Sunday, June 28, 2015

Solace and Freedom

Tracks (2013) - Curran
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I'm a sucker for road movies. If it's about a young woman, even better. Tracks is a film adaptation of Robyn Davidson's travelogue of the same name where she traveled across the 1700 miles of Australian desert to Indian Ocean with her trusty dog Diggity and 3 camels she acquired for the journey. It's the Australia in the 70s. Many hippie ideas are flowing and women's independence growing. A young white woman Robyn (Mia Wasikowska), tired of city life and inspired by her dad's African travels, decides to find solace and freedom in the desert. In order to finance the project, she contacts National Geographic and they send her a talkative and friendly photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver). At first, the presence of Smolan is a nuisance for fiercely independent Robyn, but he turns out to be understanding and supportive in her journey more than she gives credits for.

Shot in glorious anamorphic, the film's often stunning and eerily beautiful. Wasikowska is fast becoming my favorite actress. Considering her young age, her choices of roles impress me. She wears the same clothes and doesn't get to bathe often. She is sunburned, her skins cracking, her armpit hair shows, her hair's matted. The movie is also a searing love story between Robyn and her dog. Beautiful.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

NYAFF 2015 Preview

It's that time of the year again. New York Asian Film Festival is upon us. The sprawling two-week event (June 26 - July 11) is, as usual, filled with craziness- impossible action sequences, absurd humor, beguiling romance and general nutty mayhem. It takes place in FSLC and SVA Theater this year.

From Subway Cinema website:
Welcome to the 14th edition of the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF). We’re back with 54 feature films, including 2 World Premieres, 3 International Premieres, 14 North American Premieres, 5 U.S. Premieres, and 12 New York City debuts. The festival will be attended by 18 international filmmakers and celebrity guests traveling from Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the U.S., headlined by this year’s NYAFF award recipients: Hong Kong’s legendary director Ringo Lam (Lifetime Achievement Award), Hong Kong superstar Aaron Kwok (Star Asia Award), and Japanese actor Shota Sometani (Screen International Rising Star Award).

NYAFF 2015 will feature five focus programs: Hong Kong Panorama; Myung Films: Pioneers and Women Behind the Camera in Korean Film; New Cinema from Japan; Taiwan Cinema Now!; and The Last Men in Japanese Film, a joint tribute to actors Ken Takakura and Bunta Sugawara, both of whom passed away last November.NYAFF 2015 will feature five focus programs: Hong Kong Panorama; Myung Films: Pioneers and Women Behind the Camera in Korean Film; New Cinema from Japan; Taiwan Cinema Now!; and The Last Men in Japanese Film, a joint tribute to actors Ken Takakura and Bunta Sugawara, both of whom passed away last November.

Please visit Subway Cinema website and FSLC website for more info and tickets.

Here are 4 films I could sample:

Vengeance of an Assassin photo 6b71c8b9-95e7-400c-b17e-9b41de6bb18a_zpsjtyohpwj.jpg
Thai martial arts action choreographer cum director Punna Rittikai died of liver failure in 2014. Rittikai was a mentor for Tony Jaa and largely responsible for the rise of Muai Thai craze. So unsurprisingly, his last film Vengeance of an Assassin features some of the most delicious no-holds-barred choreographed action sequences to cover up some very schmaltzy storyline and bad acting.

It starts out strong with full contact soccer match in a rusty factory full of sharp objects. Then there is low angle, shooter's POV long take gunfight sequence. Runaway train fight sequence is also awe-inspiring. Rittikai tops it all off with John Woo style gun fight sequence in one continuous shot, which is so mindblowingly choreographed, all I couldn't help but admire the logistics team behind it all. You definitely need to get a tetanus shot after seeing the movie!

FULL ALERT - June 28, 2pm *Director Intro
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Full Alert is a great Policier from the director of City on Fire (which Tarantino ripped off for Reservoir Dogs) and arguably the last great HK film he directed. Lam announced retirement from film business after his unsuccessful Hollywood stint with string of movies starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

This kinetic film tells a cat and mouse game between inspector Pau (Johnny To regular Ching Wan Lao) and the educated master criminal Mak (Francis Ng). After Mak is captured and confessed for the murder of a chemist, his crew bows to get him out of police custody. This sets up the full scale street battle and heist sequence akin to Michael Mann's Heat. Full Alert also features great car chase sequence running through crowded downtown city scape and presents great street chase scene through bustling outdoor markets of Hong Kong. Lam doesn't neglect the human drama he is known for - loyalty, honor, family all play big parts amidst of mangled metals and flying bullets.

