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DID YOU READ

Overcasting, when film casts overflow with familiar faces.

Overcasting, when film casts overflow with familiar faces. (photo)

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Over at Movieline, Christopher Rosen bemusedly chews over the casting news for “Horrible Bosses,” a comedy due next summer that — in the absence of other news — is being wildly anticipated.

It does sound pretty awesome, insofar as it ups the “Office Space” stakes and has disgruntled employees actually killing their bosses instead of merely smashing fax machines — the recession comedy we’ve all been waiting for! Arriving, alas, too late.

But the point Rosen wants to make is that “Horrible Bosses” might be overcast: with Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell, Donald Sutherland and Jamie Foxx (though I refuse to believe Jason Sudekis is actually anything like “a star”), he wonders if there’s a correlation between an over-abundance of big names and a less-than-quality product — or worse, if this is a film a la “Valentine’s Day” that compensates for innate shoddiness with marquee firepower.

There have always been movies that overdose on stars for their own sake, to the point where there’s barely any room for a plot. There were a whole raft of these during World War II, when studios issued what were basically variety shows with thin romantic plots to tie them together. This lead to some bizarre sights — the perfectly pleasant “Stage Door Canteen” ends with Katharine Hepburn delivering a rousing wartime speech, a very uncharacteristic moment in her career — but generally it was a pleasant way to combine propaganda, charity and studio self-promotion.

06292010_followtheboys1.jpgStudios would pull together their rosters and donate much of the money to charity: Universal had “Follow The Boys,” Warner Bros. had “Thank Your Lucky Stars” and “Hollywood Canteen” (the latter of which gave 40% of its profits to the actual titular canteen), Paramount had “Star Spangled Rhythm” and MGM had “Thousands Cheer.” All now act as decent time capsules, and then served handily to promote the studios’ wares and thespians for the post-war era.

Stacked-deck casting has also been used as a form of spectacle to rival whatever expensive stuff going on on-screen, as practiced in 1956’s “Around The World In 80 Days” (in which Frank Sinatra’s cameo is basically one shot) and 1963’s “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” whose cast list is so big Wikipedia splits it into three parts. And of course there are the lousy Eurotrash movies made after “Airport” designed to package multiple names for cross-cultural revenue — they’re endearingly cheesy now.

What’s missing in all this, though, is the good old character actor. All those studios in the ’30s and ’40s had a stable of odd types to fill in the margins with their (usually comic) specialties, rather than plugging in stars galore. These were guys like Guy Kibbee, whose niche Wikipedia nicely synopsizes as “daft and jovial characters” and who had a form of toad-in-the-hole named after him.

There were guys like the entire original cast of “The Wizard of Oz,” prolific Broadway and vaudeville vets all, where physical and character-based eccentricities could be smoothly adapted for multiple films. It was good for women too, like Margaret Dumont, who practically became the fifth Marx Brother while playing easily shocked matrons over and over.

06282010_koteas.jpgThe contemporary equivalent of this kind of player would be someone like Elias Koteas, whose features are just distinctive enough to seem sinister. Still, it’s impossible to imagine Koteas as a widely beloved bit player — to most viewers, he’ll just be That One Guy.

A lot of movies now are stuffed around the fringes with wildly overqualified players seemingly as a form of thespian insurance, like Ian Holm — distinguished Harold Pinter interpreter reduced to looking merely seasick for a small part in “The Aviator.” This form of overcasting has its consolations; rare is the Hollywood movie without a pleasant surprise of an appearance (I don’t know what Alfred Molina will bring to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” for example, though I’m sure he’ll bring his A-game regardless).

The downside is that — aside from comedies, which have more capable supporting specialists than ever in recent memory — dramatic films lack memorable, vaudevillian types. It’s not that the air-brushing of lead actors is a bad thing in and of itself; who doesn’t like to gawk at pretty people? It’s that the fringes themselves have been blanded out, filled with interchangeable bodies lusting after stardom.

[Photos: “Office Space,” 20th Century Fox, 1999; Marlene Dietrich and Orson Welles in “Follow the Boys,” Universal Pictures, 1944; “Shooter,” Paramount, 2007]

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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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