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DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on the brilliance of “Shame,” out now on DVD

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Because so few movies receive an NC-17 rating, whenever one does it immediately gets waylaid with media attention and a certain amount of leering curiosity about why, exactly, it got such a restrictive rating. A few years ago, the sharply observed romantic drama “Blue Valentine,” starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as an unraveling married couple, initially got slapped with an NC-17. The reason was ridiculous — it concerned one scene involving oral sex that was hardly graphic — but after the film’s distributor, the Weinstein Company, appealed, it was dropped to an R. Still, the temporary NC-17 gave the film the stigma of being overtly risqué or salacious. In this country, NC-17 equals sex, a topic a lot of people have difficulty discussing, let alone seeing in a film at the multiplex.

One of last year’s best films was NC-17, which meant that a lot of theaters wouldn’t show it. And while that rating was the result of the movie’s sexual content, it’s not porn and it’s not exploitative. And, when you get right down to it, the movie’s not even really about sex. It’s called “Shame,” and it’s out on DVD this week.

If you haven’t seen it, perhaps you’ve heard a little about it. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a confident, handsome New York executive who has successfully hid his intense sexual cravings from his coworkers for years. Hiring prostitutes, visiting online sex sites, dabbling in the occasional fling, he can’t seem to quench an insatiable thirst. Then his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) arrives in town, much to his annoyance. Though it’s unclear why, there’s an unspoken tension between them. She’s very needy and flighty; he’s very controlled and self-contained.

Because of the NC-17 rating, “Shame” was viewed through the prism of being a movie “about sex,” an understandable impulse considering the main character’s proclivities. But look closer at the film — written and directed by Steve McQueen, who first worked with Fassbender on “Hunger” — and you’ll notice that “Shame” is about the agony of addiction. Usually, that disease is portrayed in the movies through characters who have drug, alcohol or gambling problems. We see the highs, but then we see the crushing lows. But with “Shame,” there is no high: Brandon is at a point in his addiction where he’s merely trying to keep from imploding, which means a constant search for more and more sex.

“Shame’s” austere, dour tone drew complaints from some that the film was too mannered, offering an unrealistic portrait of sexual addiction in order to make a pretentious art film. I disagree completely. Though a touch heavy-handed at times, “Shame” seems to adopt the joyless, extreme mindset of its outwardly composed main character. Thankfully, Fassbender’s performance is so electrifying — carnal and desperate and nuanced all at once — that the thrill of watching him provides all the joy you’ll need. It’s not a showy performance, but it is a consummately convincing one. And it has layers. The first time I saw the film, I thought Brandon was an unknowable phantom figure. The second time, I had intense sympathy for him — the terror and self-hatred seemed much more apparent. I’m not sure either interpretation is wrong. More likely, they’re both right.

If you’ve been tempted by “Shame’s” good reviews but scared off by the NC-17 rating, you should know that the movie’s sexual content — while explicit in parts — isn’t pervasive or horrifying. Frankly, it may not be anything you haven’t seen before. But as opposed to porn, which is sometimes referred to as an “adult film,” “Shame” is a film for adults. It’s for grownups who can recognize a soul in peril — two, actually, if you count Sissy. Its NC-17 notwithstanding, “Shame” is really a universal story about the perils of family and the emotional scars that just won’t heal — no matter what vices we use to try to make ourselves feel better.

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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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