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NYFF: Lost Control

NYFF: Lost Control (photo)

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Cinema have produced some memorably bad mothers — Faye Dunaway’s wire-hanger-wielding Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest” springs to mind — but I’m hard-pressed to think of a meaner mom in movie history than Mary, from director Lee Daniels’ “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” a hateful, bitter woman who manages to be the most abusive parent in a family where the father has sired two children with his own daughter. This mortal-lock-for-an-Oscar-nomination of a performance comes from Mo’Nique, the comedienne who I previously knew best as the host of a reality television show that placed her name in tandem with the phrase “fat camp.” After the accolades she rightfully deserves for “Precious” start coming her way, she won’t be hosting any new seasons of that series anytime soon.

Mary lives with her daughter Precious (Gabourey Sidibe), who she openly despises and treats like a servant. Precious has a natural talent for math, but an educational system more concerned with standardized test scores than actual learning and a mother who routinely tells her she should have been aborted have conspired to turn her into a 16-year-old illiterate teenage mother. When Precious gets the opportunity to move to a charter school that might address her special needs, Mary is unimpressed. “School ain’t gonna help me! Take your ass to welfare!” she tells her. Against her mother’s wishes, Precious tries the new school, and begins to flourish, setting up an even larger struggle with her tyrannical parent.

Daniels’ visual flourishes — hyperbolic montages of Precious’ suffering, composite shots that place her in a classroom with Martin Luther King, Jr. and others — tend to subtract from rather than add to the story. And at times, the amount of horror visited upon the title character borders on cartoonish; there are enough big issues tackled, from child molestation to teen pregnancy to poverty to illiteracy to abusive parenting to the flaws of the “No Child Left Behind” system to fill the Lifetime Movie Network for a month. But there’s no denying Daniels’ superb work in coaxing good performances from stars like Mo’Nique, who are not (yet) known for their acting chops. The cast list reads like it were cravenly assembled to generate publicity for an indie film about decidedly uncommercial subject matter, but all the actors justify their presence as more than simple stunt casting. Mariah Carey plays a social worker in a pleasantly unglittery performance, and Lenny Kravitz is appealingly laconic and borderline unrecognizable as an empathetic nurse. Though the material veers toward melodrama, Daniels’ touch is surprisingly authentic; the scenes critiquing America’s inner city education system ring completely true to the stories I’ve heard from my wife about her own experiences teaching in similar situations.

09292009_Precious1.jpgFirst-time actress Sidibe has a very tough role: a lifetime of disappointments has hardened Precious’ exterior, but Sidibe has to also show us frustration simmering beneath her superficial stoicism. Still, it’s Mo’Nique’s performance that stays with you. And it’s more than just blustery anger — her powerful final monologue, delivered in long takes while the camera remains locked on her in close-up, reveals Mary as a pitiful soul trying not to lose control of the one thing in her life over which she has any power. Mo’Nique’s fiery, touching performance makes us reconsider our preconceptions about the character, not to mention about her as an actress.

You wouldn’t expect “Precious” to share a lot in common with a documentary about the most valuable private art collection in the world. But, like “Precious,” Don Argott’s “The Art of the Steal” is, at its core, a story about loss of control. The film documents the decades long battle for control of The Barnes Foundation and its horde of Renoirs, Picassos, van Goghs and more. Once the sole property of a liberal vaccine baron from Philadelphia during the early 20th century, the art now belongs to a trust whose commitment to maintaining the collection as part of a private educational institution instead of as a public museum is slowly eroded by greedy outside interests who want to move the collection from an old building in the suburbs of Philly to the downtown area where it could generate far more tourism money for the city.

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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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