Flying tanks are sinking action movies.

Flying tanks are sinking action movies. (photo)

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In his podcast review of “The A-Team,” the A.V. Club‘s Scott Tobias articulated something I’ve been trying to put my finger on recently regarding my frustration with a lot of recent action movies. Though Tobias liked “The A-Team,” he took some time to critique the film’s extravagant use of CGI, which he argued “has harmed action movies [in general]:

The you-can-do anything possibility of CGI has allowed for things to happen onscreen that maybe are not that entertaining. The original ‘A-Team’… was limited by stunts and by practical effects and what you can do with what budget you have for a TV show in the 1980s. [The film ‘A-Team’] is a splashy, nine-figure Hollywood action movie in 2010, so the various plans that come together in this film are so completely crazy that it insults the intelligence too much.

If I understand Tobias’ argument — and if I don’t, forgive me, I’m going to turn it into my own — the problem with CGI in this context is that it permits the A-Team to do things that move beyond the realm of the highly improbable into the world of the totally impossible. If the TV “A-Team”‘s action sequences were limited by what they could practically do and physically accomplish, that was a good thing because the characters themselves were limited by what they could practically do and physically accomplish.

If, as Orson Welles believed, the absence of limitations is the enemy of art, there’s a certain artfulness to the raw ingenuity of the original “A-Team” (and a certain lack of artfulness to the decadence of the new one). Hannibal might think it would be really cool to fly a tank through the air and use it to kill a plane, but if he can’t actually pull it off because it violates the laws of physics, it’s sort of a moot point.

06182010_persia1.jpgCGI has rendered moot points moot. Like Patton Oswalt’s line about reckless science, modern CGI is all about coulda, not shoulda. Instead of operating as a filmmaker’s tool, it becomes the entire machine. And while CGI can look beautiful, inspire awe, and even move us in the right context, it divorces action from the things we like about it: the element of risk, the feeling of danger, the thrill of knowing someone’s actually attempting the things we’re seeing onscreen. Watching the A-Team fly a tank is like listening to someone sing through an Auto-Tune. It might be aesthetically pleasing, but it’s not impressive.

CGI action can be entertaining, and it certainly has its place in films with more fantastical and supernatural elements, but in more grounded, real world fare, it levels the action playing field in a way I don’t like. There’s a Darwinian quality to great stuntmen and physical comedians like Chaplin, Keaton or Chan: they got to where they were because they were more gifted, more talented, and more daring than anyone else.

None of that applies to actors performing in front of a green screen with tennis balls on strings as scene partners. Anyone with a good enough computer and some decent cinematography skills could turn themselves into a stuntman these days — hell, I could be the one in that flying tank. But instead of making those stunts more appealing, it has the opposite effect. There’s no awe, just bemusement. Action shouldn’t be relatable. I’m reminded of the lesson of “The Incredibles”: when everyone’s special, no one is.

I started thinking about some of these ideas while reviewing the thoroughly pleasing “Undisputed III: Redemption” recently for my straight-to-DVD column. There you have some gifted physical artists, men like Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror, doing some really impressive stunts. But the filmmakers still felt obligated to slow down their work with needless camera tricks and slow-motion. Every one takes us further away from the actors, and gives us a reason to think something is fake or staged or aided by hidden wires.

If guys like Adkins and Zaror don’t need the help, don’t give it to them. No so-called “special” effect will ever be as special as that tingle you feel up your spine when a real person attempts something really dangerous. Does CGI ever make your palms sweat the way mine do when I watch Chaplin on his rollerskates? The closer an action film gets to a documentary, and the further it gets from quick cuts, camera tricks, and even slow-motion, the better. Call me old-fashioned if you want. In my day, tanks didn’t fly.

[Photos: “The A-Team,” 20th Century Fox, 2010; “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Disney, 2010; “Undisputed III: Redemption,” Warner Bros., 2010]


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…


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. 


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

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.


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.


Forget Public Wifi

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



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.


Self Defense

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


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