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“The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” Reviewed

“The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the Sundance Film Festival 2011.

You’ve heard the expression “to err is human, to forgive is divine?” By that measure, Joshua Milton Blahyi — a.k.a. General Butt Naked — is the most human protagonist you’ll see in any movie this year. This man has made errors on an almost unimaginable scale. Back when he was known as “General Butt Naked,” a vicious warlord in the Liberian Civil War so named for his penchant for charging into battle completely nude, he killed thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children. Some years later, Blahyi found religion and now he spends his day as a fiery preacher on a quest for divinity; a quest for forgiveness.

But does a monster deserve forgiveness? That is the question that drives Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion’s documentary “The Redemption of General Butt Naked.” I don’t feel uncomfortable saying that General Butt Naked was a monster. We hear stories about his crimes and they are absolutely sickening. As if killing thousands of innocent people wasn’t bad enough, Blahyi filled his private army with young boys he “recruited” (in other words, he stole them from their homes and families) because he believed teenagers made better soldiers. Why? Because teenagers were more easily brainwashed into loyalty and fearlessness than adults. Blahyi would show them Hollywood action movies and convince them that life was a movie too. Die in this one and you’ll come back in another one just like Jean-Claude Van Damme does. He said this. They believed him.

Now it’s years later. Most of those boys are long dead. The few that remain live in abject poverty. But Blahyi remains free to walk the streets of Liberia, preaching about the power of God. He preaches as he must have commanded his troops: with charisma, swagger, and a heavy dose of intimidation. He claims he wants to “balance the scales of the past,” so he tries to build homes and support groops for the boys who used to kill for him. And he goes to visit the relatives of his victims and plead for forgiveness, camera crew in tow.

We watch these scenes with queasy fascination. “I’m sorry I killed your brother,” he tells one woman, adding, “Whenever you need brotherly protection, call on me.” The woman doesn’t know what to say. Can you blame her? Imagine someone killed your relative, then came to you, years later, and apologetically offered to replace said relative in your life. What would you say? “Uh, thanks. I’m all set in the brotherly protection department. K, thanks, bye.” A strong case could be made that none of the people Blahyi visit really forgive him. There’s enough visible anxiety in their faces and audible uncertainty in their voices to suggest they’re just saying what he wants to hear because they’re still afraid of him and will do whatever he wants to keep him from murdering them too.

On some abstract level, Blahyi’s change of heart is admirable. But his quest for forgiveness seems as much about assuaging his own monumental sense of guilt as soothing the bereaved souls of the people he’s harmed. The only person who appears truly healed after these encounters is Blahyi himself; everyone else remains shellshocked by grief and tragedy. It’s fascinating to watch forgiveness, which is such a selfless act, twisted into a selfish need.

I think “The Redemption of Butt Naked” works better as a conversation piece than as a film. As a film, it’s a bit too repetitive and, even at just 84 minutes, a bit too long. Though Blahyi goes through a few upheavals over the course of the documentary — testifying before a war crimes tribunal, hiding from his enemies in Ghana — this is essentially a plotless series of encounters between Blahyi, his God, and the people he’s wronged. Blahyi himself is no different a person at the end of the film than he is at its beginning. His life is probably better suited to a 60 minute character study than 90 minute feature.

But even at that prolonged runtime, “The Redemption of Butt Naked” is still an amazing character study. Blahyi is such complex man: compelling, pathetic, and infuriating. And mark my words: this film will start conversations. I saw this movie in a screening room with just one other person and after it was over, we couldn’t help but debate the film and the issues it raises. Can a change of heart — even one as extreme as Blahyi’s — ever erase the amount of evil he brought into the world? And who is forgiveness ultimately for? The forgiver or the forgiven?

My colleague and I batting around those questions until we were forced to part ways on diverging subway lines. Even if the film was human, the discussion was divine.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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