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Opening This Week: Jazz living, Asian-influenced horror and Woody Allen

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08112008_anitaoday.jpgBy Neil Pedley

With the summer’s end in sight, this week might represent the last hurrah in the name of good fun before the gloomy, Oscar-baiting seriousness of the fall release schedule descends upon us. Woody’s back, there’s a grindhouse/B-movie double header, and in the realm of blockbuster comedy, it’s the wily veteran versus the young upstart as Ben Stiller battles Seth Rogen in an all-out race to the stupid.

“Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer”
Although she was overshadowed by such greats as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, Anita O’Day became one of the “three queens of Jazz,” in spite of an artform dominated by African-Americans and her struggle with her own personal demons. In this documentary, the famed white jazz vocalist reflects on nearly 70 years in the spotlight, not merely performing jazz, but living it as a lifestyle. O’Day’s former manager Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden take a turn behind the camera to chart O’Day’s rocky ascension to jazz royalty that included a stint in jail, four failed marriages, nearly as many abortions and addictions to alcohol and heroin, before mounting a stunning comeback in 2006 at the grand old age of 87.
Opens in limited release.

“Apology of an Economic Hitman”
Greek journalist and filmmaker Stelios Koul terms his latest film, “a film noir documentary,” only the hard-boiled hit man at the center of it has no interest in a high body count. Instead, John Perkins, a former economist and activist, cathartically recounts his years of service to the U.S government as a James Bond of international finance and globalization, dispatched around the globe to advance American economic interests by any means necessary. Based on his book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” Perkins’s recollections of bending multinational corporations to America’s economic agenda are illustrated with dramatizations of the Dashiell Hammett variety.
Opens in New York.

“Bachna Ae Haseeno”
Woody Allen does have a movie coming out this week, but it isn’t this Bollywood production that mines Allen’s well-worn territory of how a string of eclectic beauties can shape a man’s life in different ways. Ranbir Kapoor is the impressionable young Raj Sharma, who spends his formative years between 17 to 30 fending off the advances of young Bollywood ingénues Bipasha Basu, Minissha Lamba, and Deepika Padukone. In Hindi with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

“Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69”
If Rob Zombie’s faux trailer for “Werewolf Women of the S.S” in “Grindhouse” left you convinced that you might’ve just glimpsed the next “Citizen Kane,” then Keith J. Crocker is a man you need to acquaint yourself with. The longtime publisher of the Exploitation Journal follows up his debut feature, “The Bloody Ape,” with this tantalizing tale of bloody torture and sexual deviance in the bowels of a Nazi prison camp. Fear not, faint of heart, as Crocker has decreed that no admission ticket be sold unless accompanied by a mandatory vomit bag.
Opens in New York.

“Fly Me to the Moon”
With the earthbound “Kung Fu Panda” aside, you could easily be forgiven for pondering if this summer’s animated output is actually the result of a secret bet between studios to see who could launch the most adorable creature into space. Child actors Philip Bolden, Trevor Gagnon, and David Gore voice a trio of intrepid insects who stow away aboard the historic Apollo 11 flight to the moon. Buzz Aldrin lends authenticity to the vocal cast, while Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd and Kelly Ripa supply the humor. Having been thoroughly vetted by nippers both in Europe and the U.S. previously as a short film accompanying a Six Flags theme park ride, this feature length version will be exclusive to IMAX and digital 3D capable theaters.
Opens wide.

“A Girl Cut in Two”
If not in theme, it’s also somewhat fitting that director Claude Chabrol’s latest release coincides with that of Woody Allen, given that the French auteur seems to have comfortably settled into a routine of releasing a film a year that, while they are still notable, never quite reach the dizzying heights of his heyday. Here the celebrated master of suspense gives us a mordant, voyeuristic peek into the secretive vacuum of plastic bourgeois ritual, co-written with his longtime A.D and stepdaughter Cécile Maistre. Ludvine Sagnier stars as a local weather girl whose affair with a successful author (François Berléand) grants her entry into the upper echelons of society, where she falls for an unhinged aristocratic brat (Benoît Magimel), who quickly develops a disturbing fixation with her.
Opens in limited release.

