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.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.