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Toronto 2010: “In a Better World,” “Three,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “In a Better World,” “Three,” Reviewed (photo)

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When an audience member wondered aloud at the Toronto Film Festival why Susanne Bier decided to change the English title of her latest film “In a Better World” from its original Danish translation “The Revenge,” the director of “After the Wedding” and “Brothers” told the crowd that she was concerned it would be perceived as a horror film. In a way, “In a Better World” actually fits that bill nicely, not as part of that particular genre, but instead as a well-told parable about on the futile perpetuation of violence.

To date, the only explosions in Bier’s work have occurred figuratively, the product of slow-simmering spats between lovers or people at an emotional crossroads of one kind or another that come to a head. Here, they become literal in the story of Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), a pair of middle school classmates who seek out retribution after witnessing Elias’ father Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) get slapped by a local mechanic after trying to separate his son from a potential fight. For Anton, it’s an action not worth responding to, especially since he’s seen far worse things in Kenya at the hands of local warlords where he provides medical support as a doctor.

09192010_InaBetterWorld2.jpgSince Anton spends most of his time in Kenya, it’s a rare opportunity to set an example for his son and his friend. Yet Christian, the new kid on the block who becomes Elias’ friend after protecting him from the school’s bully, doesn’t see things the same way. Both children are outcasts at school and the sons of distant fathers, though only Christian resorts to his fists (or more appropriately a bicycle pump) as taunts and threats turn into random physical aggression against them both. When Christian’s father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) insists that hitting someone isn’t the best way to respond to getting hit, Christian fires back, “Not if you hit hard enough.”

The wonderful thing about that exchange is the bitter humor that comes out of the gap between reality and principle, something “In a Better World” explores to its fullest. As a director, Bier presents the villains of the film in no uncertain terms: Sofus, the blonde bully who tortures Elias with catcalls of “ratface,” clearly deserves some comeuppence, as does the racist oaf of a mechanic who incites Anton.

However, whatever lack of sophistication exists for the aggressors in the film is reserved for the conversation that Bier and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen would like to inspire about violence begetting violence and where the line should be drawn. “In a Better World” is compelling because Bier once again proves her precision as a keen observer of human relationships, but for many filmmakers, greater scope doesn’t always portend a greater impact – Bier may not believe in hitting back, but she’s a big believer in hitting hard.

09192010_TomTykwerThree.jpgLike Bier, Tom Tykwer has also headed back to his home country after an English-language vacation of “Perfume” and “The International” and I’d be surprised if I ever see the uncut version of his latest, “Drei (Three),” arrive in the U.S. intact. This isn’t for quality reasons – the film is a welcome return to Tykwer’s unusually structured thrillers from the turn of the century, but given its share of explicit sex scenes (involving both sexes) shown matter-of-factly, it would take a brave distributor to take a chance on “Drei,”

If someone does, they’ll get a stylish drama with a wicked sense of humor on the order of Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe,” pulsating with the kind of visual panache and subversion that only a first class director can deliver, even though it tells a rather contrived and slightly sleazy story. Your appreciation of “Drei” will somewhat rely on how much you accept the coincidence involved in the story of Simon (Sebastian Schipper) and Hanna (Sophie Rois), a longtime couple who unbeknownst to each other find themselves having an affair with the same man, Adam (David Striesow), the head of a stem cell research center that Anna has become intrigued by, in her job as a TV news anchor, and is a member of the same swimming club as Simon.

09192010_TomTykwerThree2.jpgAs I’ve found with my favorite Tykwer films besides his breakthrough “Run Lola Run,” it takes nearly an hour into “Drei” to get its bearings and a little longer for the endgame to begin to expose itself, as the director is all over the place in setting up the circumstances that have led to the dual affair – Simon is diagnosed with testicular cancer, Hanna is fantasizing about other men, and their relationship has fallen into a predictable and all-too relaxed stasis that arrives with middle age restlessness.

Meanwhile, Adam doesn’t receive nearly as much attention from Tykwer, but he’s largely a cipher for the film’s larger point about not fitting into the accepted societal order of things and while his occupation involving genetics leads to a overarching motif that seems a bit silly, Tykwer is too busy dazzling your eye and appealing to primal instinct of a story well told for it to matter. With “Drei,” Tykwer asks audiences to think differently, but why the film works is because at its core, it’s pitching an old idea in a completely new way.

“In a Better World” will be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics early next year; “Drei (Three)” currently does not have U.S. distribution.

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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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