“Home of the Brave,” “Venus”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Home of the Brave,” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2006]

All the words we like to think apply to our nation’s servicemen — honorable, noble, courageous — can also be applied to Irwin Winkler’s “Home of the Brave,” a coming home drama about a group of National Guardsmen back from a tour of duty in the current Iraq war. But plenty of other, less desirable words — patronizing, heavy-handed, clumsy — apply as well. The film’s heart is in the right place. Its mouth, not so much.

The four combat-shocked veterans Winkler follows upon their return to Spokane, WA seem cast less for their performances than the potential for metatextual irony. Samuel L. Jackson, the only contemporary actor whose screen presence is super-heroic enough to believably survive a bout with snakes on a plane, plays a battlefield surgeon devastated by his inability to fix his patients. Jessica Biel, an actress with an entire persona based around her complete physical perfection, plays a driver who loses a hand after a mine explodes under her truck. Cheekiest of all, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, a rapper whose reputation rests on the number of gun battles he’s survived, plays a character who loses his mind after accidentally shooting a civilian in a botched raid. That’s great stunt casting for sure, but not great acting; none convincingly bring to the screen a sense of real emotional or mental trauma.

The entire ensemble is loaded with pretty people who don’t look, sound, or act like real soldiers, let alone ones crippled (both literally and figuratively) by their experiences. The crucial Guardsman who dies “over there” is played by “One Tree Hill”‘s Chad Michael Murray, and the final major character is played by actor Brian Presley, who looks like Jim Caviezel but prettier, with perfectly mussed hair (particularly impressive in the oppressive, moisture-destroying heat of the Iraqi desert).

Winkler wants his audience to acknowledge there is more to being involved in the Iraq War than simply remarking that you “support the troops” when someone asks you your stance on it. These soldiers we’re so supportive of with our lip service sympathy return from this brutal war where, arguably, no amount of good work can undo the bad that’s already been done, shattered by what they’ve done. They deserve better, from the war and from us.

But they also deserve better than a film like “Home of the Brave” which exploits their pain by turning Iraq War veterans from real people to mouthpieces. “You want us to come back like nothing happened!” one of the veterans remarks at one point. The key word there is “us” — the screenplay by Mark Friedman doesn’t even attempt to disguise its didacticism by trying to personalize the experiences of its protagonist. So it’s “us” who come back, not “me.”

The sour taste of such blatant sermonizing is accentuated by Winkler and Friedman’s holier-than-thou attitude, most noticeably in a scene where Presley’s character bumps into Biel’s at his new job, selling tickets at a Spokane multiplex. After comparing anti-depressants, Presley launches into a thinly veiled anti-Hollywood rant. “I sell these stupid tickets to these stupid movies!” he grumbles and Biel agrees. “It’s like they don’t care what’s going on over there!” she replies. A fair point, but the potential accuracy gets lost in the utterly tactless storytelling. It’s difficult to successfully educate people when you’re actively and openly insulting their intelligence. More importantly, should the director of “At First Sight” and “The Net” really be pointing fingers at bad moviemaking?

Jackson’s triage unit is a far cry from Altman’s in “MASH” and 50 Cent’s combat shocked meltdown doesn’t even rate with Sylvester Stallone’s in “First Blood.” The first really great fictionalization of the Iraq War experience, at home and abroad, is yet to be seen.

“Venus” is a movie both sweet and sour, one likely to warm your heart at times and chill you to the bone at others. Rarely I have been so equally touched and repulsed by a film. Basically a British “Grumpy Old Men” with a heaping dash of “Lolita,” the new film by director Roger Michell offers aging superstar Peter O’Toole a showcase for his chops, both comedic and dramatic, and whatever else you think about it, there’s no denying the 74-year old actor still has a spring in his step and a mess of charisma.

