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Space is the place where indie film should head.

Space is the place where indie film should head. (photo)

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So far I’ve seen two low-budget sci-fi exercises here at SXSW: the witty and playful “Mars” and a bizarro fiasco called “Earthling.” (There are no words. At least no nice ones.) The two have served me due notice of something that should’ve been sooner: space is the place where indies should go.

“Science fiction” is supposed to have at least, you know, some science in it, even if it’s all speculative. That used to mean lots of attempts — both expensive and cheap — at staging realistic spaceflight dramas and battles. As it turned out — “The Right Stuff” aside — this wasn’t always compelling cinema. Who remembers the likes of “Marooned” (Gregory Peck as a NASA director!) or “Space Camp,” except as, well, camp?

If you can avoid the expensive effects, it turns out space can be a cheap and liberating way to avoid realistic drabness. “Moon” is okay and all, but still keeps closer to the old breed of space sci-fi, winking allusions to “2001” and all. But something like the heady “A Scanner Darkly” suggests a way out: science fiction as a relatively inexpensive series of visual ideas that can open up your film. (Or you can make “Christmas on Mars” and have that be your whole deal. Whatever works.)

03142010_moon.jpgThe old, literal-minded insistence on hardware is unnecessary. The very fact that you can tap into a new and original idea means that suggesting its outlines on screen visually is enough: imagination will do the heavy lifting.

So here’s a modest suggestion: sci-fi, like fantasy, should ditch the science and go straight for the metaphorical jugular. NASA’s on the ground and no one’s invested in our space program anymore (which is, honestly, a bummer). Time to ditch all those Apollo dreams and rewrite the rules — like “A Scanner Darkly,” like “Mars,” even (I guess) like “Moon.” The quotidian, you’re on notice: an indie sci-fi wave would be most welcome.

[Photos: “Mars,” That Mars Film, 2010; “Moon,” Sony Pictures Classics, 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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