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.


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.