After a long hiatus, Lam is directing again. I am excited about his new film Wild City which he describes as the last of the City Trilogy (After City on Fire and Full Alert), starring Louis Koo and Shawn Yue.

*Director Ringo Lam will be honored with the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award at NYAFF

BANGLASIA - July 10, 8pm *Intro Q & A
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Censored upon release then subsequently banned by Malaysian censor board, Banglasia is a controversial Malaysian musician/filmmaker/internet personality, Namewee's all-out satire on racism and jingoism in Malaysian society. The irreverent comedy stars a lowly worker from Bangladesh trying to earn enough money to get back to his fianée back home before she gets married off to another by the Chinese New Year, which is January 31st. He is confronted and bullied by a jingoistic internet activist (Namewee) who regularly calls him Bangla, even though he himself is from a Chinese heritage.

Throw in a pretty nurse who is smitten by the handsome, good natured foreigner and a cute tattoo artist, Banglasia is a kitchen sink full of infantile humor, gunfights, crazy dream sequences and instantaneous singing (including a Bollywood style dance number). It also is damning indictment of a politicians who uses race as bait for their own political gain. Banglasia is an over-the-top satirical comedy with a style and resonance that makes you wonder about paranoia and humorlessness of those in power.

SECOND CHANCE - July 11, 1pm
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An orphaned high school girl Hsieh (Huang Peijia) has to keep up with both being a Miss Little Perfect (a sword wielding captain of the school's honor guards) and a billiard parlor owner (inherited from her father). But unless she finds her washed up billiard champ uncle Siang Shuan Fen (Monster of Taiwanese rock group Mayday, making his feature film debut here), she has to go to a foster home and will surely lose her beloved billiard parlor to loan sharks. Thanks to a youtube clip, Shuan Fen is located and forcibly brought back by Hsieh Hsieh's long time admirer/neighbor/best friend/minion Oden (Liu Yihao). Hsieh decides to get into playing pool to save the parlor but needs a lot of practice and coaching. Shuan Fen sees it as an opportunity to get back in the game and get a second chance to get it right. Filled with likable performances, featuring real life international pool players and redemption plot, Second Chance is a great sports film in the tradition of Color of Money and Rocky.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jurassic Universe

Jurassic World (2015) - Trevorrow
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I do love creature features. Since Jaws, Spielberg had a real knack for orchestrating in bringing out our primal fear of getting eaten alive by another animal. Even though it was a kid's movie, Jurassic Park brought out the same fear in me. No Peter Jackson or others have managed to do that. Jurassic world brings this back effectively- this time in 3D. Existing within the realm of Jurassic Park universe, Jurassic World winks at that narrow (or big) pool of now grown up audience who remember fondly about the first one some 20 years ago, about how jaded we are. What's actually more jaded is the presence of a ridiculously brawny, tanned Ken doll hero and an extremely pale woman in high-heels and a white skirt in a rumble in the jungle chase in Costa Rica. Still, Jurassic World manages to dig up that visceral feeling Spielberg first instilled in us. There were a lot of kids crying in fear (produced few wet pants too, I'm sure) in theaters.

Somehow, after all that advancement in CG technology, things seem oddly flat and unreal (even the greeneries). Only possible animatronics is in a dying unidentifiable dino that looked half baked ET. But what the hell, it was entertaining.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Finding EDEN: Interview with Félix de Givry and Sven Hansen-Løve

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French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve's new film Eden, an ambitious survey of the hedonistic 90s French club music scene, as well as poignant observation on life and time passing, was one of my favorite films I saw last year. To promote its theatrical release in the US, the film's star Félix de Givry and co-writer/DJ Sven Hansen-Løve (and brother of Mia) were in town. I was very eager to talk about the film and the 90s with the two.

I love when things get nerdy in interviews. Obviously de Givry and Hansen-Løve knew what they were talking about but you can tell they are very passionate about what they do. This is one interview I'll remember fondly in the years to come.

I talked with Mia (Hansen-Løve) when she was here for her last film, GOODBYE FIRST LOVE. And she mentioned about EDEN back then, in 2012. How did this project come about?

Sven Hansen-Løve (from herein, SHL): It was really her idea first. She did three films and was at a crossroad in her career and she wanted to do something different. Her first three movies are sort of trilogy- sharing rather similar themes, you could say.

Right, right.

SHL: She was very interested in trying to do something with music. A film where the music is very important, almost like a character. So from one idea to another, she came to the idea of making a film about our generation, set in the 90s especially. It was different then.

The diversity of electronic music always fascinated her and that's how it all started. And since I was a part of that scene she asked me if I wanted to collaborate with her and give her some insights and anecdotes into the era. So it started just like that. And after a while she also wanted me to write. So I started writing.

