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Opening This Week: Dot-com days, period magicians, Eddie (sigh) Murphy

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07072008_august.jpgBy Neil Pedley

This week finds the U.S. Army bringing war games to a whole other level, a ’60s sex icon getting an exposé, Ron Perlman returning as the defender of small fluffy kittens everywhere and Eddie Murphy taking cinema egotism to new heights.

After the warm reception his first feature “XX/XY” received at Sundance in 2002, director Austin Chick returned to the snowy slopes of Park City to debut his sophomore effort, which seemed to impress our own Matt Singer when he saw it in January. Assembling an noteworthy ensemble that includes the likes of Robin Tunney, Naomie Harris, Rip Torn and David Bowie, Chick follows Tom and Josh Sterling (Josh Hartnett and Adam Scott, respectively), two brothers desperately trying to right the sinking ship of their failing dot-com company in the weeks leading up to the devastating September 11th attacks.
Opens in New York.

“Days and Clouds”
“Bread and Tulips” director Silvio Soldini looks at the life of a comfortable middle-class housewife (Margherita Buy) who struggles to deal with downgrades in lifestyle after her husband is forced out of the shipping company he used to run.
Opens in New York.

“Death Defying Acts”
Achieving both critical acclaim and commercial success is an act of magic in itself for any movie these days. So when such a feat was conjured by both “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist” in the same year, the only wonder remaining is how another dark and brooding period piece about an obsessive magician didn’t arrive sooner. Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong, who herself is reappearing after last helming the 2002 Cate Blanchett historical drama “Charlotte Gray,” oversees fellow countryman Guy Pearce as Harry Houdini, who offers $10,000 to anyone who can contact his deceased mother and retrieve her dying words. Catherine Zeta Jones co-stars as an impoverished con artist who sets her sights on the money, if she can only get by his suspicious and protective manager (Timothy Spall). Then again, he might be easier to deal with than Houdini purists who cried foul at Pearce’s portrayal of the magic legend when the film premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Eight Miles High”
A “Factory Girl” for Germany, this film is a biopic of the Edie Sedgwick-esque Uschi Obermaier, a Bavarian runaway turned ’60s fashion model and counterculture icon who traveled the globe in a hippie-approved Mercedes Benz bus and became a symbol of the sexual revolution with a string of high-profile affairs with the likes of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Unfortunately, the majority of reviews have suggested that the film is much like the lady was herself — very good-looking, but ultimately a little thin. Still, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t intrigued by the notion of German actors Victor Norén and Alexander Scheer playing Mick and Keith.
Opens in New York.

“Full Battle Rattle”
Winner of a Special Jury Award at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss’ documentary takes us inside the dizzyingly surreal world of the U.S. Army’s sprawling Iraqi simulation complex in California’s Mojave Desert that serves as a fully functional training exercise and the last stop for troops shipping out. Befitting of a place described by one trooper as “one giant reality TV show,” there’s a hair, make-up and wardrobe department that outfits the nearly 1600 soldiers that engage in live field exercises designed to prepare troops for the reality of war, without all that nasty death and destruction stuff, of course.
Opens in New York.

“Garden Party”
From a million bedroom windows across the world, the twinkling lights of Los Angeles burn bright, but it’s the idea of burnout in LaLa Land that holds limitless appeal for indie filmmakers. Ten years after Jason Freeland made his directorial debut with the noir “Brown’s Requiem,” his second film doesn’t so much owe Robert Altman’s masterful “Short Cuts” a wink and a nod — it owes the ensemble dramedy a dinner and a show. Offering his own take on how the town sucks its inhabitants dry, Freeland co-scripted this tale of jaded residents and newly christened Angelenos swapping stories as they loosely drift in and out of each other’s lives searching for that shining promise that drew them there.
Opens in limited release.

