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Opening This Week: A 9/11 noir, a Flaming Lips film and a Coens comedy

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09082008_abledanger.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Some might be quick to dismiss this week as part of the post-summer lull, but others might see it as a week of films that have been years in the making — it’s been 13 since the now re-paired Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were last on screen together, while Diane English’s remake of “The Women” took 12 to make it to the big screen, and the Flaming Lips’ “Christmas on Mars” spent a mere seven years in the offing. As for fans of the Coen brothers, it only seems like forever since “No Country for Old Men.”

“Able Danger”
Another week, another 9/11 conspiracy film, this one actually getting released on the seventh anniversary of the tragedy. Loosely inspired by “The Maltese Falcon,” this DV noir offers something of a date movie for far-left conspiracy theorists who take issue with perceived abuse of power on the part of our government. In spite of a budget that wouldn’t finance a toddler’s birthday party, first-time director Dave Herman and scripter Paul Krik cook up a shadowy cloak-and-dagger mystery starring international woman of mystery Elina Löwensohn (in femme fatale mode here) who steps into the bookstore owned by a radical blogger (Adam Nee) and sweeps him up into a deadly hunt for a hard drive that contains proof of US government involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
Opens in New York.

“Burn After Reading”
Though the Coen brothers penned this script around the same time as the somber, Oscar-conquering “No Country For Old Men,” early reports out of Venice suggest that this star-studded espionage farce is the culmination of their every idea tossed into the pile marked “silly.” When the tall tale memoirs of ousted CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) fall into the hands of scheming dimwits Chad and Linda (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand), they ineptly try their hand at a little blackmail. George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins join in on the fun.
Opens wide.

“Christmas on Mars: A Fantastical Film Freakout Featuring the Flaming Lips”
It seems as if nobody has bothered to update the film section of the Flaming Lips’ Web site where it still reads, “‘Christmas on Mars’ will be available in time for Christmas in 2003.” Which should make fans of the Oklahoman alt-rockers all the more eager to unwrap this psychedelic passion project that marks the directorial debut of Wayne Coyne, the band’s longtime frontman. No stranger to theatricality (like the band’s parking lot experiments of the ’90s), Coyne has come up with a so-called fusion of “Eraserhead” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” taking place on a dilapidated Mars colony populated by a defiantly deluded Major Syrtis (Lips instrumentalist Steven Drozd) who sets about cheering up his demoralized crew by staging a Christmas pageant to celebrate the birth of the colony’s first baby. But when Santa commits suicide, it’s up to an enigmatic martian (Coyne) to pick up the slack.
Opens in New York.

“Flow: For Love of Water”
Given that we’ve just narrowly avoided another potentially catastrophic flood in the New Orleans area, and the fact that there’s increasing fervid hand wringing over the polar ice cap situation, there are those who might scoff at the idea of a worldwide water shortage. But Irena Salina’s documentary highlights the stealthy but steady privatization of the world’s fresh water supply by a cartel of multinational corporations silently backed by global financial institutions. The latest in a series of alarming activist docs to come out of this year’s Sundance, “Flow” counts the cost in terms of indigenous livelihoods in forgotten parts of the world where countries are too poor and people to desperate to adequately defend what is rightfully theirs.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; expands on Sept. 19th.

Israeli writer/director Udi Aloni explores his country’s culpability in the War of Independence, delivering a kaleidoscopic, genre-splicing tale of trauma and atonement with his first narrative feature. Itay Tiran plays David, an Israeli-American whose exasperating efforts to please his overbearing father lead him back to Israel for a tour in the army. Once there, he learns he’s unprepared for the harsh realities of military life amidst daily sectarian violence and lands in a mental institution built on the site of a devastated Palestinian village where he must confront ghosts of his past and of the Holocaust while he is under the treatment of an experimental anti-memory drug program.
Opens in limited release.

“Moving Midway”
It’s not easy being a critic. Yes, filmmakers pour years of their lives into passion projects and imbue them with their hopes, blood and tears. But what about the poor critic who has to go and see the film for free and then devote upwards of a whole half hour to render that all important verdict of “it’s crap”? Legendary New York film critic Godfrey Cheshire duly puts his money where his typewriter is with this deeply personal exploration of his Southern family history. Returning to his family’s old Tara-esque plantation in Raleigh, N.C., Cheshire discovers a new lineage as he witnesses a massive undertaking to transport the goliath antebellum structure to a new site to make way for property development.
Opens in New York.

