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Steven Soderbergh perks up…?

Steven Soderbergh perks up…? (photo)

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It’s been a rough summer for Steven Soderbergh. “The Girlfriend Experience” folded domestically at under a million. “Che,” despite netting $2.5 million in the U.S., barely made back half its reported $58 million budget worldwide. And, despite best-selling source material and Brad Pitt set to star, “Moneyball” collapsed a mere three days before shooting was supposed to start.

An upcoming Vanity Fair feature will supposedly vindicate Soderbergh from studio charges of irresponsibility, but at the time, in late July, it looked as if his career of hopscotching between indie and studio work was in jeopardy. In a despairing interview with the Guardian, Soderbergh said he was giving up on directing. It was tough to buy: anyone who regularly puts out one to two films a year is obviously a pathological filmmaker.

So now Soderbergh’s back on track with “Knockout,” a “Nikita”-type action movie, and promoting his Matt Damon comedy “The Informant!”, which opens next Friday. But is his “one for them and one for me” tactic still workable? In a selection from an interview with Le Figaro that Richard Brody translated at the New Yorker, Soderbergh says: “Right now the film industry is becoming more and more timid and even overcautious. I know, it’s pretty hard to understand. They’re afraid. Afraid of me, of my ideas and of my vision of history.”

This is a long way from the filmmaker who once claimed “Ocean’s Eleven” was the hardest movie he’d ever had to make because it was about nothing. If Soderbergh’s a guy who makes movies with the approach of solving a unique problem with each one, he seems to have run out of ways to solve the problem of the straightforward Hollywood film.

It’s not like Soderbergh’s dabbling in studio fare was ever necessarily that commercial. 2000’s “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic” play it relatively straight, but since then every “mainstream” film he’s made has been a little off-kilter. The “Ocean”‘s series — especially “Twelve” — privileges pure style over content more than any other franchise around. “The Informant!” is Soderbergh’s first proper “studio movie” in two years, and early reviews are mixed, suggesting there’s a tonal clash between dramatic and wryly comic material. To me, that seems to mean not that Soderbergh’s “failed,” just that this supposedly commercial comic vehicle didn’t come out that way.

It suggests the strain of being a good studio stylist — livening up standard content without getting too strange to alienate audiences — is getting to be too much for Soderbergh. Even the audience-friendly “Knockout” is set to be scripted by Lem Dobbs, who wrote “Kafka” (Soderbergh’s first big flop) and “The Limey” (no one’s idea of a commercial movie).

If “Moneyball” was meant to be a hybrid of star power (Brad Pitt) and weirder Brechtian alienation effects (“Bubble,” “The Girlfriend Experience”), it was a gamble that fell apart — even Pitt’s presence wasn’t enough to convince Columbia to back such an unconventional film. But if Soderbergh’s no longer be able to rein himself in for mainstream work, it’s fine for us (and bad for Hollywood). As long as he really doesn’t quit.

[Photo: “The Informant!” Warner Bros. Pictures, 2009]

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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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