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The week’s critic wrangle: Walking the Line to Pluto.

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No new long review from us this week — our NYFF review of "Breakfast on Pluto" is here.

Mrs. and Mr. Oscar? Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix.+ "Walk the Line": The consensus seems to be that James Mangold‘s Johnny Cash biopic is good, but not great. There’s near universal acclaim for leads Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (David Denby at the New Yorker says "As I watched Phoenix sling his guitar around and gun it at the audience
in Cash’s shambling style, I couldn’t imagine anyone better suited to
play the role," while Ella Taylor at LA Weekly claims that Witherspoon "brings not just vivacity but a depth and breadth" to the role of June Carter), but not so much for the general direction of the film. David Edelstein at Slate feels that Mangold "gets the big things right," but has the typical biopic arc and gaps; David Denby just generally finds "Walk the Line" to be "a lot less interesting than
it might be": "Can the central lesson of Johnny Cash’s life really be that he was a loser until a good woman shamed him into growing up?" A.O. Scott compares the film to "Ray" (as does almost everyone else) and finds it lacking: "Mr. Hackford structured his
film around Ray Charles’s creative life, inviting us to understand how
he fused various elements of the American musical vernacular into a new
and distinctive sound. While Johnny Cash achieved something comparable,
Mr. Mangold’s film offers more tribute than insight." And Ella Taylor, while generally enjoying the film, finds there’s something a little too pat about the story.

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon, on the other hand, argues that "Walk the Line" may be conventional, but that "its conventionality is part of its power": "This is a democratic and accessible picture." And Roger Ebert of course raves about the film (though he stops short of giving it the full four stars), but says most interesting that he went into the film not knowing that Phoenix and Witherspoon were doing their own vocals:

Knowing Cash’s albums more or less by heart, I closed my eyes to focus on the soundtrack and decided that, yes, that was the voice of Johnny Cash I was listening to. The closing credits make it clear it’s Joaquin Phoenix doing the singing, and I was gob-smacked. Phoenix and Mangold can talk all they want about how it was as much a matter of getting in character, of delivering the songs, as it was a matter of voice technique, but whatever it was, it worked. Cash’s voice was "steady like a train, sharp like a razor," said June.

But the massive monetary prize for our favorite review of the week surely goes to the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman, who sounds epically world-weary as he describes "Walk the Line" as a perfectly functional, formula-following movie that leads him to the following prestige-pic-punch-drunk conclusion:

The fact is that neither "Walk the Line" nor the even more tedious "Ray" exerts nearly the fascination of last year’s "Beyond the Sea," an obviously bad movie about a limited performer of minor cultural significance and yet a weirdly compelling psychodrama, allowing director-star Kevin Spacey to match Bobby Darin‘s patented insincerity with his own. In no way obsessive, "Walk the Line" is more sincerely—which is to say, more boringly—sincere. It doesn’t leave you with much to think about, except maybe the empty vibrato of effective ventriloquism.


Cillian Murphy.+ "Breakfast on Pluto": What’s oddest about Neil Jordan‘s latest and possibly most bizarre film is the way that both Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir and the New York Times’ Stephen Holden seem to have talked themselves into liking it. We’re not trying to say that it’s impossible to give the film a good review, but Holden’s piece parrots the extensive press notes that came with the film a little closely, and O’Hehir sort of sidesteps much opinion on the film, simply using it to introduce a lengthy interview with Jordan.

It’s hard to blame them, though — who doesn’t carry a bit of a torch for Jordan? His films may be all over the place, but they’re never not interesting (well, with the possible exception of "High Spirits," which we’ve never seen but which looks truly awful), and he’s so dedicated to the mechanics of film — no seams showing, each film’s rawness seeping in slowly and where you least expect it.

Anyway, the New York PressMatt Zoller Seitz reluctantly calls the film a failure:

It’s all so wide-ranging and eccentric that I really wish it worked.
"Pluto" is the kind of movie that a great director’s fans will be tempted
to overrate. It touches on so many established Jordan elements
(ideologically driven violence, personal and physical transformation,
the hidden sensitivity of brutish men, the coexistence of polite and
impolite society and social outcasts’ instinctive tendency toward
fellowship) that it sometimes feels richer, more precise and more
complete than it really is.

(He also points out one of the great filmmaking truths: "In movies, when a character puts on an animal suit, it’s only a matter of time before he beats somebody up.") Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice is less hesitant in finding flaws:

"Breakfast on Pluto" may be Jordan’s wildest mis-shot yet, so dense with dying fizzle and limp ideas that I began to wonder if Jordan has an evil twin, or if there are in fact several Neil Jordans, among them at least one literate stylist and one humor-handicapped village idiot.


Quote of the day: From La Manohla‘s "Harry Potter" review (emphasis ours):

[N]othing prepares you for the malevolent force that is Lord Voldemort and the brilliance of the actor playing him, Ralph Fiennes. Dressed in a flowing black robe that seems to float off his body rather than hang, Mr. Fiennes moves with lissome grace, his smooth white head bobbing like a cork on a sea, his fluttery hands and feet as pale and bright as beacons. For years, the movies have tried to transform this delicate beauty into a heartthrob, but as "Schindler’s List" proved, Mr. Fiennes is an actor for whom a walk on the darker side is not just a pleasure, but liberation. His Voldemort may be the greatest screen performance ever delivered without the benefit of a nose; certainly it’s a performance of sublime villainy.

At the very least, that should merit its own MTV Movie Award category.

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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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