“Phoebe in Wonderland”
Nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the feature debut from writer/director Daniel Barnz takes us down the rabbit hole in this surrealist coming-of-age drama that sees young Elle Fanning follow her sister in transitioning from bit-part cutie to diminutive leading lady. As the perennially misunderstood outsider struggling to reign in her boredom-fueled classroom antics, the Alice-obsessed Phoebe (Fanning) is thrilled at the chance to star in the school’s production of “Alice in Wonderland.” Desperate to control her behavioral issues and keep the part, Phoebe’s imagination brings forth beloved characters from the book to help her find her way. Patricia Clarkson, Bill Pullman and Felicity Huffman co-star.
Opens in limited release.

“Righteous Kill”
More than a decade on from Michael Mann’s underworld epic “Heat,” the hairs on the back of your neck still stand on end just a little when talk turns to that cup of coffee. So even though the names Pacino and De Niro may not have as much currency as they did pre-“88 Minutes” and “Hide and Seek,” it’s with reasonable fanfare that two of cinema’s greatest living actors switch locales from a Los Angeles diner booth to the whiskey-stained mahogany of an NYPD homicide desk in their third film together. With a killer on the loose targeting criminals and teasing police with cryptic clues, two aging detectives reopen a case they closed years ago in hopes of confirming they were right and that the killer isn’t one of their own.
Open wide.

With this darkly comic adaptation of Alicia Erian’s somewhat tragic tale of innocence lost, Academy Award winning screenwriter and “Six Feet Under” creator Alan Ball once more vaults the white picket fences of dysfunctional, suburban America and voyeuristically peeks in through the window. Summer Bishil makes her big screen debut as Jasira, a 13-year-old Arab-American girl bounced from her workaholic secular mother in New York to her strict Lebanese father in Houston, and finds herself amidst a clash of cultures she doesn’t quite comprehend while attracting the attention of her next door neighbor (Aaron Eckhart). Maria Bello, Toni Collette and Peter Macdissi welcome her into the neighborhood.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; expands on Sept. 19th.

“The Tree of Life”
Not to be confused with Terrence Malick’s upcoming film of the same name, this documentary from Los Angeleno Hava Volterra follows the filmmaker’s travels to Italy in search of her lost ancestry after the death of her immigrant Italian Jewish father. With her tireless 82-year-old aunt in tow, Volterra cleverly punctuates her journey with playful marionette reenactments and Python style animation, as the filmmaker cathartically pieces together the scattered family tree and reconnects with her heritage. In English and Italian with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys”
With his second film of the year, the tireless Tyler Perry once again delivers a patented ensemble family drama that once again addresses the terminally forgotten African-American middle class. In the first of Perry’s films to feature an interracial cast, Alfre Woodward and Kathy Bates star as longtime friends from opposite ends of the class spectrum who find their worlds colliding when their children become embroiled in allegations of extramarital affairs, shady business dealings and potentially devastating paternity suits. Sanaa Lathan, Cole Hauser, Taraji P. Henson and a resurgent Robin Givens co-star.
Opens wide.

“The Women”
“Sex and the City” showed that while Hollywood might be a little light on leading ladies these days (just give the Fannings a few more years), ladies are always up for a little light comedy. In the wake of the “Sex” revolution, Diane English’s remake of the 1939 George Cukor classic suddenly seems hip, but it didn’t come easy. After more than a decade in development hell with everyone from Julia Roberts to Whitney Houston rumored to be on board, the former “Murphy Brown” showrunner joined forces with Mick Jagger to update the tale of a well-to-do New Yorker (Meg Ryan) who discovers her husband is cheating on her with a salesgirl (Eva Mendes) and takes comfort in the company of her friends (Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith). And despite Jagger’s attachment as a producer, don’t look for a cameo — both this and the 1939 film have no roles for men.
Opens wide.

[Photo: “Able Danger,” Collective, 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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