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DID YOU READ

“Eastern Promises.”

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"Stay away from people like me."
The summer of the awkward teenage boy is over: bring on the rough-jawed paragons of manhood. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in "3:10 to Yuma" did dapper & deadly and noble & haggard so well they almost made the film’s preposterous conclusion work, while Clive Owen in "Shoot ‘Em Up" showed off an ability to repel bullets with the force of his bad attitude. But none have anything on Viggo Mortensen as Russian mob enforcer Nikolai in "Eastern Promises," a man pickled in Slavic world-weariness, a man who can put a cigarette out on his tongue while cutting the fingers off a corpse before dumping it and make the gesture look nigh charming, a man who turns out to have a squishily honorable heart.

"Eastern Promises" is a sleek, claustrophobic thriller that’s disappointing only because it’s the follow-up to "A History of Violence," David Cronenberg‘s brilliant, bruising genre-smasher about our love affair with righteous brutality. Like "A History of Violence," "Eastern Promises" finds Cronenberg making only half an effort to color within the lines of a mainstream film, in this case one about how Anna (Naomi Watts), a London midwife, follows information in the diary left behind by a 14-year-old Russian girl who dies giving birth in the emergency room, and find herself tangling with a circle of Russian mobsters, the vory v zakone. The tone is once again intriguingly off, removed and almost arch, though this time without any placeable purpose — whatever is underneath the surface of "Eastern Empire," it stays there, out of reach.

Anna is the film’s wide-eyed Alice, stumbling into an Russian expat underground of both flesh and blood and crime families headed by deceptively twinkly patriarch Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), whose son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel),
is an unpredictable, sodden mess relying heavily on the help and
enforced friendship of his driver, Nikolai. Anna, still yearning for her late father, himself Russian, is at first
drawn to Semyon, who spots her vulnerability but not her reckless
determination. He learns that the diary includes incriminating tales
about himself and his son, and dispatches Nikolai to retrieve it.

Nikolai is nursing a few agendas of his own — how apparent they are was a point of debate amongst those we saw the film with, but we’d seen them coming from further off than we’d have liked. Kirill is Nikolai’s in with the vory v zakone — Cassel, not one to leave scenery unchewed, presents Kirill as both
demanding and dramatically insecure, his sexuality an unspoken barrier
to his success, and Nikolai must be at once his confidante, servant and sublimated lover while simultaneously proving his value to Semyon. The hypermasculine old world of the Russian mafia is a kind of sterile marriage, a point hammered in with no excess of subtlety in the film. Nikolai is presented to the family heads in nothing but briefs so that they can scrutinize his tattoos, and his cautious courting of Kirill is rewarded by the nude bathhouse assassination attempt scene that’s justifiably talked-about, a scene exhilarating in its corporeal clumsiness, men grappling each other to the death without the benefit of elegant choreography.

No one does violence like Cronenberg, and from the opening scene, in which a throat is sloppily sawed open, "Eastern Promises" is alive with an agitated awareness that people are all just assailable, fragile flesh. That fact, along with Mortensen’s slyly soulful performance, make it more of a shame that story and screenplay, written by "Dirty Pretty Things"Steven Knight, is so unexceptional, a workmanlike passage through another of London’s unseen microcosms underlined by the film’s strangest choice, segments from the diary of the dead Russian girl describing her descent into forced prostitution and drug use, dictated in a heavily accented voice-over backed with sad string music. These moments are so blunderous you suspect that Cronenberg has some other, more subversive agenda in mind. But what? The title turns out to be accurate; "Eastern Promises" presages more than it delivers.

"Eastern Promises" opens September 14th.

+ "Eastern Promises" (Focus Features)

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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.

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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…