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“The Avengers” 101: What to know before you head to the theater

Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans in The Avengers

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At this point, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of “The Avengers,” Marvel’s surprisingly great superhero team-up extravaganza that hits theaters this weekend.

One of the questions that keeps popping up as we approach the film’s premiere is whether you should see all of the previous Marvel movies in order to understand “The Avengers,” or whether it can be appreciated on its own. The answer is yes… to both questions.

While the five films leading up “The Avengers” (“Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”) can be a little hit or miss, the sense that they’re building toward something larger only adds to the spectacle of this weekend’s big crossover. They also offer a nice introduction to each of the primary characters and, to be honest, their differences in tone and style add some perspective to the success of “The Avengers.”

Still, you’re not alone if you don’t have the urge to watch (or re-watch) all five movies before seeing what all the “Avengers” fuss is about. That’s why I’ve put together a crash course on what you need to know before you head to the theaters this weekend for “The Avengers” — but be warned, if you haven’t watched the Marvel characters’ solo movies yet, there are some big spoilers coming up.

Lesson 1: Loki

Loki is Thor’s adopted brother, who attempted to take over the realm of Asgard (an alien world populated by powerful beings that resemble the Norse gods) in the movie “Thor.” After the bridge from Asgard to other worlds (including Earth) was broken at the end of “Thor,” Loki fell into the cosmic abyss surrounding the bridge and hasn’t been heard from since that film.

Lesson 2: S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers Initiative

S.H.I.E.L.D. is a powerful, international, covert-operations organization headed up by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Throughout the previous Marvel movies, S.H.I.E.L.D. has repeatedly popped up as a thread between the characters, with Fury and his agents — usually Agent Phil Coulson (played by Clark Gregg) — approaching each of the characters from the solo movies to discuss their potential roles in “The Avengers Initiative.” S.H.I.E.L.D. has also served as a police force of sorts that is called in to handle affairs that transcend the abilities of the regular military or police force (i.e., Thor’s arrival on Earth or Hulk’s rampage).

Lesson 3: The Tesseract

Referred to as the “Cosmic Cube” in the Marvel Comics universe, The Tesseract is a powerful energy source that was first introduced in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Its origins are unknown — and possibly alien (or magical) in nature — but what is known is that it generates a nearly limitless amount of energy. In “Captain America,” the evil Red Skull attempted to harness the Tesseract’s power for his own purposes, and created an arsenal of weapons powered by the Tesseract’s glowing, blue energy. At the end of “Captain America,” the Tesseract was seemingly lost in the ocean, but in a post-credits scene from “Thor,” it’s revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. recovered the Tesseract and it is now being studied by one of Thor’s human friends, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard).

Lesson 4: Captain America, Man out of Time

Captain America’s solo movie sports the tagline “The First Avenger” for a reason — that reason being that he started his superhero career back during World War II, decades before Iron Man, Hulk, and the rest of the team. (Although now that I think of it, Thor might have him beat. But anyways…) At the end of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” soldier-turned-superhero Steve Rogers makes the supreme sacrifice, plunging himself and the Tesseract-powered bomber he’s piloting into the frozen ocean. As we see in the film’s closing scene, his body is later recovered and thawed out in the present day, giving him quite the shock when he discovers how much has changed in the world since WWII. As we learn in “The Avengers,” acclimation to the modern era isn’t an easy task for a hero of bygone days.

Lesson 5: Yesterday’s Captain America is today’s Hulk

In “The Incredible Hulk,” we learn that the experiment that caused Bruce Banner to become a raging green behemoth every time he gets angry was actually a failed attempt at recreating the procedure that turned scrawny Steve Rogers into the star-spangled superhero Captain America. When Banner and his colleagues attempted to use gamma rays to replicate the results of the WWII-era experiment (which was lost when Dr. Abraham Erskine was killed by a Nazi assassin), the result was a Hulk-sized catastrophe, and the need for Banner to stay calm or risk the beast inside of him destroying everything around him.

And that’s about it, folks! That’s nearly everything that you’ll need to go into “The Avengers” with a firm grasp on the last five movies’ worth of events in the Marvel universe.

And though I still can’t recommend enough that you check out all of the movies before watching “The Avengers,” this information should give you all the knowledge you need to get the most out of your “Avengers” experience.

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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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