Félix, you are basically playing 15-20 years of Sven's life. It's a big responsibility. What did you guys talk about prior and during the filming?

Félix de Givry (from herein FdG): I mostly talked with Mia because we always imagined the character as a fictional one, never as a precise portrayal of Sven's life or anything. Everything is sort of blurry- blurring the boundary between fiction and reality is what Mia likes. I think she feels assured in that space in between in a way. We had a long time before we started filming. Strangely, we did a lot of readings but also talked about a lot of different things - characters from other films, books....

With Sven, we mostly talked about stuff surrounding the film, you know, like, souvenirs, mementos from that era. I talked with his friends, studied all those pictures and footage. He gave me the comic book that is in the film- it was like digging into the background of the background. We never really talked about the character and it's funny because, those personal stuff we talked about after the movie was made, as if we could trust each other. Most recently we talked about relationships and stuff like that, right Sven?

(Sven nods.)

So you are talking about friendship beyond the film.

FdG: Yeah.

I asked Olivier (Assayas, Hansen-Løve's husband) about sharing actors with Mia. Coming off of his APRES MAI (SOMETHING IN THE AIR), how did it come about that Mia chose you for the lead role?

FdG: So the whole story was that one of my friends was stopped in the streets for a street casting and she called me because I too wanted to become an actor. She said, "Oh there is this guy Olivier Assayas. He did Carlos and whathaveyou." So he did a casting on my friend and I met Antoinette Boulat, the casting director. So I went through many steps to get the lead role (Gilles) until Olivier offered me another role that I refused.

You did?

FdG: Yeah I told him that I felt closed to the leading role, because he hesitated between me and the other actor. In his mind Clément was younger  and more right for the role-

That's what Olivier said. That you were great, but he was looking for someone younger for the role of Gilles. (the role eventually went to Clément Metayer.)

FdG: I think at the end he was the right choice for the film. So I had a very small part in Something in the Air.

And then I left because my school and I lived in LA for one year. And Antoinette kept sending me emails about Mia's film. But I was still in LA so I politely declined. But after I got back to Paris in June, as soon as I landed at the airport, we did a casting session. By then Mia had seen my audition tapes for Olivier. I think she had that movie with me in her head for a long time.

Sven, I think you and I are from the same generation. I wasn't a raver but more into grunge in the 90s, just because I was in Seattle at the time. But can you tell what French Touch is, for people who don't know it?

SHL: French Touch is a subgenre of house music. House music was born at the end of the 80s in the States. So it's an American music. But it's always interesting because it goes back and forth between Europe and the States. House was born because black musicians discovered electronic music from Kraftwerk and even some older stuff than that, like early French electronic music which was not a dance music. They then had an idea of mixing this with their own music- soul, disco. The idea was to use computer generated music but bring it down to classic black music- soul, jazz, gospel... everything.

And then it went back to Europe. It had to do with many DJs traveling also. So in France there were these talented young guys, like Daft Punk and others, who really like house music but wanted something different. And it was also the dawn of sampling. The hip hop guys had sampler machine but others wanted to use it not only in hip hop but for music you can dance to in clubs. So these young French people used the sampler on disco - it had a very simple beat and the sample goes in and out - it's easier get in and to dance to. It's more mainstream version of house music. Daft Punk built upon this into their own success. I think they are the pioneers of the French Touch.

But then some other artist arrived and made it a little different - Dmitri from Paris and so on. The idea was always making their own version of house.

Would Air fit in this category?

SHL: Yeah. Of course their music is a bit different. They arrived to the scene a little later. And there is Phoenix, also from the same time and affiliated with the genre even though they play rock music. I know it's getting kind of complicated.

FdG: But they are all French.

SHL: Right. First of all they are French. And even though they are not house, but electronic also-

FdG: And synth.

SHL: And they use synthesizer. It's computer generated in a way.

FdG: And they are homemade as well. They are done in their bedrooms.

SHL: That's right. Home studios.

I think Sven and I are about the same age, You are much younger. How do you know about Garage & 90s music?

FdG: I have my own music label. I am interested in all the stuff we just talked about. The people in my generation listened to Air, Phoenix, Daft Punk and there are others too - Justice and the whole Ed Banger (record label) groups. It's not mainstream culture but it's not underground either. But they are not snobs. They enjoy their moderate success and fame.

I think there are two sides on where my passion lies: I discovered doing the film that there are underground roots in garage and the other is my passion for electronic music that I grew up listening to. Nowadays, you just choose what kind of electronic music you want to listen to, you know. Even the pop music uses that computer sampled, compressed sound.

