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Lucky Life (2010)

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The new film from the director of Munyurangabo is at Tribeca '10.

IndieWire:
 

Inspired by the poetry of Gerald Stern, a onetime poet laureate from New Jersey, Lee Isaac Chung’s follow-up to the acclaimed “Munyurangabo” is a sharply observed, soft-spoken rumination on companionship, memory, life, and loss. Steeping the film in woeful hues leavened in baths of light, through wide angels and even archival footage, cinematographers Jenny Lund and Koji Otsuka poignantly capture the ephemeral quality of a moment in progress, and the life that happens in between.


I'm looking forward to seeing this very soon.

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Tyler   
In September or October, I will begin production on a new feature called “Foolish Things” starring Amanda Plummer. The film is about a woman who, in experiencing a mid-life crisis, begins to stalk a younger woman in the city who she believes to be a younger reincarnation or phantom of herself.

Amanda Plummer! I can't remember seeing her in anything since The Fisher King and Pulp Fiction. Her IMDB page shows she's been busy, though. Apparently she was in an episode of Battlestar Galatcia, too.

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Darren H   

I'll post it here, too.

There’s a sequence about 25 minutes into Lee Isaac Chung's new film Lucky Life that I’ve watched countless times over the past few months. In an earlier scene, the film’s four main characters -- old college friends who reunite each year at a beach house on the Outer Banks -- are sitting around a table outside a restaurant, telling stories late into the night, and one of them, Jason (Kenyon Adams), mentions that he’s never watched the sun rise over the ocean. “Well, you have to do that,” Karen (Megan McKenna) says with enthusiasm. “We'll do that!” In a few typically elliptical cuts, Chung then moves us from their conversation to a scene back at the beach house, which is followed soon after by the three cuts I can’t stop watching: 1. a point-of-view shot from within a car that is pulling onto a ferry, 2. a medium close-up of the back of Jason’s head, and 3. a long, high-angle shot of the four friends walking slowly onto the beach, each of them staged like a visitor to the gardens of Resnais’s Marienbad. It’s well past sunrise by the time they reach the water’s edge, but like so much of the film’s plot, this seems utterly, delightfully beside the point.

Movies about the lives of college-educated-but-still-rambling young professionals are a staple of low-budget American cinema, and it's tempting in the opening scenes of Lucky Life to graph onto it all of the conventions of the genre. But there are several clues that Chung is up to something different here, that his cinematic points of reference extend well beyond Austin and Park City. The ferry sequence, for example, is held together by a music cue and by an oddly -- and beautifully -- subjective camera, the likes of which I rarely see in American film. Chung shifts regularly throughout Lucky Life from an objective perspective that captures conversations and the occasional shards of narrative to a more searching, melancholic point-of-view that is clearly designed or authored. It’s often reflected in the form itself, as he alternates between the kind of handheld photography we’ve come to think of, post-Dardennes, as “realist” and a combination of composed tracking shots and long, static takes. Isaac mentioned in a recent interview that he watched a lot of Mizoguchi before making Lucky Life; after watching the ferry scene eight or ten times, I sent him a stack of Claire Denis films. It’s that kind of subjectivity.

Another clue to Chung’s strategy is the lead performance from Daniel O'Keefe. Mark is a recognizable “indie” protagonist. He's a 30-year-old writer and husband. He sleeps late, works on his laptop at a neighborhood coffee shop, and seems resigned to his impending fatherhood. But he's also introverted, soft-spoken, and moody, traits that make him a difficult point of entry into the film's world. Or, at least, I assume other viewers will have trouble empathizing with Mark. He can be a bit of a prick. (He’s also more like me than any character I’ve ever seen on screen. For an insight into all that my endlessly-patient wife has endured over the years, watch Lucky Life’s crib-building scene. I shrink in shame each time I see it.)

But Mark’s personality is somehow at the core of this film, which is deeply serious like Tarkovsky’s films are serious. Jason, we quickly discover, is dying and making what will likely be his last trip to the beach. Despite this loss and other personal trials, however, Mark shows few outward signs of mourning or emotional turmoil. He’s a young, American version of the stone-faced cipher we regularly see in art house cinema from Eastern Europe and Asia. But there’s not a shred of irony in Chung’s authorial voice. The film’s main concerns – How does one remain hopeful in the face of suffering? How can the artist transform the stuff of life into a harbinger of beauty and grace? – were heavy subjects when Tarkovsky tackled them, and they’re heavy now. The slightest wink to the audience would cripple Lucky Life, and it’s to Chung’s great credit that this deceptively ambitious film maintains its balance through to the final shot. (I'm eager to see how others respond to that shot, which is so painfully real to my own experience I can barely stand to watch it.)

A few other random observations. First, I don't make the Tarkovsky comparison lightly. When I interviewed Isaac a few years ago about his first film, Munyurangabo, we talked a lot about Walter Benjamin's "Theses on History," so I was thrilled to see how Lucky Life weaves together Benjamin's "storm of progress" with Tarkovsky's apocalyptic visions. One particular tracking shot makes it look like ocean waves are crashing against the old beach house, just as flames consume the house at the end of The Sacrifice. The recurring recitations of Gerald Stern's poetry, which inspired the film, and Chung's striking use of archival footage also call to mind Tarkovsky's Mirror.

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Darren H   

A nice (if florid) review from Nick Schager at Slant:

. . . Chung's film nonetheless unassumingly locates hope amid the tragedy of life's forward evolution, with a third-act poem crystallizing his nuanced portrait of memory as both a source of continuing pain and -- when distinguished by clarity of detail -- the most vital means of preserving the impermanent.

