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“Confessions”: War may be hell, but it has nothing on high school.

“Confessions”: War may be hell, but it has nothing on high school. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival.

“Confessions” is the latest from Tetsuya Nakashima, who in 2006 made “Memories of Matsuko,” my absolute favorite of the films I’ve seen over the years at the New York Asian Film Festival. “Matsuko” was all about the gaping divide between its peppy musical numbers and frenetic, “Amelie”-bright visuals and what was in fact a wicked downer of a tale about a fallen woman who keeps falling and falling and falling until she dies, all but forgotten.

In “Confessions,” the visual stylings are even slicker, somewhere between a high-end music video and “Fight Club”-era David Fincher, but all glimpses of humanity has been leeched away. Misery is everything.

The film opens on a rowdy 7th grade classroom, where kids are sipping on what the teacher explains is milk provided by a potential government campaign. One boy is being blatantly bullied, some have left mid-lecture and are hanging out on the roof, others are openly on cell phones or talking with their friends. Their teacher, a serene thirtysomething named Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu), is used to being ignored — and she knows she’s about to get their complete attention. She’s talking about how she’s quitting teaching at the end of the month, how the death of her young daughter, who drowned in the school pool, has affected her, and, dropping that other shoe, how two of the students in her classroom were responsible for murdered the little girl.

06242010_confessions1.jpgOh, and she put something in their milk.

Moviewise, I can’t think of another country that consistently looks at its own youth with the complicated mixture of mistrust, fear and compassion that Japan has, in titles like “All About Lily Chou-Chou,” “Battle Royale,” “This World of Ours” and “Suicide Circle.” “Confessions” is downright brutal to its class of 37 teens, on whom puberty is shown to have descended like a season of madness.

They’re entitled, they’re cruel, they’re despairing, they’re lonely, they’re angry, they’re disturbingly detached, they’re in some cases downright sociopathic. They don’t exactly inspire faith in a future generation. Then again, the adults don’t come off so well either.

Though Moriguchi departs after unveiling her truth to the class, she hovers on the outskirts of the narrative, using the children as tools in her quest for vengeance. Her revelation, her “confession” — she never names the two boys who killed her child, but gives enough details about them that their identities become immediately evident to their classmates — makes one of conspirators the target of savage bullying and harassment and drives the other one into withdrawal in his room. Manipulating the earnest young teacher who’s replaced her, Moriguchi feeds the flames of the pair’s persecution until they burst, unleashing violence against the only people who care for them.

06242010_confessions3.jpg“Confessions” is a murder mystery without the mystery — after the long first sequence, we and most of the characters in the film know exactly who did it, even if they’re apparently sheltered by juvenile legal restrictions that make prosecution pointless.

The twists that come are ones of motivation and perspective, as the narration shifts to the shy class president who dreams of death, to the mother who pins blame for her child’s actions on anyone but him, to the shut-in who refuses to bathe because the scent of his own filth reminds him he’s still alive, to the would-be genius ready to commit atrocities in order to get the attention of his estranged mother.

“Confessions” is breathtaking in its ruthlessness, though that also means it’s emotionally distant — stuffed with social issues like bullying, youth suicide, hikikomori and school violence, it all starts to seem extremely dysfunction junction. Moriguchi’s no heroine — inarguably and terribly wronged, she nevertheless pursues as ruthless a revenge as she can manage against the culprits, unencumbered by any sense that they deserve special consideration because they’re only 13 years old.

Given the unhappy home life of one of the boys, the ending’s shrugging off of any possibility of redemption seems awfully grim. At what age should people be held completely accountable for their own awfulness? And what of the collateral damage that occurs, the (semi) innocents who end up as part of the body count?

06242010_confessions2.jpgBut perhaps that’s the point — the film, which is frequently shot in the cool greys and blues of a world (Moriguchi’s world?) permanently drained of color by trauma, is one in which inflicting pain seems the only surefire means of communicating your own suffering.

You can be alone in your own personal hell, and yet elsewhere the sun is shining, the trees are blossoming and the girls running through puddles, happy to be free for spring break. What a beautiful world, and what incredible ugliness can be found in it.

“Confessions” does not yet have US distribution. It screens July 1st and 4th at the Japan Society in NY.

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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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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

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.


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.



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 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….


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.


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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