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Opening This Week: This year’s ’60s music biopic, Ron Howard’s Oscar bid and one last superhero movie

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12012008_theblackballoon.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Providing the requisite stopgap between showy Thanksgiving distractions and award season stragglers, female directors and assorted indie debutantes are making a strong showing this week.

“The Black Balloon”
‘What’s Eating Elissa Down?’ is the question to ask as the award-winning director of Aussie shorts makes the jump to features with this semi-autobiographical tale of a frustrated adolescent on the verge of manhood weighed down by his responsibilities to his autistic younger brother. Daytime soap star Rhys Wakefield takes the role of the Gilbert Grape-esque Thomas, a burdened army brat charged with his brother’s care while his parents drag the two up and down the country until he meets Jackie, a free spirit who teaches him how to shed his bitterness. The always impressive Toni Collette anchors this teenage ensemble as the boy’s mother, Maggie. Luke Ford and Gemma Ward co-star.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Cadillac Records”
These days, it’s safe to assume that an Oscar season without a music industry biopic set circa 1960 can be taken as one of the signs (along with an indie film winning a golden guy for anything besides best screenplay) of the coming apocalypse. Making us safe (at least for this year) is writer/director Darnell Martin’s portrait of hugely influential record executive Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) and his Chicago blues label, Chess Records. While Chess was also the subject of the recent Toronto Fest entry, “Who Do You Love,” with Alessandro Nivola playing the famed producer, Martin’s film focuses less exclusively on Chess and finds time to pay homage to some of the great musicians who helped put him over the top, including the likes of Muddy Waters (Jeffery Wright), Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and soul icon Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles).
Opens wide.

Malaysian-born filmmaker Yen Tan directs this tale of love and mourning about a man who receives a visit from his best friend’s Italian boyfriend, whom he’d met and only known online, a few days after that friend’s death.
Opens in New York.

At a time when 24/7 cable news networks and the Internet have rendered political scandal as almost passé, leave it to director Ron Howard to transport us back to a time when the country was still innocent enough to be shocked. In an adaptation by “The Queen” scribe Peter Morgan from his own stage play, Howard recreates the infamous 1977 televised face-off between two titanic egos. Fresh off a Tony win for playing the disgraced but prideful former president, Frank Langella reprises his turn as Richard Nixon alongside his stage adversary Michael Sheen as David Frost, the wily, opportunistic British broadcaster who brings him down.
Opens in limited release; opens wide on December 25th.

With a big question mark still hanging over the future of Guantánamo Bay, British helmer Steve McQueen’s poignant debut is a timely reminder of the harrowing story of Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker who starved himself to death in a British prison in 1981 in protest of the denial of his political status. In an unflinching retelling of one of Britain’s most shameful hours, McQueen chronicles the rampant prisoner abuse and widespread political apathy that caused Sands (Michael Fassbender) and nine other prisoners to sacrifice themselves to bring light to the desperate hopelessness of their situation.
Opens in Los Angeles for a one week Oscar-qualifying run; opens in limited release on March 20th.

“Let Them Chirp Awhile”
There’s an unwritten law in the script business (Hey! Pun!) that every struggling young screenwriter must churn out at least one script about a struggling young screenwriter (after all, a slightly older Charlie Kaufman got an Oscar nom for it). Choosing to get his out of the way early, writer/director Jonathan Blitstein debuts with the dilemma of Bobby (Justin Rice), an aspiring Dalton Trumbo who realizes he’s too terrified to get a real job and too happy to be a tortured artist. While sweating out his latest script, Bobby gets caught up in a blackmail scheme involving his best friend (Brendan Sexton III) and a pompous theater director (Zach Galligan — Billy from “Gremlins”! One-time blogger!) — who wants to steal Bobby’s ideas for his own play.
Opens in New York; opens in Chicago on December 12th.

“Local Color”
Before entering into a successful career of writing buddy action comedies such as “Midnight Run” and “Bad Boys,” George Gallo was an aspiring painter, an experience that is the basis for this latest life-affirming, coming-of-age offering. Financed entirely on the goodwill of his friends, Gallo’s autobiographical story stars “Off the Black”‘s Trevor Morgan as John, a headstrong teen with a talent for the brush who tracks down an eccentric artist (Armin Mueller Stahl) at his idyllic Pennsylvania retreat in order to pester him for an apprenticeship and a few life lessons. Samantha Mathis, Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman, Charles Durning and Diana Scarwid co-star; check your cynicism at the (screen) door.
Opens in limited release.

“Nobel Son”
Following their feel-good underdog comedy “Bottle Shock,” Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman and Eliza Dushku reunite with husband and wife writer/director team Randall Miller and Jody Savin for this darkly sardonic kidnap caper. Rickman delivers another trademark Grumpy Gus performance as Eli Michaelson, a self-absorbed Nobel Prize-winning chemist whose newfound notoriety leads to unwelcome knocks on his closet crammed with skeletons. Armed with only his unflappable narcissism, Michaelson must juggle a host of enemies with their eyes fixed on his $2 million in prize money, including his blackmail-minded students and the kidnappers of his only son (Brian Greenberg), while fending off the suspicions of his forensic detective wife (Mary Steenburgen) and her partner (Pullman).
Opens in limited release.

“Punisher: War Zone”
Hit-and-miss factory Marvel Studios proves once again that while they might be able to put together a digital fireworks show to compete with the best of them, their so-called “darker characters” have all the psychological complexity of an emo kid’s Halloween costume. After the universally panned Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane editions, Ray Stevenson slips into the skull-emblazoned T-shirt of psychotic vigilante Frank Castle for The Punisher’s third go-round on the big screen. With the cheery disposition of the Terminator and a fraction of the personality, Castle turns his guns on Dominic West’s mob boss Jigsaw under the direction of Lexi Alexander, the “Green Street Hooligans” director and a former world champion in both kickboxing and karate, who hopefully knows how to stage an action sequence or two. Otherwise, this could be a late but worthy contender for worst film of 2008.
Opens wide.

[Photo: “The Black Balloon,” NeoClassics Films, 2008]

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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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