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DID YOU READ

Tyler Perry resurrects theater history.

Tyler Perry resurrects theater history. (photo)

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Although Tyler Perry’s movies are wildly successful financially — $400 million worldwide and counting on negligible budgets — critical interest has been specialized, prone to esoteric theorizing and reactions generally erring on the side of baffled incomprehension at best. Like Pixar, every Perry movie is predicted to flop before release, but he almost always triumphs; his budgets are so low he’s never had an outright flop. Critically, though, his respect level is about zero: his out-of-nowhere debut “Diary Of A Mad Black Woman” made $50.6 million and received a 16 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Reactions have been slightly less virulent since, but that’s mostly because most critics seem to have realized that Perry’s work doesn’t deflate from vitriol; it’ll outlast everyone, and there’s nothing to be done about it. A name that flashes red lights to most critics is one of the most marketable auteur brand names in America.

Which is why it’s curious that Lionsgate has finally hired Perry to write, produce and direct his first film derived from someone else’s work. And not just any play: Perry’s taking on Ntozake Shange’s 1975 Broadway landmark play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf.” This is, effectively, a big deal. For one thing, it’s shockingly hard to think of a major African-American play that was filmed anytime after, say, 1961’s “A Raisin In The Sun.” August Wilson is nearly universally acknowledged as the preeminent African-American playwright of the second half of the 20th century, and none of his plays have been turned into movies — at least in part because Wilson demanded his plays only be staged or filmed with a black director, and Hollywood apparently could never find one). Indeed, filmed African-American plays from the last 40 years are rare, period; digging around Wikipedia’s list of African-American dramatists and playwrights, the sole example I came up with was 1976’s “The River Niger,” based on Joseph A. Walker’s 1972 award-winning play, and was reviewed poorly upon release: Roger Ebert’s review hilariously denounced the melodramatic plotline: a father who goes on a drunken five-day bender, a son whose old street gang holes up in the family house hiding from the police, et al. “As a play, ‘The River Niger’ won a Tony and a Pulitzer,” Ebert snarked, “but the movie doesn’t show why.” So that’s that.

Based on the sample I’ve read, I’m not real sure Shange’s play will make an easy transition from stage to screen, either. It’s a choreopoem: 20 poems delivered as monologues. There are ones like “Abortion Cycle #1,” featuring the dubious line “My eyes are in my thighs,” with plenty of “tough issues” to go around. According to The New Yorker‘s Hilton Als, the play “combined the trickster spirit of Richard Pryor with a kind of mournful blues,” which itself seems a bit dubious. More to the point: it’s pretty much unadaptable, even to the most ingenious mind. Unless you’re Pedro Costa, it’s generally not considered cool to just film 20 desultory monologues delivered at the pace of your patience. And Perry, a proudly, self-consciously middlebrow filmmaker, has never been content to just imply when he can full-on nudge, point and shout. Which the play might allow for him to do, but he’d first have to organize it according to his usual unwieldy mix of light religiosity as needed in dire times, catatonically-slow-burning romance and incongruous comedy.

Which begs the question: having achieved massive commercial success, is Perry going for a more quickly acknowledged form of respectability, resurrecting a landmark of black ’70s plays that would challenge his reputation as a clunky writer and ham-fisted director? This is certainly one way to do it: Perry’s fundamentally middle-class sensibility doesn’t seem to jibe well with what Als dubbed the play’s “firebomb of a poem.” Perry doesn’t do firebombs. Perry does something that’s accessible (broad emotions) and baffling (juxtapositions that don’t make intuitive sense to, apparently, anyone but his target audience and contrarian critics); tackling Shange’s play tosses him into sensitive, prestige-laced territory outside his sphere, in the realm of academically canonized African-American writing and history. I’m not sure where he’s going with this; it’ll be interesting to see if really tries to make a faithful adaptation (which is impossible) or just jacks a poorly remembered play title to market something unrelated. Either way, I’m intrigued.

[Photo: Tyler Perry in “Madea Goes to Jail,” Lionsgate, 2009]

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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.

via GIPHY

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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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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