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“Barney’s Version,” Reviewed

“Barney’s Version,” Reviewed (photo)

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Paul Giamatti wears the role of Barney Panofsky, the prickly, big-hearted hero of “Barney’s Version,” like it’s a tailored suit. He takes obviously pleasure in it, and, watching, so do we — it’s a great fit. Barney is a man with an appreciation for life’s more rarefied and delicate things, though he’s earthbound himself, a creature of dark impulses and fleshly appetites, a fellow who relishes a drink and a cigar and a hockey game.

Yes, hockey. Barney, like Mordecai Richler, the author of the novel on which this film is based and to whom it’s dedicated (Michael Konyves wrote the screenplay), is Canadian, residing in Montreal and overseeing a popular, wretched-looking long-running soap opera about a Mountie called “O’Malley of the North.” (David Cronenberg cameos as an episode director who falls asleep on the job — Denys Arcand and Atom Egoyan also supposedly make appearances, though I failed to spot the latter.) He’s been married three times, divorced twice, but he’s only ever been in love once, with Miriam (Rosamund Pike), for whom he tumbled head over heels on the day of his wedding to another woman.

Directed by Richard J. Lewis, “Barney’s Version” runs 132 minutes and feels like it could have stretched twice that. Like so many reverent adaptations, it seems compressed thanks to a reluctance to leave any elements of the original out — and there’s a lot of ground to cover, since “Barney’s Version” is literally Barney’s version of his own swooping life story, recounted to no one in particular as a counterpoint to a recently published sleazy true crime tell-all that claims he’s a murderer. Characters and storylines suffer, but while the film is overstuffed, it’s overstuffed with many good things, and if it doesn’t come together perfectly it still offers the pleasing sensation of a long ramble with good friends.

12032010_barneysversion5.jpgIt’s good friends with which Barney’s keeping company, leading a bohemian ’70s lifestyle in Rome, in the film’s first flashback — “Barney’s Version” takes place primarily in the past, flickering forward on occasion to check in on the embittered, lonely present day Barney. There’s Cedric, aspiring painter Leo and the charming, shiftless, substance-abusing writer Boogie (Scott Speedman). Barney is their “only friend with a real job,” and he’s about to get married for the first time to the unstable Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), who’s pregnant with what she’s pretty sure is his baby.

When things ends in tragedy, Barney scurries home to Montreal in anguish, cleaning up, getting a job from his uncle and courting a nice Jewish girl (Minnie Driver) who transforms, as soon as a ring is on her finger, into a ballbusting stereotypical princess. Fortunately and unfortunately for Barney, he meets the true love of his life right after that happens — Miriam, a guest at the wedding, a willowy beauty whose train home to New York the drunken groom tries to chase down.

Barney’s crazy courtship of and eventual life with Miriam should be the centerpiece of the story, but Miriam’s a cipher, a woman whose unexplained embrace of Barney seems somehow to stem from her larger love of social responsibility — this jowly, impulsive, persistent guy seems so desperately to need cool-headed balance in his life, which she sees herself as able to provide. But Giamatti is great here, showing Barney as lit from within when he’s around her, and demonstrating how as the years pass he slowly looses his grip on her until she slips away.

It’s Barney’s relationship with his dad Izzy (Dustin Hoffman), a retired cop, that’s instead the film’s true heart. I don’t know how plausible the idea of Hoffman siring Giamatti is in terms of the two actors’ physicality, but the idea makes sense, and the scenes with the two of them are categorically moving. Barney is ferociously protective of his widowed working class father, particularly when he gets involved with his unnamed second wife, whose wealthy parents look down on Izzy’s tales of crime and punishment and police brutality.

12032010_barneysversion3.jpgAt dinner with them for the first time, Izzy is called out by the patriarch for saying that he never made detective on the force because he’s Jewish — maybe it was his conduct, the other man suggests, that kept him from succeeding professionally. Izzy looks at his son and then swallows his pride and then genuflects to the rich asshole so that things can continue smoothly. Izzy returns the favor at the wedding when his father-in-law tries to cut the two of them off at the bar. Later in life, Izzy will get a glimpse of the dark side of the law his father so glibly talks about, and the man will come to his rescue once again.

So Barney’s life is marked by loving fiercely if not always well, and by yearning for art while only having a talent for business, aspects of his character that also comes into play in his relationship with his gifted, irresponsible best friend Boogie, which provides the frame to which this shaggy dog story is leashed. It’s another underdeveloped thread that can’t provide the closure it’s meant to, but by that point it’s incidental. It’s Barney, despite and because of all his failings and disappointments, that we care about, and that’s really a credit to Giamatti’s marvelous performance.

“Barney’s Version” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, and will open for a wider run January 14th.

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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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