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The Sandbox: Blockbusteritis

The Sandbox: Blockbusteritis (photo)

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As any summer moviegoer knows all too well, there’s nothing Hollywood likes more than a franchise capable of spawning sequels and tie-in merchandise. The glut of superhero, science fiction, horror and action series may please genre fans (in theory, if not always in practice), but their true admirers are the studios, who rely on them to prop up annual profits, as epitomized by the box office declines Sony Pictures experienced in the off years between “Spider-Man” releases. For the studios, sequels afford a lot less financial risk than stand-alone original films, equipped as they are with built-in audiences and recognizable stars and characters. And for fans, familiarity provides a level of comfort and a sense of knowing what they’re putting their money toward, an increasingly significant factor as the economy continues to tumble and the decision to drop a not-inconsiderable chunk of change at the ticket counter becomes a more considered one.

If movie producers and consumers both tend to find sequels a win-win proposition — despite the debatable quality of these cash-grab endeavors — then it’s no surprise that video game studios view the issue likewise. Since “Super Mario Brothers 2” hit the NES in 1988, gamemakers have been revisiting popular titles with a voracity usually only seen at Coney Island’s annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Whether warranted or not, virtually every profitable video game eventually winds up receiving a Part II, or If enough time has passed, a “reboot.” Some of these take advantage of bigger budgets and newer next-gen consoles (like the N64’s peerless “The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time”), and plenty of others do nothing more than offer minor gameplay and graphical enhancements that barely justify their $50-$60 price tag (I’m looking your way, “Madden” football).

In the past few years, the combination of hot big-ticket franchises, enormous budgets, tech advances and a more-is-more ethos has finally pushed video games’ “sequelitis” into a distinctly summer movie realm, with the marketplace flooded with — and increasingly defined by — A-list action series installments reminiscent of the slam-bang event pics of Michael Bay. “Halo 3,” “Gears of War II,” “Metal Gear Solid 4,” “Resident Evil 5,” “Grand Theft Auto IV,” the forthcoming “God of War III” and Sony’s current blockbuster “Killzone 2” epitomize gaming’s new paradigm, in which established brands, bolstered by enormous sums of development money to create bigger, better versions of their predecessors, minimize the chance for losses by offering up a proven and (maybe) enhanced experience. It’s a strategy as old as the hills, and one that, with the qualified exception of the reportedly $100 million-budgeted “GTA IV,” which strove to push narrative and immersive boundaries, seems to be leading the industry down a slippery slope into monotonous regurgitation.

04092009_GTA4.jpgTake the PS3’s “Killzone 2,” the follow-up to 2004’s disappointing PlayStation 2 first-person shooter. It’s been hyped by Sony since the 2005 E3 trade show, when a jaw-dropping teaser trailer promised an evolutionary graphical step forward. Few gamers outright loved the original “Killzone,” but since it featured enemies that were visually distinctive — heavily armored soldiers with menacingly green, glowing eyes — and since first-person shooters remain all the rage, Sony believed the title had the potential for greatness. And sure, “Killzone 2” (rumored to have cost $60 million) not only bests its precursor, but at times offers a superlative military-action rush, thrusting you onto massive, chaotic battlefields (à la “Call of Duty”) that thrillingly approximate what it might feel like to be a cog in an active war machine. The graphics are stunningly realistic, the scale is gigantic and, most important, there’s a sense of weighty tangibility to your movements across the corpse-strewn front lines, a heaviness of armor and guns and the resultant sluggishness of your stride that lends a you-are-there element to the mayhem.

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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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