What was the hardest part of being in this film as an actor?

FdG: When I read the script, couple of things stood out for me- one is in one of the first scenes. It's after the party in the submarine and my character Paul is in the woods and was told to listen to the silence. There's bird chirping, noise then silence. And the time passes and at the end when Paul breaks down on the floor and asking for silence. And for me that was the key to key moment for the film, for this character. Because it's a character who lives in constant noise. And noise kind of polluted his vision. He got lost in a big washing machine you know- his clubbing, nightlife and drugs... So the idea of silence was extremely interesting for me. Because the character I think he makes it at the end as a writer. In writing, it's so much about silence.

So that scene when Paul has sort of a breakdown and was laying on the floor: it was also one shot- there was no movement in this apartment where we had been for four days, shot many different scenes - that was a tough scene.They proposed to me to use eyedrops so I can pretend to cry, I really didn't want to do that. It's so Hollywood fabrication thing to do.

I noticed that. Because in Hollywood movies  what you usually see is a single tear rolling down on a hero's face. Very stoic. Couple of scenes I remember where you cry, you cover your face. And that's what people do in real life.

FdG: Right. People are not like, aaaahh (throwing hands in the air). Emotions are overplayed sometimes.

I thought it was much more real how you did it.

FdG: I really cried.


FdG: Anyway I realized that I need to change my way of crying. It's really not possible to show exactly how I cry. (laughs.)

Mia told me that the film was going to be in two parts. And  obviously the film is in two parts but not two separate movies. Can you tell me how it didn't happen that way?

SHL: Well she had this crazy ambition to do two films. The reason also was she had a lot of materials. When the first draft was done, it was very very long because she wanted to keep everything. But nobody would produce two films on a topic like that. If it was an action movie then no problem but some intimate movie about DJs, it would've been very difficult to finance.

We also tried to pitch it as a TV series and gave the script to TV channels but they didn't want to do it. So at some point we realized that it won't be two films. It was just too ambitious. So we cut the script a lot.

It is still very ambitious though I mean it's a huge movie. I'm amazed she pulled it off.

What I love about Mia's films is the passage of time portrayed before your eyes. How difficult was it portraying older man?

FdG: Obviously it was tough. Sometimes we were shooting Paul in different ages the same day. But I think there is also a subtext about the character not growing up. That there is something about Paul being steady in his unsteadiness. When he is in his twenties I feel close to that so it's not really difficult to portray him. When he is in his late 30s, 40s, it's also easy because I know Sven, even though it's not him I'm portraying, I can feel who he is. It's inbetween ages that's harder - late 20s and 30s. But in the end, in terms of Sven's life that's when he was most lost, not really knowing where he is at, wasn't a problem, I think.

You think it's a 90s generation thing that you do what you love to do or you become a slacker?

SHL: What is a slacker?

A person who doesn't work for the Man and just floats around.

SHL: I don't think it's a 90s thing. The difference is that back then, we were not as anxious about our future than young people right now. The time was a little more positive and optimistic. Even though I was living day to day, I wasn't worried about the future too much. I thought everything would work itself out at the end. Maybe I didn't ask questions that I need to ask much earlier.

Do you think that your generation is a lot more anxious?
FdG: Yeah. It's not really about expectations but more about anxiety which is hard to explain. Even in partying, dancing to techno or house, there was the feeling of opening to the world back then. Now they party to protect themselves. And the drugs we have nowadays compared to the ones back then, is something to do at a moment when you want to protect yourself.

It's more of an escape than pleasure.

FdG: Yeah exactly. For me it's not very healthy the way people are partying nowadays. I know a lot of my friends are partying like 70 hours in a row, never stopping. I'm pretty sure that happened in the 90s too but it was not the same relationship at all.

It was more fun in the 90s?

FdG: Yeah, I think it was more real, hedonistic.

Robert Creeley's The Rhythm- the cyclical nature of life just fits perfectly for the ending. Was it your idea to put that in the film?

SHL: No. But  I take the credit for introducing Robert Creeley to my sister. I think she was reading the anthology of his poems when we were writing the script. I think she found that particular poem The Rhythm really matched with the theme of the film.

How about a short animated phoenix in the beginning?

FdG: Well Paul is on drugs. Sometimes you see swirls in the corner of your eyes in the morning after you are out all night. Mia was really keen on having that in the beginning and not have any following explanations.

SHL: Also I think Paul was having this dreamy life back then- clubbing and doing drugs. It was a small indication of his dreamy state.

I thought it was more to do with Phoenix rising. That at the end he becomes a writer, that in a way he is reborn as another artistic person.

