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“Arthur,” Reviewed

“Arthur,” Reviewed (photo)

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Want to know the difference between the two versions of “Arthur?” Just compare their first scenes. The 1981 original introduced Dudley Moore’s Arthur Bach cruising for hookers. The 2011 remake has Russell Brand’s Arthur dress up as Batman and crash an authentic “Batman Forever” Batmobile into Charging Bull and make fun of its testicles. I’m not a huge fan of the original “Arthur,” but as a film about a drunken, whoremongering hero, at least it took some chances. Moore’s Arthur was a lecherous sleaze. Brand’s Arthur is a cutesy cartoon goof.

So is his movie. Everything messy and ugly (and therefore interesting) about the old Arthur has been smoothed out in this shrewdly calculated remake. With those hints of darkness gone, Arthur becomes an overgrown boy with his toys, a lost innocent looking for the love and respect he’s never gotten from his distant mother. He doesn’t need a drink; he needs a hug. The changes make Arthur the character way more likable and “Arthur” the movie way less likable.

Here’s why. In both films we watch Arthur get drunk and act out, while his butler or nanny Hobson (John Gielgud in 1981, Helen Mirren in 2011) dryly mocks his antics. Moore’s Arthur was an asshole, so it was fun to watch him get put in his place. Brand’s Arthur is a sweeter soul, so Hobson’s insults come off as more mean-spirited. Moore’s Arthur drinks because he’s bored; Brand’s, although he doesn’t drink or act drunk nearly as often, is much more clearly an addict. Maybe it’s wasn’t exactly P.C. to have an impenitent lush as a protagonist, but it was certainly a whole lot edgier. This “Arthur” feels aimed at families and kids, right down to the title character’s love of children’s books.

Part of the problem may be Brand himself. His charm in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was rooted in the effortlessness of his performance. In “Arthur” he tries really hard to be funny, manically tossing out pratfall after dirty joke after crazy voice. A strained Russell Brand is not a funny Russell Brand, especially when he’s playing a guy like Arthur who’s three sheets to the wind and should probably be a bit more chill.

As before, Arthur’s story entails his efforts to resist an arranged marriage that will be financially advantageous for his wealthy family. Since refusing his assigned mate would mean forfeiting hundreds of millions of dollars, he’s initially willing to go along. But when he happens to meet an unlicensed New York City tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig) he has to decide whether he wants to spend the rest of his life with his money or his true love.

Despite the dangerous levels of quirk foisted upon her by the screenplay — she couldn’t be a licensed tour guide? — Gerwig provides an endearing note of cutesiness as Naomi. And she has some nice chemistry with Brand, who only seems to relax when he’s on screen with her. Together they share what’s easily this “Arthur”‘s best scene: a truly romantic first date inside an empty Grand Central Station. I’m not sure how a woman who’s supposedly as poor as Naomi affords such an expensive looking wardrobe, but whatever.

Her opposite number is Jennifer Garner, who narrowly beats Luis Guzmán for the title of Actor Whose Presence in This Movie Depresses Me The Most. As Susan, the woman Arthur’s mother has chosen for him, all she has to play is pure, comic book super-villain-level evil. There’s no suspense over Arthur and Susan’s relationship; of course he doesn’t want to marry a woman who treats their marriage like a hostile takeover. As anyone who’s ever watched “Alias” can tell you, Garner is capable of so much more than this. (For the record Guzmán plays Arthur’s chauffeur and he, too, deserves a lot better.) For her part, Mirren doesn’t add much to the role of Hobson that wasn’t already there in John Gielgud’s Oscar-winning performance, but at least she looks like she’s having some fun with the material.

One curiosity of the new “Arthur” is the expanded role of women in its title character’s life. In the original movie, Arthur’s marriage was arranged by his dad, and his faithful manservant was, well, a man. Now Arthur’s fate is determined by an unfeeling mother and the manipulative Susan, not to mention a gender-flipped Hobson. Suddenly Arthur has become this pure beacon of goodness trying to break free of the conniving, money-grubbing women who control his life. Which is a little strange.

Like I said, I’m no “Arthur” fanatic, so the changes made by director Jason Winer and writer Peter Baynham to Steve Gordon’s version don’t bug me as a fan; they bug me as a moviegoer. Aside from some screwy gender politics, the new “Arthur” is bland and tired. Without Gordon’s unconventional details, the material has aged as well as an uncorked bottle of champagne.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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