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“The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” Reviewed

“The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the Sundance Film Festival 2011.

You’ve heard the expression “to err is human, to forgive is divine?” By that measure, Joshua Milton Blahyi — a.k.a. General Butt Naked — is the most human protagonist you’ll see in any movie this year. This man has made errors on an almost unimaginable scale. Back when he was known as “General Butt Naked,” a vicious warlord in the Liberian Civil War so named for his penchant for charging into battle completely nude, he killed thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children. Some years later, Blahyi found religion and now he spends his day as a fiery preacher on a quest for divinity; a quest for forgiveness.

But does a monster deserve forgiveness? That is the question that drives Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion’s documentary “The Redemption of General Butt Naked.” I don’t feel uncomfortable saying that General Butt Naked was a monster. We hear stories about his crimes and they are absolutely sickening. As if killing thousands of innocent people wasn’t bad enough, Blahyi filled his private army with young boys he “recruited” (in other words, he stole them from their homes and families) because he believed teenagers made better soldiers. Why? Because teenagers were more easily brainwashed into loyalty and fearlessness than adults. Blahyi would show them Hollywood action movies and convince them that life was a movie too. Die in this one and you’ll come back in another one just like Jean-Claude Van Damme does. He said this. They believed him.

Now it’s years later. Most of those boys are long dead. The few that remain live in abject poverty. But Blahyi remains free to walk the streets of Liberia, preaching about the power of God. He preaches as he must have commanded his troops: with charisma, swagger, and a heavy dose of intimidation. He claims he wants to “balance the scales of the past,” so he tries to build homes and support groops for the boys who used to kill for him. And he goes to visit the relatives of his victims and plead for forgiveness, camera crew in tow.

We watch these scenes with queasy fascination. “I’m sorry I killed your brother,” he tells one woman, adding, “Whenever you need brotherly protection, call on me.” The woman doesn’t know what to say. Can you blame her? Imagine someone killed your relative, then came to you, years later, and apologetically offered to replace said relative in your life. What would you say? “Uh, thanks. I’m all set in the brotherly protection department. K, thanks, bye.” A strong case could be made that none of the people Blahyi visit really forgive him. There’s enough visible anxiety in their faces and audible uncertainty in their voices to suggest they’re just saying what he wants to hear because they’re still afraid of him and will do whatever he wants to keep him from murdering them too.

On some abstract level, Blahyi’s change of heart is admirable. But his quest for forgiveness seems as much about assuaging his own monumental sense of guilt as soothing the bereaved souls of the people he’s harmed. The only person who appears truly healed after these encounters is Blahyi himself; everyone else remains shellshocked by grief and tragedy. It’s fascinating to watch forgiveness, which is such a selfless act, twisted into a selfish need.

I think “The Redemption of Butt Naked” works better as a conversation piece than as a film. As a film, it’s a bit too repetitive and, even at just 84 minutes, a bit too long. Though Blahyi goes through a few upheavals over the course of the documentary — testifying before a war crimes tribunal, hiding from his enemies in Ghana — this is essentially a plotless series of encounters between Blahyi, his God, and the people he’s wronged. Blahyi himself is no different a person at the end of the film than he is at its beginning. His life is probably better suited to a 60 minute character study than 90 minute feature.

But even at that prolonged runtime, “The Redemption of Butt Naked” is still an amazing character study. Blahyi is such complex man: compelling, pathetic, and infuriating. And mark my words: this film will start conversations. I saw this movie in a screening room with just one other person and after it was over, we couldn’t help but debate the film and the issues it raises. Can a change of heart — even one as extreme as Blahyi’s — ever erase the amount of evil he brought into the world? And who is forgiveness ultimately for? The forgiver or the forgiven?

My colleague and I batting around those questions until we were forced to part ways on diverging subway lines. Even if the film was human, the discussion was divine.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

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…