DID YOU READ

Postmodern Warfare

Postmodern Warfare (photo)

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No filmmaker working today explores the act of watching as rigorously (and, some might say, as pedantically) as Michael Haneke, whose output largely consists of a single film, made over and over again in slightly different ways, about the viewer’s relationship to on-screen violence.

The Austrian provocateur’s cinematic lectures on how we’re all to blame for fostering a bloodthirsty entertainment culture are best summed up by “Funny Games” (and its shot-for-shot Stateside remake), which — in typical Haneke fashion — builds tension by teasing brutality while also cannily refusing to show us the actual slash-and-kill money shots. It’s a denial that serves as an audience chastisement for wanting to see, and get a kick out of, true horror. When it works, it’s its own kind of knife twist; when it doesn’t it can make Haneke seem like a tiresome schoolmarm, an artist who casts himself in the role of omnipotent, scolding father figure. Either way, he’s still technically masterful, and his works actively engage and critique our appetite for inhuman on-screen behavior.

While on-screen violence is even more essential to the video game realm, few game creators have attempted a Haneke-style postmodern analysis, and even fewer have done so within the play-it-safe confines of mainstream blockbusters. So it’s one of the year’s big surprises that its most disturbing and provocative piece of self-referential gaming comes via the holiday season’s biggest blockbuster, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.”

Like its 2007 predecessor, Activision’s first-person shooter sequel moves the venerable “Call of Duty” series out of World War II and into a fictionalized contemporary universe full of real world-ish geopolitical military scenarios, delivering high octane action, incredibly detailed graphics and bombastic sound, and a fast-moving narrative in which you take charge of multiple protagonists in various global hot spots. For the most part, the game’s just a highly polished, enjoyable piece of formula in terms of its level structure and mechanics. But in one of its early episodes, it manages to embrace a radical, morally debatable design choice that’s not only led to a lot of controversy, but also seems to suggest a possible template for a new era of meta gamemaking.

12042009_CallofDuty2.jpgThe sequence in question has you playing as an American military operative working undercover alongside a Russian terrorist, who, along with some heavily armed cohorts, is attacking a bustling airport, shooting civilians as they scream and flee for safety. It’s a scene that packs an immediate, stunning wallop, thanks not only to the obviously harrowing content, but the slow, ambulatory pace of the action (you can’t run) and the fact that, if you so choose, you too can mow down innocents with an automatic weapon as they try to escape your assault by ducking out from the cover of waiting-room seats and columns.

Whether you participate or not, the innocent die (since your comrades have no qualms about shooting), and the effect is nearly the same — a first-person POV of wholesale terrorist slaughter in which you’re culpable (passively or aggressively) for mass murder, and made to feel something approaching the burden and cruelty of real slaughter. For a game, and industry, predicated on selling shooting simulators as exciting and enjoyable, to have “Modern Warfare 2” position FPS mayhem as emotionally wrenching and ethically shameful proves something like a megaton-bomb shock to your system.

Creating a sense of repulsion over your actions isn’t exactly mainstream gaming’s usual modus operandi. That’s what makes “Modern Warfare 2″‘s centerpiece chapter so remarkable. Of course, Activision has gone out of its way to mitigate some of the backlash by making the scene optional (a choice to skip it entirely, with a warning about its extreme content, precedes the action), and then by making user participation in the crimes voluntary. For those who choose to tackle the mission, though, it exhibits the kind of button-pushing usually reserved for, well, a Haneke film.

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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.