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“Make Believe,” Reviewed

“Make Believe,” Reviewed (photo)

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At one point in “Make Believe,” the mother of the aspiring 17-year-old magician Krystyn Lambert describes her daughter as finding a home in magic since “it’s a little world of oddballs.” Ordinarily, Krystyn wouldn’t fit the profile. Compared at one point to Britney Spears for a combination of looks and talent, the blonde from Malibu who serves as student council president at her high school wouldn’t appear to be an outsider, but in fact she’s clearly set apart in her drive.

J. Clay Tweel’s documentary tries its best to suggest otherwise, but “Make Believe” isn’t so much about a group of teenagers trying to find their way in the world as it is about the fact that they already know where they’re going. As older magicians such as Lance Burton and Ed Alonzo (best remembered as the Max’s resident illusionist on “Saved by the Bell”) explain throughout its 90-minute running time, the dexterity to perform split fans of cards and sleight of hand with ping-pong balls only comes with time, which incidentally is the one thing these kids haven’t had.

Still, the best of the best congregate every year in Las Vegas to compete at the World Magic Seminar, an event that brings out young magicians from across the globe, six of whom are profiled by Tweel before the third act gives way to a traditional competition doc. Whether the kids are from Japan, Cape Town, or Chicago, they not only find a common language in performing, but support each other and are supported by their families, some of whom are more than happy to allow their brood to forgo college plans, at least for a little while, to pursue magic.

The unexpected result is a film that’s actually less about generating dramatic tension about who will be crowned Teen World Champion or whether the subjects, all charismatic even without carrying around a deck of playing cards in their back pocket, will actually be able to make a career of it, than it has to do with the community that’s formed and the infrastructure in place to allow them to develop their skills away from the outside world.

In South Africa, Siegfried and Roy have sponsored a College of Magic for the past 20 years where we meet Siphiwe Fangase and Nkumbuzo Nkonyana, two teens who perform magic to escape the daily crime that plagues their streets. Likewise, Derek McKee, the youngest of the bunch, is taken in by the shopkeeper at a local magic shop in Littleton, Colorado to hone his craft and confront his personal shyness. Of course, Tweel milks the inherent warmth and surprise of seeing adolescents discover something they can own for themselves for the first time and then finding out that others share their passion, but there’s a possibly unintended yet interesting subtext of how insular the magic community can be and how it struggles to expand.

Although the film literally goes to great lengths to show how international a community it is, “Make Believe”‘s most fascinating sequence isn’t when the young magicians are on stage, but off of it at the World Magic Seminar where it isn’t lost on the audience that the event shares a marquee with Engelbert Humperdinck.

when the camera catches Magic Castle Jr. program founder Debra Zimmerman exalting Japanese sensation Hiroki Hara’s performance and the camera catches the normally poised Lambert wear a variety of expressions on her face from forced pleasantry to frustration and possible disappointment over her own performance as she’s made to wait awkwardly by the stage door. (Within the film, it arrives after Zimmerman suggested Lambert could be a superstar back in Los Angeles.) It’s hard to decide if Lambert was just caught off-guard since the film’s cinematography adheres pretty strictly to having a central focus, but it’s both a reminder that despite their age, these teen performers belong to a very adult world.

The scene is a rare glimpse at something that isn’t entirely positive and promotional about magic in “Make Believe,” and it would probably serve the film better if it allowed for more – after all, there’s surely some interesting territory to cover about young people drawn to a craft that’s based on mystery and deception, which is handled here in only the most kid-friendly terms. Yet taken on its own, “Make Believe” is entertaining enough purely from sharing in the joy of its stars, making sure that something permanent and good remains even in a medium where most everything is meant to disappear.

“Make Believe” opens in New York on May 13th and Los Angeles on May 25th. The film is also currently airing on Showtime.

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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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