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The week’s critic wrangle: “Jarhead,” “The Dying Gaul,” Greenwald takes on Wal-Mart.

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Jake Gyllenhaal, gas mask.+ "Jarhead": We’re back to that contention of Truffaut‘s that there’s no such thing as an anti-war film, a claim cited in several of this week’s reviews of Sam Mendes‘ adaptation of Anthony Swofford‘s Gulf War memoir. Swofford himself, as other reviewers (including the Chicago Reader‘s Jonathan Rosenbaum, from whom we swiped the following) point out, says the same thing in his book:

There is talk that many Vietnam films are antiwar, that the message is
war is inhumane and look what happens when you train young American men
to fight and kill, they turn their fighting and killing everywhere,
they ignore their targets and desecrate the entire country… But
actually, Vietnam films are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed
message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended.

What does this make Mendes’ film? According to the New York PressMatt Zoller Seitz (who has the most interesting review), "This is an epic meta-war movie, in which the
contemporary infantry soldier’s experience is viewed through the prism
of (and then judged against) all the war movies he has seen."

It’s also a disappointment (though not a total one) to almost everyone except Roger Ebert, who raves. For A.O. Scott at the New York Times, it "half succeeds," effectively portraying the surreality of the Marines daily routines out in the desert while never providing insight into the characters, a not-uncommon complaint: the New Yorker‘s David Denby complains that "even as we’re reading Tony’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) immediate emotions, the filmmakers don’t tell us what’s going on inside him," while David Edelstein at Slate say of Gyllenhaal’s performance: "He acts as if he knows he’s going to be supplying a voice-over to spell out what he’s thinking." Ultimately, by choosing an overly simplistic path refusing to deal with politics, the film is left, as Scott Foundas at the LA Weekly puts it, as "an impeccably well-made piece of Oscar bait that tells us almost nothing we haven’t heard before about the dejection and disillusionment of men in war."

Breakdown: How’s that Sam Mendes?

While it is not another lacquered, overpriced collectible in the manner of Mr. Mendes’s "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition," "Jarhead" is, in the end, similarly empty.     -A.O. Scott:

Although "Jarhead" is more visually accomplished and less empty than "American Beauty" or "Road to Perdition," it still feels oppressively hermetic.     –J. Hoberman

In pictures like "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition," Mendes doesn’t love his characters; he can barely contain his contempt for them. But in order to make movies, he needs characters, so he reluctantly works with what he’s got.     –Stephanie Zacharek

"American Beauty," his best movie, was shot in exquisitely designed jigsaw pieces that just barely fit together. "Road to Perdition" was almost decadently luscious—a glistening illustrated gangster saga—but dramatically ineffective. "Jarhead" isn’t luscious, but it has been designed for painterly effect.     -David Denby


Peter Sarsgaard, bathtub.+ "The Dying Gaul": Whatever they think of Craig Lucas‘ directorial debut, pretty much everyone hates the ending. Considering that "The Dying Gaul" was a big buzz film at Sundance this year, it’s petering out to some pretty mixed reviews. On the pro side is the New York TimesStephen Holden, who calls it "a boldly expressionistic, proudly theatrical film," Roger Ebert, who, despite what he sees as a fatal turn in the film about half-way through, gives it two and a half stars, and Kristi Mitsuda, Michael Joshua Rowin and Michael Koresky at indieWIRE, who are each varying degrees of impressed by it.

The Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman and LA Weekly‘s Scott Foundas are less than swept up — Hoberman calls the film "entertaining if cornball," which we suspect is not the effect Lucas was going for, while Foundas sums up the mind games played between the three main characters as

hilarity ensues — well, not exactly, though there are moments,
particularly during "The Dying Gaul"’s histrionic third act, when
playwright Craig Lucas’ directorial debut stops teetering on the edge
of unintended comedy and plunges right in.

Of our beloved Peter Sarsgaard, Stephen Holden says that he "gives the riskiest screen performance of his career" here, while Armond White at the New York Press is not so kind:

Sarsgaard now joins that ever-growing list of actors you can’t trust
who’ll do anything. In films like this and "Jarhead," Sarsgaard trashes
his talent in unreliable fabrications of life experience, almost
canceling out his previous credible gay characterizations in "The Salton
and "K-19: The Widowmaker." Like Charlize Theron and Philip Seymour
, he’s in the Showoff Phonies Club.

White hates this film: it’s his current Worst Movie of the Year, but we’re sure, given time, he’ll find plenty of others at which to direct his disgust. It’s barely the beginning of awards season, after all.


Menomonee Falls, WI.+ "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price": It’s no "Uncovered" or "Outfoxed" — by early accounts, Robert Greenwald‘s latest on-the-cheap muckraker doc (which opens in theaters in New York and LA today, while also being offered on DVD through the film’s website) is much better, at very least in terms of journalistic responsibility, because, Andrew O’Hehir over at Salon puts it:

The target is more elusive,
arguably more dangerous and definitely less well-understood, so
Greenwald and his team have had to dig deeper and weave together many
different strands of research and reporting. Knowledgeable critics of
the Bush administration or Fox News are relatively easy to find.
Whistle-blowers who know about the inside workings of Wal-Mart are few
and far between, and this film will make you appreciate their courage
and convictions.

Both O’Hehir and the New York TimesAnita Gates are devastated by the doc, which encompasses all levels of the megastore’s evils, from racist and sexist treatment of employees, to intentionally unaffordable health care, to sweatshops in China and Indonesia, to dangerous parking lots. Gates cheerily closes with:

But it’s impossible not to remember what happened with Michael Moore’s "Fahrenheit 9/11": it outraged many Americans, made White House decisions look ridiculously dishonest and/or inept, and President Bush was re-elected anyway.

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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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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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