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Scratching the Surface of the Seattle Film Festival

Scratching the Surface of the Seattle Film Festival (photo)

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When Seattle Film Festival programming manager Beth Barrett asked an audience Saturday, “Are you ready for 22 more days [of movies]?” I knew I was in trouble — I had little more than a weekend in the Pacific Northwest and I was barely going to make it into five percent of the 256 features they cram into three-and-a-half weeks.

There was some comfort in the fact that has covered many of the films that will be playing Seattle in the weeks ahead — “Cyrus,” “Every Day,” “The Freebie,” “Get Low,” “Holy Rollers,” “Howl,” “I Am Love,” “Marwencol,” “Meet Monica Velour,” “Monogamy,” “Ondine,” “Nowhere Boy,” “Robogeisha,” “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,” “Soul Kitchen,”, “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil” and “Winter’s Bone” — to offer some direction. But the festival’s unparalleled collection of foreign films when combined with American festival hits that have found success elsewhere make it appear intimidating at first glance.

Leafing through the city’s alternative weekly The Stranger‘s “SIFF Notes” was a great deal of help, though it offered as much relief as when I used the yellow-covered study guides it emulated for “The Odyssey” in the ninth grade. The festival also has the nice touch of showing a trailer for another film at SIFF before every film, though that can only take you so far.

As far as previews were concerned, the best was not necessarily a guide, but Movie City News’ Kim Voynar’s love letter to her local film festival that accurately paints SIFF as, in a word that’s popular up here in the Pacific Northwest, sustainable, even if it can be overwhelming.

05242010_ExtraMan2.jpgObviously, the best place to start was the opening night film was “The Extra Man,” which seems to be the kickstarter of choice for the summer festivals (Nantucket will also screen it on June 17th). It’s not hard to understand why. “American Splendor” directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini return from their disastrous adaptation of “The Nanny Diaries” to play to their strengths with a starry cast (by indie standards) of Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, Katie Holmes and John C. Reilly for a comedy that’s light on its feet, if not without a few missteps along the way.

Since the directing duo has always shown an affection for nostalgia even in their documentary days (“Off the Menu: The Last Days at Chasen’s”), it was only a matter of time before they teamed up with Jonathan Ames, the author best known nowadays for creating HBO’s quirky detective series “Bored to Death.”

“The Extra Man” is based on Ames’ second novel and, like his TV series, finds its main source of tension in a protagonist (Dano) who yearns for a bygone era of gentility as the reality of the modern day rears its ugly head. Having dropped out of contemporary culture long ago, Dano’s Louis Ives skims alternative weeklies only for the sex ads in the backpages, not for perverse reasons, but to figure out who he is since he’s long questioned his sexual identity.

05242010_ExtraMan3.jpgIn spite of the confusion, Ives can fairly identify himself as a true gentleman first, and along with his desperation to find companionship in one form or another, he is an easy mark for those who want to take advantage of him. Left only with a Pontiac Granville by his father, he is taken under the wing of his roommate Henry Harrison (Kline), who loves nothing more than to make use of it for his work as an “extra man” escort of upper crust octogenarian widows as, despite his air of pretension, Harrison can only “afford one working door” on his own car.

In return, Ives learns the literal ins and outs of Manhattan high culture, as Harrison sneaks him into the opera without paying and educating him in the ways of pleasing the rich geriatric set. (When Harrison describes the full package for an extra man — wit, intelligence, and uncommon joie de vivre, Ives can only mutter to himself, “I wish I had joie de vivre.”)

Dano is quickly becoming the Bud Cort of his generation, a blank slate for auteurs to plunk down into a sea of eccentrics. Besides Kline’s Harrison, he must contend with a mousy co-worker at an environmental magazine (a perfectly cast Katie Holmes) who doesn’t reciprocate his affection for her and a shaggy neighbor played by John C. Reilly, nearly unrecognizable under a beard that puts Grizzly Adams to shame. Unfortunately, the underwritten character with an annoying falsetto proves to be one of the film’s glaring weak spots.

05242010_theextraman8.jpgHowever, Berman and Pulcini build a credible world of two New Yorks, where the high society haves are really have nots and the have nots have more than they know, even if both parties are blissfully unaware that their way of life seems to have no place in the here and now. It’s wistful, to be sure (there’s even a haughty narrator to punctuate the rather mundane details of Ives’ life), but just like the land of oddballs and eccentrics that Ames initially envisioned, it’s nice to think “The Extra Man” could carve out a little corner to call its own — Magnolia will be releasing the film on July 30th.

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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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