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No Laughing Matter

No Laughing Matter (photo)

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On the first night of SXSW at the “Predators” sneak preview, someone leaned over to me and asked “Have you been to Comic-Con?”

I knew where the question was headed, and although he was speaking specifically about the presentation we were about to see, where no full film was shown and the studio carefully curated a few clips and a Q&A with Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal, it wouldn’t be terribly off the mark to compare the two events, where art is still celebrated and the audiences are passionate, but the lines have grown longer and you may be handed a “Kick-Ass” bumper sticker while you wait.

As festival producer Janet Pierson acknowledged early in the festival, these are good problems to have as a programmer — a film like Aaron Katz’s brilliant new “Cold Weather” fiercely competed for crowds with the likes of “MacGruber” (which, to be fair, cost a relatively cheap $10 million according to its filmmakers). But it’s a more complicated proposition for audiences, who are being asked far more to stand in two-hour-plus lines to see a film that they may or may not get into. It’s a festival of extremes, and not just for the fact that they showed the incendiary “Serbian Film,” but of the evolving complexion of the attendees (Jason Reitman came in just to see movies) and the types of films they’re showing.

03242010_GondryPierson.jpgThe filmmaker who symbolized this dichotomy most was Michel Gondry, who was peppered with questions about his upcoming “Green Hornet” film while promoting the deeply personal “The Thorn in the Heart,” arriving in Austin after its premiere at Cannes. One of the highlights of the festival was the first screening of his documentary (and an accompanying Q&A with John Pierson) about his aunt Suzette, a retired French schoolteacher whose life was well-documented in home movies made by her son Jean-Yves, who has come to resent her in recent years.

This being a Gondry production, there are scenes of children fooling around with greenscreen during a game of dodgeball and a toy train that guides you along Suzette’s tour across France to reunite with former colleagues and pupils, yet its most enduring image is of a young Michel sprawled across the ground on his stomach, face-forward as he listens to his aunt telling a story in the forest, displaying the reverence that is the heart of the film.

The throngs of people standing inside the Austin Convention Center the next morning waiting for his conversation with IndieWire‘s Eugene Hernandez were nearly as reverential, taking the 30-minute delay of the panel’s start and the absence of scheduled moderator Elvis Mitchell in stride. Noting the crowd, Hernandez disagreed with Gondry at one point when the director played down his fame, to which Gondry demurred, “[I’m] famous to people who like me,” before telling a story of being puzzled when he was recognized only on a particular New York street corner before realizing it was in front of a film school dormitory.

Gondry rewarded the audience’s patience with plenty of details regarding his upcoming films, including an animated collaboration with his son Paul and “Ghost World” scribe Daniel Clowes called “Megalomania” (The Playlist has all the details on that and an IMAX 3D collaboration with Björk), a look at his book of portraits culled from fans who sent in their picture to his website (of the thousand that Gondry drew, three were in the crowd, leading to an on-stage compare-and-contrast between one of the real guys and Gondry’s watercolor-enhanced sketch of him), and a screening of his stitch-heavy music video for Steriogram’s “Walkie Talkie Man.” That led into a discussion of Gondry’s obsession with abnormally sized hands, which originated with his memories of a nightmare he had as a child and a visit to a museum where he became fascinated with nerve endings (“I think it was the sort of misfit between how I would feel it and how my body would not be able to enclose my sensation,” Gondry said.) He explained earlier, “I’m a terrible sleeper, but… if you miss a night of sleep, then you’ve got to dream double.”

There was one point during the “MacGruber” panel where Ryan Phillippe only thought he was in a dream, recoiling from the table and muttering a “this is so weird” under his breath as a fan from the SXSW interactive side of things begged the assembled cast and crew to help her make a viral video. (The result, in which “MacGruber” director Jorma Taccone gets the crap pummeled out of him by his cast, is here.) It wouldn’t be the only weirdly wonderful moment from the panel, which extended the vibe of the “SNL” spinoff’s premiere the night before (and their subsequent interview with our own Matt Singer). Phillippe and a clearly amused Val Kilmer, who said the script was the best thing he’s read since “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” joined “Saturday Night” players Kristen Wiig and Will Forte and writers Taccone and John Solomon in a discussion about “Rambo III,” “courtesy pillows” (the patch used between Wiig and Forte’s naughty bits during a sex scene) and the Boner Ghost, a prank Forte pulled on a visiting Seth Meyers, who sat in Solomon’s lap as he recounted the tale:

03242010_DirectingtheDead.jpgThere was, however, genuine horror discussed at the “Directing the Dead” panel, which disappointed initially since Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth had dropped out of their scheduled appearances on the dais, but was still left with Ti West (“The House of the Devil”), Neil Marshall (“Centurion”), Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”), Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”) and last-minute substitute Robert Rodriguez, who naturally stole the show in front of the hometown crowd with stories of not splattering Mickey Rourke with blood (on “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” he threatened to ruin Rourke’s custom suit with a squib; Rodriguez offered up his best Rourke impression, delivering a gruff “thanks, brother” as the actor’s response when he opted for digital blood) and being afraid of asking Jaime King to go topless for “Sin City” (for an early shot in the film that would give the impression there was a lot more nudity than there really was in adapting Frank Miller).

Other Rodriguez tidbits included how he originally planned to shoot “From Dusk Till Dawn” in 3D before bulky equipment discouraged him (and left the door open to resurrect that idea for a future re-release) and how the film as a whole turned out far gorier than expected since he expected a prolonged battle with the MPAA and wound up not having to edit much out. (He also desaturated the blood for the ratings board cut before cranking it back up to the appropriate red levels for the theatrical release.)

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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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