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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.


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.