other Rodriguez tidbits included how he originally planned to shoot “From Dusk Till Dawn” in 3D before bulky equipment discouraged him (and left the door open to resurrect that idea for a future re-release) and how the film as a whole turned out far gorier than expected since he expected a prolonged battle with the MPAA and wound up not having to edit much out. (He also desaturated the blood for the ratings board cut before cranking it back up to the appropriate red levels for the theatrical release.)

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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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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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