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2007: The Five Best Retreads

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

[Photo: Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in “3:10 to Yuma,” Lionsgate, 2007]

Every year a slew of newspapers run trend pieces about the lack of originality in Hollywood, citing the flood of remakes and sequels. This year, the blathering reached a numbing level of regularity — as if recycling material hasn’t been the backbone of Hollywood and every other mixture of art and commerce from time immemorial. From the silent period when film serials were the rage, whether it be “The Perils of Pauline” to “Les Vampires,” to the “Charlie Chan” and “Mr. Moto” cycles of the 1930s, the “Thin Man” films of the 1940s, and all the way up to the James Bonds and Jason Bournes of today — the film business is built on regurgitation — and the key is in how it is presented rather than what. There were plenty of imaginative retreads this year. Here’s a list of my five favorites.

Two Wrenching Departures

Directed by Ken Jacobs

A devastating memorial to the physical presences of dearly departed friends (and former collaborators), Ken Jacobs’ “Two Wrenching Departures” was first presented as a live performance at the Museum of the Moving Image in 1990. After the deaths of Jack Smith (“Flaming Creatures”) and Bob Fleischner in the October of 1989, he prepared one of his Nervous System pieces, a series of improvised works featuring dual 16mm projectors that deconstruct images into writhing shards. In 2007, he rejiggered it for DV, and it’s a masterpiece. He slows down and loops individual movements to create a throbbing, elegiac ode to the expressive power of gesture and of cinema itself.

I Think I Love My Wife

Directed by Chris Rock

One of the most intelligent Hollywood films of the year was, sadly, one of the worst reviewed. No matter, as this remake of Eric Rohmer’s “Chloe in the Afternoon” (1973) will last longer than any number of pithy pans. In updating Rohmer’s elegant classic, Rock artfully honors the spirit of the original while infusing it with his own acidic wit and an especially insightful examination of black middle-class life. Rock’s dilemma of whether to enter into an affair with an ex-flame or stay true to his wife is pure cliché, yet his treatment of it drips with ambiguity — as his faithfulness is borne almost as much out of maintaining his social status as it is out of love. Filled with pungent vulgarities and an ending of shocking sublimity, it’s a viciously underrated work of art.

3:10 to Yuma

Directed by James Mangold

James Mangold’s crisp western is a textbook example of how to successfully update a Hollywood classic by expanding the original without cheapening it. Delmar Daves’ 1957 original is a taut psychological duel fought with words in a cramped hotel room. The remake enlarges the scope to include a few more chases and gunfights to fulfill the whiz-bang needs of modern audiences, but all of it emerges organically from the original film’s plot and much of it deepens the theme of masculine pride. Anchored by nuanced, gritty performances from Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, this is top shelf entertainment — an oater that doesn’t feel out of place alongside the Manns, Boettichers, and Fords.

Belle Toujours

Directed by Manoel de Oliveira

A slender sequel to Luis Bunuel’s “Belle du Jour” (1967), “Belle Toujours” focuses on aging cad Henri Husson, a role reprised by Michel Piccoli. Piccoli, whose bird-like intensity has turned jowly and ruminative, takes a leisurely tour around Paris, searching town for Severine, the blond trophy wife and occasional prostitute he knew those many years ago. It’s an offhandedly graceful essay on aging, as Husson remembers the sexual escapades of his youth and wistfully glances at an oil painted nude. When he finally catches up with Severine (now played by Bulle Ogier, replacing Catherine Deneuve), he finds he still has the energy left for one more act of deviltry — and de Oliveira doffs his cap to Bunuel with a final, surreal visual flourish.

Live Free or Die Hard

Directed by Len Wiseman

A welcome blast of muscular irrationality, this immensely entertaining fourth entry in the “Die Hard” franchise finds John McClane once again caught in the path of a wily psycho about to wreak havoc during a national holiday — only this time, it’s Independence Day. Fully aware of McClane’s superfluity in an age of remote-controlled missiles, Wiseman and screenwriter Mark Bomback have created a self-reflexive spectacle that cracks so wise even the big action blowups seem to be shot with a giant smirk. This frees them to think up the most outrageous stunts possible, including a taxicab missile and a duel between a big rig and a fighter plane. Reality is of no concern, and with Willis willing to play along, the narrative percolates even when things don’t go boom.

[Additional photos: “Two Wrenching Departures,” Ken Burns; “I Think I Love My Wife,” Fox Searchlight; “3:10 to Yuma,” Lionsgate; “Belle Toujours,” New Yorker; “Live Free or Die Hard,” 20th Century Fox]

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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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