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Shelf Life: Charlie Sheen’s “Navy SEALs”


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Although there will always be something primal and urgent about action movies that connects with their fans on a visceral level, the authenticity their execution has varied wildly throughout the years. Some are highly stylized, exaggerated adventures as exhilarating as they are detached from any tangible reality, and others exude a chilling believability that makes viewers recoil even as they grow more invested. And on last Friday, Relativity Media took a little from column A and a little from column B for “Act of Valor,” a military adventure starring real, active-duty Navy SEALs whose “realism” will strike some as riveting and others as risible.

But Navy SEALs have been portrayed on film several times in the past, perhaps most notably in the film of the same name, “Navy SEALs.” The 1990 film, directed by Lewis Teague, mythologizes the “off-the-books” branch while taking pages from the playbooks of almost every military movie in the previous decade, which is probably one of the big reasons why it was poorly received upon its initial release. But two-plus decades later, was it more prescient or accurate or just plain entertaining that audiences once thought it was? This week’s “Shelf Life” investigates to find out.

The Facts

Released July 20, 1990, “Navy SEALs” was not a commercial success; although it debuted in theaters at No. 4 at the box office, it earned little bit more than $25 million during its theatrical run. No numbers are available for its home video revenues, but by all accounts it was more successful there. Meanwhile, the film earned only a 19 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, receiving four positive reviews and 17 negative ones.

What Still Works

The irony of my statement about it being derivative above is that “Navy SEALs” probably works best as a nostalgia piece, a portrait of where action movies were at by 1990 – or ones without high-profile stars or directors, anyway. After all, it almost exclusively stars actors whom audiences identified with military-themed movies – Charlie Sheen (“Platoon”), Michael Biehn (“The Terminator,” “Aliens”), Rick Rossovich (“Top Gun”) and Bill Paxton (“Aliens”) – and it exhibits the last vestiges of ‘80s leading-man super-heroics that in many ways helped its predecessors become such iconic pieces of entertainment.

“Top Gun” is the movie’s most obvious template, as much because of the character dynamic between Sheen’s Dale Hawkins and the rest of his team as the film’s dubious if frequently amusing attribution of accuracy to its story. Like “Top Gun” it’s less propaganda than a masturbatory celebrations of the military, and it offers an ennobling look at the lives and careers of soldiers, chronicling both their heroism in action and their camaraderie off the battlefield.

Conversely, Biehn’s seeming inability (at least at that time in his career) to play a character capable of real joy or lightheartedness works like gangbusters for his character, whose control over Hawkins is tenuous at best despite the ongoing realization that what he and his men are fighting for is nothing to be dismissed or looked down upon. Plus, he lives on a houseboat, which is one of the greater action-movie clichés of all time.

And while I’ll always have a soft spot for practical effects, the film’s set pieces are genuinely impressive, especially during the finale, in which the producers created a rich and detailed battle zone for the heroes to fight through. And even if Sheen and the rest did none of their own stunts (the big ones, anyway), there are a couple of cool little gags in the film, such as when Sheen’s character jumps out of a moving jeep, off of a bridge, into a river, and when the character later chases down a tow truck, jumps onto the bed, releases his car, and drives backwards in order to rescue his car without being smashed to bits by an oncoming 18-wheeler.

What Doesn’t Work

Particularly in retrospect, the film’s cartoonish sense of individualism. While the choice to make Maverick a “hot shot who lives fast and plays by his own rules” not only made Tom Cruise a bona fide star but worked enormously well within the confines of that story, Sheen’s character is no Maverick, and by the third or fourth mission he goes on in the film, he would, or at least should have been punished for outright insubordination. At one point Hawkins’ disobedience gets one of his team members killed, and it’s almost as if you can hear the break of dawn of the Age of Entitlement, where now characters (much less people) aren’t required to atone or sometimes even acknowledge their mistake; while he admits he “fucked up,” there’s never really any catharsis or payoff to the realization that him not doing his job right ended with someone else literally being killed, and even at the end, his defiance is looked at ambivalently, if not embraced via his decision to go back in (against orders) and rescue a superior officer.

Hawkins’ insubordination is unfortunately the tip of a very large iceberg in terms of the film’s egregious inaccuracies, all of which are discernible to even the most casual viewer. In battle, none of the soldiers wear helmets, instead donning do-rags or nothing at all, and their strategies in the field are feeble-minded at best, and consistently are created with seemingly complete ignorance of the particulars of the assignment, who they might see, how to handle situations, or what sort of opposition they might encounter.

Finally, the dialogue isn’t just on the nose, it’s in it: after a rescued pilot tells the team “you guys are amazing,” Biehn says, “there’s no reason to thank us. We don’t exist. This never happened.” And when it’s not stupidly underscoring plot points or highlighting subtext, the dialogue is often comprised of one-liners that aren’t even clever, such as when Biehn tells Sheen to cool it. Sheen responds, “I’m cool – you should see me when I’m hot!”

The Verdict

“Navy SEALs” isn’t an outright bad film – it would need to be more ambitious to have failed so nobly – but in general it’s pretty boring and consistently mediocre. That doesn’t necessarily to do with the performances as much as it does the script, which is assembled largely from ‘80s blockbuster clichés and the thinnest pretense of real-world accuracy, which is why it hasn’t endured as one of the great thrillers of its era. All in all, “Navy SEALs” is too bland and unexciting to inspire much love or hate – which is probably why a movie like “Act of Valor” can come along, champion its military bona fides with confidence, and somehow not feel like a sorry follow-up.

Leave your own impressions of “Navy SEALs” in the comments below!

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 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….


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.


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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