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“The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” “The Losers” and “Boogie Woogie”

“The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” “The Losers” and “Boogie Woogie” (photo)

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For better or worse, we live in the age of the action homage, in which popular filmmakers clutch their self-awareness like a talisman against their fears of the unknown — whether manifested through the sublime referentiality of “Inglourious Basterds” or the neurotic mimicry of “Watchmen.” What to make, then, of a film like Kim Ji-woon’s “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” which initially seems disastrously ill-conceived but quickly develops an unholy energy all its own? You kind of want to hate it — do we really need another goddamned love letter to Spaghetti Westerns? — but dear lord, how it moves.

It helps, of course, that Kim isn’t really interested in making a Western so much as mixing together a bunch of action styles and seeing what comes out. The film, set in 1940s Manchuria, gives us a trio of Korean badasses in search of hidden treasure, each of them seemingly from a different movie — a goofy, motorcycle-riding thief (“The Host”‘s Song Kang-ho, “the weird”), a stoic, cowboy-hatted bounty hunter (Jung Woo-sung, “the good”) and a deranged thug dubbed “the Fingerchopper” (Lee Byung-hun, duh, “the bad”). Not far behind them are Japanese occupying forces and a herd of mounted Mongolian bandits. The overall effect is something closer to what might happen if you crossbred the unhinged aesthetic of a “Mad Max” film with one of those eager-to-please, star-studded 1960s zany adventure comedies, like “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” or “The Great Race.”

04212010_goodbadweird2.jpgIt’s an unwieldy concept, to be sure, but for all its characters and subplots, “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” has an infectious briskness. Kim blocks, shoots and cuts action with both uncommon speed and clarity — two virtues that usually work in opposition, but seem to go together here. When the film works — and it works best during an early train robbery sequence and a climactic, comically endless chase through the desert — it’s like a little cinematic perpetual motion machine. You don’t want it to stop because when it does, you’ll have to focus on that derivative story and on those paper-thin characters. Luckily, it doesn’t stop very often.

There’s a germ of an idea here, too, beyond Kim’s desire to give us a giddy rollercoaster ride (which, let me add again, he does). That aforementioned genre dislocation has purpose: The director posits a world in which national loyalties are fluid, and where nobody seems to know what they’re fighting for. Spaghetti Westerns did that too, but their audiences didn’t need to be told that what they were watching was their own reflection — directors like Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci understood that the underlying nihilism of their characters was a given. Kim acts like he just discovered cynicism — and, unlike with his delirious action sequences, he fails to make it his own.

04212010_thelosers1.jpgI know virtually nothing about the Vertigo comic that “The Losers” is based on, so I can’t speak to how Sylvain White’s film adheres to the “mythology” (ugh) of the original — which, as I understand, was itself a reboot of an earlier DC comic set during WWII. Nor can I really speak to whether White (whose previous film was the step dancing drama “Stomp the Yard”) has brought his own style to the film or just pulled a Zack Snyder and transposed the comic’s aesthetic to the screen. But he, along with writers Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, have done one thing quite effectively, which is to capture that unchecked-id quality that draws teenage boys to comic books in the first place. “The Losers” may not be a particularly good film, but it is unapologetic in its candy-colored visuals, deployment of lame wisecracks and drool-worthy shots of Zoe Saldana writhing in her underwear while bullets whiz all about her. It’s almost endearing. Almost.

But most of the time, it’s annoying. The Losers are a ragtag team of wisecracking CIA black-ops guys who find themselves betrayed by an enigmatic superior named Max (who should probably be a disembodied voice but quickly turns out to be Jason Patric). One blown-up helicopter (and 25 dead children!) later, our guys decide to let the world think they’ve been terminated, opting to hide out in a small Bolivian town whiling away the hours getting drunk and watching cockfights. Enter slinky, slow-motion-y Aisha (Saldana), a mysterious hottie who enlists them to help her destroy Max.

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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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