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Can’t Be At Cannes 2011, Tuesday Edition

Can’t Be At Cannes 2011, Tuesday Edition (photo)

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It sucks not being at the Cannes Film Festival. To keep you up-to-speed on all the latest developments with the minimum amount of pain and jealousy, we’ll be providing frequent roundups of all the biggest news and best reviews. This is the third; for additional installments, along with all our Cannes coverage, can be found here.

Drew McWeeny’s lead to his review of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” on HitFix is a perfect summary of the press corps’ reaction to the long-awaited, deified-before-it-was-even-released film:

“This is what happens when we turn our filmmakers into religious figures.”

Indeed, critical response to Malick’s fifth film has divided Cannes into true believers and atheists. McWeeny falls into the later category, describing “Tree of Life” as “a pretty crushing disappointment” that’s “a beautiful, at times infuriating, undeniably indulgent new effort that comes dangerously close to self-parody.” He is not alone either. J. Hoberman from The Village Voice wrote one of the earliest and harshest critiques of the film so far:

“‘The Tree of Life’ has plenty of incident but, despite Pitt’s memorably bullying performance, very little human interest. (The best bit has a bunch of boys launching a frog in a bottle rocket.) Malick’s craftsmanship may be everywhere evident but, however flashy and intermittently beautiful, his filmmaking can be shockingly banal. Inspired scenes (a toddler relating to a baby) or shots (a mega close-up of a can kicked out of the frame) arrive as morsels floating in the movie’s primeval soup… ‘The Tree of Life’ is less profound than profoundly eccentric, while too solemn, pompous, and genteel to be truly crazy. The movie disengages the mind, even as it dulls the senses.”

All the the religious metaphors are particularly apt here because the film itself is apparently something of a cinematic prayer. In The New York Times, Manohla Dargis says Malick “seeks to affirm the beauty of a world in which God is present in all things.” She also gives us more of a plot description without encroaching into too many specifics.

“Running 2 hours 18 minutes, it is a personal, impressionistic work — beautiful, nonlinear, trippy, flawed — that unfolds largely in fragmented flashbacks, tracing not only the arc of a single life but also that of creation itself. As the title suggests, Mr. Malick has nothing less in mind than the origin of life, a beginning (or Beginning) in which vaporous swirls, gurgling lava and fiery explosions give way to the sight of a meteor hitting a planet (presumably Earth), an explosive vision that Mr. Malick audaciously, riskily, joins with the image of a pregnant woman’s belly.”

Given the intensity of people’s excitement, vitriol was inevitable. Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir has one of the more refreshingly measured responses to the film, which includes an acknowledgement that “‘Tree of Life’ was bid up way too high in pre-Cannes speculation, and was bound to disappoint many people.” He also addresses the film’s parallels to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which has been a point of comparison in many early reviews:

“One of the many reasons to admire Malick is that he is far less reliant than other major directors on other people’s movies. I mean, I’m sure he’s seen plenty of them, but he never seems obsessed with quoting obscure genre films or sequences out of Eisenstein or Michael Powell, or making work aimed at fellow directors and their legions of fans and followers. So the fact that ‘The Tree of Life’ clearly has a relationship to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ feels both deliberate and carefully considered. You could almost call it a remake or a reverse-engineered version of Kubrick’s massive head-trip, one in which humanity begins in space and then returns to Earth. I’d put it this way: If the cosmic astronaut God-baby from the end of ‘2001’ came back to earth and made a movie, this would be it.”

As O’Hehir also notes, it’s not just the film itself that’s being fiercely debated. Immediately following the screening, the conversation shifted to exactly how the press reacted to the film. O’Hehir says that first press screening was met “by a small but lustful chorus of booing… which was then drowned out by applause.” Hoberman’s piece mentions boos, as does David Fear’s in Time Out New York: “A symphony of loud boos, emanating from somewhere along the right side of the Théâtre Lumière’s orchestra section. A round of shushing followed, then more boos, then sporadic applause.” McWeeny, though tweeted earlier today his own perspective on the crowd’s response: “When people say “Cannes booed ‘The Tree Of Life,” that’s not true. I was in that screening. ONE GUY at Cannes booed the movie.”

Having attended controversial screenings at the Lumiere Theatre in Cannes, I can say from experience that there is often a surprising amount of disagreement about crowd reactions to movies. After “Antichrist”‘s first Cannes screening, people compared what they heard — smatterings of boos or applause or laughter — like they were examining the Zapruder film for a second gunman. And because that theater is so large, where you sit can influence the sort of reaction you hear (or have, I would argue, but that’s a conversation for another time).

Let’s get back to McWeeny’s intro, because I think he summed the whole thing up so well. People revere Terrence Malick in a way I find slightly crazy; I spoke with several colleagues in recent months who told me, in all seriousness, that they had already pencilled in “The Tree of Life” as their favorite movie of the year. With that attitude, anything less than an absolutely masterpiece becomes a disaster.

After you wait as feverishly for a film as these Malick partisans have for “The Tree of Life,” there’s only a few possible reactions: genuine love; convincing yourself you loved it because you’ve expended so much energy in anticipation (see: many geek’s initial reaction to “Star Wars: Episode I”); or disappointment at the film not living up to expectations. Though it’s slightly soul-crushing not to get to be at the Cannes Film Festival, I’m kind of glad I’m getting to see “Tree of Life” after this first wave of backlash. Now that the discourse has evened out I get to see “Tree of Life” as a movie, not the movie.

Back with more tomorrow because, contrary to what Twitter might have you believe, other films have screened at Cannes in the last few days.

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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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