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The Good Book

The Good Book (photo)

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Sometimes it’s the small moments.

As in life, in a movie one little thing can have the power to send you into a bittersweet reverie of love lost, or fill your heart with enigmatic emotions. For me, it usually involves music.

There are too many music-in-movie moments throughout the history of cinema to discuss here, but often, even during the shortest bursts of soundtrack — shorter than say, Harold waiting for the fate of Maude and driving his car towards that cliff to the entire tune of Cat Stevens’ “Trouble” (one of the most heart-achingly beautiful and brilliantly edited mergings of song and image) — if set properly, I can get chills just watching a few moments of a musical interlude.

Last year, it occurred in Davis Guggenheim’s documentary “It Might Get Loud,” when Jimmy Page air-guitared to his own old 45 of Link Wray’s “Rumble.” How disarming, touching, oddly life-affirming it was to watch a master air-strum to the thick, evil, inspirational power chords of that other master, Wray, with the beaming smile of a little boy and a lifelong fan. Perfection.

This year (and it’s early yet), it happened in “The Book of Eli” in which directors Albert and Allen Hughes make the inspired decision to meld Denzel Washington with Al Green.

01132010_BookofEli3.jpgOf course, Al Green is easy. Easy in the way that you can’t insert an Al Green song in a movie and not make me feel something. You can’t play an Al Green song in a car without making me look at the world differently. So introducing Washington, after trudging through post-apocalyptic desolation, covered in scarves and layers and grime and dust, and then unwrapping all of this coating to reveal an older face, a scarred body and a mysterious, sadder demeanor, to the tune of “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (written by the Gibb brothers — nice touch, Hughes brothers) was one of the most poignant movie moments I’ve seen this year (and I repeat, it’s early yet).

And then there’s the fact that Washington puts the song on himself, taking refuge in a bombed-out house, then grabbing his battered MP3 player with a dying battery to escape the world’s ugliness to the lyrics (and please, hear Green’s soulfully introspective falsetto as you read this): “I can think of younger days, when living for my life was everything a man could want to do. I could never see tomorrow, but I was never told about the sorrow.” Washington choosing that song makes it more affecting. Thank god he chose that song. And, of course he chose that song. This is what Denzel Washington would listen to. He’s not a young man. He’s a man. Further, he’s a god-damn man. And a movie star. He’s a dying breed.

As is the expressive resonance of Al Green. Now, if only the directors had allowed that song to play throughout the entire scene. And if only another Green tune closed the picture. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Choosing a singer who still resides as reverend at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, TN works a dual purpose in that “The Book of Eli” is about The Book, as in the Good Book — the Bible, the book that Washington’s mysterious wanderer Eli has held in his possession, spending 30 years of his life braving a dangerous scorched landscape to protect the text. People want it. Why? Because the words written in that leatherette edition you pass over in your hotel bedside drawer are also contained in Eli’s much-loved locked copy, the only one left in the world.

01132010_bookofeli12.jpgBefore you go “Oh, no! The Hughes brothers (who haven’t made a feature film in nine years, since 2001’s “From Hell”) are getting all Jesus-y Christ-y, Tyler Perry’s Post-Apocalyptic Family Reunion, Kirk Cameron Explains The End Times on us!” — they’re not. Not in the preachy way you might imagine. Not that this would matter — if it works, it works (see “The Passion of the Christ” and leave me alone about it).

With some major nods to “A Boy and His Dog,” “Mad Max,” spaghetti westerns, samurai pictures, the Zatoichi series, “Fahrenheit 451” and even “Deadwood,” the potentially exceptional story (scripted by Gary Whitta) — though not developed to the extent that it could have, and weirdly, not as outlandish as it should have been — finds Eli up against a vicious dictator, Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who rules one of the few semi-working devastated towns. Carnegie holds power because, like Eli, he can actually read (part of world decimation has meant that most of the population is now illiterate) and, on top of this talent, he enjoys his books. He frequently dispatches his goons to gather him reading material, which he peruses with relish. (He’s reading a biography on Mussolini upon introduction, which seemed a bit on the nose. Why not Ayn Rand or Céline or Nicholas Sparks?)

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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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