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Kenyon Adams, the actor facing the camera in the photograph on the Slant review, came to my presentation at the International Arts Movement Encounter in NYC last month, and I joined him for some heavy conversation about faith and art later in the evening. He's a fantastic guy with strong convictions about faith and art, and I can't wait to see him in this film. (Tonight, I hope.)

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KShaw   

Jeffrey, mind if I ask where you'll be seeing this? Mr. Movie Times tells me there aren't any Seattle-area theaters showing it any time soon. sad.gif

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Jeffrey, mind if I ask where you'll be seeing this? Mr. Movie Times tells me there aren't any Seattle-area theaters showing it any time soon. sad.gif

I have a for-review-purposes-only DVD.

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Darren H   

Howard Feinstein at Screen has written the review I was expecting (and dreading). I knew it would take about 30 minutes after the Tribeca premiere for someone to make a lazy comparison to mumblecore. And apparently Christian characters aren't suitable subjects for a film:

Chung’s new film, showing at the Tribeca Film Festival, Lucky Life is more overtly Christian. It’s not the Christian references so much as their heavyhandedness that is off-putting. “Prayer” and “God” are words uttered over and over again. And the rather vanilla characters, especially the two male leads Mark (O’Keefe) and Jason (Adams), speak like characters out of sanitized 1950s family dramas or comedies. “Good morning, Sleepyhead,” Jason greets Mark.

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Darren H   

Eric Kohn at Indiewire "was mesmerized by it":

Blending realism with deceptively intelligent visual conceits, Chung conveys his ideas through the passage of time and the subtleties of social engagement. The outcome is alternately frustrating and magical, a testament to the movie’s keen portrayal of everyday encounters.

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Color me mesmerized too. There are shots in this film I will never forget: A hymn-singing on the beach; flashlights along the edge of the tide; a recurring motif of heads half-way between rooms, or half-way between heaven and earth; a man walking out into crashing waves; and, well - how shall I say this? - ... one of the most beautiful kissing scenes ever. I was especially taken by the delicate musical selections, which enhanced emotions that the imagery already evoked.

This is one of those movies we have sometimes talked about hoping to see: A film with a marriage at the center, in which the marriage is not crumbling or inspiring cynicism, but is beautiful and troubled and sensual and real and persuasive and complicated.

The actors are uniformly excellent, developing complex characters without a lot of dialogue. I was especially taken by the warm, radiant performance by Kenyon Adams as Jason.

Edited by Overstreet

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Darren H   

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Jeff. This is the first time I've ever felt like an advocate for a film. Reading reviews the last few days has made me downright anxious.

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Brian D   

Does anyone know any news about distribution of this film? Sadly, when I googled Lucky Life with "distribution", I found out more about distribution of Lucky Buddha Beer and Lucky-4-Life winning lottery numbers than I found out about the film. What is the best way to get access to this movie these days? I'm dying to see it after Munyurangabo ripped me to shreds and put me back together again.

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Does anyone know any news about distribution of this film? Sadly, when I googled Lucky Life with "distribution", I found out more about distribution of Lucky Buddha Beer and Lucky-4-Life winning lottery numbers than I found out about the film. What is the best way to get access to this movie these days? I'm dying to see it after Munyurangabo ripped me to shreds and put me back together again.

Ditto. I can't seem to find any new information on this since April either. But the more I hear about it, the more I want to see it.

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At this moment, I have it on my top 10 for this year. I was holding out in hopes that it would show up somehow. Guess I'll take it off, and mention it in passing as a special exception. Drat.

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Tyler   

I tried to email Almond Tree Films (the producer for both of Chung's movies) to see if they knew about a DVD, but I got a delivery failure notification.

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Brian D   

I just signed up for Netflix and noticed that it is possible to sign up for receiving the Lucky Life DVD for rental through the mail, but only as a "saved" DVD, meaning that it is not available yet. I'm sure that this is not a guarantee that they will eventually get it, but rather a sign that someone at Netflix knows about the movie.

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At this moment, I have it on my top 10 for this year. I was holding out in hopes that it would show up somehow. Guess I'll take it off, and mention it in passing as a special exception. Drat.

Well, according to Rotten Tomatoes, it was given a wide release on November 30, 2010, not that they could be bothered to post any reviews. This annoys me extremely.

At least it looks like someone was watching it in Poland last October -

In Lucky Life (2010), Lee Isaac Chung’s quietly accomplished second feature, the camera often abandons the characters to ponder their surroundings in a free-flowing (yet somber) manner that seems to owe a lot to the work of Terrence Malick. Shifting freely between tightly structured dialogue and seemingly improvised scenes of friendly badinage, the movie is quite formidable in asserting it slow pace and making the viewer respect its rhythms – as well as respond to them.

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Some of us know already that Lee Isaac Chung is an incredibly gracious and delightful human being.

I've been blessed lately to get to know Kenyon Adams, one of the lead actors in Lucky Life, and he turns out to be one of those rare personalities who can make you feel like one of his dearest friends within a few minutes of conversation. What a kind and generous fellow. (I met him last March at IAM Encounter 10, and he was one of the speakers at Jubilee last weekend.)

Finding that the people who made this film really are as wonderful as the material suggests... well... it gives me that much more zeal to help this movie to find an audience. I wish it would become easily accessible.

Edited by Overstreet

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Brian D   

So...any updates here? Nice to see it on Jeffrey's top 10 list from last year. Bottom line: how do we all get a copy? Will pay whatever!!

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