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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Cold Weather”

Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Cold Weather” (photo)

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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11 is a column with one simple goal: to help you decide what films you need to see before making your end of the year top ten list. Each installment features my thoughts on a critically acclaimed 2011 movie, a sampling of other critics’ reactions, the odds of the film making my own list, and the reasons why it might make yours.

This time we’re covering “Cold Weather,” which has been suggested by more readers for inclusion in this column than any other film released in 2011. Are my readers brilliant cinephiles or nutjobs who have no idea what they’re talking about? Let’s find out.

Movie: “Cold Weather”
Director: Aaron Katz
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Plot Synopsis: A college dropout and Sherlock Holmes fan finds himself at the center of a mystery in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.
What the Critics Said: “Gorgeous, lyrical, leisurely,” Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies
“Good in so many subtle ways,” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“Almost a textbook example of how to do more with less,” Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor
Were They Right?The 74% of critics were, anyway. I’m surprised the Tomatometer score for this movie isn’t higher, given the passion of the film’s supporters. I suppose its pacing — which is, as Kenny notes, leisurely — and its charms — which are, as Ebert notes, subtle — are not necessarily for everyone.

Its structure reminded me a little bit of “Meek’s Cutoff,” the film I covered in this column last week. Both open with scenes of seeming inconsequence whose importance only becomes clearer later in the film. In the case of “Cold Weather,” it’s a sequence following Doug (Cris Lankenau) as he readjusts to life back in Portland. Doug dropped out of school where he was pursuing a degree in forensic science and moved in with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). Looking for any job that’ll have him, he finds one in an ice factory where he initiates a friendship with another guy on the graveyard shift named Carlos (Raúl Castillo). They have a lot of time for chit chat while they haul bags of ice; they spend most of it discussing pop culture. Carlos likes “Star Trek;” Doug prefers Sherlock Holmes novels. Carlos lives his “Star Trek” obsession by attending conventions but Doug is about to get an even more powerful opportunity to step into the role of his hero.

An ex-girlfriend of Doug’s named Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) comes for a visit and starts hanging out with Carlos. When she stands him up on a date, Carlos becomes convinced she’s gone missing. He drags a skeptical Doug to her motel room in the middle of the night. Rachel is nowhere to be found. While they search her room, Doug glances out the window and sees a pickup truck in the parking lot, watching them. As they head outside to see what the driver wants, he peels out into the night. Suddenly, Doug’s not so skeptical anymore.

Katz is previously known as the director of two “mumblecore” features about tentative romantic encounters between young men and women. He may have started this project from an experimental impulse: trying to marry his low-fi, naturalistic style with a genre that relies heavily on contrivance and formula. “Cold Weather”‘s early scenes feel as aimless as Doug’s life and as carefully observed yet carefully plotless as many other mumblecore films. But from the moment Doug sees that pickup truck and becomes convinced that Rachel is, in fact, involved in some kind of trouble, the pace tightens, aided immensely by a terrific, percussive score by Keegan DeWitt.

Rachel’s mystery is suitably realistic for the confines of Katz’s understated cinematography and drama, and the director pauses, cleverly I think, even after the detective story kicks into gear to remind you that these characters are living in “the real world.” Stumped, Doug decides to do what Sherlock Holmes would do: smoke a pipe. Only our hero doesn’t own a pipe, so he has to go buy one. The film dutifully follows him to a tobacconist for a hilarious scene where he tries to find a cool looking pipe that he can afford on his meager budget. There’s Katz’s project in a nutshell: “I want to make a detective movie. How do I make something that looks cool for no money?”

The cigar store scene isn’t an aberration; for a mystery story with no jokes, “Cold Weather” is a surprisingly funny movie. That’s because Katz is, in a very quiet way, a brilliant observer of human behavior. Sherlock Holmes is the most obvious antecedent for “Cold Weather” but there’s also a bit of “Seinfeld” in here as well. The scene in which Doug, Carlos, and Gail stake out a man’s apartment and kill the time with awkward conversations, reminded me of “The Sniffing Accountant,” a “Seinfeld” episode that featured a similar, albeit more overtly jokey, riff on the same premise.

I really enjoyed Katz’s last feature, “Quiet City” (also starring the ultra-laconic Lankenau), and I liked “Cold Weather” even more. The early moments of quiet slackerhood that look so superfluous really pay off as the mystery deepens. Because Doug, Carlos, and Gail seem like real people, there’s real tension in the film’s various chases, stakeouts, and break-ins. With a true sense of reality established, there’s no guarantee of a Hollywood ending and no certainty that Sherlock Doug will be right about his hunches or survive to solve another case even if he is. Add in some beautiful photography of the Pacific Northwest and that memorable score and you’ve got one of the best movies of 2011, and maybe the one I’d be most happy to see a sequel to at some point in the future.

Worthy of an Oscar Nomination For: Best Original Score (Keegan DeWitt)
Chances of Making My Top Ten: Not a mortal lock, but definitely not a pipe dream either.
It Might Make Your Top Ten List If: you’re a sucker for off-beat genre movies; you love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and hate Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes.”

“Cold Weather” is now available on DVD and Netflix Watch Instantly. If you see it, tell us what you think; leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Previously in Countdown to Top Ten 2K11
“Meek’s Cutoff,” directed by Kelly Reichardt
“Margin Call,” directed by J.C. Chandor
“Bill Cunningham New York,” directed by Richard Press
“Hanna,” directed by Joe Wright

Have a movie you wanted covered in a future installment of Countdown to Top Ten 2K11? Let me know on Twitter.

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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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