DID YOU READ

Head Games

Head Games (photo)

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Bearing a snarky, double-take title and a premise like a glazed pig on a platter, Grant Heslov’s “The Men Who Stare at Goats” can’t help but get us salivating — be it Chayefskyian satire or schizoid paranormal headtrip or Coenesque destiny farce, we’ll gobble it down, especially if it is, as this movie is, based on reported fact. American military new age telekinetic absurdism! The brown-acid substance of reporter Jon Ronson’s book by the same name is the dizzying crucible at hand — too ludicrous and all true to resist, and yet so much the sum of its chortlesome vignettes that filming it would require either the cargo-cult undergroundism of a Craig Baldwin or the imposed narrative arc of an over-punctuated Hollywood biopic. Regrettably, Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan and producer/star George Clooney have opted for the latter. Which is to say, the madness has been dressed for dinner, and clear soup is served.

The film’s true-story baseline is seductive: after the Vietnam War ended, the Department of Defense and the CIA began various covert “alternative methods” programs that generated, in theory at least, something called the First Earth Battalion — a group of officers and soldiers dedicated to investigating forms of “psychic warfare,” including invisibility, curses, “remote viewing,” “sparkly eyes,” telepathy, autosuggestion and so on. Ronson corralled scores of tangentially related stories into his book, which even in synopsis scans like a fanged, Strangelove-style satire on the desperate irrationalities of militarist Cold War culture.

The film’s tone is goofy and chiffon light, and is as familiar with war as your average Whole Foods-shopping, Obama-sticker Clooney fan. Our surrogate into this nonsense vortex is Ewan McGregor’s Bob Wilton, a stand-in for Ronson who, as a small-paper journalist, stumbles onto stories of the “New Earth Army” and its star warrior Lyn Cassady. Sometime after, when his marriage dissolves, he’s deployed to Iraq to cover the war. There, he stumbles (again) into the retired Cassady (Clooney), who agrees to take him into the desert on a “secret” mission, and in the process, we bask in digitally de-wrinkled flashbacks of the CIA program’s outlandishly dubious history, orchestrated by Jeff Bridges’s Lebowski-ish ‘Nam-vet guru.

So, strainingly abetted by McGregor’s tell-us-about-it narration, Heslov’s film hops from one slapsticky New Age debacle to another for comic relief against Wilton’s arcing discovery of purpose in his wayward life, which is, frankly, four-day-old fish no one will care to buy. But that’s only the largest and dullest problem on the table; much as in Charlie Kaufman and Clooney’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” the comedy dares itself to be unfunny half the time, and the frequent evocation of the “Jedi” in and around McGregor’s fresh-faced innocent does little to respark the fizzle. (The two men lost in the desert are out-bantered by memories of C3PO and R2D2 on Tatooine.)

This might be the silliest movie about Iraq made so far, but a problem inherent in Ronson’s fables of idiocy nags when all is said and done: is the paranormal activity “real,” as the characters believe, or is it horse feathers? The film indulges in dramatic “evidence” for both conclusions. Bawling that a movie isn’t fish nor fowl is as old as the medium, but here it’s inescapable: if the psychic phenomena are genuine, then the film is not a comedy. If they’re bogus, it is. If it’s a little bit of both, the confused chuckles die on take-off and then vanish altogether.

11042009_MenWhoStareatGoats2.jpgSome nonfiction books are not intended by the god of commercial culture to be turned into mainstream films, and Ronson’s book, like Susan Orlean’s “The Orchid Thief,” appears to fall into that club. (“Adaptation” remains, of course, a sacrilegious miracle.) Nobody wants to beat up on “Men/Goats,” because it’s made by Hollywooders who conscientiously buck trends and follow their passion and decide against all reason to make films, well, like this. Not that there isn’t a Dan Brown tincture at the heart of the material’s attraction, searching for the hidden metaphysical whatzits beneath the banality of history. (If it’s an itch that needs scratching, look for Richard Stanley’s 2001 doc “The Secret Glory,” an archival montage detailing the rise and fall of SS officer Otto Rahn, the troubled Nazi in charge of searching for the Holy Grail.) But without going crazy deep into the pathologies or the politics, or even deciding whether or not men could pass through walls given the concentration training, the film’s as slight as an unconvincing card trick.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.