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David Michôd Conquers the “Animal Kingdom”

David Michôd Conquers the “Animal Kingdom” (photo)

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Before he became a filmmaker, “Animal Kingdom” writer/director David Michôd served as the editor of Australia’s Inside Film magazine. So what’s it like being on the other end of the interview process? “I had expected I would hate answering the same questions over and over. And then you get on the other side, and every conversation is with a new person, so it’s a different conversation. I actually don’t hate it at all.”

Well, that’s a relief. Michôd’s part of a pack of Aussie filmmakers who’ve been doing their fair share of press after making a recent, unmissable mark on the indie film circuit, one that also includes “The Square”‘s Nash Edgerton and Spencer Susser, whose debut “Hesher,” due in theaters in January, was co-written by Michôd. The group have an informal arrangement in which they advise and help out on each other’s productions, making them something of Australia’s answer to mumblecore, with more edge, higher budgets and less equivocating.

“Animal Kingdom” is a sleek crime drama set in the Melbourne underworld about 17-year-old Josh (James Frecheville), who after the death of his mother is taken in by his grandmother (a scene-stealing Jacki Weaver) and her trio of bank-robbing sons. As the family gets pulled into an escalating war with the local police, Josh begins to question his involvement with their violent criminal lifestyle, but is unable to place his trust in the detective (Guy Pearce) trying to convince him to testify against them.

In an interview you did with Screen Daily, you mentioned that your sensibilities have shifted from being purely arthouse more toward the commercial over the years. What led to that change?

I was surprised, even back at home, at how important it was to me that people go and see the movie — and that lots of people go and see it. I had probably, once upon a time, thought that I didn’t care about that.

08102010_michod3.jpgThat you’d be proud of the movie even if it was showing to an empty theater?

That was probably what I thought would happen, but that’s not necessarily to say that I was being arrogant when I felt that way. All you can really do as a filmmaker is make the kind of film that you would want to see yourself and hope there are other people out there who share your sensibility.

But it became apparent that it’s really important to me that there be other people out there who share my sensibility, because it’s so hard. It’s such an exhausting, emotionally taxing process, making a film, that you don’t want to get to the end and find that you’re the only person who likes it. You want to feel that it was worth it and that you’ve somehow shared that experience with other people.

“Animal Kingdom” was inspired by a true incident, is that right?

Yeah, the killing of the two young cops, that turned Melbourne upside down at the end of the ’80s. I haven’t set the film in the ’80s, just in a kind of indeterminate recent past. But I knew from when I first started reading about that crime that I wanted to build what I hoped would be a big Melbourne crime story around that particular event.

The police are responsible for one of the film’s more shocking scenes of violence. It’s not, overall, a terribly flattering portrayal of the them.

There was a period in Melbourne in the ’80s when the armed robbery squad were a little… overly excitable. Melbourne police were shooting people dead at a rate astronomically higher than anywhere else in the country. There was just something about the nature of the way the police force worked down there.

08102010_michod5.jpgThe armed robbery squad were a gang of hardened guys who had what was widely recognized as the hardest and most dangerous job in the force — because they were hunting the hardest and most dangerous criminals. For a period, that animosity, that antagonism was exploding in at an unusual rate.

“Animal Kingdom” is just as much an extremely dysfunctional family drama as it is a crime story. What led to your taking that kind of angle?

It was just what was most interesting to me. You start falling in love with your characters. And these characters — as toxic and horrific as they are — were a lot of fun to write, especially to write certain characters for particular actors. Writing Smurf for Jacki Weaver, writing Pope for Ben Mendelsohn was just fun.

I’m sure, once upon a time, it started as an episodic crime thing, with lots of cool shit in it, but the more I wrote, the more I just loved these characters more than anything else. I let them take over.

The character of Smurf may be the most memorable one, particularly who she becomes, in the latter third of the film. What inspired her?

She wasn’t inspired by anyone in particular. She grew out of my observations of certain families that I knew who weren’t criminal families, but were really tight-knit. I remember looking at those families, back when I was a kid, and thinking, “Oh, that looks nice,” how involved in each other’s stuff they are and how seemingly open and loving they are. Carrying that observation on for a few years, [you] come to realize that, in fact, there was something kind of weird and toxic about how tight they were.

That it was a little too cloying, or that the parents were living vicariously through their children in a really unhealthy way — that there was something self-serving about their love for their children.

08102010_michod2.jpgThese were subtle observations that I took to an extreme level: a woman who built her entire sense of self out of her sense of her relationship with her powerful and dangerous sons, and how that manifests in a quite selfish and pragmatic way.

Your approach to portraying crime and criminals is terribly unglamorous, from the suburban life they’re living to the fact that they seem to be constantly on the defensive to the realization that they’re grown men who literally or in spirit live with their mom.

One of the things I loved about the Smurf character was a sense of a woman who was the glue that was holding the family together. I don’t think those boys would be hanging out with each other if it weren’t for the fact that they had a mother who was forcing them to, for whom it was incredibly important that they all be together.

I liked the bizarre and dangerous dysfunction that that produces, as well. I’m sure Darren [played by Luke Ford] would still be working in some kind of illegitimate world, but probably not one so dangerous if it weren’t for the fact that he was being kept so close to his brothers by his mother.

One of the things that’s fascinating about crime as dramatic territory is imagining what it’s like for these people who live such incredibly dangerous and marginalized lives, where the stakes are incredibly high, where the difference between success and failure is life and death or freedom or imprisonment. You have to imagine lives in a constant state of semi-anxiety. One of the things I love about crime films in general is that they’re an exploration of characters living incredibly anxious lives.

“Animal Kingdom” opens in New York and Los Angeles on August 13th.

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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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