“Henry Poole is Here”
After an extended detour helming genre thrillers (“Arlington Road,” “The Mothman Prophecies”), Mark Pellington returns to his indie roots with this deeply personal fable of faith, redemption and the power of hope. Luke Wilson stars as Henry Poole, whose self-imposed exile following a devastating medical prognosis is interrupted by a procession of well-meaning neighbors who proclaim a water stain on the side of his house to look like Jesus Christ.
Opens in limited release.

With Japanese horror officially sooo 2002, it’s all about mining the rest of Asia now for ideas on how best to get your date to jump into your lap in the dark. Yet try telling that to “High Tension” director Alexandre Aja, who despite some glaring similarities to the grisly 2003 Korean film, “Into the Mirror,” vehemently denies this is a remake. (Still, original scribe Sung-ho Kim is credited for penning the original.) Opting not to spend the writer’s strike-imposed hiatus of “24” on the back nine, Kiefer Sutherland stars as the ex-cop hired as a security guard to watch over a department store gutted by a mysterious fire. Inside, he is exposed to the store’s possessed mirrors that unleash an unspeakable evil on anyone who gazes upon them. Amy Smart and Paula Patton add a feminine touch to the proceedings.
Opens wide.

“Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer”
Coming off a run at the recently concluded Comic Con in San Diego, this gloriously silly homage to classic ’80s splatter cinema is primed as a perfect fix for horror fans still pining away for “Evil Dead 4.” After witnessing the gruesome murder of his parents at the hands of beasties as a boy, our hero Jack (Trevor Matthews) now toils as a plumber in between futile therapy sessions and even more useless evening classes. But when an ancient curse transforms his professor (Robert Englund) into a rampaging monster, Jack must confront his demons (literally) armed with just a plunger and some Prozac and save the world from the forces of darkness.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars”
In preparation for a new animated series that will begin airing on Cartoon Network in the fall, this feature-length adventure picks up the story just after the events of Episode II and sees the clone wars get into full swing with Anakin Skywalker and his Padawan battling Count Dooku and crime boss Jabba the Hut. Fans who felt that series creator George Lucas had raped their collective childhoods with the live-action prequels can take comfort in the fact that he kept his hands off the script for “Clone Wars,” yet he finally found a way to get rid of those pesky actors once and for all. (Here’s hoping Anakin is more lifelike this way.)
Opens wide.

“Tropic Thunder”
Following guest appearances by stars Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., and Jack Black on “American Idol” and the MTV Movie Awards as well as viral marketing campaign including a web site for the film’s film-within-a-film “Rain of Madness,” the world appears to finally be ready for “Tropic Thunder” to battle “Pineapple Express” for the comedy crown of 2008. Behind the camera for the first time since 2001’s “Zoolander,” Stiller commands an all-star comedy ensemble (Nick Nolte, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, among others) in what might best be described as “The Three Amigos” meets “Platoon,” as a group of prima donna actors are unknowingly dumped into the middle of a real war zone by their pissed off director (Steve Coogan) in hopes of eliciting some better performances. War is hell — here’s hoping it’s also very funny.
Opens wide.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Perhaps the annual release of a Woody Allen film is no longer the celebrated event that it once was, but this latest offering from the tireless director has again arrived like clockwork, this time with positive notices from its premiere at Cannes. Allen may be filming his latest film in New York, but the end of his European vacation sees him reuniting with Scarlett Johansson, along with Rebecca Hall, as the titular Cristina and Vicky, respectively, two gals visiting family friends for the summer in Barcelona, where they encounter Javier Bardem’s alluring lothario Juan Antonio and progressively succumb to his bohemian charms until his fiery ex-wife (Penélope Cruz) shows up to spoil the fun… or join in.
Open in limited release.

[Photo: “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer,” Palm Pictures, 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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