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“V/H/S” – First impressions of Sundance’s scariest film

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By Jordan Hoffman

What’s scarier: ethereal creatures lurking in your bedroom at night or the thought of sitting through another “found footage” horror film? The cabal of independent filmmakers behind “V/H/S,” which tore the roof off of Sundance’s Library theater at its midnight debut, might have trouble answering that one. And like all good artists, they’ve confronted their fear.

“V/H/S” elevates itself from recent gimmick films like “Apollo 18” and “The Devil Inside” in a few ways. First the the framing device. “V/H/S” is presented as a peek at a tape a group of criminal friends made when out assaulting women and destroying stuff. (The tape itself is actually dubbed over one of the guys’ personal love connection home movies, which winks in and out in a nice recurring gag.) One of their misdemeanor deeds is to break in somewhere and “find a special tape,” which now affords the story an opportunity to check out, essentially, five short films.

Each of these tales is shot by a new director. The formats range from recorded Skype chats, a camera specifically of 1998 quality and a spy cam that attaches to a pair of fake glasses. While there is no real narrative connection between the stories, there is a thematic one, which is one of voyeurism, power, deception and murder.

A quick rundown: first is David Bruckner, director of “The Signal,” and a film about three douchey guys who use the aforementioned glasses-cam to scope out women. They pick up two girls at a bar and head back to the motel, but it is clear that one of them (the one who keeps staring directly at the camera in a REALLY CREEPY WAY) is a bit off. It is sexy, scary and solid.

Next, Ti West (“The Innkeepers”) takes us on a young couple’s trip to the Grand Canyon and a motel with the world’s worst security system. This one features one of the most innovative takes on the pan-across-the-room-and-reveal-something-unexpected jump scares in a while. Ya see, this time, it isn’t what is revealed in the frame, but the realization of who is holding the camera.

This is followed by Glenn McQuaid’s (director of “I Sell The Dead”) very stylized teen trip to the woods and a creature that comes to life through the very glitchy medium of video itself.

Joe Swanberg’s (the Grand Mufti of Mumblecore) entry is a scary-as-hell collection of Skype conversation between a frightened college student hearing bumps in the night and her medical school boyfriend. There are some outstanding moments of tension that exploit the video chat format in really unique ways.

The movie concludes with an entry from the new film collective named Radio Silence which takes V/H/S to levels of pure WTF in a haunted house tweak on Ti West’s “House of the Devil.” The framing device from Adam Wingard (director of the yet-to-be-released masterpiece “You’re Next”) lacks some of the jump scare oomph, but is something of the silent hero establishing the dastardly aesthetic of the overall piece.

This is a patch quilt of filmmaking by people who know how to scare the everloving snot out of you. The restrictions of keeping it short and handheld was just what they needed to get the creative juices flowing.

I don’t want to oversell this, though. This is not a landmark cinematic breakthrough – but it IS a really fun midnight movie. The stories are incredibly simple, there may be a tad too much boob-leering for good taste and few of the characters are given much depth, but as an exercise in tension, it can’t be beat.

As for the reaction, well, the place went ballistic. I do not believe in spirits, but at one extremely tense point I was compelled not to look at the screen, but at some of my colleagues to the left. I saw
three quite established veteran film writers with long histories with genre films with a look of absolute dread on their faces. One literally had his knuckles in his mouth. If that isn’t a recommendation to see this flick in the theaters I don’t know what is

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones’ “Celeste and Jesse Forever” – First impressions from Sundance

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By Jordan Hoffman

There’s a moment early in “Celeste and Jesse Forever” when the very talented Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg are being sickeningly cute. We cut to their friends Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen looking grossed out by their silly, “Hans and Franz read the dinner menu” shtick and the gag is “man, young people in love can be so annoying!” But the joke overthrew the mark for me, and I was left thinking, “man, movies about young people in love being annoying. . . can be so annoying.”

Then there comes the twist, that these two lovebirds are actually ex-lovebirds, now separated, but still best friends who spend every waking moment with one another. I threw my hands in the air (I can be demonstrative at screenings, but never loud) at a premise I just couldn’t buy. At the twenty minute mark, I was considering leaving, and may have done so if I wasn’t obligated to stay. Then something quite unusual happened. I started falling in love with the movie.

Maybe it was because the premise was, by now, out of the way, or maybe it was just because these actors are just too damn good, but some transformation took place such that I began to actually care about these people, their friends and their futures. So much so that when there was a callback to the earlier funny voice moment I actually felt guilty for not liking it before.

Jesse is something of a desultory artist and Celeste is a “trend analyst” whose type A personality (and need to always be right) forced her to cut Jesse loose. But she still loves him, of course, and all it takes is a night trying to put an IKEA dresser together for backsliding to occur. Both parties try dating and, slowly, everyone grows up a little.

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is a perfect example of “the same but different.” You know what type of buttons are going to get pushed in this movie, you know there are going to be wacky friends, ups and downs, musical montages, awkward encounters. . .and yet, there’s a specificity going on here that elevates the material. It’s about as good a romcom as I’ve seen in quite some time, with a lot of insight. The perfect example being what you first think is a throwaway character, a Lady Gaga-esque popstar played by Emma Roberts, who, shocking, turns out to be an actual human being with depth and feeling.

The writing, by Rashida Jones herself and Will McCormack (who also plays the friendly neighborhood pot dealer Skillz) is quite sharp. There are fantastic zings, wonderful running gags about Jones’ clothing and what I can only call a deus-ex-animalis in the form of a man in a bear suit offering hugs.

Those looking for edgier fare at the fest kinda shrugged this a bit with a “yeah, yeah, it’s good,” but those on the business side see this as a guaranteed pick-up by a major distribution outfit. “This year’s ‘Like Crazy'” is a headline flying around the blogosphere. For me, it is an exercise in keeping yourself open to a quality film, even if your body first tells you you just aren’t in the mood. Like the story’s main characters will tell you, you never quite know how you are going to end up feeling after a period of time.

Does this sound like a film you’d like to check out? Let us know in the comments below.

Tracy Morgan collapses, hospitalized at Sundance Film Festival

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Sundance has not even been going on for a week, and already a dramatic event has unfolded. Tracy Morgan collapsed after being honored at the Creative Coalition Spotlight Awards on Sunday.

TMZ was the first to report the news, saying that Morgan was escorted out of the building following his speech for the Spotlight Initiative Award and then fell unconscious. Initial reports pegged the “30 Rock” star as acting intoxicated during his speech, though that was soon refuted.

A spokeswoman for Park City Medical Center told People that there were no drugs or alcohol in Morgan’s system after medical evaluation. His representative, Lewis Kay, told the gossip site the same thing.

“From a combination of exhaustion and altitude, Tracy is seeking medical attention,” Kay said. “He is with his fiancée and grateful to the Park City Medical Center for their care. Any reports of Tracy consuming alcohol are 100% false.” It’s worth noting that Morgan has diabetes and that diabetic shock can often mimic the effects of intoxication, meaning this collapse could have been a result of that. Also, Morgan underwent a kidney transplant just last year that caused him to miss filming several episodes of “30 Rock.”

What do you think caused Morgan’s collapse? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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