DID YOU READ

“Make Believe,” Reviewed

“Make Believe,” Reviewed (photo)

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At one point in “Make Believe,” the mother of the aspiring 17-year-old magician Krystyn Lambert describes her daughter as finding a home in magic since “it’s a little world of oddballs.” Ordinarily, Krystyn wouldn’t fit the profile. Compared at one point to Britney Spears for a combination of looks and talent, the blonde from Malibu who serves as student council president at her high school wouldn’t appear to be an outsider, but in fact she’s clearly set apart in her drive.

J. Clay Tweel’s documentary tries its best to suggest otherwise, but “Make Believe” isn’t so much about a group of teenagers trying to find their way in the world as it is about the fact that they already know where they’re going. As older magicians such as Lance Burton and Ed Alonzo (best remembered as the Max’s resident illusionist on “Saved by the Bell”) explain throughout its 90-minute running time, the dexterity to perform split fans of cards and sleight of hand with ping-pong balls only comes with time, which incidentally is the one thing these kids haven’t had.

Still, the best of the best congregate every year in Las Vegas to compete at the World Magic Seminar, an event that brings out young magicians from across the globe, six of whom are profiled by Tweel before the third act gives way to a traditional competition doc. Whether the kids are from Japan, Cape Town, or Chicago, they not only find a common language in performing, but support each other and are supported by their families, some of whom are more than happy to allow their brood to forgo college plans, at least for a little while, to pursue magic.

The unexpected result is a film that’s actually less about generating dramatic tension about who will be crowned Teen World Champion or whether the subjects, all charismatic even without carrying around a deck of playing cards in their back pocket, will actually be able to make a career of it, than it has to do with the community that’s formed and the infrastructure in place to allow them to develop their skills away from the outside world.

In South Africa, Siegfried and Roy have sponsored a College of Magic for the past 20 years where we meet Siphiwe Fangase and Nkumbuzo Nkonyana, two teens who perform magic to escape the daily crime that plagues their streets. Likewise, Derek McKee, the youngest of the bunch, is taken in by the shopkeeper at a local magic shop in Littleton, Colorado to hone his craft and confront his personal shyness. Of course, Tweel milks the inherent warmth and surprise of seeing adolescents discover something they can own for themselves for the first time and then finding out that others share their passion, but there’s a possibly unintended yet interesting subtext of how insular the magic community can be and how it struggles to expand.

Although the film literally goes to great lengths to show how international a community it is, “Make Believe”‘s most fascinating sequence isn’t when the young magicians are on stage, but off of it at the World Magic Seminar where it isn’t lost on the audience that the event shares a marquee with Engelbert Humperdinck.

when the camera catches Magic Castle Jr. program founder Debra Zimmerman exalting Japanese sensation Hiroki Hara’s performance and the camera catches the normally poised Lambert wear a variety of expressions on her face from forced pleasantry to frustration and possible disappointment over her own performance as she’s made to wait awkwardly by the stage door. (Within the film, it arrives after Zimmerman suggested Lambert could be a superstar back in Los Angeles.) It’s hard to decide if Lambert was just caught off-guard since the film’s cinematography adheres pretty strictly to having a central focus, but it’s both a reminder that despite their age, these teen performers belong to a very adult world.

The scene is a rare glimpse at something that isn’t entirely positive and promotional about magic in “Make Believe,” and it would probably serve the film better if it allowed for more – after all, there’s surely some interesting territory to cover about young people drawn to a craft that’s based on mystery and deception, which is handled here in only the most kid-friendly terms. Yet taken on its own, “Make Believe” is entertaining enough purely from sharing in the joy of its stars, making sure that something permanent and good remains even in a medium where most everything is meant to disappear.

“Make Believe” opens in New York on May 13th and Los Angeles on May 25th. The film is also currently airing on Showtime.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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