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The Sandbox: Virtual Hypocrisy

The Sandbox: Virtual Hypocrisy (photo)

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Chalk it up to fluke timing or the shifting pop culture landscape, but there’s a trio of Hollywood films this fall that deal directly with gaming by way of virtual reality storylines. Headlined by last weekend’s “Gamer” and soon to be followed by the Bruce Willis action flick “Surrogates” and December’s insanely hyped James Cameron epic “Avatar,” this trend suggests just how dominant gaming is becoming in the entertainment arena — dominant enough to tsked at by movies that are also arguably trying to mimic its qualities.

With stories centered on humans steering avatars through real-world settings, these three films deal with gaming’s fundamental mechanics and serve as commentaries on the medium that encroaching on cinema’s pop-cult supremacy. They’re spectacle-heavy genre flicks that are also critiques of their main competition for consumers’ time and money, reflecting the ever more frequent desire movies have shown to simultaneously emulate and malign the games that serve as their underlying subject matter.

Of the three, “Gamer” is the one that front-end tackles the growing clout of video games. It’s set in a near-future where a prime pastime is a “Sims” variant called “Society” that allows couch potatoes to manipulate — and live out their most deviant sexual fantasies through — human proxies. The most popular TV program is the “Running Man”-esque “Slayers,” in which death row inmates are controlled in warzone environments by teenage players.

As befitting a product of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the duo responsible for the “Crank” series, “Gamer” is first and foremost a balls-to-the-wall orgy of tasteless titillation and brutality, spliced together with the type of aneurysm-triggering editing that’s become standard for any movie attempting to convey the sensory-overload nature of games. Despite the fact that Neveldine/Taylor never make it clear if “Slayers” is a first- or third-person shooter (details, fellas, details!), “Gamer” is actually reasonably successful at replicating the hectic nature of shooters’ mayhem, not to mention the unchecked bloodlust and perverse impulses that compel so many to partake in, respectively, action titles and MMORPGs.

“Gamer”‘s take on the urges exploited by certain game genres is a contradictory one — its flashy, trashy celebration of porn and murder simulators is at odds with its condemnation of modern gaming’s (and television’s) burgeoning seediness. As is often the case with films about the dark side of violent/erotic cinema — I’m wagging my finger at you, Michael Haneke — Neveldine/Taylor’s latest aims to chastise the very things it’s selling, and such hypocrisy naturally undercuts their thesis.

09112009_StrangeDays.jpgA paradoxical portrait of gaming as something that’s both exhilarating and bad for you (and society at large), “Gamer” advances an ambiguous outlook that’s in line with many of its predecessors, from David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” to the Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe actioner “Virtuosity” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days.” In general, any film that has humans artificially interfacing with real or phony world — including “The Matrix” trilogy, an odyssey rooted in the twin desires to master and escape a synthetic environment — tends to show these interactions as thrilling avenues for indulging your wildest fantasies before finally concluding that such experiences lead to alienation and degeneration. In other words, virtual reality is like heroin: initially intoxicating, then fatally toxic.

Given how closely related this subgenre of films is to gaming, which in its very nature requires a player to manage some sort of avatar within a computerized space, this love/hate stance toward virtual reality can be seen as a sustained cinematic commentary on games themselves. For filmmakers, the aesthetics of games are things to be imitated, if only so they can keep up with rapidly changing tastes and expectations.

But mimicry can only go so far — since gaming has become a rival medium for the movies, gaming/virtual reality eventually has to be decried for causing harmful detachment from what’s real and true. And sometimes it’s a valid argument. But the single-minded critical opinion you find in these movies reeks of desperate defiance, coming off not just as a vain attempt to examine our increasingly digital age, but to slander a key 21st century rivals for global hearts and wallets.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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