Seagal’s “On Deadly Ground” an unexpectedly hot topic after last week’s UK shooting.

Seagal’s “On Deadly Ground” an unexpectedly hot topic after last week’s UK shooting. (photo)

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In the early hours of last Wednesday afternoon, an English taxi driver named Derrick Bird watched the Steven Seagal film “On Deadly Ground” at a friend’s house, left and embarked on the worst mass shooting in Britain since 1996.

“On Deadly Ground” is the infamous Steven Seagal cult classic about environmentalism; it is not a film that anyone has ever taken seriously in their entire life. For the purposes of the media, though, it’s been cleaned up into “an action film involving multiple killings.” You could almost hear the staff of the Guardian — if not exactly pleased about the tragedy — at least mulling over how much copy they could get out of the link: “The debate over the effect of violent films looks set to be revived,” they wrote. “The film […] involved multiple scenes of graphic violence involving a range of firearms.” Sure. Why do we have to argue about this again, exactly?

The last time the connection between violent films/music/games and real life violence was given intense media focus was during the wave of school shootings that scared the hell out of everyone in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Lawsuits were filed against the producers of “The Basketball Diaries” and people fretted about “Doom” and Marilyn Manson and so on.

06082010_beavis1.jpgBefore that, much of the ’90s were spent worrying about whether or not “Beavis & Butthead” would destroy society after a boy set fire to a mobile home. Before that, John Hinckley got a little too obsessed with Jodie Foster and set off on his date of destiny with Ronald Reagan.

The temptation to link violent pop culture — i.e., Culture You Don’t Like — to the worst society has to offer has always been tempting. But, like Chuck Klosterman wrote about the two young men who shot themselves after listening to Judas Priest, “Even as an adolescent, I understood that the kind of kid who thought Bruce Dickinson was telling him to worship Satan was the same kind of kid who would have been corrupted by the hum of a refrigerator.” It’s hard to responsibly draw a link between a movie that’s been watched by millions and the one guy who does something right afterward.

But it persists, and reporters continue to pick up on the apparently salient detail — are they trained to ask everyone what the last movie the perpetrator watched was? What’s this urge to draw a direct connection between a movie and its most violent adherent (especially when that movie is, c’mon, one of the more widely mocked of the ’90s)?

06082010_thematrix.jpgA decade after “The Matrix” was being tied to Columbine (shootings in black trenchcoats!), it shows with monotonous regularity on basic cable; no one’s died from it since. Nor has the culture at large gotten significantly less violent, nor have all the common-sense arguments made any headway; there has yet to be a single definable case of a movie pushing a sane person over the edge completely.

It’s natural to look for causes, explanations for these terrible acts. And it’s easy to pin them on whatever was last in someone’s DVD player. But it’s a debate that’s driven by fear, not reason. And it looks like we’re about to have it again.

[Photos: “On Deadly Ground,” Warner Bros., 1994; “Beavis and Butt-head,” MTV, 1993; “The Matrix,” Warner Bros., 1999]

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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