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Tim Grierson on “The Hunger Games” and the rise of Hollywood’s next generation of stars


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What were you doing when you were 11? Probably dealing with grade school and possibly still playing with toys. What you probably weren’t doing, though, was being cast as the lead in a movie that a Hollywood studio was hoping would gross about a billion dollars. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid, but that’s what happened to Daniel Radcliffe when Warner Bros. picked him as their Harry Potter. Eight movies and $7.8 billion later, it’s very easy to overlook how incredibly risky that casting choice was: If Radcliffe hadn’t possessed the chops, a cash cow may never have materialized.

It’s funny to think how studios spend so much on their potential franchises — especially on effects and marketing — and even though these movies need good writers, directors, and technicians, in the end a lot of their success hinges on relatively new faces who have never really experienced the media attention this new role will bring them.

Jennifer Lawrence is the latest to face this challenge. Little-known before her breakout two years ago in the acclaimed indie “Winter’s Bone,” Lawrence has seen her profile rise considerably thanks to her subsequent role as Mystique in “X-Men: First Class.” But she was just one of many names in that “X-Men” prequel; for this weekend’s “The Hunger Games,” she’s the main attraction as Katniss Everdeen, the tough, beloved hero of Suzanne Collins’ insanely popular books. In comparison to Radcliffe, Lawrence is a seasoned pro — she’s been acting for seven years, and she’ll be 22 in August — but still Lionsgate is gambling that the world will envision this fresh-faced starlet as Katniss. If audiences don’t, that could seriously derail hopes of sequels and all the many millions of dollars they could generate.

But Lawrence isn’t the only actor whose rising stardom has dovetailed with her attachment to a major studio franchise. The same year that filmgoers were introduced to Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone,” they also discovered Andrew Garfield, who was in “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network.” (A few years earlier, he’d been dynamic in the little-seen British drama “Boy A,” playing a young man recently released from prison after a murder conviction.) But can this superb 28-year-old actor become a believable Peter Parker in this summer’s “The Amazing Spider-Man”? Sony had better hope so: He was their pick to star in the comic book reboot that the studio is betting will make people forget all about Tobey Maguire — even though it’s only been five years since Maguire appeared in “Spider-Man 3.” Garfield has proved his ability to play dark, complex characters in sophisticated dramas, but “The Amazing Spider-Man” (despite its brooding trailers to the contrary) is a big summer entertainment catering to as broad a mainstream, worldwide audience as possible, which requires a different sort of performance. Put it this way: Garfield never had to dress up in a costume at Comic-Con when he was promoting “The Social Network,” but he did just that for “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

While it’s unfair to put all the weight of a franchise’s success (or failure) on its star, it’s hard to forget that when an event movie doesn’t pan out commercially, its lead often takes the blame. Consider 2006’s “Superman Returns,” which was supposed to be up-and-coming actor Brandon Routh’s big breakthrough. Instead, when the movie “only” made $391 million worldwide, his career stalled badly, unfairly saddled with the baggage of somehow “ruining” Superman. Likewise, George Clooney may be much older than the other actors we’ve mentioned, but he had to rebound from the debacle of “Batman & Robin,” which threatened to derail his post-“ER” film career.

If Garfield has to contend with oversize commercial expectations, things are a little easier on Benjamin Walker. He’ll play the hero in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” one of the summer’s possible sleeper hits. Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is an action-horror movie that re-imagines our 16th president as a shadowy vampire-slaying machine. Though not as popular as the “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games” books, “Vampire Hunter” has its passionate cult fans, which makes Walker’s acting job somewhat unique. Playing one of America’s most famous figures, Walker (who previously appeared in “Flags of Our Fathers” and the Broadway musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”) has to seem both presidential and an ass-kicker. The entire movie looks like a kooky roll of the dice, and so Walker’s performance could be instrumental in holding the whole thing together — or, if it goes poorly, he could be the face of a badly misguided project.

For all these emerging talents, it’s surely a dream come true to become a superstar in a potential franchise. But there’s a lot of uncertainty attached. Ryan Reynolds had probably hoped that “Green Lantern” would catapult him to the upper echelon of action stars — that didn’t quite happen. So it’s not just enough to play the lead in a big studio film; it has to deliver, too. And when your career has just begun — like in the case of Lawrence or Garfield or Walker — there’s no guarantee there will be a safety net if your big movie tanks. It must be an exciting time for them, knowing that their acting future could be hanging in the balance, but it must also be incredibly stressful as well. By comparison, fighting to the death in the Hunger Games — or web-slinging through New York, or killing vampires — must seem like a breeze.

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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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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….


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.


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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