Reality Bites: Tim Grierson on “Act of Valor” and the problem with authenticity


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For an industry that makes its money selling make-believe, Hollywood sure gets hung up on authenticity from time to time. Whether it’s the stars of “Saving Private Ryan” going through a modified boot camp to prepare for their roles or the producers of “Moneyball” casting real baseball scouts to appear alongside Brad Pitt’s GM character, studios will occasionally trumpet the lengths they go to make their movies as believable as possible. (Or, in the case of the found-footage genre, the lengths they’ll go to make a fictional horror film look like a documentary.)

The latest film to make a virtue of its realism is the action movie “Act of Valor,” which features actual Navy SEALs in the main roles. And while that decision has some benefits, I couldn’t help but keep thinking one thing while watching “Act of Valor”: Do people really care how authentic movies are?

As you may have heard, “Act of Valor” started out as a Navy recruitment video from commercial directors Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh before morphing into a feature film about a team of SEALs who have to stop a terrorist plot within the U.S. The directors, who got permission to use official military hardware like submarines and helicopters, decided they had to have SEALs and not actors as their protagonists. As Waugh explained to the Los Angeles Times, “My analogy to them was, ‘Take “Top Gun,” pull Maverick out, and put in the real Maverick.’” If all that’s not enough authenticity for you, they also used real ammo during the fight scenes, and there’s no CGI in the movie.

When you’re making an historical drama, it’s understandable that you’d want the events you’re depicting to be as close to what really happened as possible. (Although as last year’s Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” demonstrates, you can fudge a fact or two and most people won’t mind.) But with action flicks, does it matter? Lots of producers think so: Many movies cooperate with the Department of Defense to gain access to military equipment or information. But with “Act of Valor,” the filmmakers wanted to go a step further by showing what the lives of the clandestine SEALs are really like. But even then there’s some secrecy: The two main characters, Chief Dave and Lt. Rorke, are played by SEALs named Dave and Rorke, although their full names are never revealed. (Their real-life wives and kids are also in the film.)

Incorporating actual soldiers and their families is a decent way to drive home these heroes’ reality. (We see them as they say goodbye to their loved ones, who know nothing about where they’re going, other than it’ll be someplace incredibly dangerous.) Nonetheless, “Act of Valor” can’t help but suffer because, well, these guys are Navy SEALs. They’re not actors — that’s not their job. Consequently, when it comes to making us care about them as people in the context of a piece of entertainment, it never quite works because they don’t have the dramatic faculties for it. As has been noted in a few reviews, the weird irony of “Act of Valor” is that because actors play the bad guys — casting real-life terrorists might have been a little difficult — they’re a lot more compelling than the good guys. It’s the downside to that need for authenticity: Fiction films are, ultimately, about pretend, which requires skills that go beyond being the actual person that you’re playing. (Plus, no matter how convincing the producers want things to be, some artificiality is inevitable — unless all the baddies we see shot in the head by SEAL snipers really were killed, of course.)

That said, there are advantages to the filmmakers’ quest to keep things real. While I hope it doesn’t inspire would-be Spielbergs in the audience to film their action scenes with live ammo, a couple firefights in “Act of Valor” have a spark to them simply because of the fact that you’re seeing what genuine gunfire looks like in a battle. And because of their training, the film’s Navy SEALs have a brutal, steely efficiency in the action sequences that’s less showy than what you normally see in war movies. You get the idea that these guys don’t mess around and that they’re total pros — even if no one’s told them that if they really want to be movie stars, they ought to come up with witty lines whenever they kill the bad guys.

But in the end, those moments of realism don’t add a lot to what makes people supposedly want to see movies in the first place. “Act of Valor” doesn’t have great characters, and its story is a pretty dull globetrotting race against time. So why did the film do so well commercially this past weekend, easily surpassing insiders’ box office predictions?

The answer may lie in the trailers I saw before “Act of Valor.” In trailer after trailer — whether it was for “John Carter” or “The Raven” or “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” — I was struck by how effects-heavy and, honestly, fake they all seemed. They could all be great films, but with our current obsession for CGI, we’re inundated with action movies in which everything is possible but not much looks real. “Act of Valor” is a forgettable film, but its success this weekend is a reminder that there’s always an audience craving something that feels a little truer. We all love the escapism of movies, but sometimes the illusion of authenticity can seem pretty appealing as well.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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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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GIFS via Giphy

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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