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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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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 IFC.com

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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

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…