“The Bang Bang Club,” Reviewed

“The Bang Bang Club,” Reviewed (photo)

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This is a strange week to review “The Bang Bang Club.” When I saw the film about ten days ago, it was a biopic about the past, and war photographers in 1990s South Africa. Today it feels like a movie about the present. Sitting here, trying to write about the film, I can’t stop thinking about “Restrepo” director and war photographer Tim Hetherington, who was killed earlier this week covering the civil war in Libya. We think of movies as these fixed things. But they change right along with us. When I saw “The Bang Bang Club” ten days ago, I liked it. Now, I feel haunted by it.

The film is about a real-life group of photojournalists who were known as “The Bang Bang Club.” They went into the most dangerous parts of South Africa and took photographs that others were too afraid to get. In the process, they brought a secret war to international attention. There were four members of the group: Greg, Ken, Kevin, and Joao. By the time their careers as war photographers were over, either by choice or because of their deaths, two of them had won Pulitzer Prizes for their work.

Director Steven Silver goes to great lengths to recreate the Bang Bang Club’s pictures in the film, even shooting many scenes in the same locations where the original events took place. Even as simulations, these pictures make an impact. Recreations of township riots and fierce militant gunfights pulse with unsettlingly realistic energy. You can feel the tension in every scene.

Though all the members of the Bang Bang Club were South African, several of the actors in the film are North American. Ryan Phillippe plays Greg, the last addition to the crew and the first to win the Pulitzer. Taylor Kitsch plays Kevin, the open-hearted soul who welcomes Greg in. He frames the narrative with an interview with a radio station. “What makes a photograph great?” the host asks Kevin. He pauses, at a loss for words. The movie that follows provides the answer. You know what they say about pictures and words.

The rest of the Club includes Frank Rautenbach as Ken and Neels Van Jaarsveld as Joao. All four make a convincing tight-knit group of friends and colleagues, and Phillippe and Kitsch’s South African accents are good enough to be unnoticeable, which is good enough. The most physically attractive photojournalism staff ever assembled is rounded out by Malin Akerman as their editor, Robin. A love story brews between Greg and Robin which doesn’t add much to the film, though that might be as much the fault of the real people involved as the screenwriters trying to adapt their messy lives into a manageable narrative. Such are the hazards of biopics.

I would have liked “The Bang Bang Club” to more clearly delineated the various forces fighting for control of South Africa. And I wish it directly confronted the racial component of a film about four white men documenting — and also profiting from — the horrors that legions of black men were visting upon one another. The film is largely apolitical, perhaps by design. The Bang Bang Club saw it as their job to witness and record these events, not necessarily to comment on them.

Give “The Bang Bang Club” credit though. It manages to be an entertaining and illuminating look into the lives of photojournalists without blindly valorizing them as perfect, golden heroes. They may be brave; the may also be thrill-seekers. And the film pays more than lip service to the idea that for all the good that these photographers did, they could have done more. To get the shot that won him a Pulitzer Prize, Kevin Carter had to resist the urge to help a starving child as a vulture circled her. After witnessing Greg’s coldness with some subjects, Robin says he pretends like the people he photographs aren’t even human. Greg doesn’t argue. Does that make his actions — and inactions — inhuman?

Phillippe and Kitsch are both such handsome actors, that it’s easy to forget the actor part and focus on the handsome part. But both give strong performances here that honor the legacies and memories of them men they’re portraying. There’s room for more nuance in “The Bang Bang Club,” but there was enough to keep me engaged. And after this week’s news, the film flooded back to me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.


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.