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DID YOU READ

“Able Edwards,” “Black Test Car “

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Able Edwards,” Heretic Films, 2007]

Once upon a time, cinema was — whatever else it may have been — a factory that manufactured dreams out of the raw materials of reality. 99.99% of the time, the basic lumber for movies consisted of human beings, physical places, physical laws, gravity, weather, real light and shadow, all caught chemically on thermoplastic. The only notable exception — cel animations, or cartoons — were intended largely for children, and have only been very occasionally palatable to adults. On the whole, we’ve required the form to traffic in the tangible and the earthly, for better or worse, even if the movies in question involve unicorns, ghosts, the Wizard of Oz, Wookies or Stan Brakhage’s baby.

That was then: we’re on the verge, like it or not, of a new sub-subgenre of techno-movie, and if you’ve seen “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” “Sin City” or “300,” you’ve done time on Planet Greenscreen, where absolutely everything but the actors is a make-believe, crazed-art-department blitz of pixels and bits. Even if you were thrilled by these films, you have to admit there’s something missing in each of them — specifically, a convincing middle ground, a believable relationship between the foreground actors and the lovingly rendered background hijinks. No wonder the movies all retreat into the idealized past for their stories — they already inhabit a disembodied, self-conscious non-world into which viewers have a tough time entering. Which feature film actually hit the starting gate first (all in the spring of 2004) is still subject to debate — some say it was Enki Bilal’s Frenchified fantasy “Immortel (ad vitam),” some say it was the Japanese “live anime” “Casshern.” (It sure wasn’t “Sky Captain.”) But most agree it was Graham Robertson’s “Able Edwards,” a modest, L.A.-shot indie filmed with a mini-DV camera on 12-square-foot patch of studio floor, in front of an optical effects screen. Robertson’s movie also has another advantage over the competition: it’s a thoughtful, thematically adventurous piece of work, a virtual remake of “Citizen Kane” that scrambles in Walt Disney’s bio (the hero is a cartoon tycoon branching out into visionary theme parks) and then launches into a claustrophobic future of cryogenics, orbital colonies, cloning and environmental devastation.

Robertson’s movie cost less than a week of catering on “Spider-Man 3,” and so you don’t get that style orgasm you get in the bigger-budgeted films. (The acting, too, is roundly unaccomplished, but as Gwyneth Paltrow and Bruce Willis can attest, fluid performances are not easy under the circumstances.) The weird distance inherent in this kind of movie actually serves “Able Edwards” well: it creates an expressive visual context for the story, which is all about the lost authenticity of the modern human. Tangible sets and locations wouldn’t’ve added nothing.

Then again, the wide-screen cinematography and no-holds-barred ratpit drama of a Yasuzo Masumura movie makes a staunch case for the tangible and the verities of real light and shadow. Running neck and neck with notorious auteur maudit Seijun Suzuki as the most outrageous and breakneck Japanese pulp force of the ’60s, Masumura is an all but unknown figure here. The two men, both in their own ways suggesting samurai Samuel Fullers with crank habits, had careers that ran roughly parallel from the mid-’50s; whereas rock ‘n roll gangsta Suzuki has survived into eccentric lionhood, nihilistic sex fiend Masumura died, after scrounging for TV work, in 1986. In the DVD epoch, no geyser of movie love is kept secret for long, and cult-specialty house Fantoma has been busy sending Masumura’s best films — 1958’s “Giants & Toys,” 1964’s “Manji,” 1966’s “Red Angel,” 1969’s “Blind Beast,” etc. — out into the hungry void. The newest entry is “Black Test Car” (1962), a ridiculously feverish thriller about industrial espionage — automobile makers trying to fuck each other over in the run up to releasing a new sports car. As cynical as any American noir, the film has nothing nice to say about the ways postwar Japanese culture does business, and it says it in baroque black-&-white compositions that makes the film look like a bastard child of Kurosawa’s “High and Low” and Welles’s “Touch of Evil.” The best of the extras include an essay by — who else? — critic/wordsmith/Asian film maven Chuck Stephens.

“Able Edwards” (Heretic) will be available on DVD May 29th; “Black Test Car” (Fantoma) is now available on DVD.

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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…