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Cannes Dispatch 5: A Critical Favorite from Korea and a Less-Loved American Film

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By Dennis Lim

When the prizes are handed out tomorrow, it’s almost inconceivable that Lee Chang-dong’s “Secret Sunshine” will not be among the major winners. This superbly controlled melodrama is Lee’s return to directing after a four-year stint as the South Korean minister of culture and tourism. Engrossing and unpredictable, his new film is best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible, so the briefest of synopses will have to suffice. A young widow moves to her late husband’s hometown of Miryang (the literal translation provides the English title); about a third of the way in, a catalyzing event propels her character — and the film — into entirely unexpected directions.

Jeon Do-yeon works through a remarkable spectrum of emotions in the lead role, and she has fine comic/empathic support from “The Host” star Song Kang-ho, as a local mechanic who becomes her befuddled suitor. Without getting too much into specifics: It’s a film that both acknowledges the absurdity and understands the necessity of its heroine’s actions. The idea of religion-as-salvation is handled even-handedly, with crucial skepticism and an absence of condescension.

There are unavoidable shades of “A Woman Under the Influence,” but Lee’s close study of a female psyche in crisis also recalls the unblinking directness (if not the aesthetic strategies) of two mid-’90s films: “Safe” and “Breaking the Waves.” The film’s secret weapon is its disarming plainness — a transparency that confers a kind of grace and belies an emotional complexity. It’s about as limpid and unexploitative a film as you could imagine on the subject of human suffering.

“Secret Sunshine” is a near unanimous favorite among the critics. James Gray’s “We Own the Night,” on the other hand, provoked a (wholly unwarranted) chorus of boos at its first press screening. Only Gray’s third film in a dozen years, this heartfelt cop movie — set against a late ’80s Brooklyn backdrop — finds the talented, underemployed director of “Little Odessa” and “The Yards” still mining the turf he apparently knows best: immigrant, blue-collar, outer-borough New York.

Pitting noble, hard-bitten cops against drug-dealing, club-owning Russian mobsters, “We Own the Night” could be accused of a certain upright conservatism, portraying as it does pre-Giuliani NYC as a crime-infested Gomorrah. (That same critique, substituting Reagan for Giuliani, could also apply to the Coens’ “No Country for Old Men,” very pointedly set in 1980.) Still, setting aside the sometimes creaky plot machinery, there’s plenty to recommend this film: a fine Joaquin Phoenix performance; three brilliant action sequences (including a car chase in a convincing digital downpour); and some potent ideas about class aspiration and immobility. The main complaints have been about the predictability of the plot, but Gray is plainly aiming for the emotional intensity and grand inevitability of Greek tragedy. Grave, earnest, not especially interested in humor or irony, he may not be a fashionable filmmaker, as the critical response has confirmed. In fact, he’s something of an anachronism; at his best, though, he’s also one of the few true classicists working in American movies.

[Photo: James Gray’s “We Own the Night,” Columbia Pictures, 2007]

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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.


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…


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.


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).


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.


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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