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Toronto 2010: “Julia’s Eyes” and “Vanishing on 7th Street,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “Julia’s Eyes” and “Vanishing on 7th Street,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

As admirable as it is that Guillermo Del Toro has been supporting new Spanish filmmakers, I’m beginning to worry the steady stream of talented writer/directors he’s been throwing his weight behind might ultimately become competitors. They’re certainly good enough. Like J.A. Bayona, the director of 2007’s “The Orphanage,” Guillem Morales proves with “Julia’s Eyes” that the most exciting horror films in the world right now are being produced in Spain, where a Baroque, classical style has been reinvented with a touch of the desaturated austerity of J-horror to birth some seriously freaky shit.

Whereas “The Orphanage” had one of the scariest jump scares of recent memory, “Julia’s Eyes” would be worth seeing alone for two of the creepiest sequences I can remember using found light, with one scene using just the intermittent light of a Blackberry down a hallway of pipes to build the tension. The smartphone belongs to Julia (Belén Rueda), whose blind sister Sara dies at the beginning of the film, leading Julia to return home, unconvinced by local authorities that her sister’s death was a suicide. Julia is also starting to lose her vision, and along with her skeptical husband (Lluís Homar), she’s being pulled into the same life that led to her sister’s demise, with a suspicious caretaker to help her and eccentric neighbors who can’t be trusted, either. To say much more would give way to massive spoilers, but the audience is aware from the very beginning that Sara’s death wasn’t a suicide and the other murders that follow are committed by someone in the neighborhood.

09132010_JuliaEyes2.jpgThe primary flaw of “Julia’s Eyes” is there may actually be too many neighbors since Morales’ film is occasionally slowgoing, even in a genre known for taking its time. Sometimes this is successful, like a particularly unsettling early scene where Julia visits her late sister’s gym locker room and finds a group of undressed women changing clothes and talking to each other with no awareness that Julia is standing amongst them – it lasts nearly five minutes and gradually gets more and more uncomfortable. But it is less interesting in the moments where Morales excessively sets up the mysterious caretaker without ever showing his face or some of the meandering conversations Julia has with anyone other than her husband, which add needless complications to the plot and seem to bide time until the next big scare.

Which there are in spades. If Morales took anything from Del Toro, it’s an appreciation for sound design and a belief in building towards the big scene. In “Julia’s Eyes,” it’s the crackle of an antique camera’s flash bulb that makes one’s blood curdle, often punctuated by how Morales turns whatever light source is organic to any particular scene into the pulse of the film. “Julia’s Eyes” doesn’t deviate enough from other Spanish thrillers of late to consider it a breakthrough, but it is a more than solid entry into the genre with some truly extraordinary thrills to be had.

09132010_Vanishingon7thStreet.jpgLight is also the pulse of Brad Anderson’s “Vanishing on 7th Street,” but in a way that’s far more literal than “Julia’s Eyes.” Hayden Christensen (in one of his best performances to date), Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo and the young Jacob Latimore star as a group of strangers who are drawn towards the light of a speakeasy after an unexplained power outage leaves Detroit, and likely the rest of the world, cloaked in darkness that disappears anyone who isn’t holding a flashlight, a lighter or something that can keep away the shade. The film plays out almost like a small-scale version of “I Am Legend,” minus the CG zombies and putting in their place the creepier echoes of the unknown in the shadows to terrorize the quartet as they escape onto the empty streets around the bar, a safe haven thanks to its persnickety power generator, to try and find a way to prolong their lives and not evaporate into the piles of empty clothes they see around them.

In introducing the screening Monday, Christensen told TIFF’s Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes that he was drawn to the film’s “metaphors and subtext of what isn’t going on” and believe me, some will think there won’t be a lot going on. Fans of Anderson’s might liken it to “Session 9,” which impressed not with its threadbare storyline but its evocation of dread. There aren’t really character arcs so much as there are varying levels of fear and desperation in “Vanishing on 7th Street” amongst Christensen’s proactive newsman Luke, Newton’s frightened nurse Rosemary, Leguizamo’s crippled projectionist Paul, and Latimore’s fickle James.

09132010_Vanishingon7thStreet2.jpgEven though there are flashbacks to their lives pre-eclipse, you don’t get to know them in any meaningful way, nor do you ever learn what caused the darkness. Still, Anderson remains committed to challenging himself, this time shooting nearly an entire movie in the dark, and even if “Vanishing on 7th Street” never delivers the knockout blow that’s usually crucial to films as suspenseful as this aspires to be, it’s a testament to its director that it remains engaging throughout and puts an extra spring into your step once you leave the darkened theater.

“Julia’s Eyes” and “Vanishing on 7th Street” do not yet 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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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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