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Lone Rangers

Lone Rangers (photo)

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Back in the early ’60s, when Sonny Liston ruled boxing and hard bop could still be found on the corner jukebox, just wearing a sharkskin suit could be construed as an act of aggression, passive or otherwise. Sharkskin is the uniform of choice worn by the protagonist of Jim Jarmusch’s alluring, enigmatic “The Limits of Control.” Isaach De Bankolé’s Lone Man (for that’s how he is ID’d in the program notes, if not the movie itself) is like Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog, taciturn and resolute, if also exposed to more sunlight. Lone Man’s granite-slab impassiveness is buttressed by the sharkskin’s implicit provocation. Yet, as with his suits, De Bankolé maintains his character’s angular, creased surfaces throughout the movie. Only when the routine is ruffled does his composure show nicks — as when a café waiter brings him a double espresso in one cup instead of two espressos in separate cups, which is what he asks for in the first place.

Why? Sorry, that’s one of the many things you’ll have to accept without explanation if you want to roll with “The Limits of Control.” From the start, you’re kept at arm’s length from clarity. Lone Man strides towards his assignment, delivered in an airport waiting area in random aphorisms by an agitated brother named Creole (Alex Descas). Though Creole’s designated “French” translator (Jean-François Stévenin) shares our overall bewilderment with these gnomic commands, Lone Man acknowledges everything with consensual, casually enforced silence.

So he flies to Spain, where he waits for further instructions, receiving coded messages in matchboxes bearing the logo “Le Boxeuer.” (He swallows each message, washing them down with the aforementioned espressos.) He’s met at his hotel room by a young woman named Nude (Paz de La Huerta), whose only article of clothing is a transparent plastic raincoat. (He gently rebuffs her offers of sex with the words “Not while I’m working,” though he allows her to curl naked into his fully-clothed body in bed at night.) He goes to art galleries where he encounters canvasses that are somehow linked to his next café appointment with whomever has a matchbook, a tool that could be useful in whatever covert act that’s being planned — or another set of aphorisms.

04292009_limitsofcontrol2.jpgAn international cast of heavyweights (Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Luis Tosar, Youki Kudoh, Gael García Bernal) make up the enigmatic group with whom De Bankolé’s Lone Man has these encounters. Their conversations are about everything — old movies, molecular physics, Bohemia’s decline — except whatever the assignment is. Random acts of violence and terror lurk at the edges, but they, too, offer no clarification. And when Lone Man has his ultimate rendezvous with a Cheney-esque Ugly American sharpie (Bill Murray), task at hand, you sense the latter somehow has it coming to him without understanding why.

Have I spoiled it for you? With as many loose ends as “The Limits of Control” brings to the table, I doubt it; that is, unless you’ve decided (as many reviewers already have) that Jarmusch is carrying his own penchant for absurdist mischief too far. There have been occasions when Jarmusch has tempted me towards similar conclusions. Not this one. For one thing, he’s got Christopher Doyle, Wong Kar-wai’s go-to DP, orchestrating the light and shadow of Spain’s urban and rural terrain. Doyle’s comfortable enough with framing enigmas to give them the kind of romance that can — and has — sustained even the most threadbare conventional thriller.

Otherwise, I think what Jarmusch is up to here is a kind of moviemaking that comes perilously close to music or dance, where the momentum isn’t shaped by explicit plot details so much as by chimeras of movies embedded in our collective dream-life. This is crystallized in an exchange De Bankolé has when he confronts a surprised Murray in a heavily guarded sanctuary. When asked how he got past search lights, barbed wire and a thick phalanx of ski-masked security guards, Lone Man replies, “I used my imagination.” Some may view this as a coy evasion. But when you think about the indignities visited upon our imaginative faculties by our digital-cable cultural backwash, it sounds like an assertion of will. For a habitually deadpan sensibility like that belonging to Jarmusch, it sounds almost passionate.

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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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