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DID YOU READ

Disc Covering: “Eyeborgs” which, to meye surprise, is not bad.

Disc Covering: “Eyeborgs” which, to meye surprise, is not bad. (photo)

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I’ve been on the DTV beat for a couple months now. Patterns are starting to emerge. For example, every direct-to-DVD movie about police officers or FBI agents is apparently obligated to feature an obnoxious female reporter. The Obnoxious Female Reporter appears in many forms but always follows certain rules:

1) Her first line in every movie is: “Officer [[NAME OF COP]]! Officer [[NAME OF COP]]! [[NAME OF OBNOXIOUS FEMALE REPORTER]], Channel [[FAKE TV STATION]] News!”

2) Obnoxious Female Reporter never sets up a shot or asks for an interview. She just runs around, screaming at people and shoving a microphone in people’s faces.

3) Obnoxious Female Reporter lives in a perpetual state of outrage. She has no patience and no tact. Her picture should go in the dictionary next to the word “indignant.”

4) Obnoxious Female Reporter always acts like she’s about to break the biggest news story since Watergate. But…

4) …no matter how outrageous her suspicions, Obnoxious Female Reporter is always right about them.

Take, for instance, “Eyeborgs,” a film about a Department of Homeland Security Officer (Adrian Paul) investigating a strange series of murders involving a government of the near future’s Eyeborgs surveillance program. As DTV sci-fi action thrillers go, “Eyeborgs” isn’t bad. It’s got a clever premise, a decent storyline, and some surprisingly credible special effects. But even something as well-made as “Eyeborgs” couldn’t resist throwing in an Obnoxious Female Reporter. Her name is Barbara Hawkins (Megan Blake) and she’s the only person who realizes the Eyeborgs’ evil plan. But will anyone believe her in time to stop them? And will anyone put up with her pushy behavior long enough to listen to her in order to believe her in time to stop them? Stay tuned…

07132010_eyeborgs6.jpg“Eyeborgs”
Directed by Richard Clabaugh

Tagline: Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: TV’s Highlander versus evil right-wing surveillance robots.

Salable Elements: Character actor extraordinaire Danny Trejo in an important supporting role; a muscular lead performance from Adrian Paul, who must have some kind of a fanbase if his “Highlander” television series lasted six seasons in syndication; a title so goofy that a certain type of person (like, say, the type of person that has a column about direct-to-DVD movies) feels compelled to find out how bad it is.

Biggest Success: Here’s the thing about that title, though. While it is technically accurate — the movie features little robots named Eyeborgs, and plenty of ’em — it’s also misleading. Such a stupid name suggests a stupid movie and, for the most part, “Eyeborgs” is not a stupid movie. It’s a solidly pleasurable taste of cautionary sci-fi. And like most good cautionary sci-fi, it’s set in a recognizable world twisted into an impossible extreme to make a salient point about the dangers of modern technology.

The target, in this case, is the proliferation and sophistication of contemporary surveillance equipment. In the “Eyeborgs” universe, a deadly terrorist attack has spurred the U.S. government to pass a bill with the chillingly plausible title: “The Freedom of Observation Act.” It authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to put these little robotic cameras all over the country, who watch citizens’ every move in the interest of national security.

As quickly becomes clear, these Eyeborgs don’t just record crimes, they commit them as well and use their advanced computer technology to doctor the video they’ve recorded. And since people have have a tendency to believe whatever they see on video, nobody suspects the Eyeborgs until it’s almost too late to stop them. While the conspiracy that unfolds in front of Paul’s Agent “Gunner” Reynolds (heh) and Obnoxious Female Reporter Hawkins eventually becomes a bit too outlandish, the core idea is a perfect one for science-fiction paranoia.

07132010_eyeborgs1.jpgBiggest Failure: The premise may be smart, but too often the characters are not. Imagine for a moment you are a highly trained field agent for the Department of Homeland Security. You work every day with these Eyeborgs. You know what they can do and how they work, and you know that they are everywhere.

Now imagine you are beginning to suspect there is a massive conspiracy brewing involving Eyeborgs. So would you hold extremely important meetings involving sensitive material in well-lit public squares in the middle of the day where dozens of these little critters can watch and record your every word? ‘Cause that’s exactly what Paul’s character does. I know his nickname is Gunner, not Thinker, but c’mon. That’s just plain dumb.

Though it’s a bit nitpicky given the film’s obviously limited budget, it’s hard not to notice that “Eyeborgs” is set in a world where these incredibly advanced robotics and video capture systems exist, yet everything except the Eyeborgs looks exactly as it does in our world in 2010: boring old cars and cell phones and guns. How’d they wind up with super-futuristic killer robots and not super-futuristic anything else?

07132010_eyeborgs3.jpgBest Moment: You may not approve of their anti-human agenda, but give the Eyeborgs credit: these cats are smooth criminals. They don’t just kill people, they do it in style, as when they make the murder of one of their enemies look like a drunk driving accident.

While this guy with video evidence of the Eyeborgs’ shenanigans is on his way to give the footage to Obnoxious Female Reporter, they sneak into his van, open the dude’s mouth and pour whiskey down his throat. Now since the Eyeborgs are crime scene investigation units as well as surveillance robots, this is a totally superfluous gesture. They could just alter any blood samples after the fact to make them look full of booze. So basically they just felt like fucking with this guy who was pissing them off.

They manage to get him to crash the vehicle, but they don’t kill him. One of the Eyeborgs grows a blowtorch and lights a trail of gasoline to the van, but its target escapes just in time. Thinking himself victorious, he looks at one of the ‘borgs’ dismembered limbs and screams “You have been DISARMED, baby!” Ah, but he’s spoken too soon, as the still-functioning robot leaps forth from the flaming wreckage and roasts the cocky sonofabitch with a flamethrower. Remember kids: sometimes the direct method is the best.

07132010_eyeborgs2.jpgSpecial Features: The “Eyeborgs” disc includes a trio of ten-minute making-of featurettes. None of them are particularly revealing and all of them are fairly self-congratulatory, but they do shed light on the fact that this entire production was made in North Carolina, mostly by local talent and craftsmen, including director Clabaugh, a Carolina native, former North Carolina School of the Arts instructor and Hollywood cinematographer on stuff like “The Prophecy” and “Phantoms.”

Clabaugh says he specifically wrote to the strength of his effects team with mechanical objects, and it shows; the computer-generated Eyeborgs look like effects from a movie with a budget 50 times larger than his own. On a purely technical level, the work — particularly by cinematographer Kenneth Wilson II and the visual effects team led by Christopher Howell Watson — is just as good if not better than comparable Los Angeles-based low-budget fare. Clabaugh’s resourcefulness and creativity in every aspect of production suggests his team could have a long future ahead of them in the DTV business.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release? Almost. But this film is better suited to the scope and size of the small screen anyway, where it plays really well. A decent script with some good ideas, supported by good action and special effects? Obnoxious Female Reporter or no, that’s a pretty unusual combination in this straight-to-video world.

For Further Viewing: Check out this hilariously incomprehensible five minute condensation of Adrian Paul’s last “Highlander” movie, 2007’s “The Source,” which was so wonky it went straight-to-TV (not even straight-to-DVD!).

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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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.

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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…

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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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