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Opening This Week: Vin Diesel saves the world, Takashi Miike goes west

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08252008_babylonad.jpgBy Neil Pedley

This week’s new films include the Western going Eastern, a couple of exotic music docs, Cinderella stories for girls and for boys and Vin Diesel attempting to walk, chew gum and shoot people — all at the same time.

“Babylon A.D.”
Second chances all around in this stylish cyberpunk romp that sees “La Haine” director Mathieu Kassovitz take another bite at the mainstream cherry after stumbling with his last detour into Hollywood, the Halle Berry clunker “Gothika.” Vin Diesel, who passed on “Hitman” for this, also gets another shot at a potential franchise after eliciting a collective yawn with his Neo-lite performance in “The Chronicles of Riddick.” After a troubled shoot fraught with budget overruns and uncooperative weather, Diesel has the bigger challenge on his hands as Toorop, a mercenary charged with trying to save the world with a snowboard while escorting a genetically altered young woman with a secret through post-apocalyptic Eastern Europe before delivering her to New York. Michelle Yeoh, Gérard Depardieu and Charlotte Rampling highlight the international cast.
Opens wide.

With the “American Pie” series now a shambling direct-to-DVD parody of its former self, we’re waiting for that next gross-out teen sex comedy franchise to once again remind the youthful of their true priorities. In a refreshing change of pace, it’s left to a female director (Deb Hagan) to handle the good-natured frat humor in this comedy about a trio of wide-eyed high school seniors on a weekend visit to a local college campus. Passing themselves off as freshmen, they hook up with college girls and run afoul of a jealous fraternity, leading to an all-out battle of the pranks to see who winds up on top.
Opens wide.

“Disaster Movie”
As these movies continue to arrive with alarming regularity and ever more ironic titles, we once again brace ourselves for another torturous lesson in abject comedic failure. No longer prepared to even stick to the genre they’re allegedly spoofing, this funny way-back-when franchise is now content with casually (read: lazily) doling out vague references to any halfway popular movie of the last 12 months. This go-round finds us in the midst of a loose riff on “The Happening” with the likes of “Hancock,” “10,000 B.C.” and that old disaster movie chestnut “Juno” thrown in for good measure.
Opens wide.

“Goal II: Living the Dream”
Picking up where the 2005 fairytale for boys left off, “Goal II” finds Mexican soccer sensation Santiago Muñez (Kuno Becker) handed a dream transfer from the mid-table mediocrity of Newcastle United to the nine-time European champions, Real Madrid, but he finds the glitz and glamour to be detrimental to his game. Soccer fans will enjoy few a laughs at the unfortunate choice of star cameos, filmed without the benefit of hindsight, including a pre-Americanized David Beckham, a pre-headbutting Zinédine Zidane, and Ronaldo, who was able to fit his shooting schedule around his arrest in a Brazilian hotel room with a trio of transvestite prostitutes. Knowing Rutger Hauer co-stars, we’d imagine there were some pretty interesting conversations on set.
Opens in limited release.

“Maria Bethânia: Music is Perfume”
As one of the leaders of Tropicália art movement, Maria Bethânia takes us on a guided tour of her beloved Brazil and the music that has shaped her life. During the preparation of her latest album and an accompanying tour, French documentarian Georges Gachot assembled Bethânia’s collaborators from over the years, including her brother Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, to pay tribute to the singer whose constant reinvention and 40-year musical evolution and has long been seen as a mirror to Brazil’s colorful but turbulent culture. In French and Portuguese with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“My Mexican Shivah”
Mexican director Alejandro Springhall delivers an energetic culture clash comedy set amidst an eclectic gathering at a wake in Polanco, a Jewish quarter of Mexico City. With the passing of the family patriarch Moishe, the estranged and dysfunctional family comes together for the week-long observation of the Shivah. As festering emotional wounds are reopened and longstanding family conflict quickly bubbles to the surface, two invisible angels walk amongst the mourners, listening in on the bickering as they look to decide the fate of Moishe’s eternal soul. In Spanish and Hebrew with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Return to Gorée”
Despite being described by Rolling Stone as perhaps the most famous singer alive today, Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour is little known to most people in America outside of the odd notable duet with the likes of Neneh Cherry and Peter Gabriel. Here director Pierre-Yves Borgeaud travels with N’Dour as he traces the jazz migration backwards from its roots in the Deep South of America, through the former European colonial powers, to its origins in West Africa, culminating with a concert in the old slave fort of Gorée, Senegal in front of a global audience. In English and French with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Sukiyaki Western Django”
More than 40 years after Sergio Leone appropriated the finest elements of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” to give the great horse epic a stylish, invigorating makeover, maverick Japanese auteur Takashi Miike (“Audition,” “Ichi The Killer”) looks to return the favor with his take on “A Fistful of Dollars.” Skillfully blending the surrealism of Sergio Corbucci and the macabre humor of Leone with a twist of chop-socky mayhem and swordplay, Miike gives us Hideaki Ito as a lone gunman looking to work both sides of the street in a town torn apart by two feuding rival gangs. Longtime Miike admirer and Spaghetti Western fanatic Quentin Tarantino, gleefully lends himself to an extended cameo.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on Sept. 12th.

The arrival of the convoluted espionage thriller that probes the ideological minefields of geopolitics and global terrorism means that Oscar season really must be right around the corner. Don Cheadle, who also produces, stars as Samir, a conflicted African-born Muslim-American with a checkered past and ties to the Afghani Muhajadeen. After escaping a brief incarceration in prison, Samir must evade the attentions of dogged FBI investigators (Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough) while trying to deflect the manipulations of Jeff Daniels’ rogue CIA agent who has his own agenda. The international thriller was the brainchild of executive producer Steve Martin — yes, that Steve Martin, who pitched the film while working on “Bringing Down The House,” proving that indeed his mind was elsewhere at the time.
Opens wide.

“Year of the Fish”
This product of the Sundance Labs is an adaptation of a thousand-year old Chinese take on the Cinderella story by director David Kaplan, who literally paints a new portrait of the fairy tale through the process of rotoscoping, the same animation technique that yielded “Waking Life.” The film stars An Nguyen as Ye Xian, a naïve young immigrant pressed into servitude at a Chinatown brothel posing as a massage parlor. Aided by a magical koi carp gifted to her by a benevolent fortune teller, Ye Xian finds her very own prince charming in the form of Johnny (Ken Leung), a down-on-his-luck accordion player from the neighborhood.
Opens in New York.

“Young People Fucking”
Those able to get past the intentionally provocative title — which, incidentally, several Canadian conservative groups could not — will find writer/director Martin Gero mourning the lost art of seduction, the demise of romance, and pining for just a little bit of love in today’s lovemaking in this film that premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. The unromantic romantic comedy presents a loosely intertwined evening from the shifting perspective of five couples at various different stages of a relationship (best friends, exes, a couple, roommates, a first date) each one designed to represent a different stage in the sexual experience.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on Sept. 12th.

[Photo: “Babylon A.D.,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 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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