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The week’s critic wrangle: “All the King’s Men,” “The Science of Sleep.”

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Leer, Sean, leer!
+ "All the King’s Men": After being brutalized at its premiere in Toronto, Steven Zaillian star-packed adapation of Robert Penn Warren‘s novel (adapted once before in 1949) limps into theaters to thwacked around by the critics again. Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader complains that "the unfocused story is so bereft of any clear sense of period or location that the political melodrama sometimes seems to be taking place inside a cigar box." A.O. Scott at the New York Times states flatly that "[n]othing in the picture works," and goes on that "[i]t is rare to see a movie so prodigiously stuffed with fine actors, nearly every one of them grievously miscast." Ella Taylor places the fault at the feet of the director: "[I]f ever there was a wrong man for the job of committing to film this Democrat idealist and thug, it’s the fastidious Steven Zaillian, the brains behind the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, who also wrote and capably directed the intelligent 1993 chess drama Searching for Bobby Fischer." At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek would agree, though she also wonders at Sean Penn‘s starring role.

So what the hell does Sean Penn think he’s doing in Steven Zaillian’s bizarrely conceived re-slapdashtation of "All the King’s Men"? Both the performance and the movie around it are virtually incomprehensible. This is supposed to be a story about a charismatic and ambitious politician who earns the loyalty of the populace by telling it to them straight, and yet half the time we have no idea what Penn’s Willie Stark is going on about — or what Zaillian wants us to think about him.

In fact, that film seems to prompt such rhetorical questions: Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly asks "How could such dullness defeat the retelling, when Willie Stark is one of the most vivid characters in 20th-century American popular culture?" At the Village Voice, Michael Atkinson amusingly notes both that Penn’s "hick-Eraserhead hair [encourages] us to place this cracker politician somewhere between Penn’s special kid in I Am Sam and his obliviously narcissistic guitarist in Sweet and Lowdown," and that "As if the film had a ponderous-metaphor deficiency, Stark’s hollerin’-governor press conferences are staged like fascist rallies, on the nighttime capitol steps. (Not that symbology wasn’t available—the film was shot in a pre-Katrina Louisiana that appears to be virtually devoid of black people.)" And David Edelstein at New York writes that

Halfway through, the director, Steve Zaillian, cuts to Willie in different settings—a swamp, a park, a main street—to show how the candidate has taken his message to the road, and for some reason the composer, James Horner, scores the speech with elegiac, cradle-of-democracy strings that quiver and swell. By the time the sequence ended, I thought I’d seen five of the stupidest minutes in an American movie since Lady in the Water.

We’re not sensing an Oscar in your immediate future, Mr. Zaillian.


"Isn't life already in 3-D?"
+ "The Science of Sleep": Mostly good reviews on Michel Gondry‘s latest adventure, which we personally found a pale shadow of "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind." Others would disagree, directly, in the case of Andrew O’Hehir of Salon, who believes the film is be "a far more intimate and personal film than Gondry’s 2004 hit ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’" He does observe that "This movie walks a fine line, and it’s going to drive some viewers absolutely bats." Armond White at the New York Press is (somewhat surprisingly, given Gondry’s undeniable hipster status) fond of the film:

With childlike innocence, Gondry shows that Stephane needs to use his imagination in order to communicate and love. This goes beyond the boho solipsism in Andrew Bujalski films. Gondry reconnects moviegoers to the anxiety of socializing—the reasons we pine for a love of our own. I can’t think of another film that made the pain of relationships such a vivid daytime nightmare. Patient viewers will take Gondry’s movie to heart and keep it there, because its truth, though shamefaced, is revelatory.

At the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas also notes that "the soul of Gondry’s work, it seems to me, is neither its soaring flights of visual fancy nor its sometimes crude slapstick, but rather its pained understanding of a generation hopelessly tongue-tied when it comes to matters of the heart." J. Hoberman at the Village Voice, also a fan, writes that it "is an extraordinarily playful movie. The mood is borderline fey. But no less than its hero, the movie is too strange and even infantile to be whimsical." A. O. Scott at the New York Times has tempered his praise: "[W]hile “The Science of Sleep” may not, in the end, be terribly deep, it is undoubtedly — and deeply — refreshing."

At Slate, Dana Stevens likes Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s performance: "[E]ven with her hair uncombed, perpetually wearing the same raggedy sweater and horn-rimmed glasses, Stéphanie is the most believably desirable love object I’ve seen onscreen since, well, Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine. If she were my neighbor, I’d build a robotic felt pony for her, too."

On the less enchanted side of things is Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, who, after noting that Gondry wrote the screenplay, writes that he "reveals himself to be an incurable advocate for never-ending childhood. On cranky days, I’d call never-ending childhood a nightmare, but hey, it’s his party." At New York, David Edelstein find that ultimately

The hero emerges as just another jealous, overmothered, self-pitying asshole—a bad bet. Gondry must think that the movie’s dark, realistic, unresolved finish is a mark of his integrity. But in the great madcap love stories (among them Eternal Sunshine), the magic carpet flies over the abyss: You get a great view, but you don’t take the plunge. Gondry loses faith in his carpet—which is to say, his own artistry. He drops you like a stone.

At the New Yorker, Anthony Lane has similar thoughts: "’The Science of Sleep’ is a frantic and funny diversion, but it pales and tires before its time is up. It doesn’t know the meaning of enough." And this week’s Reverse Shot three, James Crawford, Kristi Mitsuda and Elbert Ventura, are mixed. Mitsuda likes the film, Crawford thinks that "Gondry perhaps needs Charlie Kaufman to bring his ethereal personality back down to earth," and Ventura finds genius in its end.

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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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