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DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on “Field of Dreams” and Father’s Day

Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams

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Sunday is Father’s Day, which naturally made me think of my own dad and the times we’ve spent together. And to my surprise, my mind went to a movie I haven’t thought about in a while. It was “Field of Dreams,” a film I can imagine probably resonates with a lot of fathers and sons. But for me, its impact is far more complicated — and has changed greatly over time.

“Field of Dreams” opened in limited release on April 21, 1989, and because I grew up in a small town in downstate Illinois, I wasn’t able to see it right away. But then again, I had other things occupying my mind at the time. I was finishing up junior high and was going to be starting high school in the fall. That summer, though, I went away for a few weeks to a special program three hours away in Chicago for advanced students. (Yeah, I was one of those kids.) This was the first time I was going to be away from home for a significant chunk of time. I’ve lived halfway across the country from my family for half my life now, but there was a point in my childhood when the idea of being away from them seemed terrifying. And so I spent most of my time at this summer academy utterly homesick. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that I’d see my folks soon; they were going to visit me on campus the forthcoming weekend. When they got there, we spent a lot of time running around Chicago. But to tell you the truth, I can’t remember a thing we did — except for seeing “Field of Dreams.”

If you’ve never seen the movie, “Field of Dreams” tells the story of Ray (Kevin Costner), an Iowa farmer who’s having trouble staying afloat financially. He has a happy family with a wife and young daughter, but he seems to be in the throes of a midlife crisis, terrified that he’s going to become as boring and staid as his father. Ray and his old man used to be close — they bonded over a shared love of baseball — but Ray grew distant from his father over their differences about cultural and political issues in the 1960s. By the time Ray’s father died, they weren’t speaking, and Ray has never quite forgiven himself for hurting his dad by disparaging his favorite ballplayer, Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was a part of the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox team that took money to lose that year’s World Series. Long story short, Ray hears a mysterious voice that starts giving him instructions — first, to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield and, then, to go on a cross-country journey to help different baseball-loving individuals. And in the process, he manages to reconcile with his father.

I’d love to know how I’d feel about “Field of Dreams” if I saw it for the first time now as an adult and as a professional film critic, but the teenage me absolutely loved it. And part of the reason was because its message about the power of baseball and the bond between fathers and sons profoundly resonated with me. My father and I had not had the falling-out Ray and his dad had, but we definitely shared a love for America’s Pastime. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and that’s because my dad grew up in St. Louis. (My dad’s dad worked for the Cardinals for a time.) It’s a baseball love that extends to a love of family, and those roots are deep. Especially being far from home for the first time, reconnecting with my dad while watching “Field of Dreams” proved to be a pretty powerful emotional experience. A new family favorite was born.

For several years after that, I still thought “Field of Dreams” was a great film, even though there were plenty of folks who disagreed. (Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers picked it as the worst movie of 1989.) It was a movie my dad and I could always bond over. (My father read “Shoeless Joe,” the W.P. Kinsella novel that the movie was based on, and one of my proudest moments was giving my dad an advance copy of Kinsella’s 1998 novel “Magic Time” long before it was published.) But eventually, I got older and went off to college. My dad and I stayed close, but I started having my own experiences and adventures, and I started seeing lots of other films. And the more I did, the more I realized that while “Field of Dreams” was good, it wasn’t nearly as astounding as I had once thought. Foolishly, I mentioned this once to my dad, commenting that parts of the film are a little hokey. He disagreed, and I found myself wanting not to bring it up ever again. “Field of Dreams” was our thing, and I felt like I was tarnishing it.

But one aspect of growing up is forming your own opinions and worldview beyond that of your parents’, and that can be a difficult thing when you’re a film reviewer whose job it is to critique movies, even ones people close to you love. And so began a long process of disagreeing with my dad about films — not because I was trying to be a contrarian but because our tastes were simply different. For instance, I very much disliked the Oscar-winning “Crash,” but my dad loved it. I think Woody Allen is a great filmmaker, but my dad can’t get in to him at all. More significantly, we don’t share an interest in talking about films. Because I love movies and have devoted my life to them, I can discuss them endlessly and really enjoy a lively conversation on their relative merits. By contrast, my dad is like a lot of people: Movies are just something he sees on occasion. And so we tend not to have more than two sentences of discussion about them. He’ll like something or he doesn’t, and that’s kind of the end of it. I wonder if that’s how Ray felt with his dad: You can be so close to someone, and yet there are those differences that just can’t be helped.

For a long time, I let those differences bother me. In part, it was because my dad means the world to me, and so my passion for movies is something I want to share with him. (I’ve always been this way: In high school, I used to record my favorite CDs onto blank cassettes so he could hear them in his car when he’d drive to and from work. My hope was that he would love “Nevermind” and “Achtung Baby” and “Automatic for the People” as much as I did. For the record, “Achtung Baby” was a hit with him, “Automatic” was deemed “too depressing,” and the less said about “Nevermind” the better.) But my passion for movies also means a desire to dissect them and get to the heart of what makes them tick. That’s not how my dad operates, which created a problem: I wanted to talk about “Field of Dreams” as something that had evolved for me — just like a father-and-son relationship evolves over time — but it felt like a betrayal of the warm shared memory we’d had seeing it when I was young.

But just like Ray finally learning to let the past go and reconcile with his dead father at the end of “Field of Dreams,” I’ve realized that, really, those differences just don’t matter. I now view “Field of Dreams” as an affecting, albeit occasionally manipulative male tearjerker, but that doesn’t change the feeling I have about that movie in relationship to my father. I have my opinion of the movie, but that doesn’t mean he has to have the same one. And, honestly, I think I prefer the way my dad views that movie: He just thinks it’s great. And, you know, it is — because it has my dad all wrapped up in it. And, like a lot of sons, I get pretty emotional at the end of the movie. But I don’t think I’m crying about Ray and his dad having one last catch. I’m remembering the 14-year-old kid watching that movie in the summer of 1989 who really needed his dad. That kid still does.

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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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