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Postmodern Warfare

Postmodern Warfare (photo)

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No filmmaker working today explores the act of watching as rigorously (and, some might say, as pedantically) as Michael Haneke, whose output largely consists of a single film, made over and over again in slightly different ways, about the viewer’s relationship to on-screen violence.

The Austrian provocateur’s cinematic lectures on how we’re all to blame for fostering a bloodthirsty entertainment culture are best summed up by “Funny Games” (and its shot-for-shot Stateside remake), which — in typical Haneke fashion — builds tension by teasing brutality while also cannily refusing to show us the actual slash-and-kill money shots. It’s a denial that serves as an audience chastisement for wanting to see, and get a kick out of, true horror. When it works, it’s its own kind of knife twist; when it doesn’t it can make Haneke seem like a tiresome schoolmarm, an artist who casts himself in the role of omnipotent, scolding father figure. Either way, he’s still technically masterful, and his works actively engage and critique our appetite for inhuman on-screen behavior.

While on-screen violence is even more essential to the video game realm, few game creators have attempted a Haneke-style postmodern analysis, and even fewer have done so within the play-it-safe confines of mainstream blockbusters. So it’s one of the year’s big surprises that its most disturbing and provocative piece of self-referential gaming comes via the holiday season’s biggest blockbuster, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.”

Like its 2007 predecessor, Activision’s first-person shooter sequel moves the venerable “Call of Duty” series out of World War II and into a fictionalized contemporary universe full of real world-ish geopolitical military scenarios, delivering high octane action, incredibly detailed graphics and bombastic sound, and a fast-moving narrative in which you take charge of multiple protagonists in various global hot spots. For the most part, the game’s just a highly polished, enjoyable piece of formula in terms of its level structure and mechanics. But in one of its early episodes, it manages to embrace a radical, morally debatable design choice that’s not only led to a lot of controversy, but also seems to suggest a possible template for a new era of meta gamemaking.

12042009_CallofDuty2.jpgThe sequence in question has you playing as an American military operative working undercover alongside a Russian terrorist, who, along with some heavily armed cohorts, is attacking a bustling airport, shooting civilians as they scream and flee for safety. It’s a scene that packs an immediate, stunning wallop, thanks not only to the obviously harrowing content, but the slow, ambulatory pace of the action (you can’t run) and the fact that, if you so choose, you too can mow down innocents with an automatic weapon as they try to escape your assault by ducking out from the cover of waiting-room seats and columns.

Whether you participate or not, the innocent die (since your comrades have no qualms about shooting), and the effect is nearly the same — a first-person POV of wholesale terrorist slaughter in which you’re culpable (passively or aggressively) for mass murder, and made to feel something approaching the burden and cruelty of real slaughter. For a game, and industry, predicated on selling shooting simulators as exciting and enjoyable, to have “Modern Warfare 2” position FPS mayhem as emotionally wrenching and ethically shameful proves something like a megaton-bomb shock to your system.

Creating a sense of repulsion over your actions isn’t exactly mainstream gaming’s usual modus operandi. That’s what makes “Modern Warfare 2″‘s centerpiece chapter so remarkable. Of course, Activision has gone out of its way to mitigate some of the backlash by making the scene optional (a choice to skip it entirely, with a warning about its extreme content, precedes the action), and then by making user participation in the crimes voluntary. For those who choose to tackle the mission, though, it exhibits the kind of button-pushing usually reserved for, well, a Haneke film.

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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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