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The week’s critic wrangle: Toil and trouble.

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Swing shift at the doll factory.+ "Bubble": Time will tell if "Bubble"’s day-and-date theater/TV/DVD release is as paradigm-rumbling as some of the breathless news coverage would have us believe, but Steven Soderbergh‘s latest effort, shot on HD on the cheap with all non-professional actors, is generating interesting (if mixed), reviews on its own. It’s "[e]asier to admire than love," says Manohla Dargis, a note several other critics sound: Matt Zoller Seitz at the New York Press calls it [l]ike a lot of Soderbergh’s recent work…a loose-limbed but fairly theoretical filmmaking experiment; as such, it’s more interesting to talk about than to sit through." Seitz, as much as he likes the idea of non-professional actors, is frustrated by the performances in the film and thinks it would have been better off with pros. Ella Taylor at LA Weekly finds the acting the bright spot in an otherwise lifeless production: "the fresh, unprocessed talent of [Debbie] Doebereiner — a Southern Ohio KFC manager — lends the movie a raw power it doesn’t quite deserve."

Taylor also thinks "Bubble"’s guilelessness "skates dangerously close to condescension" — a sentiment we recalls others bringing up when the film aired at the New York Film Festival last year. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, who gives it the harshest review, calls the whole thing needlessly grim and voyeuristic:

In one sense, it accomplishes its goals efficiently by making you feel, in less than 80 minutes, as if you’ve gotten permanently trapped in the dead-end, trailer-park lives of its working-class characters. I’ve never been so grateful to get out of a theater, turn my cellphone back on and plug myself into a $4 Starbucks latte.

Roger Ebert (ah, Roger) gives the film four stars and declares it "a masterpiece," but underneath what’s become fairly common praise from Mr. Grades on a Curve are some appealing observations about the characters and the people playing them:

The movie feels so real a hush falls upon the audience, and we are made aware of how much artifice there is conventional acting. You wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life watching movies like this, because artifice has its uses, but in this film, with these actors, something mysterious happens.

But the final word on the film seems to be that Soderbergh has always approached his subjects from outside their respective bubbles, looking in, and that emotional distance is still very much present in this attempt to return to some pared-down form of filmmaking. Dargis: "Mr. Soderbergh is not a naturally warm director, and while that doesn’t usually hurt his work, here his native chilliness makes it seem as if he were doing lab work rather than taking the measure of his fellow man." And Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice: "Soderbergh’s movie ambitiously focuses on movie-rare Americans…but never wonders what makes them tick."

Our review of the film from the New York Film Festival is here.


Steve Coogan. + "A Cock and Bull Story": Michael Winterbottom attempts, as is much pointed-out, to film the unfilmable source material (Laurence Sterne’s "Tristram Shandy"), and everyone’s fairly pleased with the result so far. Stephanie Zacharek at Salon says "it may be the most honest kind of adaptation imaginable" — in spirit, of course, as Winterbottom devotes most of the film to being about a film adaptation of the novel (these wheels-within-wheels also conveniently allow the director to cast Jeremy Northam as a stand-in for himself (he should be so lucky)). But the film rests on Steve Coogan, playing a nightmarishly vain and insecure version of himself. J. Hoberman at the Voice, who’s otherwise lukewarm on the film, finds that:

For all the on-set antics, appropriated Fellini music, and throwaway gags, the movie is most successful when Coogan is pulling faces for the mirror, aimlessly trading Pacino imitations with his sidekick [Rob] Brydon, or riffing on the color of the latter’s teeth.

And A. O. Scott at the New York Times, who likes the film very much, salutes Winterbottom for both permanently saving "Tristram Shandy" from any overly serious straightforward adaptations, as well as managing the following:

He has also paid loving, knowing tribute to the crazy enterprise of film-making, a torment to those mad enough to pursue it and a delight, at least in this case, for those of us lucky enough to sit and watch.

Our review of the film, also from those fond New York Film Festival days, is here.

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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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