In a storyline eerily similar to the much less heartwarming and somewhat less creepy “10 Items or Less,” O’Toole plays a famous actor who chances into a life-affirming pairing with a younger woman. But “Venus” diverges from that path in the details of the relationship between O’Toole’s Maurice and teenage Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), which takes on an additional sexual dimension. Initially, lonely Maurice takes up with Jessie simply to get her away from his good friend Ian (Leslie Phillips), the uncle who can’t stand her. But he’s quickly entranced by Whittaker’s sad, beaten-down beauty. He takes to calling her Venus after the painting the two discuss during an afternoon at the museum.

Though the screenplay by Hanif Kureishi (working with Michell a third time following “The Buddha of Suburbia” and “The Mother”) plays their partnership for laughs, the pairing strikes me as an altogether disturbing one, and not simply for the vast gulf between their ages. Once Maurice reveals his feelings for Jodie, “Venus” settles into a rhythm of his lecherous glances and her demurring rejections; that is, until she wants something from him, whereupon she humors him until she draws out whatever it is she desires. The she treats him poorly again, then asks for more. Her comment by way of a hello upon missing one of their dates, “I’m sorry I didn’t come and meet you. You can smell my neck,” characterizes a lot of their interactions. Despite “Venus”‘s air of wistful nostalgia, the material strikes me much darker than Michell implies. If Maurice and Jodie’s story is superficially one of education and happiness, it’s not far removed from one about a kindly old man whose ill-advised attraction to a young, callous woman proves his undoing.

In a way, that makes O’Toole’s performance even better. No matter how discouraged you are by the film or his character’s behavior, you want to keep watching where O’Toole will take you. To call the performance fearless is cliché and understatement: the physical stunts O’Toole is called upon to do are remarkable all by themselves, without even taking into consideration the Maurice’s erotic appetites. He and “Venus” are both at their best when they’re not bogged down by his obsession with Jodie. A brief, wordless scene where Maurice visits an outdoor theater covered in fallen leaves and silently returns to some moment in his past says more about him than all his monologues put together. O’Toole, standing there alone with the cold and his memories is a window into a far better movie than the one Michell wound up with.

“Home of the Brave” (official site) opens in limited release December 15th; “Venus” (official site) opens in limited release December 21st.

Amy Poehler Carrie Brownstein

Carrie and Amy Team Up

Watch Carrie Brownstein Officiate a Wedding With Amy Poehler’s Help

Carrie Brownstein's Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is available now.

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Here’s proof that anything can happen when you go to one of Carrie Brownstein’s book readings: a recent stopover on Carrie’s Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl book tour turned into an impromptu wedding ceremony.

Amy Poehler had just wrapped up her Q&A with Carrie when a couple asked the Portlandia star — who just so happens to be an ordained minister — if she would officiate their wedding. “Amy was visibly excited and shocked, and turned to Carrie [and said] ‘You gotta do it!’,” said a source speaking to Us Weekly

According to an audience member, “[The couple] asked if they could get married on the spot, as they’d come prepared with their marriage license.”

“It was a sincere, thoughtful, and impressive speech, considering the spontaneity,” added sources. “Amy remained seated at the piano, looking emotional and delighted for them…”

Be sure to grab Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl out now, and catch Carrie on her book tour. Who knows what will happen next???


Super Awkward

The 10 Most Hilariously Awkward Sex Comedies

Get racy with Gigi Does It Mondays at 10:30P.

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Let’s face it: sex is innately funny. Body parts squishing together is always a recipe for potential awkwardness. So it’s only natural that Hollywood has mined the beast with two backs for comedy since the mid-­1950s. With Gigi getting her groove back on this week’s Gigi Does It, we thought we’d spotlight the 10 most hilariously awkward sex comedies ever lensed, from sci­fi parodies to touching teen romances.

10. Porky’s

Set in the 1950s, Bob Clark’s 1981 hit comedy follows a group of high school kids who want to lose their virginity, and travel to a nightclub in the Florida Everglades to do it. This kicks off a string of comical events that includes a “peeping on the girls locker room” scene that has been endlessly homaged and parodied. Porky’s was a massive critical flop on release, but thanks to VHS and cable airings it became a sweaty ’80s classic.

