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Disc Covering: “Fred: The Movie,” A Lot Like Fred: The YouTube Clips

Disc Covering: “Fred: The Movie,” A Lot Like Fred: The YouTube Clips (photo)

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Fred is the biggest star on YouTube. His channel was the first in the site’s history to hit a million subscribers. One of his videos, “Fred Tries to Ride a Bike,” has been viewed 14.5 million times; that’s a million more viewers than HBO had for the premiere of “Boardwalk Empire.”

And until last week, I had never heard of this guy.

Why? Because Fred is a phenomenon amongst kids and I am a very, very old man (at least by their standards). Now Fred (a.k.a. teen actor Lucas Cruikshank) is starring in his first movie, which premiered on Nickelodeon then landed on DVD earlier this month. So how’s it play for a fogie who doesn’t “get” Fred?

Fred: The Movie
Directed by Clay Weiner

10192010_fred2.jpgTagline: “The Epic Journey to Find Judy!”

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: How do you blow up a three minute YouTube short into a feature? Just string like twenty-five of them together. Boom. Done.

Biggest Success: I will give Cruikshank this: he is a passionate performer. On YouTube, Fred is a six-year-old with a bad temper who looks down the barrel of the lens and yells and wails about whatever mega-crisis is bugging him that day (i.e. “Christmas is CREEPY! AAAAAAA!” etc.). In the film, Fred a 15-year-old high school student, but Cruikshank plays him the same way: with a manic energy that makes Jim Carrey look like Ben Stein in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” His motormouthed delivery — accentuated online by an “Alvin and the Chipmunks”-style vocal effect that the film thankfully chose to leave behind — is like listening to someone on a diet of cocaine and Pixy Stix. Is it annoying? Yes, a thousand times yes. His voice is so high and he’s so prone to screaming that I started to get sympathy pains in my vocal chords. But I do think that beneath that surface layer of “obnoxious twerp I’d like to smother with a pillow” there’s a kernel of something interesting to Fred, as a symbol of youth culture’s growing obsession with self-documentation and their belief that their most trivial problems carry apocalyptic import. And give Cruikshank credit for commitment. Oh boy, is he committed. (Or is it that I’d like to have him committed? I forget.)

10192010_fred3.jpgBiggest Failure: is the one you probably expect: it’s not easy to blow up a viral video into a feature film. “Fred Tries to Ride his Bicycle” is three minutes long. “Fred: The Movie”‘s eighty. The character’s whole schtick is that he’s adorably annoying. But adorably annoying can work for three minutes. For eighty, it’s borderline unbearable. It doesn’t help that director Clay Weiner and writer David A. Goodman (an executive producer at “Family Guy”) don’t expand the Fred formula so much as they just repeat it over and over. There is an overarching narrative of sorts — Fred stalking his former next door neighbor Judy (Pixie Lott) — but it’s just an excuse for a series of interconnected web shorts. You can almost imagine the titles as they happen: “Fred Tries Sardines,” “Fred Rides the Bus,” “Fred Hates the Woods,” “Fred Thinks Latinos Are From Outer Space,” and, of course, “Fred Finds a Pomeranian And Repeatedly Mistakes It For a Squirrel For Reasons I Will Never Understand No Matter How Long I Live.”

Best Moment: Fred doesn’t know his father. So when he needs fatherly advice, he imagines himself speaking with the father he wishes he had, which just happens to be John Cena, playing himself in a truly funny cameo. His pep talks consists of equal parts crazy wrestler promos and sincere parental concern: he’ll put Fred in a headlock and break a vase over his head and then tell him he’s got schmutz on his face and lick his finger and wipe it. Cena’s movie roles have all been interchangeable, humorless badasses but here he gets to poke fun at his own tough guy images, and it’s totally charming. He’s only got three scenes, but it’s the best he’s ever been onscreen.

I Question: the meta joke Goodman throws in making fun of YouTube. Essentially, Fred’s quest for his dream girl lands him at a party where he’s the butt of everyone’s jokes. His cruel classmates film the whole thing with their cell phones and put it on YouTube. Fred finds himself on the site and freaks out as a whopping 43 — no, now it’s 51!! — people watch him embarrass himself. Meanwhile in real life, millions of people watch every single Fred video. Cute.

10192010_fred4.jpgBut here’s the problem: Weiner translates the language of web videos (pretty successfully, actually) to film in “Fred: the Movie.” Fred spends most of his time talking directly to the audience, explaining what’s going on. But that in joke makes it clear that Fred’s not making his own YouTube videos. Which means that when he’s talking “to the camera” he’s talking to no one but himself. So he’s carrying on these extremely long and detailed conversations with voices in his head. Couple that with his obsessive pining for Judy, which is so insistent and one-sided, and Fred begins to take on creepy dimensions I don’t think he’s supposed to have. When you think about it, he’s actually kind of psychotic. Could the whole film be a subversive take on childhood mental illness disguised as a goofy family comedy? No. But it kind of works as one anyway.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release? No, but I have to imagine Fred’s fans would enjoy the film since it’s loyal to the aesthetic of the original clips and Cruikshank would do anything for a laugh. I mean anything. It’s only a matter of time before the French hail this guy a genius and start holding retrospectives of his work. Who needs “Boardwalk Empire?” Viva la Fred!

For Further Viewing: Check out Fred in action. Again, this got 14.5 million hits on YouTube. 14.5 million.

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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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