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America is no country for ’80s directors.

America is no country for ’80s directors. (photo)

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A few weeks back I was at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, taking in John Badham’s ill-fated 1979 take on “Dracula.” Released only six weeks after George Hamilton’s “Love at First Bite” parodied Transylvania in theaters, the film was also soon overshadowed by Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski’s certifiably brilliant “Nosferatu the Vampyre.”

After the film, Badham joked he was happy the theater reversed the order of things and played his “Dracula” before “Love at First Bite.” He regaled the crowd with stories of working with Laurence Olivier, who insisted on be called Larry, trying to pry chemistry out of leads Frank Langella and Kate Nelligan, who hated each other, and how he could create the effect of a full moon on screen with a flashlight and some cleverly placed smoke devices.

When the Q & A ended, he stood in the hall as a cadre of fans lined up to grill him some more, It was a Saturday night, so he had plenty of time to answer their questions without worrying whether he’d be late to his current gig, as a professor at nearby Chapman University.

It’s easy to forget that Badham had one of the most solid directing runs of the late ’70s and early ’80s — “Dracula” was a rare stumbling block after helming “Saturday Night Fever” and proving himself particularly capable of directing both thrillers (“WarGames”) and comedies (“Short Circuit” and “Stakeout”). His career devolved into a series of forgettable films in the ’90s and ultimately a steady hand in television.

07092010_RobReiner.jpgSimilar fates have befallen ’80s directors like Walter Hill, who looks to be reteaming with “Johnny Handsome” star Mickey Rourke on the crime thriller “St. Vincent” after finding some success in TV with the Western miniseries “Broken Trail,” and John McTiernan, whose “Rollerball” debacle was nothing compared to his legal problems, though both obscured his position as one of the sharpest, most intuitive action directors of the era. All of them are still available to direct, but the studios have all but put them out to pasture.

So it comes as good news that two of the ’80s most celebrated filmmakers appear ripe for recovery from those not so nice Naughts, with Barry Levinson tapped to direct the Sony drama “Brother Jack,” his first studio film since the forgettable Robin Williams political satire “Man of the Year,” and Rob Reiner earning very positive buzz for “Flipped,” a nostalgic ’50s coming of age comedy that doesn’t scream “director-for-hire” like nearly everything in his post-“Ghosts of Mississippi” résumé.

Both deserve a comeback — in spite of rarely being mentioned in the pantheon of great directors, they were responsible for a run of films that earned that rare mix of critical and commercial acclaim — Reiner’s “Princess Bride” and “A Few Good Men,” Levinson’s Baltimore films of “Diner” and “Avalon” and awards bait like “Bugsy.” The most respect either director ever seemed to get was working his way into the rotation of TNT’s New Classics, where “Misery” and “Rain Man” burrowed their way into the minds of younger generations.

Both lost their way as studio directors: Levinson likely emerged from the doghouse with HBO’s “You Don’t Know Jack” while Reiner essentially called in a favor for the $14 million “Flipped,” in spite of pulling in $93 million for Warner Bros. with “The Bucket List.”

07092010_resnair.jpgIncidentally, one needs only to look at the local arthouse as a reminder that this isn’t a trend that extends to other parts of the world — Alain Resnais just celebrated his 88th birthday with the release on “Wild Grass” and 80-year-old Jean-Luc Godard’s “Film Socialisme” still lit a match at this year’s Cannes.

Although Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood appear to have no quit in them (and studios who still believe in them), it’s a shame that as even established directors like M. Night Shyamalan fumble their way through $150 million budgets, there isn’t a place for guys who know how make a flashlight into a moon. Maybe it’s why Quentin Tarantino has promised to retire at 60 (13 years away, if you’re counting), but it’s not how it should be.

[Photos: John Badham (in blue) on the set of “Dracula,” Universal Pictures, 1979; Rob Reiner on the set of “The Bucket List,” Warner Bros., 2007; Resnais on the set of “Wild Grass,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2009]

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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.


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…


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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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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