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Opening This Week: Still President Bush get his biopic

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10132008_theelephantking.jpgBy Neil Pedley

There’s plenty to be pleased about this week as we get to spend time with both current and future presidents as part of an Ellen Burstyn double bill. There’s also — whisper it — a movie based on a video game that might actually be worth seeing. Not to mention enough titular wordplay to make Richard Lederer’s head spin. It’s all just pun and games though, right?

“The Elephant King”
Built on the old adage that getting lost is the best way to find oneself, Seth Grossman’s debut feature follows the travels of Oliver (Tate Ellington), a suicidal writer who’s dispatched by Ellen Burstyn’s frantic matriarch to the seedy bar scene of Thailand to bring back his brother Jake (Jonno Roberts) to face his considerable debts in the U.S. Once abroad, Oliver finds that he may be at odds with his brother, but realizes all might not be lost when he meets an alluring local (Florence Faivre).
Opens in New York.

“Filth and Wisdom”
Having traded in kinkiness for Kabbalah in recent years, Madonna is making another shift from being in front of the camera to being behind it with a directorial debut that has already turned a few heads. Co-scripted with longtime Guy Ritchie underling Dan Cadan, the queen of career reinvention’s first film revolves around the unfulfilled lives of three London housemates; aspiring musician/sex worker A.K. (Eugene Hutz, whose real-life gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello composes much of the soundtrack), ballet/pole dancer Holly (Holly Weston) and wannabe aid worker Juliette (Vicky McClure). If Madonna has decided she’s now a filmmaker, we can only pray her husband does not respond in kind by donning a blonde wig and suspenders while belting out gruff Cockney renditions of “Like a Virgin.”
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on October 31st.

TV producer-turned-documentarian Caroline Suh’s poignant and timely debut captures the democratic process in perhaps its purest, simplest form — a high school popularity contest. Though it’s hardly Anytown U.S.A., the student body presidential election at Stuyvesant, arguably the most prestigious public school in the country, and one representative of all five boroughs of NYC, serves as a microcosm of tomorrow’s electorate and a proving ground for those aspiring to public office. As the various candidates vie for newspaper endorsements and compete in televised debates, Suh documents every aspect of the fierce campaign that follows as they seek ways to counter the sea of voter apathy that surrounds them.
Opens in New York.

It’s been a long road for Abel Ferrara’s meditation on faith and redemption since its premiere at the 2005 Venice Film Festival, but the tiny, meta-cinema epic that tells of three people linked by the mythical figure of Mary Magdalene is finally arriving on American shores. Juliette Binoche stars as Marie, an actress inspired to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem after playing the role of Mary Magdalene in a film, while the film’s director Tony (Matthew Modine), who also plays the role of Jesus, battles temptation. Forest Whitaker is also on hand as a TV journalist who faces a spiritual crisis while conducting research for a program on Christ. If there’s a silver lining for the long wait, the film’s marketing department can now boast of a cast including two Oscar winners in Whitaker and Marion Cotillard, who plays an actress named “Gretchen Mol.” (The real one acted in Ferrara’s “New Rose Hotel.”)
Opens in New York.

“Max Payne”
As anyone who has played through this pulsating, bullet-ridden, crime saga can ably attest, the “Max Payne” video game franchise balanced the body count with a tightly scripted, neo-noir storyline of vengeance and betrayal that was in truth better than a lot of movies. Mark Wahlberg steps into the blood soaked shoes of the grizzled DEA agent who embarks on a violent quest for retribution against those who murdered his family and his partner, but finds that they are just one strand in a much larger web of corruption and complicity. Director John Moore appears to have been faithful to the source material’s bleak tone, although the PG-13 rating is likely to upset Payne purists.
Opens wide.

