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Opening This Week: Long-awaited films from Baz Luhrmann and Gus Van Sant

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11242008_australia.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Families heading to the multiplexes post-turkey this Thanksgiving can unbutton those tight belts in the dark after choosing from an eclectic mix of hard-hitting action, sweeping epics and prickly romance.

Never one to be rushed, director Baz Luhrmann has taken seven years since putting his so-called “red curtain trilogy” to bed before delivering this, the first installment in his announced trilogy of epics. Once more showcasing his fascination with great melodrama, old-school villainy and larger-than-life love stories, Luhrmann has reinvented himself without really reinventing himself with this grandiose romance set against the backdrop of a transforming nation. Returning muse Nicole Kidman stars as Sarah Ashley, a freshly widowed cattlewoman who falls in love with a rugged ranch hand named Drover (Hugh Jackman), as the two drive 1500 head of cattle to Darwin. Unfortunately, they arrive just in time to see the Japanese bombers appear on the horizon.
Opens wide.

“Four Christmases”
What better way to start ringing in the holiday season with your family and friends than a treacly romantic comedy about divorce where a self-absorbed yuppie couple pays lip service to parents and other family members they can’t stand the sight of. Looking to reassert herself after a brief stint wandering post-Oscar career wilderness, Reese Witherspoon joins Vince Vaughn to play the young couple pleased as punch to be avoiding the seasonal family get-togethers before a fogbank at the airport scuppers their plans. “King of Kong” director Seth Gordon looks after an all-star supporting cast boasting the likes of Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Voight, Sissy Spacek and Jon Favreau, who fill out the roles within the extended and estranged family.
Opens wide.

Director Gus Van Sant flirted with making a biopic of the late Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office, with Sean Penn as the lead all the way back to 1993 when Oliver Stone was looking to produce, but passed, citing script problems. Now, the inimitably divisive auteur returns with a script from “Big Love” scribe Dustin Lance Black that stars Penn as the shy, aging New Yorker who relocates to San Francisco and became a champion of the national gay rights movement. Wall-to-wall with indie darlings, the film stars James Franco, Alison Pill, Emile Hirsch and Joseph Cross, who round out Milk’s entourage, while Josh Brolin provides some political opposition.
Opens in limited release; expands on Dec. 5th.

“Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!”
Bollywood helmer Dibakar Banerjee’s sophomore feature sends up the story of Lucky, a scrawny 15-year-old street hoodlum who rises from the West Delhi ghetto to transform into a modern day Robin Hood. The film is said to have been inspired by the real-life exploits of Devender “Bunty” Singh, whose estimated 500 burglaries (stealing everything from classic cars to family pets), aided by his suave demeanor and remarkable ability to divert suspicion, made him something of a folk hero in his native India. In Hindi with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

“Rome & Jewel”
While non-English majors the world over may perish the thought of reading brick-like Shakespeare anthologies on a daily basis, the Bard has perhaps done more to offer struggling catalogue models a bridge to screen stardom than any man in history. So here come the impossibly good-looking duo of Nate Parker and Lindsey Haun as star-crossed lovers, with Parker playing the son of an African-American minister in Compton and Haun the Caucasian daughter of the mayor of Los Angeles. This hip-hop infused “Romeo & Juliet” update is the brainchild of writer/director Charles T. Kanganis, whose last theatrical feature, 1996’s non-entity “Race the Sun,” starred the similarly attractive up-and-comers Eliza Dushku, Casey Affleck and Halle Berry.
Opens in limited release.

“The Secrets”
With this latest stirring melodrama, accomplished director Avi Nasher joins a growing list of Israeli filmmakers quietly raging against the ultra-orthodox practitioners of Judaism that continue to cast off women to a lifetime of domestic inconsequence. Fleeing this stiflingly conservative climate is Naomi (Ania Bokstein), a young girl who enrolls in a seminary to escape an unwanted marriage. At the seminary, she finds a kindred spirit in her roommate Sheine (Talli Oren), and the newfound allies hatch a plan to expunge the sins of a sickly French outcast (Fanny Ardant) with the aide of an ancient, mystical and fiercely forbidden Kabbalah ritual. In English, French and Hebrew with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

“Transporter 3”
It remains an unfathomable mystery how Luc Besson, director of such existential twaddle as “The Big Blue,” and Robert Mark Kamen, a guy with a Ph.D. in anthropology, became the guys who quietly transformed leading man Jason Statham into the closest thing we have these days to an Arnie or a Sly. Yet Besson and Kamen have teamed once more, with French director Olivier Megaton holding the megaphone, so that Statham can once again suit up as Frank Martin, the most reliable (read: hardest to kill) courier in all the underworld. This time, Frank’s task is to deliver Valentina (Natalya Rudakova), the kidnapped daughter of a Ukrainian official, while evading and dispatching the customary assortment of disposable goons that pop up along the way.
Opens wide.

[Photo: “Australia,” 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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