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The Thin Line Between Lovely and Crazy

The Thin Line Between Lovely and Crazy (photo)

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If you’re expecting Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus,” about how new South African president Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) used the country’s rugby team as a way to bring the nation together, to be preachy and obvious, the film’s first and last scenes will fulfill your worst fears. Everything in between, however, comes smarter and more moving than you might expect.

That first scene takes place on the historic day when Mandela was released from prison, and two groups of children gather on opposite sides of the street to watch the motorcade go past: Black children playing soccer on a dusty field surrounded by a sagging chain link fence erupt in cheers, while across the street, white kids playing rugby on an immaculate athletic pitch have stony faces as their coach tells them to remember this as the day that South Africa went to the dogs.

There’s nowhere to go but up from an opening that on-the-nose, and “Invictus” works best when it examines Mandela’s political plight after he’s elected president. How does he foster a reconciliation between the nation’s whites, embittered at being taken out of power, and its black population, furious over decades of cruel apartheid? How can he curry favor with the white power base — which still controlled the nation’s banking, police and army — while making both black and white South Africans feel as if they’re both part of the country’s future?

12092009_invictus5.jpgAccording to “Invictus,” Mandela’s solution was to let the national team, the Springboks, keep their colors, name and logo, despite its symbolism as a relic of the bad old days. (All black South Africans — Mandela included — would root for whatever foreign team was playing against the Springboks during the apartheid years.) The new president also sent the team out to the townships to generate good PR among the soccer-loving black kids.

The problem, of course, is that the Springboks weren’t a very good team, but the film implies that Mandela was able to inspire team captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to clean up its act and start winning some games. As a sports movie, “Invictus” delivers on some exciting rugby action, and it deftly demonstrates how athletics can transcend even politics in its impact on a nation.

While I’ll admit to getting swept up at the strangest times — who knew the South African anthem would give me goosebumps? — “Invictus” winds up being another one of those movies where Morgan Freeman walks on water. Not that he doesn’t do it very well, but his saintliness here reminded me why it was so exciting to hear him say “fuck” in “Wanted.” As for Damon, I don’t have the ear to tell you if he manages a convincing South African accent, but what comes out of his mouth is at least consistent throughout the film.

For its sheer sweep and occasional smarts, “Invictus” is worth a look, but by no means should this triumph-of-the-underdog feel-gooder be considered a definitive history of South Africa’s historical transition of power.

12092009_crazyheart7.jpgPlaying a washed-up, boozy country singer is really for actors what hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold roles are for actresses: A bit of show-offy, working-class grime that Oscar voters have been known to eat up with a golden spoon. And so we get Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart,” drinkin’ and pukin’ and singin’ and swearin’ and shootin’ for one last shot at redemption via the love of a good woman (in this case, Maggie Gyllenhaal as a single mom and aspiring journalist).

And it’s not that Bridges isn’t perfectly convincing in the role — he even does his own singing — or that Gyllenhaal or Colin Farrell (as Bridges’ one-time protégé, now more popular than his mentor) don’t ably support him.

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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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