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Critic wrangle: “Chop Shop.”

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02292008_chopshop.jpgIn the follow-up to his acclaimed 2005 film “Man Push Cart,” Ramin Bahrani returns to the unseen (well, at least on screen) underbelly of New York City with “Chop Shop,” which follows the lives of Alejandro, an orphaned boy who, along with his teenage sister, struggles for survival amidst the junkyards and questionable auto body shops in Willets Point, Queens. The film opened in New York on Wednesday (check out an interview with Bahrani here) — once again, the critics applaud.

David Edelstein at New York deems the film “a low-budget vérité triumph”: “Chop Shop isn’t so beautiful or artfully sculpted, and you can’t shake it off as just a movie. You want to head out on the 7 train and find this little boy–or someone like him.” In his Toronto 2007 review, Roger Ebert wrote that “Now we have an American film with the raw power of ‘City of God’ or ‘Pixote,’ a film that does something unexpected, and inspired, and brave.” Andrew O’Hehir at Salon compares the film to Bresson’s “Pickpocket” and de Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief,” going on to write “I know, that’s a hell of a lot for a movie by a 32-year-old unknown to live up to, but I haven’t seen an American film in many years that so clearly rates the comparison.” Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE notes that these resemblances aren’t only in stylistic similarities, but also moral ones: “Alejandro… isn’t to be merely pitied, but to be understood as a person with the same aspirations and faults as us all, only under circumstances that make each decision a possible do or die one, allowing little room for error.”

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott points out that the film’s unflinching realism doesn’t obscure a sense of beauty: “there is nonetheless a lyricism at its heart, an unsentimental, soulful appreciation of the grace that resides in even the meanest struggle for survival.” Adds Nathan Lee at the Village Voice:

Bahrani doesn’t omit hardship so much as subsume it within the larger framework of his benevolent sensibility. Chop Shop avoids the pitfalls of romanticism (and miserablism) by keying this empathic touch to the consciousness of Ale and Isa. For them, Willets Point is simply home, and if their ecosystem, precarious as it is, sometimes feels enchanted, that’s because children always transform their surroundings into playgrounds or battlegrounds–arenas of struggle and play.

And two qualifications, from Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club and Nick Schager at Slant. Murray suggests that “All that’s holding Chop Shop back from being a great movie–as opposed to a merely good one–is that there really isn’t much to it.” Schager finds that “Bahrani’s screenplay occasionally feels too scripted for its own good,” and that “the film nonetheless too often fails to get under one’s skin emotionally.”

[Photo: “Chop Shop,” Koch Lorber Films, 2007]

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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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