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Can Sundance’s Hits Fly Outside Park City?

Can Sundance’s Hits Fly Outside Park City? (photo)

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The high altitudes of Park City, UT — home to the Sundance Film Festival — have been known to cause dehydration, insomnia and an overappreciation of certain independent movies. What sparks standing ovations and multi-million dollar acquisitions in the rarefied confines of the snowbound town doesn’t always carry over into the outside world. For every “The Blair Witch Project,” “Super Size Me” or “Precious,” there’s a “Hustle and Flow,” “Hounddog” or “Hamlet 2.” Where do you draw the line between hype and reality, sleep deprivation-induced passing crush or bona fide true love? A really great film that will resonate with niche (or even mainstream) audiences, or one that happens to provide the weary festivalgoer adequate satisfaction when compared with all the muck? Here’s a little Sundance soothsaying about how four festival hits might fare when they arrive at a theater near you.

“The Kids Are All Right”

A late selection at the festival, director Lisa Cholodenko’s dramatic comedy about a lesbian couple (played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) confronted with their kids’ hippy sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) was an undisputed hit of the festival. The film drew the fest’s biggest payday: Universal subsidiary Focus Features coughed up $5 million to distribute the film not only in the U.S., but key foreign countries, the U.K. South Africa and Germany. “Kids” also drew some of the most enthusiastic praise: Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir said the film “ranks with the most compelling portraits of an American marriage, regardless of sexuality, in film history.”

Critical Buzz: Unlike Cholodenko’s darker previous efforts “High Art” and “Laurel Canyon,” “The Kids Are All Right” has a lightness of touch that many viewers foresee as its saving grace when it comes to the marketplace. While Variety critic Rob Nelson begrudged its “formulaic” qualities and “ingratiating sitcom-style entertainment,” these were nevertheless the traits that he admitted would lead to “solid” “commercial prospects.” The film had naysayers among certain bloggers and alternative press critics, but it’s the mainstream journalists — in whatever limited supply that still exists — that could drive ample positive word of mouth on the film.

Market Comparison: A story that centers on liberal L.A. lesbians may not find fans in Peoria, but observers feel that Cholodenko’s well-drawn likeable characters won’t scare away cosmopolitan audiences. And, after all, it was Focus Features that safely steered the gay cowboy movie “Brokeback Mountain” to an $83 million box office gross in 2005 and the Harvey Milk biopic “Milk” to $32 million in 2008. In the wake of Proposition 8 and the newly energized debate around gay marriage, “The Kids Are All Right” could serve as a lightening rod for political presses, furthering interest in the film.

Then again, straightforward sophisticated comedic dramas have had a hard time finding audiences lately. Unless the movie taps into the “It’s Complicated” romantic comedy crowd, “The Kids Are All Right” could be a film more fondly remembered at that progressive-friendly “granola festival” (as Variety critic Todd McCarthy disparagingly referred to Sundance) and then subsequently lost amidst next fall’s award season.

Prognosis: “Kids” will do all right.


“Blue Valentine”

What determines a film’s fate in the cruel, competitive marketplace isn’t just whether it’s good or not; it’s how its presented, handled, cultivated — in short, “marketed” — an ugly word for art-loving festivalgoers, but a necessary evil when it comes to film distribution. According to many viewers in Sundance, Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” is a wrenching, brilliant, sensitively told story of a married couple’s unraveling, the kind of movie that discerning critics go out of their way to champion, but getting audiences to see is near impossible. As Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman asked, after writing a rave, “What sort of chance does this movie have in the real world?” Others put the onus on a “dedicated distributor” — in Variety‘s words — to muscle the film into the real world.

Industry Buzz: The news that the Weinstein Company would be that distributor, having acquired the film for a reported $1 million, raised some eyebrows. While “Blue Valentine” may have once been the kind of movie that Harvey Weinstein distributed — when indie films were still a novelty — the new TWC doesn’t have much of a track record with non-genre arthouse titles. The pairing of “Blue Valentine” with the brothers Weinsteins might seem like a match made in hell — or perhaps, a limbo place where financiers prefer dollar signs over delicate handling.

The Weinstein Company’s financial troubles are well known, and a number of smaller films on the company’s slate have gotten short shrift. For example, Andrew Jarecki’s “All Good Things,” which also stars Ryan Gosling, and “Shanghai,” starring John Cusack, have sat on the shelf for months. Another film, “Hurricane Season,” starring Forest Whitaker, went straight to DVD, much to the chagrin of its director Tim Story. Who’s to say “Blue Valentine” won’t suffer a similar fate if “it did not test well,” as TWC executive David Glasser recently said of “Hurricane Season.”

There is also a concern among some quarters that Harvey Weinstein, a.k.a. “Harvey Scissorhands,” might try to recut the film in a way that would soften what fans admired most about it. Certain critics have called the film a tad overlong. Then again, there’s always a chance that the Weinsteins, due to their financial pressures, are scaling back in a sincere way, looking for smaller, modest hits to put out in a marketplace that has largely abandoned the small-scale winner.

Market Comparison: Let’s give credit where credit is due: The Weinstein Company’s release of Tom Ford’s sad and stylish “A Single Man” is holding up admirably at over $5 million; the company also pushed for — and got — an Oscar nomination for star Colin Firth. “Blue Valentine” lovers can hope for the best given Gosling’s track record. His previous bold Sundance drama “Half Nelson,” which featured a similarly riveting performance in a story just as bracing, also got an Oscar nomination and a healthy arthouse box office take of $2.7 million.

Prognosis: Without love and attention, this “Valentine” will go sour.

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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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