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“Winter’s Bone” and “Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema”

“Winter’s Bone” and “Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema” (photo)

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In the Ozark Mountain foothills depicted in “Winter’s Bone,” circumstances have awarded 17-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) a dubious promotion from high school student and eldest sibling to de facto head of the household. Her mother is nearly catatonic, and her father — who like much of her extended family and clannish impoverished community is involved in manufacturing methamphetamine — is routinely absent from home, either cooking meth, eluding the law or appearing before a judge.

Not surprisingly, when the local sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) arrives on the front steps unannounced, it is not to bring good news. Ree’s father, he tells the girl, has jumped bail and vanished. Unless he’s found, dead or alive, Ree’s family will forfeit their house and a parcel of timberland that offers some small hope of legal income, both used as collateral to post bond.

With home and hearth on the line, Ree adds erstwhile detective to her résumé as she crisscrosses the ashen Ozark woods in a series of visits and run-ins with both kinfolk and co-conspirators, most notably her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), a combination of both. Ree’s single-minded determination to keep her family together requires that she either find her father or bring enough of him back home with her to prove to the law that he’s gone on to be judged by a higher power.

06092010_WintersBone5.jpgWinner of both the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance earlier this year, “Winter’s Bone” is the second film from director/co-writer Debra Granik, whose gritty 2004 feature debut “Down to the Bone” provided a breakout for then-unknown lead Vera Farmiga.

And “Winter’s Bone” is nothing if not high-minded about the cruel vicissitudes of poverty and the apparently very real world of meth factories, shotgun shacks and people living a nearly medieval existence defined solely by want and drug-fueled feuds.

“Do we eat these parts?” Ree’s tweenage brother asks while helping to clean and dress a squirrel that they’ve bagged. “Not yet,” comes Ree’s reply, bleached of irony by the precarious survival situation she and her family face. “Winter’s Bone” breathes the most life in this and other scenes of glum, marginalized domesticity. Outside of the house and yard, however, I mostly struggled in vain to find what it was the jury in Park City this past January saw in the film.

True, “Winter’s Bone” is excellently cast and ably acted by familiar big and small screen actors like Dillahunt and Hawkes (whose current ubiquity is a pleasant thing to note), especially in comparison to the comparatively lighthearted depiction of a similar milieu in the FX show “Justified,” in which rural southern jail widows, drug dealers and trailer park denizens are portrayed by more head-shot-friendly, gym-toned actors.

“Winter’s Bone” also looks great — alternately sharp and smoky with a particularly evocative use of faces — which is commendable in light of it being shot digitally on the RED, a camera that has a tendency to betray realistic skin tones and soften details.

06092010_WintersBone3.jpgYet Ree’s resolutely grim approach to her mission, the elliptical way she seems to cover the same ground over and over and the dense, virtually subtext-proof dialogue written to conform to the backwoods setting’s regional dialect prove to be insurmountable hurdles in investing more than passing empathy for a collection of tight-lipped, inscrutable characters.

Even with the clock of eviction ticking on Ree, as well as physical threats to her and her family that make starvation seem pleasant in comparison, and a deepening relationship with Teardrop unfolding, many of the key scenes in “Winter’s Bone” seemed composed more of syllable brick-throwing than of conflicts and moments.

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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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