DID YOU READ

“The Tillman Story,” demystifying an American hero.

“The Tillman Story,” demystifying an American hero. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival.

“Everybody who speaks about the Tillman family says, ‘I don’t want to speak for them,'” said Amir Bar-Lev, who admitted he was developing a habit of saying the same thing during what was his eighth festival Q & A for “The Tillman Story,” his doc about the lies and deception that befell the family of NFL star-turned-fallen soldier Pat Tillman after he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Strange words from someone who spent years making a documentary about the family, but certainly understandable once you meet the Tillmans, an outspoken clan given to the F-word, but disciplined enough to have once had a rule in the household where if anyone was on the telephone, they would have to conduct their call in front of everyone else.

In an interview before his death, Pat tells an admiring story of his mother Dannie, who once ran the San Francisco Marathon and finished dead last as volunteers were dismantling the finish line, but finished nonetheless. As Bar-Lev makes clear, such tenacity was passed onto her son, a talented athlete who at 5’11” was considered too small to make it to the pros, but was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals and for three seasons would knock the stuffing out of opposing offenses as a safety.

06212010_TillmanStory2.jpgLesser known was that his voracious appetite for wide receivers was matched by a quest for knowledge, as Tillman would read Noam Chomsky and the Book of Mormon with equal vigor and though he was not religious himself, he adhered to a strict code of conduct that seemingly preached humility and responsibility.

Narrator Josh Brolin intones, “We’ll never know exactly why Pat Tillman enlisted,” but Bar-Lev lays out as much as there is to know about the way he died and the mythmaking that followed, courtesy of the U.S. military and the mass media. With footage tracing the scene of Tillman’s death provided by fellow soldier Donald Lee, “The Tillman Story” picks apart the details of the skirmish that claimed Tillman’s life that no one can seem to agree upon, from what distance he was shot at from (possibly as close as 40 feet) to whether there was even enemy fire (a claim Dannie believes).

The only common consensus among the military is that those details should be kept from Tillman’s family, with their vast cover-up and subsequent media campaign to “Paul Bunyan-ize” him, as Bar-Lev called it after the film, slowly but steadily pecked at by Pat’s parents or brothers who wouldn’t let their grief compromise their values. (In one of the film’s most damning scenes, it’s shown that Pat smuggled out the document to his wife that states he never wanted a military funeral before shots of Maria Shriver and John McCain can be seen paying their respects at a full-fledged gala in San Jose.)

06212010_tillman6.jpgWhile much of the credit for exposing the military’s misdeeds belongs to the Tillmans, Bar-Lev achieves no small feat in parsing out a complicated narrative and picking up on the family’s outrage without turning it into a partisan or anti-military screed. He was fortunate to have gotten in touch with Stan Goff, a wisecracking former soldier and blogger at the Feral Scholar who was sought out by Dannie to “read the hieroglyphics” in the 3000 pages of documents she receives on her son’s fratricide.

Goff similarly decodes the military speak for the film and adds a much-needed levity to the proceedings that makes the tough medicine easier to swallow. Likewise, the Tillmans themselves appear as a level-headed, amiable bunch whose determination and hard-earned appreciation of the absurdity of being so wronged makes you only wish you had their kind of reserve.

After dismantling the mass media’s eagerness to turn Tillman into a hero, it could be argued that Bar-Lev merely takes such lionization in a different direction, creating heroes out of the entire Tillman clan and in particular, Pat, whose intellectual muscle is put on par with his physical brawn, further rounding out his iconic appearance to be all things to all people. Bar-Lev gives credence to this idea by opening the film with footage of Tillman in a Cardinals uniform sitting silently as he waits for an interview to start.

But there’s too much humanity on display, whether it’s in interviews from those closest to him or the all-too-brief glimpses we get of Tillman while he was alive, to think of him as anything but a person who was capable of extraordinary things, but desperately wanted to be considered ordinary.

06212010_tillman5.jpgWith that in mind, Bar-Lev’s initial pitch to the family of a film about Pat — and all about Pat — wasn’t embraced immediately. As Bar-Lev said after the screening, the family feared a film would only “contribute to the hagiography” built up around Pat; Pat’s brother Kevin, who enlisted at the same time, doesn’t appear at all in the film except for archival footage and provided behind-the-scenes background to the filmmakers, and Pat’s youngest brother Richard only agreed to be interviewed on camera after seeing a mostly complete cut of the film.

Bar-Lev and a mostly quiet Brolin fielded questions mainly concerning the military’s mishandling of the friendly fire shooting and other situations like it, but the director did answer a burning question for those who saw the film in Sundance when it was called “I’m Pat Fucking Tillman,” a nod to Tillman’s defiant final words to his fellow soldiers on the battlefield.

After Bar-Lev was “dragged kicking and screaming,” he agreed to change it when realizing the potential for jokey rewording (“I’m Fucking Pat Tillman”) and limiting his audience, noting that Tillman has many admirers who would be put off immediately. Regardless of what it’s called, “The Tillman Story” should attract plenty of admirers when it’s released on August 20th.

[Photos: “The Tillman Story,” Weinstein Company, 2010]

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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.