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The week’s critic wrangle: “Is there no hope in Nazareth?” Cause there ain’t in Brazil.

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Comparing God-baby bumps.
+ "The Nativity Story": In one of the odder combinations of talent and target audience, "Thirteen" director Catherine Hardwicke helms a Biblical film that stars "Whale Rider"‘s Keisha Castle-Hughes and several actors who are of the correct ethnicity for the time and place of the tale but who are, due to the ironic confluence of history, most familiar to audiences here for playing terrorism-related characters: Shohreh Aghdashloo, "24"‘s Dina Araz; Alexander Siddig, who’s also guested on "24" and who played the prince in "Syriana"; and, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role, Kais Nashif, the hot suicide bomber in "Paradise Now." At the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas writes that:

Hardwicke’s most radical conceit, however, at least for a movie positioned as a red-state holiday perennial — there is already a soundtrack album featuring “Christian & Country artists” performing “Christmas favorites inspired by the film” — is that most of the major roles are acted by performers of Algerian, Iranian, Israeli and Sudanese descent… In short, their skin is dark, which makes The Nativity Story the first Hollywood religious picture in memory (if not ever) to imply, for most of its running time, that Jesus Christ probably looked more like Jim Brown than Jim Caviezel. Until, that is, the newborn Lord makes his cameo appearance at the end, bearing a decidedly milky complexion.

Otherwise, he finds that "too often, the actors register as little more than set dressing, and despite Hardwicke’s resolve to give us the real Nativity, as we’ve never seen it before, much of the movie smacks of convention." Dana Stevens at Slate thinks that "Hardwicke’s new retelling of the Gospel account of the conception and birth of Jesus, is fatuous, sappy, and dull, but it’s neither sadistic nor bigoted" — in short, that it’s no "The Passion of the Christ," the prequel.

Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly notes that everyone in the film speaks with an "Esperanto accent," and sighs that "The movie industry is eager to beckon and serve Christian viewers, yet as long as it thinks of those viewers as another market slice, a demo, it may end up pandering to them with cautious and stultifying reverence. The Nativity Story is a film of tame picture-book sincerity, but that’s not the same thing as devotion. The movie is too tepid to feel, or see, the light."

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon writes that "I was a lot less bored by ‘The Nativity Story’ than I feared I’d be." And A.O. Scott at the New York Times quite likes the film, praising the fact that "[r]ather than trying to reinterpret or modernize a well-known, cherished story, the filmmakers have rendered it with a quiet, unassuming professionalism."


"Go home."
+ "Turistas": The latest attractive-television-stars-dying- violently flick also marks the launch of Fox Atomic, a specialty distribution arm created mainly to put out other films featuring attractive television stars dying violently. David Edelstein at New York writes that

The awful, offal-ridden Turistas—textbook torture-porn—would be too disgusting to discuss were it not for its efficiency at exploiting the fear that haunts our post-Iraq American dreams, and that can be discerned in works as various as the Oscar-bait ensemble drama Babel and the cringe comedy Borat: how our combination of arrogance and ignorance has left us hideously vulnerable in a world that hates our guts.

At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis notes that

Like “Hostel” (a critique of American arrogance, don’tcha know), which seems the most direct inspiration for “Turistas,” this film involves first-world tourists who are violently punished for traveling into a third-world (or third-world-like) country. “Turistas” plays this political angle more openly than does “Hostel,” since Zamora defends his blood lust by donating “gringo” organs to his country’s poor. Yeah, yeah, yeah, and Jason and Freddy donate regularly to their local blood banks.

Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader sums the film up as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Goes to Brazil," while Nathan Lee at the Village Voice thinks that the goal of the film’s villain, a crazed surgeon who hopes to "exact payback on behalf of third-world misery," is "not an entirely unsympathetic cause," given the dullness of the aforementioned attractive television stars. And Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly calls the film "Hostel without sadism, thrills, or funky severed-limb F/X."


"Muchas gracias, kindly celebrity!"
+ "10 Items or Less": Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek writes that Brad Silberling‘s film is "less a full-fledged movie than an extended sketch, a chance for two actors — Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega — to stretch out and loosen up. But the bare-boned simplicity of ’10 Items or Less’ is more a strength than a liability." At the New York Times, A.O. Scott agrees, calling the film "a lovely antidote to the bloated, self-important movies that tend to dominate the season. This is a picture with nothing to prove, and not all that much to say, but its modesty and good humor make it hard to resist." Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader blurbs that the film is "an amiable demonstration of how two charismatic actors and a relaxed writer-director can squeeze an enjoyable movie out of practically nothing."

Others are not so fond. Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly writes that "I don’t know if it’s ickier to assume that writer-director Brad Silberling thinks the culture-clash jokes he pushes in 10 Items or Less are charming because they’re earnest, or because they’re tongue-in-cheek." Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE allows that "the director just keeps his project from careening headfirst into fathomable depths of dreck, via a clean style; that is until the final reel when he typically loses all sense of restraint and indulges in the expected cheese-out. You can see it coming from a mile away when Freeman first puts the question to Scarlet–ten items or less, what do you treasure most in life? –but that doesn’t mitigate the sheer soppiness when the latter finally concedes, ‘this.’" And Nathan Lee at the Village Voice snarks that

10 Items or Less goes from oblivious to oblivion when it pulls into the perkiest car wash since Car Wash. Polishing rag in hand and Ritmo Latino bumping on the soundtrack, Freeman frolics in solidarity with a crew of blissed-out immigrants. Muchas gracias, kindly celebrity! Class consciousness is hardly to be expected from the dude who brought Casper to the big screen, and if nothing else, 10 Items or Less is a case study in cluelessness.

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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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