FdG/SHL: Yeah that too.

Eden opens across the U.S. on Friday, June 19 by Broad Green Pictures. Please checkout dates for your city at Broad Green Pictures website.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Interview: Crystal Moselle on Approaching The Wolfpack

 photo 98f52bb7-0c8e-4974-aff0-af0b74d19def_zpspjklej0t.jpgFilmmaker Crystal Moselle is getting a lot of attention these days. Rightfully so, because her film The Wolfpack, about six brothers, all named after Hindu gods, growing up in the confines of their apartment, reenacting movies they saw on TV, in New York's Lower East Side, is most likely one of best documentaries you will see all year.

Even though it wasn't an ideal setting, due to her busy schedule, I had to go for a short phone interview with Moselle as she was traveling.

The Wolfpack won this year's Grand Jury Prize for US Documentary at Sundance this year and is getting limited release on 6/12, expanding nationwide on 6/19.

I'm gonna jump out and get a taxi right now.

Oh OK.

But I'm gonna walk out with you (on the phone) though. Don't worry, now I've talked about this movie so many times, I'm a little pro. (laughs.)

OK, excellent. Then let me begin. I'm pretty sure you've talked about how it all began many times. But for the people who don't know, can you tell me how you met the Angulo boys?

So I was walking down the First Avenue one day and these six boys walked past me. And I was completely intrigued by them. And I... you know they have like, long hair and they have this Reservoir Dogs thing happening. And I ran after them instinctively and asked them where they are from and they said Delancey Street. I told them that I haven't seen them around before. And they asked me what I did for a living and I said I was a filmmaker.  And they were like, "Oh, we are interested in the business of filmmaking."  And that's how the whole thing started. It was a very serendipitous thing.

I had no idea what their backstory was when I first met them. I thought they were really cool guys and there was this openness about them that was intriguing and.... So that's how the story started.

That's pretty wild. How long did it take for you to make the film? I mean you've known them for a long time now right?

I met them five years ago and I pretty much started filming here and there right away. And it became a regular full time thing after five month or so. From beginning to end it took about four and a half years.

It is quite remarkable how intimate the film is and the access you had into the lives of these boys. You have a group of very willing participants to tell their story and they invite you to their house to film and everything. I am wondering how their parents first thought of it, especially their father Oscar. He doesn't seem that friendly.

I think he saw an opportunity for his children. The boys really just... I mean, he didn't have a choice. They've already taken over the household- the power has shifted. So it wasn't a problem.

Did you feel threatened by his presence or ever feel that you were in any danger?

No. He'd been defeated by the time I got in there and it was a different scenario.

How did you connect with these guys so they could open up to you? Was it some elements from your life that they could relate to? Or how did you relate to these guys?

Through film.

So you guys talked about film non-stop.

Yeah, I mean eventually we talked about life and stuff but it was a really nice friendship that we had. I didn't know about their dark stories until some time after we became friends, so it was a learning experience.

When you heard their backstory, what was your reaction? Did you see the potential for a great film?

(hailing a cab) Yes. When I first started to uncover the clues, I realized that there was a fascinating backstory to the story. But I also felt protective over it because if it was gotten to the wrong hands, it could be exploitative. So I wanted to take care of it delicately.

Did you become a sort of a big sister for them?

Yeah, I think so.

The film has a really powerful cathartic ending. Sort of film within a film kind of thing.  Did you suggest any of it or did it come naturally?

What, the ending?

At the end in the documentary, they make a very personal movie about their lives-

Oh, no, no. They make all sorts of films all the time. We used the film that made sense for the ending. It's about what serves the narrative and I think they've gotten to certain point with that piece which is reflective of their lives.

There are six brothers and there is one sister (Vishnu) who's not really featured in the film. Was it a conscious decision not to include her from the beginning?

She is disabled. She has a Turner's Syndrome, so we couldn't interview her. I wanted to put her story within a film but the story of the boys and their first steps into the world was the main story. We tried to include her story as much as we could, but you can only tell so many stories within a film.

How they were brought up is really an interesting social experiment, when you think about it. It tells how resilient the boys are considering what they have gone through. I saw them at the Q & A session after the press screening the other day and was pleasantly surprised how well adjusted and smart they are.

Yeah, they totally are. I think it was their power of imagination- they were able to create the world they could escape to, that their film reenactments worked as some sort of therapy. Also they have a very loving, caring mother who really have been taking care of them. I think these are the reasons why they are OK.

AND they had such a drive. They knew what they will be doing and what their lives will be when they get out of the house. They knew exactly what they wanted to do. It was the first thing that they said to me when we first met on the street, "we are looking into the business of filmmaking!"

