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Sundance 2008: “Sugar.”

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"It's just a game, right?"
We’d like to think the idea for "Sugar" sprung from the place the film
ends, at a baseball game in a field in New York filled with players
who’d first been brought to the U.S. to play minor league ball. Miguel
"Sugar" Santos is one of them, and "Sugar" is the story of how he gets
there from his start a a promising pitcher with a wicked curve ball in
a farm league in the Dominican Republic who’s plucked out to play on a
Class A team in Bridgetown, IA.

"Sugar" is the second film from the "Half Nelson" team of Anna Boden
and Ryan Fleck, and it’s a resplendent fuck-you to overwrought sophomore
expectations: it has a cast of mostly unknowns, much of it’s in
Spanish, and it is, unapologetically, a baseball movie, albeit one
about the dingier parts of the pro game that don’t often make it to
screen. Not even romance gets romanticized in film as much as baseball,
but "Sugar" is adamantly naturalistic, using its main character’s
journey to brush on themes of race and globalism with the lightest of
touches. Sugar begins the cocky king of a small world, heading back to
his home town on visits where he’s greeted like a celebrity by the
local kids and repeatedly queried on his chances of getting to America
by his family and girlfriend. When he does finally make it, he finds
that there are many more rungs to the ladder, and that while imported
players have become team mainstays, they don’t necessarily move up as
easily as others. Placed, exchange student-fashion, with a local family, Sugar
learns to navigate his new world, sending money home to the Dominican Republic, figuring out
how to order something other than French toast — the lone menu item he
knows how to say in English — at the local diner, and mistaking his host family’s pretty teenager daughter’s attempts to bring him into her church group for a flirtation. He also starts to realize that he may not actually make it into the big leagues. The mantra of baseball being "just a game" is repeated by characters as a consolation or a source of calm, but "Sugar" is an admonition that it’s certainly not, that it’s also a unbounded dream of success for oneself and one’s family, a means of unglamorous livelihood and an unfeeling business.

Boden and Fleck have now made two subdued, socially engaged, humanist films that belie their youth and that are stippled with moments of intense incidental beauty. The rare missteps in "Sugar" — mainly music related, like a "the Shins with change your life" bit with TV on the Radio and another with Jeff Buckley’s "Hallelujah," the soundtrack overuse of which tends to knock us out of any film or show — come as a bit of a relief, a reminder that they’re not yet Brooklyn’s secular answer to the Dardennes. But who to say? They’ve got plenty of time.

"Sugar" will be released by HBO Films.

+ "Sugar" (Sundance)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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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

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