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Seven notably high concept movies.

Seven notably high concept movies. (photo)

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The “high concept” movie (a much-abused term) is one whose premise can be summed up in a sentence, if not within the title itself — for instance, what happens when a bored married couple’s “Date Night” goes wrong? Wacky fun!

The ideas is that the easy hook goes over well with your stereotypical movie executive — it becomes the selling point rather than the actors or characters. If it sounds irresistible (and/or ridiculous), people will show up hoping to see exactly what they were promised (a premise “Snakes On A Plane” took to its logical conclusion). Here are seven movies whose high concepts are more pronounced than most.

04052010_demonseed.jpg“Demon Seed” (1977)

High concept premise: A woman is raped by a computer.

How it plays: Horror movies prone to be high concept by default — the specific form of danger is the reason people show up. But “Demon Seed” takes that to a whole new level. An insanely lurid adaptation of a Dean Koontz novel, “Demon Seed” has poor Julie Christie taken hostage by her scientist husband’s supercomputer. The computer — which somehow uses a gigantic metal tetrahedron as a weapon — is none too pleased with mankind’s destructive ways, so after it comes up with a cure for leukemia it decides it wants a human-computer child to begin the reform process. This is a very simplified version of an incredibly nutsoid movie — one that’s made even stranger by the fact that the director was the very talented Donald Cammell, who made the best feature he possibly could out of the mess, down to the final, horrific face of the demon spawn. You will never see anything like this ever again — even this pillaging vacuum cleaner can’t compare.

04052010_seven.jpg“Se7en” (1995)

High concept premise: A serial killer takes down his victims based on their violations of the seven deadly sins.

How it plays: It’s miraculous that “Seven” works at all — let alone as well as it does — given that its premise wouldn’t be out-of-place in some lazy ’80s slasher. “Se7en,” though, has bigger goals — it’s a horror film/police procedural with a morality play embedded in it. David Fincher is a natural director, and he makes the whole deterministic scenario work and even seem plausible until the riveting but ridiculous ending. It’s still a terrifically gripping movie throughout.

04052010_biodome.jpg“Bio-Dome” (1996)

High concept premise: Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin get trapped in, yes, a biodome.

How it plays: Based on the real (and controversial) Biosphere 2 experiments, “Bio-Dome” quickly received its own separate level of infamy as the absolute last word in Pauly Shore’s ’90s reign of terror. (Its ranking as the worst-reviewed film in Metacritic history — with an average score of one out of 100 — is unlikely to change anytime soon.) It does have a stoner cult following (and the now fervently evangelical Stephen Baldwin credits the film with helping him bring fans to Jesus), but for the most part “Bio-Dome” (like Shore’s career itself) is best left to its era — though it’s hard not to admit that any scene that manages to combine simultaneous homages to “Reservoir Dogs” and “Blue Velvet” is probably worth a look, just to see how it screws that up.

04052010_mars.jpg“Mars Attacks!” (1996)

High concept premise: See title.

How it plays: Awesomely. Arguably the last Tim Burton movie to really work from start to finish, “Mars Attacks!” studiously lives up (or down) to its title, using a massive all-star cast as fodder for the gleefully nihilistic (but strangely innocent) little green guys. “Mars Attacks!” is Burton’s ode to the joys of campy garbage — while being better than many of the movies that fueled his childhood, it stays true to their underlying promise of cheap thrills every minute. Burton just has the budget and skills to skip all the boring stuff: “Mars Attacks!” is one money shot after another, while winkingly suggesting the world would be better off if it was solely in the hands of aging pop culture icons (Jim Brown, Tom Jones) and inarticulate vidiots. It’s the perfect hangover from the Clinton era, when it really did seem like the world could run itself.

04052010_jackfrost.jpg“Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman” (2000)

High concept premise: Oh, c’mon.

How it plays: It’s hard to fathom that there are not one, not two but three separate movies about a guy turning into a talking snowman, but there you go. First there was 1997’s “Jack Frost,” in which a man becomes a homicidal snowman and goes around making bad puns as he kills people. Then there was 1998’s “Jack Frost,” in which neglectful dad Michael Keaton dies in a car accident and comes back to life as a really creepy-looking snowman. (Roger Ebert deemed it “the most repulsive single creature in the history of special effects.”) But all that was just a build up for “Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman,” which sort of plays like an Ed Wood movie that not only knows how bad it is but aspires to that state. (The only goal, apparently, was to make it campier than the first “Jack Frost.” Success?) It’s not just the ridiculous concept or the breathtakingly unconvincing special effects. No, it’s the overall feeling of cheapness you get in watching a movie that was clearly conceived as a title first and as a movie second; the production values are shoddy in ways that don’t seem purposeful. And did people rent it? Do you even need to ask? The question remains — how much of that incompetence is intentional?

04052010_mindhunters.jpg“Mindhunters” (2004)

High concept premise: “Ten Little Indians” with FBI trainees.

How it plays: It delivers. Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” (aka “And Then There Were None”) pretty much invented the sub-genre of people trapped somewhere being killed off one by one without knowing whodunnit and suspecting each other accordingly. “Mindhunters” is content to spend most of its time setting up elaborate Rube Goldberg machines that murder people (see below, though probably not at work); otherwise, the main attraction is Val Kilmer’s hair, which he was growing out to play John Holmes in “Wadd.” It upstages even his scenery chewing.

04052010_tooth.jpg“Tooth Fairy” (2010)

High concept premise: The Rock is the Tooth Fairy.

How it plays: Some bad ideas can never die. “Tooth Fairy” is based on an 18-year-old screenplay, and its baldly ridiculous premise — a man who doesn’t understand the power of dreams is sentenced to temporary tooth fairy duty, complete with wings, so he’ll stop disillusioning little kids — shows the strain of age. The “Freaky Friday” remake aside, that kind of ridiculous body-switching high-concept film for kids starring adults has largely faded away, as the kids themselves take center stage. “Tooth Fairy” could be worse — “The Office” co-creator Stephen Merchant makes it go down easy enough — but it’s the staleness of the premise (and the alternately elaborate and/or nonsensical structure of its fantasy world) that really start to get to you. Like, how many different fantasy punishments do men need to endure in family comedies so that they can understand childhood better?

[Photos: “Date Night,” 20th Century Fox, 2010; “Demon Seed,” MGM, 1977; “Se7en,” New Line Cinema, 1995; “Bio-Dome,” MGM, 1996; “Jack Frost,” A-Pix Entertainment, 1997; “Mindhunters,” Dimension Films, 2004; “Tooth Fairy,” 20th Century Fox, 2010]

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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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