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Toronto 2010: “Trigger,” “Incendies,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “Trigger,” “Incendies,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

It is hard to imagine a more appropriate film than “Trigger” to open the Bell Lightbox in Toronto, though festival organizers who intend the gleaming cube in the middle of downtown to be their new home might do well to prepare to have the roof blown off after this premiere alone. For the most part, the latest from “Pontypool” director Bruce McDonald is actually quite quiet, a tête-à-tête between two of Canada’s finest actresses Molly Parker and Tracy Wright as they navigate a one-off reunion of their grrrl rock band from the ’90s. And while their band Trigger is quite loud — think Veruca Salt with a dash of Stevie Nicks — it’s the little throwaway moments offstage that speak volumes.

Like a soothing B-side to McDonald’s grungy 1996 punk mockumentary “Hard Core Logo,” McDonald is once again drawn to the idea of what happens when rock stars grow up, but “Trigger” is free of the narrative that insists that it involves a comeback tour to make it successful. Instead, Parker’s Kat and Wright’s Vic will be just relieved to make it through the night.

Although it’s never made explicit why they broke up in the first place, it’s clear from Kat’s late arrival to dinner that Trigger didn’t exactly end on amicable terms, and Daniel MacIvor’s screenplay is economical enough to have the mere mention of a tourstop suggest the sour times in their relationship. Now, Kat is a music supervisor for Lifetime in Silver Lake and Vic, a recovering addict with a long-gestating solo album who carries with her a copy of “The Spirituality of Imperfection.”

Neither Kat or Vic went on to live perfect lives, as evidenced by the random flights of fancy that McDonald spices up the film with — fantasy sequences that show the buttoned-down Kat breathing fire shortly before making out with a businessman at another table while Vic retreats to the bathroom to freebase some coke. Yet both evade the trap of being too irreparably damaged to be compelling merely out of pity, summed up nicely by Vic when she tells Kat at dinner, “You’re terminally unique.”

09052010_TracyWrightMollyParkerTrigger.jpgThe night is dotted by such observations as the two stroll around Toronto, leaving dinner to make a cameo at the concert in their honor, break into Allan Gardens (already seen once this year in “Chloe”), and eventually end up at aftershow party at a nearby art school, where past resentments are finally brought to a boil, in a virtual travelogue of the city that is given as nice a platform as the film’s two lead actresses. (Also worth noting is how Canucks Don McKellar (Wright’s husband), Callum Keith Rennie and Sarah Polley all show up in small but uniquely crafted parts.)

It is a particularly rewarding showcase for Wright, who passed away in June of pancreatic cancer. (Her other final film “You Are Here” is also playing the festival.) Wright’s sunken eyes bring an instant credibility to the world-weary Vic, but it’s a true rebel spirit that electrifies her conversations with Parker, who is as fun and flirty as she’s ever been here, but with the strain of knowing she can’t reclaim her youth. Still, “Trigger” is decidedly not some solemn rumination on the past, but a party built upon making lemonade out of lemons. Make that hard lemonade.

Celebration isn’t the word that comes to mind for “Incendies,” though it arrives at its premiere in its native country after first being feted in Venice and Telluride. Yet I found myself at a remove from much of the film, whose title translates to “Scorched,” first being impressed by its provocative opening sequence — a dialogue-free tracking shot in a Middle Eastern classroom where a group of boys are getting their heads shaved to Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army” that feels like the start of something dangerous — and then dismayed to discover a drama that occasionally lived up to such a daring introduction.

It is only minutes later in the staid office of a notary that one realizes director Denis Villeneuve is interested in disconnection, both a major theme and a weakness of his adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s play which follows twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) as they attempt to find their father and the brother they never knew they had to hand off letters from their late mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal).

09052010_Incendies.jpgToo talented to dismiss as a mere imitator of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s fractured narratives, but too much of an influence to ignore, Villeneuve works backwards from the reading of Nawal’s will to reveal that long before she was a notary’s secretary, her life was marked by a series of tragedies from the birth of a child she had to give up almost immediately after seeing the child’s father shot in front of her to being the lone survivor on a bus that gets riddled with bullets and set on fire.

It’s to Villeneuve’s credit that Nawal’s constant misfortune never becomes comical despite reaching nearly implausible depths, but it’s the story’s structure that ultimately fails “Incendies” since Nawal is considerably more interesting than her two largely indifferent children, who get their own parallel storyline, and knowing she survives to the present day drains the film of much of its potential dramatic tension.

One could argue that’s besides the point because Villeneuve’s narrative is as much about the ongoing miseries in the Middle East as it is about the individual story of Nawal, with the Lebanese Civil War of the ’70s and ’80s serving as the film’s backdrop. Even though Villeneuve finds a uniquely damning way to suggest the cycle continues while resolving Nawal’s storyline for the film’s conclusion, “Incendies” still never feels like a whole, ultimately leaving more questions to be asked than Jeanne and Simon have the time or interest in finding out the answers for.

“Trigger” and “Incendies” are both without 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…


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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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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