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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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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.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.