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Brute Launch from Nowhere

Brute Launch from Nowhere (photo)

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Last year, American critics pretty fairly stood aghast and in awe of Ronald Bronstein’s “Frownland” (2007), conjuring up some of the most intense superlatives ever thrown at a cheap New York indie (the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody called it “one of the most unusual and audacious American independent films ever made”), while still sweating bullets of qualification, as if holding a wolverine by the short hairs.

It didn’t make much of a difference to audiences, who hardly noticed, but now that the film is being rather spectacularly DVD’d by the new Brooklyn outfit Factory 25, viewers can step up to this vicious peepshow and decide for themselves. Me, I’m not terribly convinced of the film’s brilliance or of the necessity of deflating the hoopla; the impact of “Frownland”‘s distinctive relentlessness has more to do, I think, with our expectations of film narrative than with the movie’s aesthetic triumph. As in, we expect movies to sympathize with our empathy, as it were — to facilitate an emotional connection between us and the characters at hand. Bronstein’s film does the opposite: it’s an alienation campaign.

But if it’s not terribly radical or “audacious” (this territory has been tread upon in other ways by strands of Cassavetes, “Chuck & Buck,” Lee Chang-dong’s “Oasis” and even “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Observe and Report”), how appalled you are by it may depend on your expectations, which should be a good deal more seasoned than those of the festivalgoers that first encountered the movie. (Ignore the DVD over-packaging, including a soundtrack LP — ! — a comic book, a poster, a booklet laying out “insufferably long-winded” email exchange between characters, and even a three-inch hunk of actual 16mm film.) Simply, “Frownland” is a personal-space-invading character portrait of a witless, neurotic, helplessly irritating schlub named Keith (Dore Mann) who meets life’s insurmountable challenges with fight-or-flight thoughtlessness and, predominantly, a compulsive stream of repetitive babble, often punctuated with a conciliatory “I really appreciate this.”

Shot on 16mm with a minimum of lighting, the film offers as depressing a view of low-rent New York life as anyone’s seen since the punk films of the ’80s, and Bronstein’s pro-am aesthetic is restricted to claustrophobia and nauseous vertigo. Most of all, what we get is a pure-hearted piece of selfless acting, as Mann (no other credits on IMDb) creates his character’s desperate and embattled relationship with society on the fly — in the long haul, Keith’s slack-jawed stupidity and wild-eyed efforts to connect to others on even the most fundamental level are impressively exhausting.

09282009_Frownland2.jpgKeith tries to negotiate the worst job (a fake door-to-door beggar for a fake multiple-sclerosis charity), cannot help a suicidal ex-girlfriend without trying (very ineptly) to fuck her, and has no friends, just a fed-up roommate (who’s in the catastrophic position of being jobless and beholden to Keith for shelter) and a barely tolerant old acquaintance who finds his life occasionally bumrushed by Keith. The social firefights that explode from Keith’s guileless demands for contact are uncomfortable and harrowing, and eventually lead to a comprehensive meltdown.

“Frownland” is all in the present, but the conviction brought to Keith effectively makes you imagine what kind of hellish life he’s had up to now, and whether his maladaptations were a product of savage experience or, somehow more sadly, always part of his makeup. But the demands put upon you as a viewer are relegated to watching Keith implode, and alternately summoning pity for the slob and thanking your lucky stars you’re nowhere near him. If this sounds like it could be your idea of “uncompromising” audacity, then run, don’t walk. Bronstein’s work may not, in the end, be quite that epochal, but it may be a jolt to the system for those who believe that American indie-hood is repped by the award winners out of Sundance.

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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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