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DID YOU READ

The week’s critic wrangle: “Volver,” “Borat.”

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Women's troubles.
+ "Volver": Everyone loves Almodóvar. And everyone loves Penélope Cruz. A.O. Scott at the New York Times claims that

With this role Ms. Cruz inscribes her name near the top of any credible list of present-day flesh-and-blood screen goddesses, in no small part because she manages to be earthy, unpretentious and a little vulgar without shedding an ounce of her natural glamour.

As for the film, he finds that "Mr. Almodóvar has made yet another picture that moves beyond camp into a realm of wise, luxuriant humanism." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon is rapturous about all of the actresses (she finds the film has rescued Cruz from cuteness) and writes that "The picture is so full of life that it seems less a product of the imagination than of the soil."

Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE admits that "it wasn’t until ‘Volver’ that I really began taking Pedro Almodovar seriously as an artist…By the time he reaches his conclusion you’ll be simultaneously dazzled at ‘Volver”s convolutions, and, hopefully, awed by the state of grace they point towards."

Rob Nelson at the Village Voice writes "Fair warning: If you’re not terribly fond of women, you probably shouldn’t see Volver, a movie wherein mere mortality doesn’t stop mothers from loudly smooching their daughters’ cheeks, a breezy comedy in which a seemingly typical male gets stabbed, stuffed into a fridge, and buried at swamp’s edge." Boy, Mr. Nelson, if the character who tries to rape his stepdaughter is a "seemingly typical male," we’d hate to go to a party at your house! Also, we sure hope you include these reader-service "fair warnings" on other films you review, e.g. "Fair warning: If you’re not terribly fond of black people, you probably shouldn’t see ‘Ray’ — it’s full of ’em!"

But we digress. On the less ecstatic side, Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly asks "[A]s artfully clever as Volver can be, will I be alone in feeling that the movie is more talky than transcendent? Volver has oodles of ”empathy” without being particularly moving." Scott Foundas at LA Weekly seconds him, finding that the film is "the slightest thing [Almodóvar]’s
done in years, impeccably crafted of course…The movie is enjoyable,
but not passionately engaging in the way we’ve come to expect from
Almodóvar, and it leaves you somewhat cold in spite of the warmth of
Cruz’s galvanic performance."

David Edelstein at New York writes that "Before it loses its fizz—maybe two thirds of the way through—Volver offers the headiest pleasures imaginable…It’s too bad Almodóvar can’t keep all the balls spinning." And at the New Yorker, Anthony Lane finds that "[T]he film, against my wishes, left me unmoved. There is a lovely scene in which Cruz sings (or lip-synchs) a plaintive ballad, with her tears brimming and the words laying forth the theme of return, but that is just the problem: you feel another cog being added to the film’s emotional engine, and something about the construction seems too efficient and pat."

The strangest red state travelogue.
+ "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan": No, it’s not independent, though it’s the first major studio release we can think of (we didn’t try very hard) that apes the look of a low-budget, amateurish indie. It’s also one of the best-reviewed films of the year so far — that being said, let’s start with darling Armond at the New York Press, who, naturally, hates it:

As Borat Sagdiyev, Cohen pretends to document the habits of fly-over America; his red state debauch ultimately pandering to Liberals’ worst instincts. But will moviegoers exhibit the same self-loathing as Borat’s ass-kissing film critics?

His argument is that the film panders to the red state/blue state divide, that "Borat is not funny—except, perhaps, to 13-year-olds or people who imagine Cohen’s targets (that is, other Americans) as mortal enemies."

White’s pretty much the lone dissenter here; J. Hoberman at the Voice in fact point out (with complementary intent) that "[Baron Cohen]’s target isn’t really an imaginary version of Nazerbayev’s nation (nor its enemies, the ‘evil nitwits’ of Uzbekistan); it is rather the domain of the ‘great warlord Premier Bush,’ red states in particular."

At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis note that a certain shocking scene in a gun store "may inspire accusations that Mr. Baron Cohen is simply trading on cultural and regional stereotypes, and he is, just not simply. The brilliance of ‘Borat’ is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy." At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek muses that "the true brilliance of ‘Borat’ may lie deeply buried between the almost infinite number of quotable lines: Sometimes we can’t face up to our own capacity for cruelty — but at least we can get a gag out of it."

Dana Stevens at Slate tries to classify the film, deciding that it’s not a parody, that it in fact "belongs to the tradition of the character-based spoof. Think of Peter Sellers in the original Pink Panther series or Mike Myers in the Austin Powers movies: comic performances so outsized they make the movie around them seem like mere decoration, an excuse for the character to exist." At Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman thinks that "it’s no reduction of Borat to say that the whole movie is a kind of slapstick psycho-political Jackass. It’s a comedy of global insanity in which Borat, the old-world specimen of masculis ignoramus from an underdeveloped half-Muslim nation, stands in for a world we didn’t have to think much about before 9/11, and the people Borat talks to become the symbolic heart of America — a place where intolerance is worn, increasingly, with pride."

Scott Foundas at LA Weekly proclaims that "Crash  — to say nothing of Michael Moore — has nothing on this," though he wonders is "the most openly subversive movie funded by a major Hollywood studio in I don’t know how long will also end up the ultimate proof of the impossibility of a truly vital American political cinema." And closing us out yet again is Anthony Lane at the New Yorker, who finds that "Borat" "offers comfort neither to Baron Cohen’s onscreen victims nor to his audience; it is as if he were outraged by the business of our being human—as if, in laying bare our follies, he were just quickening the process by which we already make fools of ourselves."

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Final Countdown

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 IFC.com

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Rev Up

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.

Uncle-Buck

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…