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Bad Boys Grow Up

Bad Boys Grow Up (photo)

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Let’s start with a few images: A psycho jive artist dancing around as he cuts a man’s ear off. A retired bullfighter slumped in front of a television set, masturbating furiously to slasher movies. Scenes like those, from Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and Pedro Almodóvar’s “Matador,” pretty much secured the bad-boy reputations of their creators. Tarantino came to be regarded as a hyped-up pop culture junkie spritzing bloodshed and movie references in equal measure. And Almodóvar was thought of as something like the post-Franco John Waters, mixing ’50s Hollywood-style melodrama with cheerful hedonism awash in sex and drugs.

But at this year’s New York Film Festival, it was Almodóvar’s latest, “Broken Embraces,” that was chosen for the stately closing night slot. And about a month or so before the festival, Tarantino’s latest film, the epic World War II adventure “Inglourious Basterds,” became the unlikeliest hit of the year. What links both of these films is that, for each filmmaker, they represent a point at which they demonstrate a mastery of craft equal to the Hollywood films that inspired them.

It’s not to take away anything from Tarantino or Almodóvar to say that their affinity to classic Hollywood narrative is more obvious right now because Hollywood movies are in such lousy shape. Spectacle, juvenilia and movies that look as though they were made by someone with ADD have taken over. Stories don’t make sense, action sequences are incoherently shot and edited (there’s often no telling where characters are in relation to each other) and by the time audiences go in on opening weekend, they’ve been so saturated by trailers and ads that they’ve already seen the most surprising moments of the movie they’re about to watch dozens of times. And then, after the hype and the weekend grosses, everything becomes old news on Monday morning and the next week’s round of hype begins.

11182009_KillBill1.jpgIt wasn’t always clear that Quentin Tarantino was going to stand apart from the shallowness of contemporary American movies. But the “Kill Bill” movies, though containing more action set-pieces than all his previous work put together, showed a mature confidence that was new. The story was a quest for revenge, but the movie worked as an extended metaphor for putting away the past. Uma Thurman’s Bride isn’t just killing her enemies; she’s parting with almost everything that’s made her who she is — which is why the entire epic climaxes with a breakup scene. Tarantino has always used nonlinear storytelling and multilayered narratives. By “Kill Bill, Vol. 2,” he’s come to rely almost completely on dialogue, and not compendiums of pop culture references but long, character-driven interrogations.

Even “Death Proof,” Tarantino’s half of the trash-movie homage “Grindhouse,” was a declaration of independence from the current movie scene. It’d be wrong to say that the movies Tarantino referenced were in any way innocent — they were too calculated, too sadistic for that. But there was less bullshit to them. Put it this way: the exploitation filmmakers who lured in audiences with promises of the leading lady taking her shirt off or blood-splattered action seem to be scamming a buck with a lot more honesty than the studio merchandising execs who sell toys at Burger King, or the publicists who get correspondents on the networks the studios own to interview a new movie’s stars as if that constituted news.

A popular movie that doesn’t follow that pattern is an anomaly. This summer, at J.J. Abrams’ retelling of “Star Trek,” you could almost hear the audience sigh over the luxury of seeing beloved characters given the chance to talk to one another, and at having a story with a coherent emotional arc. As they did a few years before at “Casino Royale,” moviegoers were watching something that wasn’t going to evaporate the moment they left the theater.

Disposable junk is largely what Hollywood makes now. The pictures nominated for Oscars, the ones the studios have always pointed to as evidence of their interest in making quality films, have become, in terms of the audience they attract and how they figure on balance sheets, niche movies. Even an expensive picture like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” isn’t thought of as having potential to break out. The days when the big hits, like “In the Heat of the Night” or “The Godfather,” could also be Oscar winners are far in the past.

11182009_Motherhood.jpgAnd American indie movies haven’t filled the void. To submit yourself to the half-baked whimsy of yet another ensemble comedy with patented quirky characters, or to another 90 minutes of shaky-cam and characters who look as if they can’t be bothered to shave or iron their clothes, seems like a denial of the wit and style and beauty that drew us to movies in the first place. I couldn’t face Katherine Dieckmann’s “Motherhood.” The trailer depressed me. I didn’t want to watch Uma Thurman, one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the screen, reduced to a frazzled frump dealing with strollers and playdates. I can see that in Park Slope.

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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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