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“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” reviewed

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” reviewed (photo)

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Friggin James Franco. First the man breaks the Oscars and now he single-handledly turns the earth into a Planet of the Apes. Talk about a bad year!

He’s having a bad year, but at least he’s in a fun movie. Yes, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is pretty fun, if watching mankind’s rapid descent into chaos can ever be described as “fun.” Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist driven to find a cure for Alzheimer’s in order to save his ill father Charles (John Lithgow). Will’s experimental drug shows great promise in boosting apes’ cognitive functions, but a freak lab accident gets the project cancelled and makes Will the father of an orphaned, genetically mutated baby chimp. Named Caesar by the Shakespeare loving Charles, the chimp grows into an adorable and clever toddler and then a frustrated and brilliant (and potentially dangerous) adult.

Will is forced to surrender Caesar to a primate shelter, where the ape slowly comes to hate humanity and plot a rebellion against his stinking damn dirty masters. That makes “Rise” a nice corrective to the awful Kevin James comedy “Zookeeper” (I was going to call it “laughable” — if only!), where zoo animals have the ability to communicate with one another and all they want to do is try to get Kevin James laid. No, if animals had human intelligence they would surely follow Caesar’s lead and strike back the cruel people who stuck them in cages. Can you imagine what the apes from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” would do to us if they knew about “Zookeeper?” It would be ugly.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is of course a prequel to the classic series of American sci-fi films, loosely based on the 1963 novel by French author Pierre Boulle. Prequels are all the rage in Hollywood these days because they offer an easy way to prolong the lives of popular franchises, but most are plagued by the same problem: they deliver predictable backstory instead of surprising story. An air of inevitability hangs over all of them, and when the plots of movies feel inevitable, they also feel boring.

“Rise of Planet of the Apes” is a little bit different because the “Planet of the Apes” franchise has always been about man’s inexorable march towards its own doom. Every film starts in darkness and ends in tragedy, so the fact that we know the apes will rise in this case doesn’t hurt the experience. It simply makes “Rise” an appropriately tragic entry in an unusually and refreshingly gloomy Hollywood franchise. It also provides something you won’t see in any other big Hollywood blockbuster this summer: an unhappy ending.

Then again, maybe that ending isn’t so unhappy. You’d think a movie about a battle between humans and super-smart apes would favor humanity (after all, the movie was made by humans, at least as far as I know). But “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” comes down squarely on the side of its titular simians. All the humans in this movie are uniformly bland, colorless creations while Caesar, performed by “Lord of the Rings”‘ Andy Serkis with a truly impressive SFX assist from Weta Digital, is a multidimensional and flawed tragic hero. Some will say the filmmakers, like most folks in Hollywood these days, cared more about their special effects than the script and the actors. But a more generous reading of the film would argue that the movie intentionally undercuts its humans to force the audience to side with a protagonist hellbent on their destruction.

There’s nothing appealing about Franco’s dreary scientist, or Freida Pinto as his boring girlfriend, or Tom Felton as the meanest ape wrangler in human history. Serkis’ Caesar, in contrast, displays real human emotions: he loves, he yearns, he regrets, and he rages. In a recent blog post, I joked that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” looked exactly like James Marsh’s documentary “Project Nim,” about a real life experiment that taught a baby chimp sign language. And, in fact, the most beautiful scenes in “Rise” are the ones that expound upon the saddest moments in “Project Nim,” where a chimp who’s been given the tools to express himself like a person is treated like an animal. The fact that I am talking about beautiful and emotionally moving scenes in a prequel about embittered CGI monkeys, should tell you that this is not your average blockbuster cash-grab.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was directed by Rupert Wyatt, taking a big step up in scale from his previous effort, the jailbreak movie “The Escapist,” (his “Escapist” star, Brian Cox, is on hand as one of the flavorless humans). He does an impressive job integrating the human and ape halves of his cast and he employs a nimble camera in the action scenes that swoops and spins through the environment right beside Caesar, giving us a taste of his freedom of movement so that we’re left all the more claustrophobic and uncomfortable when that freedom is later stripped away. Wyatt really empathizes with Caesar’s plight. And the movie is good enough to convince us that we should too, even though it means the death of us all.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is now playing. If you see we want to hear what you think. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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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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