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The academics are running the asylum.

The academics are running the asylum. (photo)

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On her way out at Spout, Karina Longworth noted a few days ago that the film blogosphere can feel like “hundreds of traffic-chasers, who are essentially blaring the same thing, at the same time, all day long.” She doesn’t like it one bit. And such was the attitude Focus Features CEO/Ang Lee’s screenwriter James Schamus brought to his keynote speech at the London Film Festival. Noting he preferred to skip the usual topics of “the challenges of our digital future, new distribution models, the threat of piracy, etc. etc.,” Schamus proceeded to deliver a solid hour of political deconstructionist theory about his wife, steeped in Derrida, entitled “My Wife is a Terrorist: Lessons in Storytelling from the Department of Homeland Security.”

This is a pretty outré thing to do at a film festival, where hushed vagaries on cross-platforming and (yes!) Our Digital Future are the order of the day. It’s a weird thing to do even if you’re an academic like Schamus, who writes academic monographs on Dreyer’s “Gertrud” that cite Lacan and casually uses the word “imbricated” in interviews. So why is it that we’re looking at the writer of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” for this primer on what redacted Homeland Security documents can do to teach us about the changing forms of narrative rather than the medium-budget equivalent of Guy Debord?

When you look at the work Schamus has written for director Ang Lee, the overwhelming sensation is of smart people trying to work out problems they really don’t have an intuitive feel for. It’s all over “Hulk,” whose sterile approach to translating the comic book form to a live-action narrative equivalent is amusing but academic. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is reasonably successful, but it’s the kind of study in martial arts semiotics that Todd Haynes (the closest thing we have to a truly academic filmmaker, one whose movies are always in quotes) might admire.

I admire Schamus for having the guts to stand up and give an industry audience an hour full of stuff they never wanted to hear that couldn’t be spat back out into easily digested nuggets of faux-industry wisdom or dictums. Nonetheless, imagine Schamus trying to channel all that energy into his next screenplay; he couldn’t. Instead, the speech is the start of a book; Harvard University Press has first dibs. Which is what makes Schamus a not-so-great screenwriter: he’s trying to play a game that isn’t close to his heart. Imagine if “Taking Woodstock” were actually about the academic upheavals of the ’60s, with paranoid grad students applying mirror theory to try to figure out if they were under surveillance. Then we’d really be onto something.

[Photo: “Taking Woodstock,” Focus Features, 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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