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Critic wrangle: “What Just Happened?”

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10172008_whatjusthappened.jpg“And Bruce Willis as himself” — Barry Levinson’s industry satire “What Just Happened?” wasn’t the buzzy Sundance hit those who made it clearly had expected, despite a bright and shiny cast of biggish names like Robert De Niro, Robin Wright Penn, John Turturro, Stanley Tucci. Catherine Keener and the aforementioned Willis. In theaters today, it’s generated mixed reviews — I’d count myself amongst the many that seem impatient with continued tales of high-larious Hollywood woe.

“What Just Happened? is a doodle, but its aura of dread seems earned,” writes David Edelstein at New York, saluting De Niro’s “killer timing” and the fact that “Barry Levinson directs snappily.” Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly agrees that the film “rambles a bit, but it has dryly obscene, laugh-out-loud lines, and its portrait of Hollywood as a giant anxiety attack is fused by De Niro, who musters a desperate, nagging warmth beneath his grumbly facade.” Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club lauds the way the film “retains its [source novel’s] sustained melancholy mood of low-key existential dread and dyspeptic wit.”

But everyone else finds “What Just Happened?” either toothless, stale or irrelevant. The New York TimesA.O Scott, who dismisses the film as mocking studio shallowness while having no sense of what depth is, wonders “Who, exactly, do Mr. Levinson and the screenwriter, Art Linson, expect to invest time and interest — to say nothing of thought or feeling — in this meandering, passive-aggressive comedy of Hollywood inconsequence?” Anthony Lane at the New Yorker has a question of his own: “Levinson has assembled a fine field of actors, no question, but the going is too easy for them underfoot; movies about movies are old ground, and what could be sweeter–cozier, even–than trampling on the follies of your trade, knowing that nothing will ever change?” Stephanie Zacharek at Salon calls it “more self-congratulatory than it is vicious, or even illuminating,” while Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly suggests that “begging for sympathy, What Just Happened? invites only schadenfreude.” “There’s not a whole lot in ‘What Just Happened?’ that would be out of place in a good ‘SNL’ skit,” writes Roger Ebert.

And I’ll give the final word to Armond White of the New York Press, recently re-elected chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle: “Every joke in Tropic Thunder, The Player, The Muse, I’ll Do Anything, even HBO’s Entourage is sharper, more incisive and funnier than those in What Just Happened.”

[Photo: “What Just Happened?”, Magnolia Pictures, 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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