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“The Messenger” and “Cloud 9” on DVD

“The Messenger” and “Cloud 9” on DVD (photo)

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Oscar-nominated if underpraised while in theaters, Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger” is by far the most mature and moving film made yet about the Iraqi invasion, even if Iraqis themselves don’t even make an appearance as figures mentioned in battle stories. It’s a telling, ethically vibrant film, and for Americans to manage such a thing while a war is still happening is kind of a miracle. The films made during World War II can largely be excused as propaganda, and it took until the mid-50s, with “From Here to Eternity” (1953) and Robert Aldrich’s definitive “Attack!” (1956), for American film to express the sense of trauma and unhappy cost that any authentic pop characterization of war must command. With the exception of Samuel Fuller’s “The Steel Helmet,” released in 1951 less than four months after American troops crossed the 38th parallel, it took almost four years for The Korean War to be reground into drama, message and regret, starting with Anthony Mann’s “Men in War” (1957). The Vietnam-American War, as we well know, was crazy televised, and yet, putting aside a few pungent docs and one risible agitprop orgasm (John Wayne’s 1968 “The Green Berets”), three years had to pass after the last airlift before the bandages could come off and we permitted ourselves to finger the scabs and scars.

05182010_Messenger4.jpgIt may just be that a little distance, a little grieving and acclimation, is necessary, for the viewers to accept the showbiz manhandling of their pain and ambivalence, and the image-makers to figure how to do it with some kind of perspective. Of course, the problem with the Iraq war is that although it hasn’t ended, it seems to have ended, sort of, fading from the headlines in lieu of Obamacare, Afghanistan, earthquakes and oil spills. Moverman’s movie is a homefront war movie, with a difference – unlike others in the “Best Years of Our Lives” paradigm, this isn’t about the discomfiture of soldiers returning to civilianhood, but about the task of manning the homefront by reporting the dead to their families. We think Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is merely a buttoned-down battle case when he glowers at his reassignment after coming home wounded, and like him, the film is realigning the war-movie priorities – there’s combat, but then there’s the result, Moverman is saying, families with holes in them, keening parents, shattered wives, orphaned children. The showbiz idea that war may be hell but it’s fun to watch, too — inherent in so many American war movies, including “The Hurt Locker” — is abandoned. Instead, the moral costs are confronted head-on, in your face, on some stranger’s doorstep.

Montgomery turns out to be both less and more than we expected, and Moverman seems hyperaware of how we second-guess military characters in stress situations, because he dodges the clichés at every step. Woody Harrelson’s Stone, Montgomery’s commanding officer, is another stereotype that begins to shed onion layers – by the middle of the film, after harrowing house visit after house visit, the two men are as complicated by rage and secrets and shame and vulnerability as any that an American independent film has produced in years.

05182010_Messenger3.jpgThe story follows their tentative bonding, and Montgomery’s impulsive attraction to a young widow (the amazing Samantha Morton) after she reacts very differently to the soldiers’ news than they expect her to. But Moverman’s achievement is more on the micro-level: the time spent absorbing wholesale grief (Moverman’s camera is always ready to hang back and give the victims air, while Foster’s hardass always wells up with tears but freezes), the conversations full of unspoken intention, the rhythms of scenes as the characters, responding to disaster, hunt internally for ways to react. And the acting is razor-sharp, right down to Steve Buscemi as a soldier’s father, upping the film’s ante in his pivotal scene, and then raising it again later, unexpectedly. Overall, there’s a sense of tender responsibility in “The Messenger” that feels like a tall glass of ice water in an arid modern movie culture most often overrun with simplism (that’s a real word, and a good one) and idiot noise.

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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…

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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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