9. The Virginity Hit

The 2010 comedy The Virginity Hit takes the found­ footage approach from flicks like Paranormal Activity and transplants it into the much scarier world of high school sex and YouTube humiliation. This underrated movie laid the groundwork for a potential “third wave” of sex comedies.

8. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

Woody Allen took a best­selling advice book and transformed it into this episodic comedy that cast a baleful eye on sex in the Free Love decade. The stellar cast (Gene Wilder! Burt Reynolds! Lynn Redgrave!) deliver some of the bits that rank among the best in Allen’s career. The rapid­-fire pace lets The Woodman touch on all manner of sexual deviancy, and the movie’s climax — in which the director plays a sperm getting ready to blast off into the throes of orgasm –­ is one of cinema’s most iconic moments.

7. Orgazmo

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have never shied away from getting explicit, and their NC­-17 sex comedy was an early taste of the duo’s outrageous humor. A young Mormon missionary comes to Los Angeles to try and save souls and winds up getting hired to star in a superhero-­themed porno. When his costar invents a ray gun that gives people orgasms, all Hell (and hilarity) breaks loose.

6. Superbad

This Judd Apatow-produced hit brought teen comedies into the age of the overshare with its mix of teenage awkwardness, uproarious gags and a healthy bromance between leads Michael Cera and Jonah Hill.

5. American Pie

The second great era of sex comedies kicked off in 1999 with this remarkably ribald ensenble flick about a quartet of friends trying to lose their virginity before they graduate high school. American Pie takes its name from the scene where Jason Biggs gets caught in a compromising position with some pastry, but the movie has multiple unforgettable bits, particularly Alyson Hannigan’s reverie about band camp.

4. There’s Something About Mary

The Farrelly Brothers cemented their position as a comedic powerhouse with this still hilarious Ben Stiller/Cameron Diaz rom com. Rarely has a film that involves testicular injury and unfortunate choices in hair gel been so sweet.

3. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Judd Apatow proved that sex comedies aren’t just for teens with his breakthrough big screen comedy which cast Steve Carell as the titular middle-aged virgin. Although there’s plenty of erotic tomfoolery in this flick, it’s the real sense of heart and emotional consequence that makes it a classic.

2. The Girl Next Door

The normalization of pornography has drastically changed the way we think about sex, and 2004’s The Girl Next Door wrings tons of laughs from what happens when dirty movies hit a little too close to home. Elisha Cuthbert is the not-so-innocent girl next door who helps Emile Hirsch find new purpose in his life. A surprisingly dark and high-­quality outing for a film that was marketed as “American Porn.”

1. The Graduate

Single­-handedly responsible for introducing the concept of the “MILF” to American culture, Mike Nichols’ 1967 comedy features genre­-defining performances from Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft as a recent college graduate and the older woman he hooks up with. Sex is integral to The Graduate‘s plot and premise — it’s the fulcrum of the emotional conflict, not just thrown in for titillation, making for one of the best comedies of all time.


Gigi Wrote a Book for You

Read Gigi’s Outrageous Children’s Book ‘Call Your Grandmother’

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This week on Gigi Does It, Gigi Rotblum (David Krumholtz) pens a heartwarming children’s book about the perils of not calling your dear grandma. And now you can read the full story below!

Gigi Does It Book Cover

Gigi Book Page 1

Gigi Book Page 2

Gigi Book Page 3 REV

That 70s show

Must Scream TV

10 Spooktacular Halloween TV Episodes

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays 6-11P on IFC.

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A great Halloween episode is like terrific fan fiction. Our beloved characters are thrust into a spooky predicament beyond their normal scope of storylines while wearing garish outfits and fearing for their lives. The annual tradition on-screen is a reflection of the holiday’s appeal in real life: A chance to see the familiar skew towards the garish and macabre.

Fun, scary, and memorable, here are the 10 best Halloween episodes of all time.

10. That ’70s Show, “Halloween”

that 70s halloween

The siren song of an abandoned building on Halloween lures the That ’70s Show gang to their burned-out grammar school where they discover their old permanent records. Secrets and backstories are revealed, such as Jackie’s middle name, Kelso’s real age, and an act of vandalism committed by a 7-year-old Eric which followed Hyde around his entire life.

