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Disc Covering: “Undisputed III: Redemption,” from MMA to action hero.

Disc Covering: “Undisputed III: Redemption,” from MMA to action hero. (photo)

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Direct-to-DVD action movies are like porn. Nobody’s watching for the clever dialogue or nuanced characters. They want the money shots: well-staged, well-performed fight sequences. If they deliver in that department, everything else is gravy.

“Undisputed III: Redemption” has a lot of gravy. Rich, manly gravy.

Literally, the only women who appear in this film are the ones tattooed on the chests of the actors. These guys are tough. How tough? So tough they make their own Bengay out of wildflowers they pick while out on chain gang duty. That’s right: these guys are so manly they make picking wildflowers butch.

These manly dudes are prisoners from around the world, assembled at Gorgon Maximum Security Penitentiary in the Republic of Georgia for an elimination martial arts tournament squarely in the tradition of great Fight-To-The-Death Movies. Since each of the combatants have their own unique fighting style — capoeira, kickboxing, boxing, and so on — it’s sort of like the adaptation of “Street Fighter” that fans of the video game never got.

Wait, you’re telling me there was a “Street Fighter” movie in the mid-1990s? No, there wasn’t. It never happened. It. NEVER. Happened.

06082010_undisputed2.jpg“Undisputed III: Redemption” (2010)
Directed by Isaac Florentine

Tagline: “One deadly tournament. A last fight for freedom.”

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: The villain of “Undisputed II” gets his own movie where he has to beat seven deadly fighters (and one bad knee) in a prison MMA tournament.

Salable Elements: Returning “Undisputed 2” star Scott Adkins, once again playing Russian prisoner and self-proclaimed “most complete fighter in the world” Uri Boyka; the connection to the increasingly popular world of mixed martial arts; the burgeoning “Undisputed” brand, with its promise of testosterone-y prison fight movies.

Biggest Success: The indisputably entertaining fight sequences, particularly any of the ones that feature Adkins and the film’s main heavy, Columbian juicer “Dolor” (Marko Zaror). “Undisputed III”‘s fights — directed by Isaac Florentine, shot by Ross W. Clarkson, and choreographed by Larnell Stovall — are definitely worth the price of admission, or whatever the equivalent expression would be for a rental (the film earned Best Choreography and Best Director awards at the inaugural Action Fest earlier this spring).

Adkins, in particular, glowering and speaking in a convincing (enough) Russian accent, has the onscreen intensity and athleticism to become a legitimate big screen action hero; it’s easy to imagine ranking him with Jason Statham in a few years as the premier action stars of this generation (and hot damn, it would be a lot of fun to see them in a movie together).

Biggest Failure: Though the martial arts sequences in “Undisputed III” are a lot of fun, they suffer from one big drawback, and it’s something that’s infected a lot of action movies of the last decade: way too much use of slow-motion footage. Certainly, slo-mo has its place in fight scenes — it can help you savor the pure visual poetry of the bodies in motion onscreen — but it also takes away from your ability to appreciate the athleticism on display in its raw form.

06082010_undisputed3.jpgThe nice part about DTV action movies is that they’re not burdened by movie stars who need stunt doubles who need to be shot carefully to maintain the illusion that Movie Star X can actually accomplish Movie Stunt Y. “Undisputed III” is anchored by guys like Adkins and Zaror, who don’t need any post-production help to pull off their impressive moves.

So why not let their fights run without post-production help? Adkins and Zaror don’t need slo-mo and speed ramps to make their scenes work, but here they are anyway. Action films like “Undisputed III” that star true athletes work best with a vérité approach: documenting the remarkable feats of their stars. Their physical abilities are all the special effects anyone could ever need.

Best Moment: A theme of improvisation and adaptation runs throughout the film; appropriately so, for a movie made as cheaply and quickly as “Undisputed III” almost certainly was. I was particularly fond of how that idea made its way into Boyka’s training regimens. At the beginning of the film, he’s still recovering from a knee injury suffered in “Undisputed II.” To get back into fighting shape, he puts himself on the “Rocky IV” training plan: strengthening his leg with homemade gym equipment made of wood, rope, and archaic farm implements.

Later, Boyka and his American counterpart Turbo (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) are forced to endure brutal sessions on a chain gang, so the two turn the backbreaking labor into a backbreaking workout (throwing rocks, for example, is a great way to build explosiveness in your arms and back). Apparently, modified slave labor is the way people in Russia like to exercise.

06082010_undisputed4.jpgSpecial Features: Other than a digital copy that you can copy to your iPod on the Blu-ray edition, none whatsoever. There isn’t even a trailer. There isn’t even a scene selection page! It’s a disc fit for the cruel deprivation of the Russian prison system.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release: Not quite — the production values outside the ring are fairly low, and some of the acting from the supporting cast is pretty brutal — but a lot of the participants, particularly Florentine and Adkins, deserve a bigger budget, a better script and a chance to make the leap to the silver screen. In the meantime, they should be proud of what they accomplished with “Undisputed III”: some damn fine action porn.

For Further Viewing: Watch Adkins train for his role as Weapon XI (a.k.a. Deadpool after he got his mouth sewn shut) in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” If Reynolds is too busy making Sandra Bullock movies to man the Deadpool spinoff, they should give Adkins the part. Just let him speak this time.

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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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