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“Red Dead Redemption” is More Than Just “Grand Theft Alamo”

“Red Dead Redemption” is More Than Just “Grand Theft Alamo” (photo)

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More than any other game developers working today, Rockstar Games mines the cinema for their inspirations. The heavy hand of Scorcese (and I’d argue Michael Mann, too) hovers over the Grand Theft Auto series. The Houser Bros. don’t talk much to the media, but when they do, it becomes clear that their sensibilities are more filmic than gamer.

Some years ago they took a big risk and turned Walter Hill’s cult gang drama “The Warriors” into a big budget video game, which further attests to their film-love. When “Red Dead Redemption” was announced a few years back, it seemed that players would be getting a highly, stylized playable version of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti gunfighter oeuvre.

But, with RDR, Rockstar’s doing more than reconstituting the DNA of their favorite cinematic influences in playable form. “Red Dead Redemption” reconfigures expectations as to what an open-world game — which generally have no set mission structure — will look and feel like.

GTA games trade in dissonance. The cities that Rockstar has built run off a loop of noise, distraction and chaos. RDR’s vistas are the polar opposite — and might even unnerve players with how quiet they are. Quiet doesn’t equal orderly, though. A gallop along the brush could lead you to a stand-off at a bandit hide-out or into a pack of rabid coyotes that you’ll need to put down.

05212010_reddead2.jpgWith “Redemption,” players get the most wide-open virtual vista that any developer’s ever delivered, and is packed with more varied activity than anything Rockstar’s ever done. Reams of contextual dialogue get muttered as you pass by, hinting at a simmering social fabric filled with gunmen, whores, hucksters and just plain folks who all make the world feel rich.

Into this world steps John Marston, a surprisingly thoughtful reformed bandit who’s being strong-armed by lawmen into hunting down his old gang. Marston’s being forced to play along because the feds are holding his family hostage. One of the more striking things about RDR is how effectively it transmits the idea of strangerhood. Even when tough-gal rancher Bonnie McFarlane saves your life, Marston doesn’t go spilling his guts. He stays aloof.

Even while you’re tipping your hat and howdying every person you meet, you’re still an enigma. And when you’re riding down a night road, your apart-ness from the rest of the world makes the interactions available to the player feel even more chaotic or unsettling. You can sidle up to anonymous campers and listen to them spin their tales, wandering off quietly without saying a word.

Or a panicked rider can flag you down to help stop his innocent friend from being lynched. Hopeful treasure hunters can be waylaid by ne’er-do-wells and you, a total stranger, might be their only hope to surviving the encounter. Depending on what you do in these instances, your reputation can grow in fame and honor, so that you become a Legend of the West like Billy the Kid or Jesse James.

05212010_reddead3.jpgWith the setting of the Old West, a lot of the tricks that Rockstar have used in the GTA games just won’t work. You can’t use the cacophony of the modern day to create a sense of atmosphere. No bubbling urban verbosity or airwaves filled with demented deejays.

“Red Dead Redemption” proves, impressively, that the developers don’t need them. The big-sky tableaus and small boomtowns of a young, raw 20th Century make for a quieter world with different tensions and dangers. Fending off coyote attacks and taking out cattle rustlers shouldn’t feel the same as car chases and drug deals, and it’s one of RDR’s strengths that they don’t.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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.


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…


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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