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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.

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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.

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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