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Just a movie.

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At The Nation, Charles Taylor looks over two new biographies of Leni Riefenstahl — Jürgen Trimborn’s "Leni Riefenstahl: A Life" and Steven Bach’s "Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl" — noting that "[e]ver since Triumph of the Will
goose-stepped across movie screens in 1935, Riefenstahl has been
central to the arguments about whether politics can be separated from
art, whether form can be separated from content." He goes on to also question Riefenstahl’s true prowess when it comes to aesthetics, but returns to that prickly issue of separation:

At its most benign, that separation can be a case of a talented
director making something stylish and witty and entertaining out of
trashy, routine material (or a good script ruined by bad direction).
And we certainly have to be able to separate art from politics. The
best liberal intentions have never made John Sayles‘s movies anything
more than plodding, inept pieces of storytelling. The most simplistic
fantasies of agrarian revolt cannot make Bernardo Bertolucci‘s 1900
anything less than one of the movies’ most staggering examples of epic
lyrical filmmaking…

But if we are truly going to face up to the movies’ propagandistic potential, we can’t sit back and pretend to be aloof from the feelings the most talented polemical filmmakers can rouse, even if we are appalled by those feelings. It’s cowardly to acclaim The Birth of a Nation as significant because it was the first film to succeed on an epic scale without acknowledging Griffith‘s ability to get our blood pounding as we watch the Klan race to the rescue in the climax. Gillo Pontecorvo‘s The Battle of Algiers is so brilliantly made, so emotionally involving that you glide right past its contention that violence was the only avenue open to Algerians under French colonialism. And while I’d argue that Potemkin, like all of Eisenstein‘s films, is more a demonstration of his theories of montage than a dramatic experience, there is no denying the revolutionary fervor the director stirred up.

Of late, this question seems applicable not only to Riefenstahl’s Nazi epics and other films brandishing an overt agenda, but to what we turn to for intimation-free entertainment, whether that be epic violence or queasy historical revisitation. Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly last week found herself disturbed by what she saw as critics giving nods to "Black Book’s noxious moral relativism before rushing to lavish praise on its undeniable merits as an edge-of-your-seat thriller":

[W]e live in dodgy critical times when aesthetic sophistication trumps moral and political discrimination. And when pop aestheticism reaches all the way from effusing over the ritualized violence and reverse feminism of a Sin City or a Grindhouse to heaping laurels on a movie that pits sensitive Nazis against treacherous resisters, it may be time to get uncool and start pointing the finger.

Simplistic cousin arguments to these topics have abounded this year — for pop aestheticism, there’s the "it’s just a movie" argument recently presented with bluff aggression in the makers of "300"‘s insistence on their film’s irrelevance and benign lack of context. The flipside claim, dusted off on the occasion of Seung-hui Cho’s possible "Oldboy" fandom, is the outcry that extreme movies, video games and TV are molding the minds of the masses like so much fruit cocktail-studded jello. Reality, of course, lies somewhere in between (or at least equally far away from) those two extremes, as much as film is firmly planted between art and entertainment.

Over at the Bright Lights blog, Erich Kuersten finds something disturbing beyond the current standards of torture-happy horror flicks in "Vacancy"‘s incidental snuff footage:

[T]his is a thriller with two recognizable b-list box office names, not some grindhouse quickie! For all that, even a grindhouse quickie would see the connection between the evils of a snuff film operation and the profit-minded fake torture films of modern Hollywood. Vacancy almost makes it a point of missing the connection and/or commenting on it, and maybe that’s the ultimate difference between art and exploitation.

Ned Beauman at the Guardian‘s Film Blog is similarly perturbed by Gillian Anderson‘s new film, "Straightheads," which he places in the mainly 70s tradition of the rape-revenge genre, a category he find simply can’t work as entertainment.

And elsewhere, Joel Stein at the LA Times responds to the Harvard School of Public Health’s suggestion that movies with smoking get an R rating to spare impressionable youth:

I also don’t believe that showing implies approval. Not everything a character does is meant to be positive or desirable. Even if smoking looks cool, it doesn’t necessarily make you want to do it. Getting a machine gun for a prosthetic leg looks pretty cool too, but three weeks after "Grindhouse" opened, most people are sticking with their legs.

+ Ill Will (The Nation)
+ Black Book, Grindhouse and the Relativist Hole (LA Weekly)
+ Collateral Torture (Bright Lights After Dark)
+ Shame on Straightheads for reviving the rape revenge genre (Guardian Film Blog)
+ Puff away; it’s just a movie (LA Times)

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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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