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“The Tillman Story,” Reviewed

“The Tillman Story,” Reviewed (photo)

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This review originally ran as part of our coverage of 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.

Lesser 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.

06212010_TillmanStory2.jpgNarrator 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.)

While 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.

06212010_tillman6.jpgAfter 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.

“The Tillman Story” opens in limited release August 20th.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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