DID YOU READ

“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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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.

via GIPHY

It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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