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Neil Gaiman, fantasy champion.

Neil Gaiman, fantasy champion. (photo)

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The New Yorker goes long on Neil Gaiman this week, more or less approved by the man himself. Like pretty much all New Yorker profiles, it’s compulsively readable even when it’s not digging into the dirt. That’s the case with Dana Goodyear’s effort, which prefers to skim entertainingly over the juicier personal stuff (a childhood in Scientology, a relationship with ex-Dresden Dolls frontwoman Amanda Palmer) and hit the highlights rather than delving into analysis.

Certainly, if you were reading it without knowing who Gaiman is, you wouldn’t understand that Gaiman is, in some ways, the only hope for fantasy filmmaking right now. I’m one of those unreconstructed types who likes my books to be unattractively laid-out in dense paragraphs, and I like my fiction mostly mundane. But on-screen, Gaiman’s work is the real thing: inventive, spry, and visually resourceful.

His works are also getting adapted for the big screen frequently of late, which helps; Gaiman’s career goes back to the ’80s, but only recently has he started to dominate. 2005’s underseen “MirrorMask” created a whole plausible world for $4 million, with the help of gauzy CGI that was more conceptual and motif-based than detailed and dazzling. There was the dismal “Stardust,” which Gaiman didn’t write, and the intriguing “Beowulf,” which he co-wrote. And finally, there was the deserved success of last year’s “Coraline” — which he didn’t adapt himself, but was perfectly happy to promote with an enjoyably creepy monologue about buttons. It’s that last credit that stands out; the tough-sell-ish “Coraline” — creepy enough as an adult viewer, downright terrifying for kids — made back more than its $60 million budget domestically, and quietly resurrected Henry Selick’s career after the debacle of “Monkeybone.”

“Coraline” wasn’t just the most successful fantasy film in years (critically and commercially), but gave Gaiman the chance to be something of a brand name in a genre known mostly for the odd movie about dragons every few years (“Reign of Fire,” “Dragonheart,” “Dragonslayer” and so on), the collected cinema of Terry Gilliam and some stragglers here and there. That’s a shame: I won’t read fantasy — the archetypal Joseph Campbell crap bugs me, with the hero cycle combined with the vaguely self-congratulatory insinuation that appreciating fantasy per se makes you your own hero in a mundane world — but watching really inventive fantasy is about as fun as it gets.

01252010_mirrormask.jpgWhat’s interesting about “MirrorMask” and “Coraline” — and perversely gratifying — is the way they punish their (respectively) adolescent and pre-pubescent heroines for dreaming selfishly. They’re essentially the same movie: a young girl resents her parents, dreams of an alternate world, endangers her parents in the process and has to win in the world she’s wished for and terminate it to save everything. Unlike Gilliam’s self-congratulatory dreamers and visionaries, Gaiman makes fantasy worlds that demands a price for entering; it’s got a bite to it that’s unusual.

Now, it’s safe to assume Gaiman has at least a little clout and has — if he plays his cards right and has the interest — the opportunity to smuggle a little pure visual fantasy and inventiveness back on-screen. “Coraline” was the most inventive and surprising $60 million I’ve seen spent in a while; here’s hoping for more.

[Photos: “Coraline,” Focus Features, 2009; “MirrorMask,” Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005.]

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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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