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“Burn After Reading”: The trades say yes! And no!

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08272008_burnafterreading.jpgThe early reviews of the Coens’ “Burn After Reading,” which opens the Venice Film Festival tonight, are out, and they’re up, down and all over the place.

Todd McCarthy at Variety thinks the film finds the brothers C retreating “to sophomoric snarky mode,” bemoaning the fact that the “seriously talented cast has been asked to act like cartoon characters.”

The Coens’ script, which feels immature but was evidently written around the same time as that for “No Country,” is just too fundamentally silly, without the grounding of a serious substructure that would make the sudden turn to violence catch the viewer up short. Nothing about the project’s execution inspires the feeling that this was ever intended as anything more than a lark, which would be fine if it were a good one. As it is, audience teeth-grinding sets in early and never lets up.

Kirk Honeycutt at the Hollywood Reporter is far more positive, though he does caution that “Those who relish this movie might treat this as the second coming of ‘The Big Lebowski’; those who don’t might wonder at a story in which no character has a level head.”

The key thing is that every actor is riffing on his or her screen persona. The guys who pulled off all those casino heists, the smart-cookie South Dakota police officer, the stars of many Sundance films — yep, they’re all idiots. One of the film’s funniest lines comes when a CIA officer listens to a report of everyone’s behavior, including murder and an attempt to leak the memoirs to the Russian embassy — rather prescient that last plot point! He shakes his head and asks an agent, “Report back to me” — he frowns and pauses — “when it makes sense.”

Lee Marshall at Screen International loves the film, though he doesn’t believe much should be expected from it:

A beautifully produced mix of spy story, US zeitgeist satire and relationship drama, Burn After Reading cons the audience into seeing depths – and Fargo parallels – that don’t really exist. The consumate, near-throwaway ending sets the record straight: it’s a feelgood comedy so enjoy the ride and don’t take it all so seriously.

Andrew Pulver at the Guardian writes that, compared to its star presence at the festival, “[t]he film itself may be a bit of an afterthought,” and that compared to “No Country,” it’s a “bit of a bantamweight: fast moving, lots of attitude, and uncorking a killer punch when it can.”

And for Shane Danielsen at indieWIRE, it’s just fine, and perhaps doomed to be so:

It’s a decent movie, undeniably entertaining to watch, but afterwards you struggle to remember much about it beyond a general sense of fun being had — most of it onscreen. Yet even if it were better, even if it were very good indeed, it would still have its work cut out for it. It will inevitably be compared to the Oscar-winning, life-and-death-weighing masterpiece that preceded it, and found wanting.

[Photo: “Burn After Reading,” Focus Features, 2008]

+ Burn After Reading (Variety)
+ Film Review: Burn After Reading (Hollywood Reporter)
+ Burn After Reading (Screen Daily)
+ A tightly wound triumph (Guardian)
+ Personalities Aside, Venice Follows up on a Masterpiece (indieWIRE)

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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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