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What’s worrying about the upcoming MLK biopic.

What’s worrying about the upcoming MLK biopic. (photo)

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If you ignore Massachusetts and focus on film, today is a-buzz with the news that “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb has been hired to direct three films in the rebooted “Spider-Man” franchise. Also in the works — a quieter announcement that Ronald Harwood is stepping up to write the long-gestating MLK biopic — “the first theatrical feature to be authorised by The King Estate to use the intellectual property of the late Civil Rights leader.”

According to Mark Sourian and Holly Bario of DreamWorks, Harwood is “particularly suited to portraying this deeply personal story.” But what the hell does that mean? What specifically qualifies a Jewish immigrant from South Africa who’s spent most of his life in the United Kingdom to write a film about Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Looking at his resume, certain patterns emerge. From 1981 onwards, Harwood’s screenwriting work (I’m unqualified to evaluate his ongoing stage output) is a perfect storm of movies that attract adjectives like “important” and “powerful” the way a magnet attracts iron filings.

In the ’60s, Harwood started with frothy adaptations like 1966’s “Drop Dead Darling” (starring Tony Curtis and Zsa Zsa Gabor!). In the less prolific ’70s, you could see Important Movie danger signs in a little-loved adaptation of “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” but it wasn’t until 1981 that Harwood truly hit his stride. It was that year that someone decided Faye Dunaway would make a perfect Evita Peron; Harwood did the mini-series honors, and ever since then — with very few exceptions — he’s been grinding out titles that assume important subject matter makes for important movies.

01202010_evita.jpgThere are the films about Great Men (Danny Glover as Mandela, the sterile “The Pianist”), Serious Subjects (apartheid in “Cry, The Beloved Country,” hunting Nazi war criminals in “The Statement”) and Classic Literature (adaptations of “Oliver Twist” and “Love In The Time of Cholera”). Many of these movies were tepidly reviewed and forgotten, but a few — “The Pianist” (which had the boost of Polanski’s autobiographical involvement), “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” — bamboozled a lot of people into thinking they were any good, maybe even great. I’d argue they’re not — they’re stodgy and unimaginative, filled with expository dialogue and heavy-handed thematics.

You may disagree, you may think I’m a total snob, but the question still stands. Who is this man who’s made a career of flatten history into tales of Good vs. Evil or a Triumph of the Human Spirit? When Harwood took on Mandela in 1987, he valorized the controversial Winnie Mandela. That’s not just a failure of research; it shows that Harwood’s approach to the world is fundamentally inadequate, the most basic kind of biopic blandness.

Here’s the first part of Harwood’s take on Evita Peron, with Dunaway in full carnivore mood.

[Photos: MLK via Library of Congress; “Evita Peron,” NBC, 1981]

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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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