“Morning Light”
The brainchild of longtime sailing enthusiast Roy Disney (Walt’s nephew), this inspirational story is the kind of fare the Mouse House typically cranks out on a conveyor belt, except that this one is real. First-time director Mark Monroe documents the grueling four-month training regiment undertaken by 15 young sailors chosen from hundreds of applicants all hoping to serve as the crew of the Morning Light racing yacht and compete in the annual weeklong Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.
Opens in limited release.

“The Secret Life of Bees”
After having spent the better part of the ’90s refining her craft in TV land, writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood broke through in 2000 with the Spike Lee-produced “Love & Basketball.” Eight years later, she returns to the big screen with an adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s coming-of-age page-turner about Lily Owen, a young runaway, (Dakota Fanning) and her nanny Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), who are taken in by a three sisters in a sleepy North Carolina town as the ink is still drying on the civil rights act. Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo play the spirited Boatwright sisters, a trio of beekeepers who offer shelter to Lily and Rosaleen despite considerable brouhaha from the slow to adjust townsfolk.
Opens wide.

“Sex Drive”
Less of a Judd Apatow knockoff than a carefully filtered amalgamation of every teen sex comedy you’ve ever seen plus Seth Green in an Amish beard, Sean Anders’ sophomore feature may be based on Andy Behrens’ novel “All the Way,” but it sure seems like a tech-assisted update of “The Sure Thing” to us. Sad inside his doughnut suit, our young protagonist Ian (Josh Zuckerman) feels the low self-esteem pangs of prolonged virginity. Rounding up his best pals Felicia (Amanda Crew) and Lance (Clark Duke of online moc-doc series “Michael and Clark”), the trio embarks on a cross-country road trip that will take Ian into the arms of his enigmatic online sweetheart, the lovely “Ms. Tasty” (“30 Rock”‘s Katrina Bowden), though not before “strong crude and sexual content – all involving teens” ensues, according to the MPAA.
Opens wide.

“Tru Loved”
Perennial indie bit-partner Najarra Townsend graduates to the role of leading lady as Tru in this queer high school dramedy from first-time writer/director Stewart Wade. Townsend plays the can-do Tru, a 16-year-old who sets about making lemonade out of lemons when her lesbian parents relocate from San Francisco to — gasp! — the conservative Southern California suburb of Agoura Hills. Rather than hide her views, Tru starts her new high school’s first gay-straight alliance, a quest that jeopardizes her friendship with the school’s closeted quarterback (Matthew Thompson). Jane Lynch, Alexandra Paul, Cynda Williams, Jasmine Guy, Nichelle Nichols and Bruce Vilanch round out the eclectic supporting cast.
Opens in limited release.

With all eyes on the November election, it falls to divisive director Oliver Stone to remind us that we’re yet under the rule of the man Jon Stewart has taken to referring to as “Still President Bush.” Continuing his career long fascination with the country’s highest office, Stone delivers this satirical biopic that details the many aspects of Bush’s transformation from Ivy League drunk to president. Mixed early reviews are split between those praising Josh Brolin’s immersive performance as No. 43 and those who claim Stone simply spends an inordinate amount of time telling us that which we already know. Ellen Burstyn and James Cromwell co-star as Ma and Pa Bush.
Opens wide.

“What Just Happened?”
A tell-all account of his tenure as a producer at 20th Century Fox in the late ’90s, Art Linson’s hysterical 2002 insider Hollywood expose didn’t so much bite the hand that feeds as tear it clean off and bury it in the backyard. At least Linson could still call in a few favors for this “dramatization” of his book that chronicles two weeks in the life of failing producer Ben (Robert De Niro, who famously passed on Linson’s “The Edge” because he didn’t want to spar with a bear). Coming off a string of flops, Ben frantically tries to juggle his collapsing marriage, Michael Wincott’s tantrum throwing auteur and his latest troubled project, which literally hangs by a thread of Bruce Willis’ facial hair. Sean Penn, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Catherine Keener and Kristen Stewart hang around for the carnage.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: “The Elephant King,” Unison Films, 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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