9. Freaks and Geeks, “Tricks and Treats”

freaks and geeks

freaks and geeks halloween

Expertly capturing the dilemma of kids too old to trick-or-treat but too young for drunken holiday revelry (legally, at least), Freaks and Geeks brings us back to the youthful pursuit of making the most out of Halloween. Wannabe freak Lindsay opts for petty vandalism while Sam and his geeky pals are humiliated by their costumed rounds through the neighborhood. On the plus side, Bill makes a very stately Bionic Woman.

8. Quantum Leap, “The Boogieman”

Quantum leap goat
Leaping into a horror writer’s life in 1964, Sam plays detective as the people around him start dying, Al’s not quite himself, and a goat keeps appearing. The grisly plot culminates to a legitimately unsettling climax that’s as scary as it is funny (seriously, it’s hard to describe) and we find out the neighborhood boy goes on to become somebody very familiar.

7. Cheers, “Bar Wars V: The Final Judgement”



On Halloween, the bar’s longtime rivalry with Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern is curiously called off when Gary reveals his heart can’t take it — literally. But Sam, not buying the medical diagnosis, stages an elaborate (and in reality, logistically impossible) prank involving Carla’s holographic head that may have caused Gary to kick the bucket. (There’s a humorous callback to this episode in the following season’s “Bar Wars” episode.)

6. Amazing Stories, “Mummy Daddy”

Over a decade before Wes Craven upended horror movie tropes with Scream, this episode of the tragically short-lived Steven Spielberg-produced anthology series blurs the line between myth and Hollywood when an actor playing a mummy is pursued by (and mistaken for) an actual mummy. Pure pulp fun if only for the image of a mummy riding horseback.

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Fear, Itself”

Buffy halloween
Mixing a little Scarecrow villainry into the Whedonverse, this episode has Buffy and the gang attending a Halloween frat party where a demon that feeds on fear subjects everyone to their greatest nightmares. A delightful writing exercise that exposes each character’s weaknesses and doubts, “Fear, Itself” is prime Buffy entertainment.

4. MacGyver, “Halloween Knights”

CBS Television

CBS Television/ABC

Less of an episode of television than a convergence of all things great, MacGyver is coerced into joining forces with longtime nemesis and super-assassin Murdoc when his former hitman employers kidnap his sister and threaten to execute her at a posh Halloween party. Complete with a booby-trapped funhouse and thinly veiled references to Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is hands down one of the greatest episodes from the series.

3. Roseanne, “BOO!”

Roseanne halloween

Kicking off an annual tradition of Halloween with the Conners, “BOO!” from season two of Roseanne showcases the family’s obsession with the holiday and the lengths to which they celebrate it. For a family just scraping by and the viewers who watch them, it’s a cathartic outlet and an excuse to let freak flags fly. And from the first holiday go-around, it’s instantly clear the show will do it again and again.

2. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia“Who Got Dee Pregnant?”



Narrowly edging out season eight’s stellar, McPoyle-infested “Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre,” season six’s “Who Got Dee Pregnant?” represents the very best of the Paddy’s Pub crew. Dee reveals she’s pregnant and the gang engage in drunken flashbacks Rashomon-style to determine who the father could be. Featuring the sexual exploits of the always-awesome Artemis, as well as Frank dressed as the canon-busting Man-Spider, “Who Got Dee Pregnant?” is top-notch.

1. The Simpsons“Treehouse of Horror V”

Simpsons Shining

Picking your favorite child would be far easier than picking your favorite Simpsons Halloween special — though they tend to be earlier seasons, don’t they? However, “Treehouse of Horror V” from season six is simply too fantastic to be topped. Between the classic Shining parody, Homer’s time-traveling advice from his father on his wedding night, and Groundskeeper Willie constantly getting an axe in the back, you can’t find a better way to ring in October 31st than this half hour.

Missed Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Rocky Horror-tastic Halloween blowout? Watch it now.

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