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The week’s critic wrangle: Half Nelsoned.

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Another week, another avalanche of releases. Among the others opening this week (but not included in this round-up) are Svankmajer‘s "Lunacy," "The Beales of Grey Gardens," hipster romance "Satellite" and horror film "Calvaire" (like "Deliverance," except with bestiality and Belgians).

Bask in the glow of the Gosling.
+ "Half Nelson": Ryan Fleck‘s feature debut, an expanded version of his 2004 short "Gowanus, Brooklyn" (with a hotter, famouser lead), was one of the big Sundance buzz films. The folks at Reverse Shot are a little kinder to it than they have been to previous Sundance releases — Michael Koresky calls it "an admirably dark American independent of the variety we used to see with slightly more regularity about ten years ago," though he allows there are "quite a few pulled punches." His fellow reviewer Michael Joshua Rowin hates Ryan Gosling’s "self-satisfied, image-conscious playacting"; Nicolas Rapold, on the other hand, finds Gosling "charming and a pleasure to watch," while disliking the ending.

At New York, David Edelstein calls "Half Nelson" "a genuinely inspirational film":

But not once do the director, Ryan Fleck, and co-screenwriter, Anna Boden, take the easy way out. Half Nelson is rooted in a world in which people rarely save themselves or anyone else, even when they know the same Hollywood formulas we do.

He also loves Gosling (Who doesn’t? You totally watched "The Notebook"). Manohla Dargis at the New York Times is similarly impressed by the film (and its lead), calling out its rare political openness "at a time when even films about Sept. 11 are professed to have no politics," and its rather atypical (for an American film) harsh truths: "there are moments when it’s almost a surprise that it doesn’t come with subtitles."

At the Village Voice, Rob Nelson doesn’t think Gosling’s junkie/inspiration teacher is "he an entirely plausible protagonist," but IFC’s own Matt Singer writes that:

Every school has a cool teacher, the teacher with the rep for exciting students with their unorthodox education style. I knew a cool teacher who, like Mr. Dunn, fought with demons his students never saw (the year after my graduation, my high school’s Mr. Dunn — the best teacher I ever had — quit his job and left town in disgrace after an embarrassing arrest). This is not to say that all good teachers are unstable types, but simply to observe to anyone who doubts the plausibility of "Half Nelson"’s scenario, that it speaks from a place of truth. It is the best American movie I’ve seen this year.

Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum (who’s been upped, along with Owen Gleiberman, to Critic Wrangle status due to the gradual demise of the Voice) dedicates more of her glowing review to the glory of the Gosling. And Armond White at the New York Press…well, of course he hates it. A sampling:

Today, Fleck and Boden flaunt their post-9/11 liberal bona fides (not their consciences) through Noam Chomsky/William [Howard?] Zinn asides. Half Nelson contains button-pushing references to history that intersperse each sequence and are read aloud by Dunne’s naive students. The point here: their gradual indoctrination to liberal ideology—and vague class struggle—as a form of enlightenment. (Although it hasn’t helped Dunne any.) All this makes Half Nelson the fakest, most infuriating film on race relations since Boaz Yakin made a hero out of a 14-year-old ghetto Machiavelli who vanquished adult drug-dealers in the 1994 Fresh. Sure enough, Yakin is thanked in the end credits of Half Nelson. I unthank him.


Woman meets man.
+ "Conversations With Other Women": In which Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart have a split-screen romance. Weirdly abrasive couple, no? Andrew O’Hehir, who writes that while the split-screen device may seem unbearably pretentious, "[director Hans] Canosa‘s talky, mini-Chekhovian anatomy of a pickup is witty and surprisingly effective," also notes that:

Carter and Eckhart may both be doing a little indie film like this because their Hollywood careers haven’t quite worked out, but never mind. They’re both terrific here as damaged, mostly likable people determined to rub salt in each other’s wounds one more time. God knows we can all identify with that.

At the LA Weekly, Ella Taylor also likes it: "though the movie is occasionally too clever-talky for its own good, it has the authentic ring of an elegy for love lost when one partner grows up while the other runs in place." A.O. Scott isn’t quite so won over, bemoaning that "None of it is quite believable — the film is too studied, too forward in its conceits to be entirely satisfying — but Mr. Eckhart and Ms. Bonham Carter approach their roles with intelligence and conviction." And at the New Yorker, Anthony Lane writes that while "Canosa extracts pretty much all that he can from his precious double-shots," the ultimate problem the film never overcomes i"is not that it pulls an ordinary romance into unfamiliar shapes but that it doesn’t pull far enough."


Woman meets sand.
+ "The House of Sand": Andrucha Waddington has apparently made a sort of artier Brazilian interpretation of "Woman in the Dunes." At the New York Times, A.O. Scott likes  the tale of three generations of women stuck in the desert, writing that "The story that links these moments has the clarity of a fable and the sentimental enchantment of a magic-realist novel." Rob Nelson at the Village Voice calls it "admirably pretentious," while at Salon, Andrew O’Hehir allows that it’s "an impressive film, beautifully photographed and marvelously acted. But is it more than a set of undeniably gorgeous affectations?" At EW, Owen Gleiberman thinks it’s "all a bit too fancifully arid."

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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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