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“The Messenger” and “Cloud 9” on DVD

“The Messenger” and “Cloud 9” on DVD (photo)

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Oscar-nominated if underpraised while in theaters, Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger” is by far the most mature and moving film made yet about the Iraqi invasion, even if Iraqis themselves don’t even make an appearance as figures mentioned in battle stories. It’s a telling, ethically vibrant film, and for Americans to manage such a thing while a war is still happening is kind of a miracle. The films made during World War II can largely be excused as propaganda, and it took until the mid-50s, with “From Here to Eternity” (1953) and Robert Aldrich’s definitive “Attack!” (1956), for American film to express the sense of trauma and unhappy cost that any authentic pop characterization of war must command. With the exception of Samuel Fuller’s “The Steel Helmet,” released in 1951 less than four months after American troops crossed the 38th parallel, it took almost four years for The Korean War to be reground into drama, message and regret, starting with Anthony Mann’s “Men in War” (1957). The Vietnam-American War, as we well know, was crazy televised, and yet, putting aside a few pungent docs and one risible agitprop orgasm (John Wayne’s 1968 “The Green Berets”), three years had to pass after the last airlift before the bandages could come off and we permitted ourselves to finger the scabs and scars.

05182010_Messenger4.jpgIt may just be that a little distance, a little grieving and acclimation, is necessary, for the viewers to accept the showbiz manhandling of their pain and ambivalence, and the image-makers to figure how to do it with some kind of perspective. Of course, the problem with the Iraq war is that although it hasn’t ended, it seems to have ended, sort of, fading from the headlines in lieu of Obamacare, Afghanistan, earthquakes and oil spills. Moverman’s movie is a homefront war movie, with a difference – unlike others in the “Best Years of Our Lives” paradigm, this isn’t about the discomfiture of soldiers returning to civilianhood, but about the task of manning the homefront by reporting the dead to their families. We think Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is merely a buttoned-down battle case when he glowers at his reassignment after coming home wounded, and like him, the film is realigning the war-movie priorities – there’s combat, but then there’s the result, Moverman is saying, families with holes in them, keening parents, shattered wives, orphaned children. The showbiz idea that war may be hell but it’s fun to watch, too — inherent in so many American war movies, including “The Hurt Locker” — is abandoned. Instead, the moral costs are confronted head-on, in your face, on some stranger’s doorstep.

Montgomery turns out to be both less and more than we expected, and Moverman seems hyperaware of how we second-guess military characters in stress situations, because he dodges the clichés at every step. Woody Harrelson’s Stone, Montgomery’s commanding officer, is another stereotype that begins to shed onion layers – by the middle of the film, after harrowing house visit after house visit, the two men are as complicated by rage and secrets and shame and vulnerability as any that an American independent film has produced in years.

05182010_Messenger3.jpgThe story follows their tentative bonding, and Montgomery’s impulsive attraction to a young widow (the amazing Samantha Morton) after she reacts very differently to the soldiers’ news than they expect her to. But Moverman’s achievement is more on the micro-level: the time spent absorbing wholesale grief (Moverman’s camera is always ready to hang back and give the victims air, while Foster’s hardass always wells up with tears but freezes), the conversations full of unspoken intention, the rhythms of scenes as the characters, responding to disaster, hunt internally for ways to react. And the acting is razor-sharp, right down to Steve Buscemi as a soldier’s father, upping the film’s ante in his pivotal scene, and then raising it again later, unexpectedly. Overall, there’s a sense of tender responsibility in “The Messenger” that feels like a tall glass of ice water in an arid modern movie culture most often overrun with simplism (that’s a real word, and a good one) and idiot noise.

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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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