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Opening This Week: Indie superheroes, teen vampires and Russian shysters

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11172008_thebetrayal.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Superpowers, real or imagined, along with a bevy of culture clash dominate this week’s offerings. Prince Caspian tries to score big in London, renowned cinematographer Ellen Kuras tells of a family who fled Laos, and a group of vampires run wild in Northern Washington, during the day – the day!

“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
Co-director Thavisouk Phrasavath teams up with veteran cinematographer Ellen Kuras to bring his heart-wrenching story to the screen, a film about courage and survival that’s been 23 years in the making. Recounting the bitter memories of the U.S withdrawal from Laos that left the communists in power and his family in tatters, Phrasavath describes how he swam to a Thai refugee camp after his father, a CIA operative, was branded an enemy of the state, and subsequently moved to a Brooklyn slum with his ailing mother and nine siblings in tow. In English and Lao with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Bigga Than Ben”
With immigration still a contentious issue on both sides of the pond, Brit writer/director Suzie Halewood’s latest effort will no doubt have the Fox News audience waking up in cold sweats in the middle of the night. “The Chronicles of Narnia”‘s Prince Caspian, Ben Barnes and Andrei Chadov star as two wily Russian shysters who wash up on London’s shoreline with the aim of fleecing the welfare system for all they can, spending their days hard at work ensuring they’ll never have to be hard at work, one state benefit scam at a time.
Opens in limited release.

After a lengthy spell in development that saw at least one “start over” decree from the powers that be, Disney’s latest animated outing has a synopsis that reads like “Underdog” by way of “Tropic Thunder.” Badly in need of a Robert Downey Jr.-sized comeback himself, John Travolta lends his voice to Bolt, a courageous canine who plays a superhero on TV, but finds that his special-effects-aided superpowers don’t work when he’s mistakenly shipped cross-country to New York City. With the help of a cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) and his biggest fan, Rhino the hamster (Mark Walton), Bolt attempts to return to the creature comforts of Hollywood and his owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus).
Opens wide.

“Harvard Beats Yale 29-29”
One of the most storied rivalries in all of college sports, the annual football game between the Harvard Crimson and the Yale Bulldogs carries a fierce tradition stretching back over 130 years. Documentary filmmaker Kevin Rafferty casts us back to 1968 to an epic encounter considered by many amongst the inner circles of the Ivy League powerhouses as the greatest of all time. Rafferty, the co-director of “The Atomic Café” and the first cousin of a certain Yale cheerleader (who’d become the 43rd U.S. president), blends archival footage with testimony from players involved (including defensive tackle Tommy Lee Jones) and others who were there to witness Harvard’s historic comeback to score 16 points in the final 42 seconds to reach the unlikeliest of outcomes.
Opens in limited release.

“I Can’t Think Straight”
After turning her debut autobiographical novel into her debut film with “The World Unseen,” writer/director Shamim Sarif again mines her own life experience for this tender coming-of-age culture clash drama centered on an immigrant Palestinian family now living in England. Former model Lisa Ray stars as Tala, the rebellious daughter of traditionalist parents who lament her habit of breaking off engagements to well-to-do local boys. Imagine their surprise when Tala finds a girlfriend in Leyla (Sheetal Sheth), an aspiring writer who stirs some long repressed feelings in Tala and forces her to finally reveal her true self to her disapproving family.
Opens in limited release.

Considering how much time and money major studios pump into ramming this particular wish fulfillment fantasy down our throats year after year, it’s surprising the indie world hasn’t seized upon the genre. In this decidedly oddball comedy from writer/director team Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore, Michael Rapaport stars as Les, a comic book geek who signs up to be part of a trial for a new anti-depressant for a big pharmaceutical company. Believing the drug has gifted him with superpowers, Les takes to the streets to fight crime to the chagrin of the drug corporation who, fearful of bad publicity, dispatches its own agents, “The Suits,” to take Les down.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

Noting both its tiny legion of pre-packaged followers combined with some impressive advanced ticket sales, there are unusually high hopes for director Catherine Hardwicke’s screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s supernatural romance, with one or two quiet rumblings going so far as to anoint it the heir apparent to “Harry Potter.” Kristen Stewart takes the role of Bella, a new arrival to a sleepy Washington town who finds herself irresistibly drawn to classmate Edward (Robert Pattinson), a benign and reclusive vampire. Finding comfort with one another, their brief moment of bliss is shattered when a rival clan comes to town in search of a fresh feeding ground.
Opens wide.

Known throughout Bollywood for his grand scale epics, director Subhash Ghai offers something a little more intimate with this prim and proper tale of three squabbling aristocratic brothers who reunite around their ailing father to feud over the family fortune. Set to a number of rousing routines orchestrated by “Slumdog Millionaire” composer A.R. Rahman, the film features Salman Kahn as Deven, a struggling singer caught in a contract with his girlfriend’s father that states he cannot marry her until he becomes a billionaire. Only his two brothers, Gyanesh (Anil Kapoor) and Danny (Zayed Kahn), now stand between him and his dreams. In Hindi with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: “The Betrayal (Nerakhoon,” Cinema Guild, 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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