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The week’s critic wrangle: “Alpha Dog,” “Tears of the Black Tiger”

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"So you're like... ransom."
+ "Alpha Dog": Oh, tragic poorly parented youth! Oh, Justin Timberlake! Nick Cassavetes‘ "inspired by a true story" teen crime drama shakes off lawsuits to arrive in theaters just about a year after it premiered at Sundance in 2006. Most aren’t so fond.

"Alpha Dog doesn’t seem to have any feelings about its characters’ misdeeds one way or another—it’s intermittently bemused or tragic, but utterly lacking a conscience or a point of view," writes Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club. He adds that "writer-director Cassavetes never picks a direction, so his look at a pointless tragedy wallows in pointlessness." At the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum capsulize-compares the film to the work of Larry Clark
(a comparison made by several others) but also finds that Cassavetes
"doesn’t know what to leave out, and the movie becomes excessively
complicated with ancillary agendas."

Liza Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly sums that film up as "noisy," and shrugs that "The implication is that too much video culture and too little parental supervision make Johnny a danger — and that it sure is fun to play at being Johnnies in movies." Similar thoughts from Manohla Dargis at the New York Times, who writes that the film "has much the same entertainment value you get from watching monkeys fling scat at one another in a zoo or reading the latest issue of Star magazine. Of course a little of that nasty stuff may land on you, but such are the perils of voyeurism." Nick Schager at Slant adds that "Cassavetes is less interested in investigating such conduct’s origins than in exploiting the crime’s particulars for cheap thrills."

Armond White at the New York Press compares the film, lengthily and unfavorably, to "Mean Streets": "[T]he starkness of youth experience that went largely unspoken until Mean Streets summarized several generations of ambivalent teenage morality is updated here, but it also gets transformed into the latest So-Cal, MTV clichés." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon sighs that as a director, "Cassavetes’ method seems to be to turn on the camera and let it suck up all the air around it — it’s the Dyson vacuum school of filmmaking."

On the fond side, Scott Foundas at LA Weekly declares the film Cassavetes’ best yet, one in which he "directs with ferocious energy, taking scenes past their logical stopping points and pushing his actors…to, but never over, the precipice of absurdity." And Robert Wilonsky at the Village Voice writes that while Cassavetes may get "overly enthusiastic with the docudrama form at times," he’s "tempted to forgive his excesses because the guy knows tension."

Great ‘lake:

Dargis: "Adorned in tattoos, Mr. Timberlake holds the screen
effortlessly, delivering a gestural performance that, whether he’s
loping across a room or executing a goofy little dance for his buddies,
legs rapidly slicing back and forth, reveals as much about Frankie —
his need to please, his need to perform — as his lines."

Schwartzbaum: "As a career enhancer, Justin Timberlake’s recent
rendition of ”D— in a Box” on SNL takes the gold. But I’d give his
tattooed turn as Frankie, a junior gangsta straight outta L.A.’s comfy
San Gabriel Valley, at least the bronze — the guy is that charming in
Nick Cassavetes’ flashy bad-boy drama Alpha Dog."

Tobias: "For an untrained actor, Timberlake acquits himself reasonably well in quieter moments…"

Wilonsky: "Already a gifted comic actor—his  Saturday Night Live
appearances are now anticipated events—he proves himself able to go to
a pitch-black place. Frankie, covered in tats, is less a gangsta with a
heart of gold than a nice guy capable of doing some very bad shit—like
every last one of the rabid pups in Alpha Dog."

Zacharek: "He’s a charismatic, believable presence; unlike almost everyone else here, he relaxes into his character instead of trying to wrest it into a faux-dramatic shape. In this mess of a picture, he may be the rookie actor, but he’s also the one to watch, the movie’s North Star."


"Danger? I love danger!"
+ "Tears of the Black Tiger": As David Edelstein at New York observes, "Tears of the Black Tiger arrives with many critics prejudiced in its favor: It had a triumphant screening at Cannes in 2001, was promptly snapped up by the voracious Harvey Weinstein, and then disappeared into the Miramax abyss." And indeed, many have nice things to say about the film, which is a pastiche of 60s Thai genre films from director Wisit Sasanatieng, while others are just bewildered (as were we). Edelstein judges it "no buried postmodern masterpiece, but it certainly is a jaw-dropper: a delirium-inducing crash course in international trash." At Slant, Nick Schager finds that it’s difficult to tell when the film "is merely being faithful to its cheesy forerunners and when it’s deliberately exaggerating their tacky tropes for comedic and/or analytic effect."

Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club argues that while it’s silly to write the film off as being inaccessible because of the obscurity of the films it references, he’ll allow that it’ll never have broad appeal: "Though Sasanatieng makes a few swings at real poignancy—which don’t really connect—mostly this is the kind of relentlessly postmodern ‘fun’ best served in small portions, and preferably on dessert plates." At the New York Times, A.O. Scott claims he can’t think of another film "that is quite so mad about its own craziness"; while he quite likes the film, ultimately, he declares that "the intoxicating madness of ‘Tears of the Black Tiger’ is in the end too willed, too deliberate, to be entirely divine."

Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE enjoys the film’s resurrection of dusty tropes, writing "the more cliches fulfilled – from the Morricone-style music cues to the final showdown in the rain – the more fun it is." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon hopes the film finds an audience outside of its built-in Asian film fandom; she finds the movies "sometimes seems powered by sheer conviction," and concludes that "Sasanatieng, like a reckless race-car driver, often swerves closer to sentimentality than anyone should dare. Then again, one person’s sentimentality is another’s deeply felt emotion."

And at the Village Voice, Nathan Lee waxes ecstatic over the film’s colors and cinematography. He calls the film a "delightfully unabashed affair," and writes that "[y]ou need no primer in obscure Thai cinema to relish the Black Tiger effect, only eyes wide open and a taste for transcendental camp."

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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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