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“Tony Manero” and “The Girl on the Train” on DVD

“Tony Manero” and “The Girl on the Train” on DVD (photo)

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As close to a gritty American New Wave film as a 2008 Chilean movie is likely to get, Pablo Larraín’s “Tony Manero” plays like equal parts “Taxi Driver,” “Scarecrow,” “Badlands” and “Saturday Night Fever,” which is no coincidence, as it’s set in 1978 and the protagonist — a short, glowering 50-ish crook living in Santiago — is obsessed with the “Fever,” John Travolta and somehow reproducing the film’s disco glamour in his own life. Before long, though, right around the time he impulsively beats a feeble old woman to death with his fists and steals her TV, we understand that he is not merely a misfit but a sociopath. Anything can happen.

The film has an early Scorsese-ian set of factors — our hero Raúl’s impenetrable showbiz obsession echoes “The King of Comedy,” too — but it also feels very 21st century-indie, all handheld grit, impatient jump cuts and brooding urban malaise. Yet the ironies belong to the ’70s, when Pinochet had freshly taken over Chile and the impact of a violent military dictatorship had already squashed the populace’s spirit, particularly the lower classes.

As he strides around the back alleys and grubby dives of the city’s slums like a pint-sized rooster, struggling to put on a cheap disco show in a café (a soccer ball glued with mirror shards does duty as the hanging disco ball), Raúl (Alfredo Castro) is virtually a walking metaphor, a one-man Chile driven mad by oppression and the allure of bullshit Hollywood dreams. Of course, the Travolta film itself is about a working class loser trying to escape his dreary life on the dance floor, and so Raúl is a mirror effect, a compounded reflection of nowhere men striving for an empty dream.

05282010_TonyManero2.jpgWe first meet Raúl showing up to audition for a TV show where Chileans line up and impersonate stars (he’s a week early, when they’re looking at Chuck Norris stand-ins). His Tony Manero monomania eventually gets him on TV, and at the same time compels him to run roughshod over everyone in his small circle (including a prostitute with a teen slattern of a daughter) in order to perfect the café performance.

All the while, Larraín’s camera looks in at this leathery little sprig of a man (Castro resembles Hank Azaria far more than Travolta) and sees nothing, not a glimmer of communication. We never learn about his past, recent or distant. The emptiness can be sort of spectacular; all we see in the moment is a robotic pursuit of a meaningless, populist American movie idea, which has been leaked out to the world’s scrounger cultures like pollution.

Larraín has said that his film was intended as a commentary on contemporary Chile, which he sees as still doped on imported American lies. But whatever discreet political teeth the film has belong to the Pinochet years, since the General’s junta succeeded thanks to the funding and support of the Nixon administration.

Chile has plenty to be bitter about — untold mass graves’ worth. “Tony Manero” makes only implicit statements, in any case; it is otherwise an absurdly simple film, a cold eye cast upon one lost man in the middle of a forgotten society just getting more lost.

05282010_GirlontheTrain.jpgOur relationship to Émilie Dequenne’s heroine in André Téchiné’s “The Girl on the Train” is only marginally more intimate — Téchiné’s camera rarely strays very far from her, and often sits in her lap. And yet, her green eyes are never ours, she has the withholding demeanor of a surly teen, and her big crooked grin is far from ever being completely trustworthy.

It’s sharp casting, because this is a film about lies, and Dequenne’s Jeanne comes off as a masked girl, a grown-up version of the traumatized waif the actress played in the Dardenne brothers’ “Rosetta” in 1999, never given the chance to open up to the world. She’s indelible here, but also always at a distance — the film never gives her the dramatic opportunity to expose herself, quite realistically, so we’re never sure of much about her except that she’s lost, too.

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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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