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There & Back: Luc Besson.

There & Back: Luc Besson. (photo)

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Here’s a tale of two action auteurs. In 1981, Luc Besson made his debut short “L’avant dernier” and James Cameron got his first feature directorial credit “Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.” From these inauspicious beginnings both men would go on to reinvent the action wheel for France and the US, respectively, meeting with entirely different responses along the way.

Cameron was hailed as the savior and re-inventor of the genre, getting a rare amount of critical respect in the process. Meanwhile, Besson — who went on to splashy and progressively more expensive fare like “Subway” and “La Femme Nikita” — was basically deemed Satan’s agent for trying to destroy a (very reductive) version of French film culture, one explosion at a time.

Their two trajectories intersect again Friday, when “Avatar” changes the world as we know it (or at least ties up every IMAX screen in the country for the next month) and when Besson’s “Arthur and the Vengeance of Maltazard” was, well, at least supposed to open as well — though given the cash-strapped travails of the Weinstein Company, who knows.

If you think these two movies aren’t on the same scale, consider that, with the powers of Besson and Cameron combined, France is going to have its biggest box office year ever — a measurement more meaningful than the American equivalent, since it’s based on ticket sales rather than increasing prices.

“Arthur and the Unpronounceable Title,” for those of you who haven’t been keeping track, is the second of a trilogy of children’s fantasy films seemingly too spazzy to gain much traction in the U.S. Reviews of the first installment — released, with little fanfare, in a version dubbed with the mish-mash likes of Snoop Dogg and Madonna — were unfavorable, but the “Arthur” series does well in Europe.

12142009_arthur.jpgAs does Besson: during his six-year directorial hiatus (between the roundly panned twin disasters of “The Messenger” and the unwatchable “Angel-A”), he founded an unimpeachable commercial dynasty as producer: the “Taxi” franchise that lasted four entries, three “Transporter”s, and numerous other profitable films that didn’t need America one bit to make money.

If it seems like Besson’s gone the route of easy hackdom while Cameron’s remained an uncompromising visionary (at least in his own mind), think again. Cameron needed years and years of technology to realize his visions, but Besson made “The Fifth Element” in 1997, thereby realizing his teen dreams of the ’70s. Having done that, there really wasn’t any need for him to stick around any longer. It’s actually kind of honest of him to have retreated as he did. He really didn’t have any illusions about who and what he was.

Cameron, on the other hand… well, I love him, but he’s not going anywhere, and he’s not as genial about just owning up to being an action genius and kind of an idiot screenwriter. We can only hope that “Avatar” will be at least as amusing as the goofy “Fifth Element,” possibly the least ponderous end-of-the-universe action movie ever made. That was a visionary sci-fi movie for the light-hearted Clinton years. In the aughts, it seems, everything comes harder.

[Photos: “Piranha Part Two: The Spawning,” Sony, 1983; “Arthur and the Vengeance of Maltazard,” Weinstein Company, 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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