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The week’s critic wrangle: Two pre-Oscar docs.

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"...a resplendently color- coordinated (and inexplicably pink) rally..."
+ "Our Brand Is Crisis": "Call it spin-meisters abroad," says the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman of Rachel Boynton‘s highly praised documentary about American political consultants hired by Bolivian presidential candidate Gonzalo "Goni" Sánchez de Lozada. Hoberman points out the film is a kind of sequel to 1993’s "The War Room," not the least because it features an appearance by James Carville — about which David Edelstein at New York writes: "It’s hard to know whether to marvel or weep when James Carville goes into his Bill Clinton–meets–Looney Tunes act…the context is so morally topsy-turvy." Edelstein marvels at the "extraordinary access—bewildering access" that Boynton is given to the campaign,  and sums the films lesson up as "One American ideal (representation for all) has been trumped by another (win, win, win)." David Denby of the New Yorker makes a further (and more melancholy) point:

Among other things, "Our Brand Is Crisis" is about the failure of good intentions—a potent American theme at the moment. As the movie suggests, this failure, born of American arrogance, embraces liberals as well as neocons, though the liberals, to their credit, do occasionally take responsibility for their mistakes. In a long, unhappy interview, [the film’s focus,] Jeremy Rosner, pondering the futility of his actions in Bolivia, looks like an animal eating its young.

Of this week’s Reverse Shot reviewers at indieWIRE, Michael Joshua Rowin writes that "certain moments so
perfectly capture the absurdity of the political process that if
written as fiction they would be deemed exaggeration or ham-fisted
satire"; Michael Koresky suggests that the film is "feels like more of a revelation" than a campaign doc; and Chris Wisniewski likes that Boynton doesn’t appear to show a bias. And Laura Kern at the New York Times, in a tragic blurb of a review (surely a column more could have been spared from the Oscar coverage?), proposes that "the only thing left to be desired from this momentous documentary is a reference to the size of the consultants’ paycheck — or their consciences."


"[H]e's not a musician, but has devoted his whole life to 'Round Midnight'"
+ "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party"
: How much do we love Dave Chappelle? A lot, but not enough to be prepared for the avalanche of adulation for the comedian greeting this easy-going doc, directed by Michel Gondry, about a free Bed-Stuy concert Chappelle organizes with musical guests that include Dead Prez, Jill Scott, Kanye West and the surprise reuniting of the Fugees. "The first and last thing you need to know about ‘Dave Chappelle’s Block Party’ is that it’s a ’70s film," writes the New York PressMatt Zoller Seitz, who’s among many who compare the film to 1973’s "Wattstax," and who shares this tidbit:

"Do you like hip hop?" Chappelle asks a 50-something white lady. "I like you," she beams.

Even Roger Ebert, while playing up his terminally sweater-vested unhipness, is charmed by what he sees as "a fairly disorganized film about a fairly disorganized concert, redeemed by the good feeling Chappelle sheds like a sunbeam on every scene." Ebert touches on the fact that the concert was filmed a little over a month after Chappelle signed his $50 million contract with Comedy Central, and suggests that "you can see those millions nagging at him. His block party seems like an apology or an amends for the $50 million, an effort to reach out to people, to protect his ability to walk down the street like an ordinary man." Manohla Dargis at the New York Times similarly sees the film as "a tantalizing sketch-portrait of the artist amid an outpouring of hard beats and soul," and points out that, compared to "Wattstax"’s overt politicizing, "Block Party" "appears fairly tame by comparison. It is and it isn’t." She sees the film as a more savvy in its portrayal of celebrity, an aspect the Village Voice‘s Ed Halter also highlights:

[W]hile the mostly black and Latino Brooklyn audience may be demographically pre-planned, it is also an act of momentary utopia; as Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots remarks to Chappelle backstage, both performers share the frequent experience of playing to audiences that don’t look like them. Unfiltered observations like these give a critical edge to what otherwise would simply be a well-crafted concert doc shot during one gently sundowning autumn day.

Stephanie Zacharek, whose long review may be the most enchanted of them all, writes that:

At a time when our country feels divided to the point of cracking, "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party" feels like a salve. It’s a defiant act of optimistic patriotism. This is what Dave Chappelle’s America looks like, and now that we get the idea, there’s no reason we can’t live in it too.

The only complaint, voiced by Dargis and by Ernest Hardy at LA Weekly, is that Gondry cuts away halfway through many of the performances, not allowing the songs to finish — Hardy suggests that "you can’t help but feel that it is in the unhurried, option-laden possibilities of DVD bonuses that the real Block Party lies."

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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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