But we'll see how things will turn out for them. Their childhood might affect them in the future, who knows? We all have our problems. We all have some childhood traumas to some degree. I think their experiences were a little more intense. (laughs.)

Do you think the boys ever forgave their father?

They are estranged from their father. I think they tried but forgiveness comes from both parties and I don't think either side is ready yet. But we will see what the future holds.

I know you are extremely busy and getting a lot of attentions for this film but what's next for you?

I am helping the boys with their production company, Wolfpack pictures. I am also writing a script and continuing promoting this film around the world.


Pack of Wolves

The Wolfpack (2015) - Moselle
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I've heard about many great eccentric, downright crazy family stories that have taken place in New York's Lower East Side (LES) through friends over the years. But none was as batshit crazy as the story of The Wolfpack.

The documentary tells a story of 6 brothers (and one sister) living in a squalid housing project in LES, Manhattan. Oscar Angulo, their stern, Hare Krishna father (named all his children after Hindu gods - Bhagavan, Govinda, Jagadisa, Krsna, Mukunda, Narayana and Vishnu) from Peru with a strong belief that New York is a dangerous, greedy place and not suitable for his children to socialize with the corrupt outside world, forbade them to go out of the apartment. Home schooled by Susan, their over-protective American mother, these bright but bored and restless boys have spent most of their captivity playing out countless movies they saw on VHS and DVD- their only contact with the outside world. They ingenuously made all the props and costumes out of cereal boxes and yoga mattes and videotaped their meticulous, word-by-word reenactments. I mean, isn't this too good of a documentary subject or what?

Serendipitously, Crystal Moselle, a filmmaker, happened to run into the Angulo pack on the street one day - one of the first days after they freed themselves from their father's grip. Smart and curious enough to find them interesting, she proceeded to engage them in a conversation. This is how this amazingly intimate, gotta-see-it-to-believe-it documentary was born. Equipped with wealth of materials (their home video movies of - Reservoir Dogs, Dark Knight, Pulp Fiction, etc.), and very willing and open collaboration from the Angulo boys, Moselle paints the coming-of-age story like no other. 

Watching The Wolfpack can be disorienting at times without any narration or prologue on the origins of the project. But the sheer access into the fascinating private life of the most unusual family makes it a compelling viewing experience nonetheless.

Coming in when the brothers started rebelling against and test their father's authority, Moselle weaves a somewhat chronological story of the boys' unusual upbringing. And she's there to document their many first time experiences - taking the subway train, going to a movie theater, swimming in the ocean, well, Coney Island, etc.

The boys' father, makes an appearance later in the film in Moselle's footage, admitting that what he had done to the kids might not have been the best thing, that his plan to go to Scandinavia where things are done right (he must have been thinking of their now failing welfare system), didn't work out and had his family marooned in New York permanently.

These likable boys and NY setting make the film very difficult to be seen as only an interesting social experiment that happened in nowhere land. It's a testament of human strength and adaptability in the changing environment. Even though they lived in instilled fear and misguided suspicion of the outside world, they found an escape in cinema and acted upon it ingeniously, thus creating their own universe without going insane where most people would have in the same circumstances. 

the wolfpack DK.JPGThere are a lot of poignant moments in The Wolfpack, as they embrace the outside world - they seem genuinely bewildered to see an apple orchard upstate for the first time, the ocean or even the sunlight. 

There is a film within a film moment which beautifully reflects lives of the Angulos. It's one of the many films the boys made but perhaps the most personal - about fear and beauty, directed by Bhagavan, the aspiring filmmaker, starring everyone, including Oscar, Susan and their sister Vishinu. While watching Bhagavan watching the production in front of him, you feel that these boys came out relatively unscathed from what must have been extremely difficult and frustrating childhood. You can sense that there is a bright future ahead of all of them.

The Angulo boys clearly want to tell their story and have faith in Moselle to convey it, giving her the full access into their lives.  The Wolfpack is a very unusual human drama that is both compelling and deeply moving. It's easily one of the most fascinating documentaries I've seen in recent years.

The Wolfpack opens in NY on June 12 at the Landmark Sunshine Cinemas and Film Society of Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and expands nationwide on June 19.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fragile Social Hierarchy

La Cérémonie (1995) - Chabrol
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Two of the France's top actresses star as a couple of social miscreants slowly wrecking havoc on upper-class family is perhaps the most delicious Chabrol thrillers I've seen so far. Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) is a perfect maid hired by Mme. Lelievre (Jacqueline Bisset) who needs help in taking care of her remote big mansion in a seaside town. She was a former model now running a gallery. Her husband and two children live in relative comfort and luxury. But there is something odd about Sophie that the Lelievres quite put their fingers on. She befriends with another odd ball in town, a nosy post-office clerk, Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert). They acknowledge each others' secrets in which they got away with crimes and starts to hang out, watching TV together and giggle at others expenses. Sophie's another big secret is that she is illiterate. Which isn't really a problem, but to her it is a big deal that no one can know.

