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“Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja,” Reviewed

“Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja,” Reviewed (photo)

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With “Cocaine Cowboys,” filmmaker Billy Corben simultaneously told the story of the South Florida drug trade of the 1970s and replicated some of the scene’s live-wire energy with twitchy editing and frenetic pacing. He didn’t just tell you what ’70s Miami was like; he gave you a tate of what it felt like too. Corben’s new film, “Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja,” takes a similar approach to South Florida’s pot smuggling trade of the same period. But in this case, Corben may have replicated his subject’s pharmaceutical effects a little too well. I’ve heard of movies for potheads; “Square Grouper” is movie as pothead: mellow, genial, and a little sleepy.

“Cowboys” weaved a massive tapestry of crime and vice across two continents, but “Square Grouper” is a small-scale anthology, three different stories of high times in the Florida lowlands. In the first and best segment, the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church combines intensely conservative religious beliefs with intensely liberal marijuana smoking. In the second, the “Black Tuna Gang” takes over Miami Beach with bold smuggling techniques. In the third, the residents of tiny Everglades City turns to ferrying marijuana to supplement their income after the government turned the waters around their fishing village into a protected national park. There’s no character crossover, unless you count the pot itself, which is smuggled into the country by boat or plane in giant bales known as “square grouper” because they became a common sight in the waters around South Florida when they were dumped out of planes or tossed overboard by cargo boats worried about police searches. The arc of each story is basically the same: some folks start bringing weed into the country, experience phenomenal financial success, attract the attention of the media and law enforcement, and are undone by their reckless greed and high-profile spending.

Corben is a terrific interviewer and his approach to the talking heads in “Square Grouper” — long, slow, gliding tracking shots — perfectly matches his subjects’ weedy, easy-going vibe. His storytelling reminds me a little of David Simon’s in the TV series “The Wire:” he examines his true crime stories from every perspective, from the crooks to the cops to the journalists who covered the story. Corben combines and congeals all the different threads together effortlessly but his technique’s at the mercy of his subjects, and in “Square Grouper,” most of them just aren’t all that memorable. There’s no Griselda Blanco, the psychopathic “Black Widow” of Medellin Cartel, or Jon Roberts and Mickey Munday, brilliant smugglers who had so much money they had to start burying it in their neighbors’ yards.

The Floridians of “Square Grouper” are decidedly more working class than the ones in “Cocaine Cowboys,” which makes it both a more and less interesting film. More because their struggles are immediately relatable, particularly in today’s economic climate, and less because their anecdotes lack “Cocaine Cowboys”‘ craziness. The lesson, I guess, is that there isn’t anything inherently cinematic about illegal activities. You still need great characters and stories. Drugs are plentiful in “Square Grouper” but truly compelling people and moments are in short supply.

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Final Countdown

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 IFC.com

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Rev Up

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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Give Back

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

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…