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“Fair Game,” Reviewed

“Fair Game,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

While not as freshly ripped from the nonfiction bestseller list as “The Social Network,” Doug Liman’s “Fair Game” is another film that transmutes real life events to the screen before they’ve had an opportunity to comfortably settle into something more like our idea of the set past. Adding to that tension is the presence of big ol’ movie stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn as Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson, the CIA operative and former ambassador who were tossed around in the jetwash of our country’s rush toward war with Iraq. They’re playing shinier, smoothed-out versions of people who were part of a messy, ugly affair that unfolded on the smaller screens of cable news networks, and the story that screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth have assembled, pulled from Plame’s book “Fair Game” and Wilson’s “The Politics of Truth,” is a wobbly but initially captivating mix of streamlined, dramatized headlines and a Hollywoodized filling in of the blanks.

It’s in the latter mode that the fleetly directed film operates best and most comfortably, showing highly competent, highly coiffed covert agent Valerie on missions in Kuala Lumpur and Cairo, tracking down and bringing in possible informants with unflinching cool (“You have no idea what we can or cannot do,” she tells one, less a threat than a warning) — aspects of her past the real Plame obviously is not allowed to publicly discuss. Home in their comfortable DC house, her husband Joe wakes to her tossing in her sleep because of troubled dreams. At at dinner party with their friends, he gets into a fight with someone who asks him about, essentially, a Juan Williams scenario — how he’d feel if he saw nervous, praying Muslim men in traditional garb on his plane. We don’t see the exchange, in a nice touch, only Valerie chiding him for calling the man a “racist pussy” in the car ride home.

Valerie and Joe are struggling to fight the good fight, and trying to raise their children and hold together their marriage at the same time. Their knowledge and access to information can be a burden for both — Valerie because she can’t share it, Joe because of his impatience with others’ lack of it. As the story unfolds, the power of information and, more importantly, of choosing the information one prefers to pay attention to becomes central to the action. Because he was once stationed there, Joe is volunteered for a CIA mission to Niger to look into the reported purchase by Saddam Hussein of large amounts of yellowcake uranium. His report, that it seems highly unlikely, is less convenient to the White House (David Andrews standing in as a smirking Scooter Libby) than a contrasting one from another operative who insists a known purchase of aluminum tubes could only be for the manufacturing of nuclear weapons.

“Fair Game” draws a persuasive portrait of a Washington where national and self-interest are in constant collision, with people only willing to help others as long as it does nothing to get in the way of their own careers. There’s a distinct gap between the public record, coming by way of the talking heads that get characters’ occasional attention on TVs glimpsed in bars, airports and hotel gyms, and what we see happening in the halls of government buildings. Which may be why, when Valerie is outed by the Washington Post (the role journalists played in the affair is left in the background — there’s no doubt in the film that the act is direct retaliation for Joe’s editorials about Niger) and all doors are immediately shut to her, “Fair Game” runs aground.

While Joe fights for his and his wife’s credibility in the media, Valerie tries to come to terms with being shut out of the world she was so devoted to — working your way through an imperfect system, it seems, is better than not having access to it at all. After the well-earned, righteous anger on behalf of the wronged pair fades, their personal struggles and estrangement, with her choosing stoic silence while he takes on all comers, can’t help but seem meager in comparison to the urgency that came before. Watts and Penn are perfectly fine in their roles, but “Fair Game” starts not as a portrait of a working DC marriage but as something larger — when it closes in on the home life of the beleaguered couple, we’re just not as invested in whether the two can make things work. Having stingingly shown how we careened into a war without the evidence to justify it, “Fair Game” is undone by its own true story source material, which can offer little consolation or closure, an absence that’s sharper thanks to the slickness and scope of the story that’s preceded it.

“Fair Game” will open in limited release November 5th.

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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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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.


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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