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“A Better Life,” Reviewed

“A Better Life,” Reviewed (photo)

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It shouldn’t be a consideration while watching “A Better Life” that it came into being as a form of payback for Chris Weitz, who last directed “Twilight: New Moon” for Summit Entertainment and was rewarded with a greenlight for that all-too-rare creature these days – the studio film for adults. But it has to be since it isn’t just the filmmaker who’s allowed to enjoy telling a story closer to his own heart, but the audience who benefits the most.

If “A Better Life” has a fault, it may be that it isn’t adult enough, that its story of an illegal immigrant (Demian Bichir) whose been toiling out as a gardener on the lawns of the rich in Los Angeles to make ends meet is a bit too simple, though that would be ignoring its elegance. Carlos, the gardener, is beyond reproach, though life has been unquestionably unfair to him. His wife passed away, leaving him to take care their now-teenage son Luis (José Julián), while the lawyer who promised him immigration papers has left him broke. Things begin to look up when his boss offers Carlos his truck, so he can retire to a farm, but it’ll come at a cost of $12,000, which would be unthinkable except for a possible loan from his sister, who can also ill afford it.

ABetterLife2_06242011.jpgThrough it all, Bichir is never any less stoic than Gregory Peck, nor is Carlos any less principled than Moses, with obstacle after obstacle testing his resolve in such succession that “A Better Life” would strain credibility if it weren’t so tender and well-executed. In some ways, a remake of Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” reimagined as a thriller, the film takes off once Carlos is joined by Luis after the former is robbed and must track down the thief, an exercise that leads to the fringes of South Central and brings the father and son together to a proximity they haven’t shared since the boy was an infant. Luis, all but orphaned by his father’s endless days at work, has gravitated towards the gangs that rule his school without actually joining one, but now is at the age where he must either be with them or against them.

Aided by a soaring score from Alexandre Desplat (“The Tree of Life”), Weitz elevates the story to near-epic levels, imagining Los Angeles as a land vast enough for ample opportunity and endless swaths of treacherous terrain. After once proving his strength at capturing an unorthodox father-son relationship in “About a Boy,” Weitz’s real achievement with “A Better Life” is teasing out the suspense of not only Carlos and Luis’ fractured relationship, but of the journey that they’re on together that’s fraught with all the uncertainty of being in a place they never can really call home. Every time they speak to a stranger, there’s the possibility for misinterpretation and every encounter with a police officer is a chance to be deported.

Even if the story itself is broad, streamlined for maximized emotional potency as it was in the days of De Sica, “A Better Life” is rich enough with detail to be immune to false moments, whether it’s between Bichir and Julián, whose characters gradually let their guard down as they feel each other out, or in the scenes that push the mystery forward through crowded apartments, chop shops and rodeos. With its story of struggle, “A Better Life” may not entirely live up to its title in a literal sense, but it’s a better movie than we’ve come to expect.

“A Better Life” opens in limited release on June 24th.

Will you want to see “A Better Life”? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

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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…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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