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Taking lessons from “Prizzi’s Honor” instead of “The Karate Kid.”

Taking lessons from “Prizzi’s Honor” instead of “The Karate Kid.” (photo)

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This week’s big movie meme is Originality vs. Profitability, thanks to the spectacle of two ’80s retreads squaring off at the box office this past weekend. Why “The A-Team” sunk (relatively speaking) and “The Karate Kid” was immensely profitable has led to a lot of discussion, but little consensus.

Both film are primarily riding off of brand names and a nostalgic fanbase. “The A-Team” had a budget in the $110 million range, while “The Karate Kid”‘s was a mere $40 million, something that had more to do with shooting in China than scale. While we dwell on this summer of recycling and sequels, it should be pointed out that if Hollywood’s going to look to the ’80s for inspiration, they’re going about it the wrong way.

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott has some interesting thoughts on the consolations of narrative continuity as embodied (or at least promised) in the modern franchise: “Anyone who has told a child a bedtime story knows that its conclusion is met with the demand for ‘another one’ — for the same one again, but a little bit different. Movies are far from the only medium to cater to this desire.”

That’s certainly one way to explain why there were eight “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies in the first run, and why we’re now seeing more movies hitting their third, fourth and fifth installments than we’ve had in a while. But it doesn’t explain why we couldn’t come up with a new franchise of comparable value (who doesn’t love at least one of those movies?).

The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, continues to beat the drum for “quality storytelling” in its own odd way, with Steven Zeitchik theorizing that ’80s films like “Back to the Future” and the original “Karate Kid” had “a fundamental grasp of storytelling” and that “subconsciously, the remake craze may be partly about good narrative.”

06142010_prizzi.jpgI’m going to have to disagree with that last point — I don’t see how the solution to our apparent storytelling stagnation means invoking the original “Karate Kid” as a model of strong narrative, insofar as the original “Karate Kid” is incredibly slack. A better test case is “Prizzi’s Honor,” which came out 25 years ago yesterday, the strange (and fun, incidentally) John Huston movie that won Anjelica Huston an Oscar. If you want to talk about fixing summer cheaply — and you must do it in an ’80s fashion — this is the kind of movie to rip off.

Despite slow pacing and morbid humor, in commercial terms, “Prizzi’s Honor” didn’t perform badly at all, pulling in less than concurrent releases “The Goonies,” “Cocoon,” “Pale Rider” or “St. Elmo’s Fire” but performed much better than some other high-profile flops, including the sadly undervalued “Return to Oz.” (Note also that “Pale Rider” made money. Genre balance gives all movies a better chance of succeeding; the old “demographic split” model was more consistently if modestly profitable than the one-size-fits-all blockbuster.)

Lead Jack Nicholson was very hot stuff in 1985, as was Ms. Kathleen Turner (fresh off “Romancing the Stone”; more on this in a minute). Good old-fashioned star power triumphed that week over an anonymous child robot (“D.A.R.Y.L.”) and whatever Corey Haim (“Secret Admirer”) was up to. That whole month, in fact, was (with the arguable exception of “Return To Oz”) based on all original properties.

Because summer blockbuster season wasn’t the endless slog then it was by now, by July studios were re-issuing last year’s successes (“Gremlins,” “Ghostbusters”) because they could.

06142010_stone.jpgWhat does this tell us about the past weekend? Well, nothing, of course. But relying upon the idea that audiences responding to “The Karate Kid” because it gives us the familiar comforts of a narrative that’s detailed without being novel doesn’t tell us anything either.

If we’re going to plunder the ’80s wholesale while still trying to keep budgets down, there are so many options, and better ones than the likes of “The Karate Kid.” Perhaps not remaking “Prizzi’s Honor” per se (you’d hope not), but it’s seriously doubtful that the country that made “The Blind Side” the eighth-highest grossing film of last year (not to mention actually showed up for “Inglourious Basterds”) is ready to give up on “storytelling” as a whole during the increasingly endless summer.

Anyway, how big of a star was Kathleen Turner in the ’80s? So big that the late Falco (of “Rock Me Amadeus”) wrote a whole song about pining for her kiss:

[Photos: “The Karate Kid,” Sony, 1984; “Prizzi’s Honor,” MGM Home Entertainment, 1985; “Romancing The Stone,” 20th Century Fox, 1984]

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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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