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DID YOU READ

Disc Covering: “The Experiment,” a Pissing Contest Between Oscar Winners. Literally.

Disc Covering: “The Experiment,” a Pissing Contest Between Oscar Winners. Literally. (photo)

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How often do two Oscar winners star together in a film?

Doesn’t happen a lot.

How often does one Oscar winner piss on another Oscar winner on camera? I know there’s that one notorious deleted scene in “The Lion in Winter” but other than that, “The Experiment” starring Adrien Brody (the piss-ee) and Forest Whitaker (the pisser) is a cinematic first. What kind of a world do we live in where this sort of epochal moment in the history of motion pictures can’t get a theatrical release? Dark times, my friends. We live in dark times.

“The Experiment
Directed by Paul Scheuring

092102010_experiment2.jpgTagline: When an experiment goes wrong, one man gets pissed off. (NOTE: This may only be the film’s tagline in my mind. Don’t quote me on it.)

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: An American remake of “Das Experiment,” a fictionalized version of the Stanford Prison Experiment (http://bit.ly/cSFl3S).

Salable Elements: Well-respected source material; a fascinating and infamous real life psychological experiment; two Academy Award winners facing off in a glorious scenery chewing contest.

Biggest Success: The Stanford Prison Experiment involved a bunch of people made to act like prisoners and guards in a jail. It was supposed to last for two weeks, but the people running it had to shut it down after just six days because all the participants basically lost their minds and started behaving like monsters. Which is a great jumping off point for a lurid movie about the evil that men do. And credit screenwriter and director Paul Scheuring for having the cojones not to pull his punches. Forest Whitaker’s Barris and the rest of the guards are almost cartoonishly despicable people. I’m sure at some point in the development process someone looked at Scheuring’s script and wanted more “explanation” for Barris’ swift transformation from meek churchgoer to brutal prison dictator. But it only took six days for real people to descend into chaos and madness, so Scheuring is only staying faithful to reality. Showing Barris pissing on the ringleader of the prisoners (Brody) might seem excessive. But the actual behavior of the Stanford subjects was excessive. Okay, maybe not pissing on each other excessive, but it’s a movie. It’s got to shock us somehow.

09212010_experiment4.jpgBiggest Failure: “The Experiment” kicks off with a really tired cliche, the montage of nature footage that showcases brutal animal behavior and then slowly gives way to documentary footage that showcases brutal human behavior. By this point, we all know the lesson we’re supposed to take away from scenes like this: that deep down, we are all like stock footage. Wait, that’s not right. Sorry, animals; we are all like animals. I’m not arguing that the theme doesn’t have bearing on the “The Experiment.” I just wish Scheuring had come up with a more creative way of introducing it.

Best Moment: Instead, Scheuring focused his creativity on coming up with outlandish ways to externalize Whitaker’s transformation. In the movie’s most memorable scene, Barris basks in the glory of quelling his first prisoner rebellion. Standing alone in the jailhouse bathroom he looks himself up and down in the mirror, reveling in his cruelty. At that moment, he notices something unexpected in his pants, and looks down to size it up: he has an erection.

Yes, threatening and intimidating innocent people gives this God-fearing man a murder boner, and though a couple of crotchways glances from Whitaker would have gotten the point across, Scheuring leaves nothing to the imagination and provides a helpful, hilarious closeup of Barris’ pitched tent.

Does the moment work in the film? Not quite, though it’s good for a laugh. But, again, putting it in in the first place requires some serious, erm, balls. And that I admire.

09212010_experiment3.jpgI Question: Scheuring’s decision not to show us the people running this experiment while it’s going on. In some ways, it makes sense to keep the camera away from Dr. Archaleta (Fisher Stevens) and the rest of the scientists. For one thing, it invites us to share in the inmates’ sense of claustrophobia. And it also enhances our identification with the guards, because they’ve been told they must keep the prisoners in line and respond to their outbursts with “commensurate punishment” without being provided any clear instructions what makes a punishment commensurate. Their only clue is a red light that will illuminate 30 minutes after prisoner misbehavior if said misbehavior hasn’t been adequately addressed. If the light goes on, the experiment is over and everyone involved forfeits the $14,000 owed to them for their participation. Never showing us Dr. Archaleta after the experiment begins feeds into our shared sense of anxiety over that red light and helps us understand, at least initially, the motivation of the guards.

But a movie that makes this many stabs at addressing the social and moral implications of this experiment — the animal stock footage, repeated conversations on the subject between Brody and his cellmate Nix (an underutilized Clifton Collins Jr.) — really ought to engage its who and why. Dr. Archaleta promises that the experiment will be terminated the instant any prisoner is injured, but that’s not ultimately how things work out. The audience can’t help but wonder why. “The Experiment” makes no attempt to explain.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release? Tough to say. On the one hand, this movie has several hallmarks of a good midnight movie: great actors giving big campy performances, tinges of horror and even torture porn; murder boners. On the other hand, “The Experiment”‘s pretensions — the “serious” investigation into the human condition, some better-than average cinematography and production design — wouldn’t do its any favors on the cult film circuit. What you’re left with is an entertaining but weird little movie that doesn’t really belong anywhere. Which is probably how a film starring two Oscar winners wound up going straight to DVD in the first place.

For Further Viewing: watch the trailer for the documentary about the real Stanford Prison Experiment, “Quiet Rage.”

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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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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.

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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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