Already taken a dislike of Jeanne, M. Lelievre, disapproves Sophie hanging out with her. After Sophie threatens their young daughter (Virginie Ledoyen) because her illiteracy was discovered, he fires her, giving her a week to vacate the premises. Our troublemaker couple decides to take action.

Huppert in pigtails and miniskirts, is a riot as a chatty, morally ambiguous Jeanne while Bonnaire is quietly unsettling as Sophie. The Lelievres are perfectly respectable- their children well behaved and understands the follies of social hierarchy. They just don't know how fragile that hierarchy is, that it can be shaken at any time when you least expect. It's really fun film. La Cérémonie is quite a different animal in terms of bourgeois satire than, say, Haneke's Funny Games. Chabrol is not interested in spoon-feeding everything for us in terms of character's back story. But the characters, however slightly drawn, thanks to Bonnaire and Huppert have real depth and humanity behind it. Fun times!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Interview: Roy Andersson on Being Human

Roy Andersson, arguably one of the most singular voices in cinema and widely regarded as one who godfarthered that droll, deadpan 'Scandinavian Humor', has a new film out in 8 years and it's titled, A Pigeon Sat on A Branch Reflecting on Existence. If you are an Andersson fan like me, who's been waiting for 15 years for the conclusion of his 'Human Trilogy', you won't be disappointed. For the film's two week engagement at Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Cinema here in New York City, the legendary Swedish director is in town and I was lucky to snag an interview.

In person, Andersson is nothing like the sad sack characters in his films. He is warm, extremely friendly and full of laughs. I really treasure those twenty minutes being with him.

*Andersson will be on hand for Q & A sessions for selected shows. Please check Film Forum website.

It took you 15 years to do 3 films. Why is it taking so long for you to make a film?

If it's any consolation, you can expect my new movie in 3 years.


Maybe 3 and a half.  This time I don't need a pause. Between those, I needed to pause. Obviously I don't need 7 years for production, but 3 and a half seems doable. Between those I do other things.  So the new one will be coming out in 2018. I hope, anyway.

Would it be something quite different than the three films we've seen?

Of course, the audience wants a surprise. But it is hard. It's taken a long time to cultivate that style so it's hard for me to find something better. I won't change it until I am sure that I can do something that is actually better. Maybe it will be wilder. More... whump, whump (pumps his fist in the air), surprising. (laughs)

The title of your new film: A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE.  How did you come up with that?

It was actually very simple. I was looking at some Flemish paintings of the 17th century.


Yeah. He always depicted daily lives of regular people in the village you know. It's always in every one of his paintings depicting outdoor scenes, that there is a bird sitting in a tree, looking down, observing whatever people are doing, perhaps wondering about their lives. Bruegel painted crows. I just changed it to pigeon. (laughs)

You've influenced a generation of filmmakers with your distinctive style and deadpan humor. Recently I had a chance to ask Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure) who takes a lot of element from your style, about your influence. He said that his generation grew up with watching your commercials and that you are more influential to a lot of people than Ingmar Bergman ever was. What do you think of these imitators?

It's OK to copy me. I've known people imitating my style, especially in commercials. Many people still come up to me and say, "I saw your new commercial." And it turns out that it is not by me. (laughs)

It's just not good enough in my eyes. They might have copied it very well, but its quality is not the same.

Obviously you have a very distinctive style. The look of your films remind me of great many painters from Bruegel, Goya to Ed Hopper. Are paintings where you draw your inspirations from?

From daily life, first and foremost, of course. I do get it from paintings, photographs and even films. But painting I should say is number one source. I wanted to be a painter when I was young. Well, I wanted to be many things- a musician, author and painter. It's good with film making because it combines all those elements and I'm happy to have found that as my profession.

What's fascinating about painting is that you can spend hours looking at them. But there are so few movie frames which have that quality.

Who are some of the painters that you like and draw inspirations from?

The last time I felt a kinship with the paintings was when I was looking at Otto Dix's painting. He works are very very special to me. Also George Grosz- same period as Dix, in Weimar era Germany. These guys were in WW1. They saw many terrible things in that war and it influenced their grotesque style. It's called Neue Sachlichkeit, the New Objectivity. What comes out of that is not only satire but the use of deep focus. I really hate to lose deep focus in my films. I want to have deep focus as far as I can get.

