Giving Audiences the War They Want

Giving Audiences the War They Want (photo)

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Americans soldiers, weighted down with backpacks and machine guns, rush up a hill in the remote mountains of Afghanistan. We follow them closely through the underbrush as bullets whiz past their heads, then voices call out — a man is down, one of theirs. A grieving soldier goes into shock, breathing heavily, on the verge of breakdown, as his comrades try to steady him. It’s utter chaos — in short, this is war.

But this is a very specific representation of war — as chronicled in new documentaries like Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s “Restrepo,” the Danish Cannes winner “Armadillo” and photojournalist Danfung Dennis’ work-in-progress “Hell and Back Again.” Visceral, alarming and in-your-face, these Afghanistan docs offer a depiction of war that isn’t exactly new in the mediascape, but it stands in striking contrast to the images we’ve seen coming out of Iraq for the last several years.

Because the bulk of Iraq docs focused on political controversies (“Standard Operating Procedure,” “No End in Sight”) and the war’s impact on U.S. soldiers (“Gunner Palace,” “The War Tapes”) and Iraqi civilians (“Iraq in Fragments,” “My Country, My Country”), the films lacked a key ingredient that we’ve come to associate with war: combat.

06142010_GunnerPalace.jpgAs “Gunner Palace” director Michael Tucker puts it, “Iraq was a really dirty, ugly, horrific, incredibly boring hot thing, where it’s driving, driving, driving, and then ‘boom,’ suddenly people die. But Afghanistan looks like Khe Sanh: it’s got Chinooks; it’s not in the middle of the city; it’s easier for people to process.”

“They’re entirely different conflicts,” agrees Danfung Dennis, who is the middle of cutting down 80 hours of footage of his film, “Hell and Back Again,” which follows a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and back home in North Carolina. “They are different insurgent groups and different tactics. Iraq is about IEDs; not so much small arms’ fire. Iraq is urban; Afghanistan is mostly rural. And the fighting is very localized in Afghanistan to a number of districts. If you find out where those areas are, you can capture these combat scenes that are more accessible to audiences.”

Indeed, the filmmakers behind “Restrepo,” “Armadillo” and “Hell and Back Again” all have similar aims: to capture a “you are there” immediacy that filmed combat can so bracingly convey. And because of the nature of the war in Afghanistan, and its many differences to the more diffuse battlefront in Iraq — in addition to the use of intimate shooting techniques — they’ve been able to evoke the kinetic horrors of war in a much more palpable way.

06152010_obamaswar1.jpg“Visceral, immersive and honest” are the words Dennis uses to convey what he is trying to capture. Embedded with a company in Southern Afghanistan for three weeks, Dennis loaned some of his footage for the opening sequences of the recent Frontline documentary “Obama’s War.” And like “Restrepo,” we see soldiers caught in “What the Fuck!” screaming fits, firing machine guns crazily into a dusty haze, and yes, taking casualties.

Shot with the Canon 5D Mark II, which looks like a standard still camera, and mounted on a lightweight stabilizing system with custom-made aluminum “wings,” Dennis’ scenes have a kind of gut-wrenching quality that echoes the violent landscapes we’ve come to associate with previous war imagery, whether the jungles of Vietnam or the beaches of Normandy, whether their fictional representations, from “Apocalypse Now” to “Saving Private Ryan” to those from news footage.


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.