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“Ironclad,” reviewed

“Ironclad,” reviewed (photo)

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When they named ’em the Dark Ages, brother, they weren’t kidding. The medieval action film “Ironclad” shows England in the period just after the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, a time of violence, pain, and death. The setting and milieu recall “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” without all the jokes. There is one scene in “Ironclad” where a guy beats another guy to death with a third guy’s severed arm — something so ridiculous it could be funny — but it’s not played for laughs. In other words, if you’re in the market for a movie where a guy beats a man to death with a severed arm in a completely non-ironic way, your search is over.

The setting may be “Holy Grail” but the story is “Seven Samurai” with a dash of “Rio Bravo.” King John (Paul Giamatti), furious at having been forced to sign Magna Carta, takes systematic revenge against the Barons who imposed it on him. Baron Albany (Brian Cox) decides to mount a rebellion at the strategically advantageous Rochester Castle in southern England. There he and a tiny band of freedom fighters — including a Templar knight, a master bowman, a cynical mercenary, a crazed thief, and a wide-eyed squire — must hold the castle keep until French reinforcements arrive to enforce the charter. The odds are long to impossible and the battles are bloody.

Oh, how they are bloody. The will of the King may be clad in iron, but the action sequences are drenched in blood; so much blood that fans of extreme horror might prove an unlikely but appreciative cult for “Ironclad” and its endless array of gory kill shots. The film pulls no punches in depicting the awesome (and gruesome) sacrifices these men of history made for their beliefs. But even though you might appreciate that sacrifice, you still might not want to watch multiple dudes cut in half the long way (which is really the tougher and nastier of the two ways to cut a dude in half). There’s lots of slo-mo and juiced-up sound effects, and characters tend to pepper their fights with tough guy poses and one-liners, which suggests the battle scenes are intended as thrilling entertainment. But there’s more viscera than visceral excitement, and director Jonathan English takes a shaky, handheld, heavily edited approach to the fight sequences. Whole battles feel comprised exclusively of quick, blurry close-ups of swords and men’s entrails.

Far more to my liking are the scenes between the battles, and the performances by Giamatti and Cox, both clearly having a blast with the opportunity to put on a Prince Valiant wig and some chainmail in order to bellow lines like “You’re no more a king than the boil on my ass!” English and co-writer Erick Kastel’s screenplay is full of nuggets of juicy dialogue like that, and Giamatti makes a wonderfully evil King John, the same one from many versions of “Robin Hood.” Here he’s less the sniveling John of the Disney cartoon and more “I AM THE BLOOD! I AM GOD’S RIGHT HAND! NOW CUT OFF HIS FOOT!” but it’s working for him. Unfortunately Giamatti and Cox spend most of the movie on opposite side of an enormous castle wall, limiting the amount of time they can chew the scenery together, or rather demolish the scenery with enormous catapults of manly charisma.

The bloody, ampu-tastic deaths in this movie are expertly done. Maybe too well done; “Ironclad” walks a very fine line between showing the high cost of freedom and exploiting it. No doubt one of the film’s fans will soon compile all its goriest moments into a YouTube clip celebrating the impressive mayhem. But I’d rather watch a highlight reel of Giamatti and Cox going at it, or a version of “Ironclad” that had a lot more of them in it. They bring enlightenment to a dark film.

“Ironclad” opens in limited release this Friday. If you see it, we want to hear what you think. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!

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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.

via GIPHY

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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