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Review: “Lucky Life”: What can you say about a friend who died?

Review: “Lucky Life”: What can you say about a friend who died? (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

Lee Isaac Chung’s first feature, the Rwanda-set “Munyurangabo,” was a minor sensation back in 2007 — at least, as much as a quiet, oblique film that scarcely saw theaters outside of the festival circuit can be. The film brilliantly captured how trauma lingers like almost imperceptible shivers, the 1994 genocide trembling just beneath the surface of a deceptively simple story of two boys traveling from the city toward an only later divulged goal.

The exoticism of a Korean-American from rural Arkansas making a film about an Africa atrocity — with a non-professional cast and a crew made up partially of locals from a filmmaking class he taught in Kigali — certainly added an extra sheen to “Munyurangabo” that Chung’s follow-up, “Lucky Life,” obviously can’t take advantage of. But the film’s problems have nothing to do with that. While beautifully shot (if sometimes in a way that’s oppressively calculated), “Lucky Life” comes across as a feature that was conceived themes first, with characters and structure created mainly as a vehicle to get those themes across — mortality, adulthood, memory, all underlined with images and dialog as if they could somehow be missed. It speaks to that old admonition to show, not tell — how can you care about people who basically just scaffolding there to support broad ideas?

“Lucky Life” is about four friends who, every year, have headed down to a beach house in North Carolina for a vacation together. This year is a significant one for several reasons — Mark (Daniel O’Keefe) and Karen (Megan McKenna) are now married, Alex (Richard Harvell) is in his residency and preparing to propose to his girlfriend, and Jason (Kenyon Adams) has been diagnosed with aggressive cancer. It’s the last time he’ll be able to do the trip, and the group struggles with how to acknowledge that, if to acknowledge it, and how to deal with someone whose life is getting cut so short, and who seems already only half-tethered to the earth.

04292010_luckylife2.jpgThe cast is once again made up of non-pros — I would say to the film’s serious detriment. The three non-terminal friends should embodied some sense of tamped down emotion, but with their flat affects, particularly Mark, they seem instead distracted or sedated. Whenever they speak of some strong feeling, it’s impossible to believe them — they don’t seem capable of such a thing. In combination with the relative blandness of the characters themselves, they manifest a curious anti-charisma, in which, whenever they talk, your attention slides off them to their surroundings. Fortunately, those surroundings are without question gorgeously photographed, all dreamlike blown-out light and cool, quiet interiors, frames within frames of doors and windows — though the extreme care with which some shots are set up can be its own distraction, calling your attention to their craft more than the actual content.

Told in an elliptical manner, “Lucky Life” is divided between the trip and a period some time afterward, after Jason has passed and when Mark and Karen have, after much difficulty, finally conceived. Mark, a would-be writer, often recites in voice over the poetry of Gerald Stern, who Chung cites as an influence on the film, but which doesn’t make for a very compelling punctuation to what’s already aspirationally lyrical. In the end, “Lucky Life”‘s issue seems to be that it thinks too much, but shows too little. Really, there are worse problems to have.

“Lucky Life” is currently without distribution.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.