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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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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

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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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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

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