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Disc Covering: “The Dungeon Masters,” Fending Off Imaginary Dragons and Inner Demons

Disc Covering: “The Dungeon Masters,” Fending Off Imaginary Dragons and Inner Demons (photo)

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I’m the nerdiest guy I know, and Dungeons & Dragons is too nerdy for me. I once tried it with some friends on a camp trip and it didn’t take; after about a half hour we gave up and went back to quoting “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” But for some, D&D is everything, and certainly as a guy with nerdy proclivities, I can relate to that obsession. So I was curious about Keven McAlester’s “The Dungeon Masters,” a documentary about at trio of D&D game masters and the ways in which their real lives reflect their game lives and vice versa. Did the film, which played the 2008 Toronto Film Festival, deserve wider acclaim and a larger release? Let’s find out.

The Dungeon Masters
Directed by Keven McAlester

Tagline:“3 People. 1 Obsession. See What Happens When Fantasy Life Meets Real Life.”

08032010_disccovering2.jpgTweetable Plot Synopsis: Three gaming nerds share their love of Dungeons & Dragons and their struggle with the harsh reality of their lives.

Biggest Success: It’s really easy to gawk at geeks; it’s much harder, and a lot more satisfying, when you can get an audience to relate to obsessives. For the most part, “The Dungeon Masters” does that. I say for the most part because there are a few jokes at the expense of its three protagonists, particularly eternally put-upon apartment building manager and aspiring fantasy author Scott Corum. “Dungeon Masters” begins with a series of close-ups of Corum putting on his medieval armor while sharing, in voiceover, thoughts about D&D and character building; as a punchline, his philosophical speech is immediately followed by the question “Is there even a vague chance of like stopping by a McDonald’s?” We only hear his speech and don’t see it, which, regardless of whether it was or not, makes it feel like a cheap joke created in the editing room.

Most of the film, though, strives for empathy over mockery. Game master Richard Meeks is such an outlandish character, you couldn’t write him into a fictional story; he would be considered too unbelievable. Amongst other things, he’s a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast, a nudist, a convert to Judiasm, and a military man. And yet, despite all these highly mockable traits, the movie treats him with a kind and curious eye rather than a sarcastic one. He’s not a joke; he’s a person, as screwy and as flawed as the rest of us. And that’s ultimately why we watch a movie like “The Dungeon Masters”: not to laugh at weirdos, but to see the common ground we all share.

08032010_disccovering1.jpgBiggest Failure: “The Dungeon Masters” teaches us that D&D campaigns can go on for a decade or more in the hands a dedicated game master; Corum says that RPGs are about the journey and the experience rather than the destination and the outcome. True to that ethos, “The Dungeon Masters” really doesn’t tell a complete narrative. Instead it presents three overlapping chapters of three larger lives and stories. But movies are not role-playing games and the documentary’s structure, following its three protagonists over the course of a year between trips to Dungeons & Dragons’ annual GenCon convention, isn’t much of a journey.

McAlester divides his film into five chapters which alternate between the three subjects. Some have ongoing storylines, like Corum trying to publish his first novel and create a public access TV show, but there’s a certain aimlessness to “The Dungeon Masters.” There’s an ironic comment buried here about these men and women’s inability to apply their skills as game masters, where they have to give purpose and direction to others, to their own lives. It’s a fair point, but it doesn’t make us any more concerned about them as characters. We’re interested, but not necessary invested.

08032010_disccovering4.jpgI Like: the way real life in “The Dungeon Masters” often imitates D&D. In the subplot about Corum’s novel, things seem to be progressing along a certain trajectory throughout the entire film until the climactic chapter when, without warning, there’s a drastic and dramatic reversal (I’m being intentionally vague to avoid spoilers). It’s as if he’s trapped in a game designed by Meeks, who loves to invent sadistic worlds full of sudden twists and cruel pitfalls.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release? Not quite; the scope of the film isn’t nearly as epic as its subjects’ imaginations. “The Dungeon Masters” is about a small but dedicated subculture, and probably the best the film can hope for is a small but dedicated DVD following. But it’s a good rental for interested parties. I’d be particularly curious to see how D&D lovers react to it, and whether they would find it representative or exploitative of their world. If you know someone who’s into gaming, I’d recommend watching it with them just as soon as they come home from GenCon 2010, which takes place this upcoming weekend in Indianapolis.

For Further Viewing: A helpful guide to spotting dice cheaters in your Dungeons & Dragons game. Hint: if someone is rolling a seven or an eleven every single time they roll, they might be cheating.

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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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