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“Wordplay,” “The Fountainhead”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Wordplay,” IFC Films]

There are far too few avenues in the pop-cult arena for the glorification of higher brain functions — almost by definition, the flexing of intellect and education makes the masses feel like a lower life form in a way that watching “American Idol” doesn’t, even if the high-minded exercise in question is meaningless tosh. So, when a doc like 2003’s “Spellbound” or Patrick Creadon’s “Wordplay” appears on the horizon, a certain percentage of literate Americans go to it like desert animals to an oasis spring.

It’d be easy to dismiss Creadon’s homage to crossword puzzlers, craftsmen and publishers as a full-on brown-nosing for The New York Times — it’s a movie about fandom, and if you’re not a fan, it could easily seem to be much ado about a lot of masturbatory nothing. But if you are, and you harbor an ardor for the engaged mind at play in the fields of language, culture and memory, then this is all you. Creadon sweetens the pot by interviewing virtually every celebrity that’s ever been known to prefer the tougher, end-of-the-week Times puzzles to the easier early ones, including Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Mike Mussina, Bob Dole, Ken Burns, et al. Since there’s not much to talk about, Creadon has them solve on camera, a spectacle that in itself can make you feel as stupid as a grouper.

Times puzzle editor Will Shortz and his freelance cronies properly take center stage, and while they manufacture the networks of numbered clues and dish out dollops of historical trivia about when and how the habit/hobby got started, the movie builds up to the 28th Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. (The clue-empty space-ticking clock action is arranged with digital graphics, making DVD backups profitable.) The cast of reference-section puzzle geeks may take their competition too seriously, but Creadon doesn’t, and it’s a sweet thing to see the members of this uncelebrated, unglamorous mob taste stardom thanks exclusively to what’s between their ears. The DVD comes with commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes — and five specially designed DVD-ROM puzzles.

Talk about big brain: it’s a wonder that America ever made a bestselling author out of Nietzschean philosopher/mega-novelist Ayn Rand, but we did, and Hollywood even stepped up and adapted her elitist, demagogic masterpiece “The Fountainhead” into a movie back in 1949. It’s more than just a respectful filmization of a popular message-tome that still speaks to readers who see themselves as victims of society’s monobrow — it is itself an act of Übermensch modernism.

Restless director King Vidor tells the tale about a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque architect (Gary Cooper) battling the world for the right to his own integrity, and raps out, in thick paragraphs of dialogue, Rand’s caught-somewhere-between-capitalism-and-socialism “objectivist” doctrine. But he’s also managed to make the only true Futurist film in American cinema, with a distinctive cement-and-bleached-beam veneer and a maniacally didactic narrative style. Little effort is made to persuade us that these are real characters, not just walking, ranting points of view, and in fact the film seems to have been made in an alternate universe where architecture is the country’s most imperative public concern, architects are thought literally heretical if they experiment, and hordes of citizens riot if a newspaper supports (on its front page) an untraditional building.

As with all utopia-building, and with most anything Rand stamped her sensibility on, this film is sweeping, hopeful nonsense; the final image of Cooper’s Howard Roarke standing atop the world’s tallest structure, hands on hips, is a poster for a revolution that never happened. There’s a crazy, innocent beauty in that. Predictably, mass audiences in the postwar 40s didn’t know what to make of this humdinger, but its rep has ballooned over the decades, and it has been one of the most eagerly awaited DVD titles malingering in the Hollywood vault. Supplements include a new making-of documentary.

“Wordplay” (IFC Films/Genius Products) and “The Fountainhead” (Warner Home Video) are both available on DVD on November 7th.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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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