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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.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.