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In defense of John Woo’s American period.

In defense of John Woo’s American period.  (photo)

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Friday sees the release of an abridged version of John Woo’s new film, “Red Cliff,” a two-part, five-hour epic condensed for American audiences into what’s still an admittedly pretty entertaining regular-length feature.

As Glenn Kenny notes at The Auteurs while comparing the two versions, what’s gone is a lot of character detail and poetic flourishes. What’s left is one ridiculously over-the-top battle scene after another, which is definitely fun if you want to see, say, something called the “Turtle formation.” It is, however, inescapably silly, and I enjoyed it much the same way I enjoyed “Mission: Impossible II” and “Paycheck.”

The decade-plus Woo spent in Hollywood had its ups and downs. The ups included the peak violence of “Face/Off”; the downs, according to conventional wisdom, included practically everything else. “Hard Target” is fine for connoisseurs of Van Damme cheese (I dig it), but was not a dignified start to Woo’s American career. “Broken Arrow” was a hit but not widely beloved. Throw in a Dolph Lundgren direct-to-video special and the final insult of directing a rejected pilot for a “Lost In Space” update before leaving, and you’re sure not looking at the American equivalent of “Hard Boiled.”

But it’s possible to take equal amounts of pleasure in Woo’s cheeseball notions as in his considerable prowess in organizing on-screen violence; they’re just different kinds of pleasure, which is why I enjoy the war scenes just as much as I enjoy a big fake shot of a CGI dove flying endlessly over battlefields.

11182009_mi2.jpgThose are the exact same pleasures animating the much-maligned “Mission: Impossible II” and “Paycheck.” “MI:II” is indeed ridiculous; that’s why it’s fun. It’s $125 million that’s all on-screen: every shot looks not so much good as expensive — it takes all that money and makes it ludicrous. It’s a movie where “flirting” looks like Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton racing each other along a cliff and sending their cars in dreamy circles.

“Paycheck” — widely despised and dismissed — is more impersonal, but it’s slyly self-mocking in every respect. Ben Affleck was peaking in terms of the flack he was taking and responds with a purposefully blank performance. Woo keeps things efficient, and the final appearance of an exceptionally artificial dove flying in slo-mo is his way of literally flipping the audience the bird. “You want a John Woo movie? Here. Here’s a bird.”

It’s grand that Woo is working abroad again, treated with due reverence rather than as an expendable hired hand. It’s worth remembering, though, that all the flaws and strengths of “Red Cliff” aren’t the return of talents left lying dormant for an hour; they’re the logical extension of what he was doing in Hollywood all along, even when it was looked down on.

[Photos: “Red Cliff,” Magnolia, 2009; “Mission: Impossible II,” Paramount Pictures, 2000]

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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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