Sibling rivalry may have taken its toll on Abigail’s brother Spencer Breslin, but who’d have imagined it would result in male pattern baldness in high school? That’s the scenario imagined in T. Sean Shannon’s offbeat teen comedy, which is actually the full-length incarnation of a short film he adapted from a “Saturday Night Live” skit he penned. Since Harold finds himself subjected to swirlies as the target of bullies, it’s up to Cuba Gooding Jr’s. goofy but cunning school janitor to intervene and teach Harold his own brand of survival skills. Not surprisingly, former “SNL”-ers Rachel Dratch, Chris Parnell, and Colin Quinn round out the supporting cast, in addition to Ally Sheedy, who costars as Harold’s scatterbox of a mom.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”
Perhaps all too aware that the juggernaut that is “The Dark Knight” is a mere week away, Universal has initiated a carpet-bombing marketing campaign of truly epic proportions that’s virtually guaranteed that there are undiscovered tribes in the heart of the Peruvian jungle that know this movie is coming out on Friday. No stranger to sequels, director Guillermo del Toro follows up his Oscar-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth” with a second installment to his 2004 sleeper hit “Hellboy.” Ron Perlman reprises his role as the foul-tempered, cigar-chomping, kitten-loving badass who ably delivers both punches and punchlines when the tentative truce between humans and the fantasy realm is shattered and the forces of darkness prepare to wage war. Fun fact: Luke Goss, the steely-eyed actor who played the villain of del Toro’s last sequel, “Blade II,” returns to torment the director’s current hero.
Opens wide.

“Journey to the Center of the Earth”
Two-time Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig seems ideally suited for the job of directing this latest screen adaptation of Jules Verne’s pioneering adventure tale. Brought to us in stereoscopic 3-D, the same technique employed by last year’s “Beowulf,” this “Journey” stars Brendan Fraser as Trevor, a volcanology professor who, accompanied by his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) and a mountain guide (Anita Briem), follows notes left by his late brother that take them to Iceland and a deep pit that leads to the Earth’s core.
Opens wide.

“A Man Named Pearl”
With a massive, and dare we say it, almost “fashionable” preoccupation with global warming, Iraq and the Israel/Palestine conflict exhibited by filmmakers today, the term “feel-good documentary” is almost an oxymoron. Co-directors Brent Pierson and Scott Galloway look to change that with a portrait of topiary titan Pearl Fryar that’s as bright as the blue skies of Fryar’s home state of North Carolina. Understandably a little irked that his application to a gated community was turned down on the ignorant assumption that black people don’t keep up their yards, Fryar sets about winning the local yard of the month contest by becoming a real-life Edward Scissorhands.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on July 25th.

“Meet Dave”
Originally titled “Starship Dave,” this film’s implication that Eddie Murphy is, in fact, a highly sophisticated spaceship crewed by tiny beings from another planet that don’t fully comprehend our cultures and customs would certainly go a long way to explaining a few of his career choices (oh fat suit, how you beguile us). “Norbit” director Brian Robbins reteams with Murphy in this high-concept farce, co-scripted by Bill Corbett of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fame, that sees Murphy play both the awkward ship and its wildly enthusiastic miniature captain who navigates the treacherous streets of New York to save his planet from destruction. Presumably Murphy wasn’t asked to drive around in the 15-foot tall float in his image that could be seen around Times Square this past weekend, because the idea of Eddie Murphy in Eddie Murphy in Eddie Murphy would really make our heads spin.
Opens wide.

“The Reflecting Pool”
Taking one of the defining, divisive and most emotionally charged events of our time (9/11) and adding a subjective narrative to it is always going to alienate half your audience. Kudos, then, to Russian-American filmmaker Jarek Kupsc for going ahead and doing it anyway. Kuspsc not only culled together the vast and plentiful conspiracy theories about the attack being an inside job, but takes on the lead role as an investigative reporter hired by the father of one of the plane crash victims to dig deeper into the events of that tragic day.
Opens in New York.

“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”
After premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this provocative documentary about one of Hollywood’s most celebrated and vilified artists is receiving a limited theatrical run. Armed with a treasure trove of archival footage, Marina Zenovich extensively chronicles the events leading up to Roman Polanski’s conviction for unlawful sex with a minor and his subsequent and equally unlawful escape to France where he remains in exile to this day. If catching this in the theater would first involve catching a plane, as is the unfortunate case with many limited releases, you can still thankfully see this one on HBO, where it has been doing the rounds for the past month.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on July 18th.

“The Stone Angel”
Prolific Canadian director Kari Skogland writes and helms this brave stab at adapting Margaret Laurence’s celebrated, controversial, and some would say, unfilmable novel of the same name. Told through a series of vignettes, the film is grounded by the irrepressible and always excellent Ellen Burstyn, who stars as Hagar Shipley, a defiantly proud 94-year-old woman who skips out on her well-intentioned son and his less than well-received plans to plant her in a nursing home to journey through Manitoba trying to reconcile events from her turbulent and colorful life. On a somewhat related note, someone really needs to pass a law forever banning the use of Thomas Newman’s “Dead Already” from any trailer for a film about an aging person rediscovering his or her vitality. Ellen Page, Cole Hauser, Kevin Zegers and Dylan Baker co-star.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: “August,” First Look International, 2008]

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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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