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“Shame,” reviewed

“Shame,” reviewed (photo)

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Michael Fassbender has become something of a sex symbol this year. I’ve personally witnessed more than a few ladies (and at least a couple guys) swoon over his rugged good looks and smoldering eyes in movies like “Jane Eyre,” “X-Men: First Class” and “A Dangerous Method,” and for those folks, “Shame” must sound like a gift from heaven. Fassbender naked? A lot? Like, a lot a lot? It’s true, but Fassbenderholics should be careful what they wish for. They’ll get plenty of man candy in “Shame,” but it’s bound to leave a bad taste in their mouths. Is “Shame” sexual? Yes. Is it sexy? Not so much.

Fassbender plays Brandon, a New York City office drone whose stylish clothes and suave pickup moves mask a crushing addiction to sex. Brandon might be able to seduce a woman on the subway with nothing but a look, but behind closed doors he’s a total mess. His house is filled with porn, his office computer is “filthy” with viruses, and he blows actual dates with real women to have sex with prostitutes. Things only get more difficult for Brandon when his needy sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to town for a visit. Brandon avoids and ignores Sissy’s calls for as long as he can, then resents her when she decides to move in with him. The way they argue, wrestle, converse in the shower, hint at possible incest, and suggest that Brandon’s issues and Sissy’s distress have a shared root cause.

But what is that root cause? Some fellow critics I’ve spoken to complain about “Shame”‘s economy of character detail. They’re frustrated by the lack of information about Brandon and Sissy’s lives before the film begins. They want to know why they’re so screwed up. I respectfully disagree. “Shame” is a movie about sex addiction, but it’s also about denial. It’s clear something terrible happened to Brandon and Sissy, but it’s also clear whatever it was inflicted such brutal psychic damage on these siblings that they still haven’t come to grips with it. Why should the movie acknowledge that trauma if the characters themselves can’t?

More importantly, I didn’t miss that backstory because I was so entranced by “Shame”‘s beautiful but unsettling present. Its co-writer and director is Steve McQueen, the creator of “Hunger,” the film that made Fassbender an international star. Though that film was set in an Irish prison, and “Shame” takes place on the streets of New York, it feels no less claustrophobic. Brandon is trapped by the city and its temptations. In one powerful, unbroken shot, Brandon leaves his apartment (at 9 West 31st Street — McQueen’s Manhattan is wonderfully real and very specific) and jogs all the way to Madison Square Garden. But wherever Brandon goes, he can’t outrun his need.

Fassbender bares his body repeatedly in “Shame” but the way he bares his soul is even more impressive. Because McQueen and Abi Morgan’s screenplay offers Brandon so few places to talk about his true feelings, it’s all left to Fassbender to convey with wordless gestures. The only intimate relationship Brandon has with anyone in “Shame” is with McQueen’s camera. Scenes like the one where he stands alone on a pier silently overlooking the Hudson River are where Fassbender truly reveals it all.

“Shame” is the first movie from a major studio in a good long while with the dread NC-17 rating, which prohibits anyone under the age of 17 from paying to see the film and restricts the places where a movie can be advertised and even exhibited. The president of Fox Searchlight, Steve Gilula, said that he saw the NC-17 as “a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter” and I hope he’s right. Though it contains plenty of nudity and sex, “Shame” is not a titillating erotic drama. It’s a serious character study and exploration of addiction, exactly the sort of movie the NC-17 was created to promote instead of restrict. If adults miss it because of a rating, that would be a real shame.

“Shame” opens Friday in limited release. If you see it, let us know what you think. Leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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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 IFC.com

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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.

Uncle-Buck

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…