But now, today, the young generation of filmmakers, they seem to avoid using deep focus. They diffuse the background use shallow focus. It depends on not having enough money or not being patient enough. But I guess it cost a lot of money to afford what I do.

From WORLD OF GLORY to PIGEON's segment on 'The Weeping Machine'- heinous musical instrument, you are very critical of people's apathy and conformity. Do you still think people are capable of those things?

That scene is from real history. It was not a machine but a Roman emperor in 300 A.D. who constructed something called the Brazen Bull. It was a torture and executing device made out of bronze in the shape of a bull. You put the people there and set fire under it. Their cries would transform into music.

The scene is a metaphor for how people have been cruel to each other throughout history. It's also about exploitation. Nowadays you don't put fire under people but you exploit them brutally to death in economical means.

Your films are full of pale, ugly people. But you always portray young people as full of hope ever since your first film, SWEDISH LOVE STORY. Are you an optimistic person?

I hope I am optimistic. (laughs) I want to be optimistic. But I can't accept where the world is heading. I can't accept this brutal attitude toward other people, toward poor people, exploiting nature, exploiting other human beings. It's impossible to run the world like that and expect the future to be bright. All these problems we see now are the direct result of the shortsightedness. They plan for immediate profit and the results are unhappiness for both exploiters and exploited.

The saddest sight I can think of is a ninety- year old billionaire. Now, that's sad. (laughs)

Just like in Pigeon. The old man holding a gun in his grand office alone, telling he's OK on the phone.

Good that you noticed a gun. (laughs)

One scene that was really funny was 'Limping Lotta of Göthenberg'. What's the origin of that story?

It's based on a true story and it's also little bit of a myth. There were signs that she literally existed and ran a restaurant during war time. It was long before my time though. The song they sing has been popular for a long time. I remember as a child singing that song.  It goes, "ten cents for a shot and if you have no money you can pay with a kiss." I found the story very beautiful. It was during WW2 and soldiers didn't have money. I find Lotta very generous.  (laughs) That's why I included that scene.

The world you create in your films is so specific. It feels like it's suspended in time. Where is that coming from?

After I left realism, I was happy to find what I call abstracted, purified and condensed style. I regard myself as a universalist. I wanted to create universality, the timelessness in my films. So the challenge was how to show the timelessness?

For me it was growing up in the fifties in Sweden, when we created a, so-called Welfare Society. They built all these buildings for people with special colors in a special architecture. And that's my timelessness, roughly. I don't like people saying, "Oh, that's Sweden in the 50s." I want to say it's timeless. It's the same way that cartoons can be timeless and universal.

Do your films get better receptions from older audiences or younger ones?

It's strange. But younger people responds more to my films than older ones. It seems every time I come out with a new movie, I gain new set of young audiences.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bird's Eye View

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting Existence (2014) - Roy Andersson
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The final installment of Roy Andersson's 'being human' trilogy (15 years in the making!) doesn't quite conjure up the awe factor of his previous two films. But it's more or less the same - the ugly pale Swedes doing mundane things, masterful formalist approach, the driest black humor, acerbic wit, occasional beauty and contemplation. Again, we are introduced to tableaux of sad, tired looking people of the north in their habitats. Drab colors and absurd humor remain. The main characters in this is a couple of traveling salesmen in 'entertainment' business, trying to sell lame party gadgets- extra long fake vampire teeth, laugh bag and hideous 'uncle one-tooth' masks. They have a love/hate relationship - one's mean and the other a crybaby. People don't need to wear that Brugel-like masks because without masks, they are just as hideous.

There are a couple of disturbing sequences later on as the films repetitiveness get quite sleepy- involving a lab monkey and a giant musical instrument which Andersson reminding us that we are all capable of thinking up heinous things.

It starts with variations of mundane death. In death, we are all equal. But we are all equally miserable in Roy Andersson's films. I still loved it.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Damaged Goods

Il futuro/The Future (2013) - Scherson
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Based on Bolaño's novel A Little Lumpen Novelita which I haven't read, Il Futuro tells about two adolescent Chilean siblings living in Rome, recently orphaned by car accident- Bianca (Manuella Matelli), slightly older than her brother Tomas, who is still in high school. In order to get their dead father's pension and preventing Tomas to go to an orphanage, Bianca accepts the responsibility of being the head of the household, suggested by a social worker. Soon they are living in filth- cigarette butts everywhere, unwashed dishes pile up, leftovers strew the floor. Bianca starts working at a hair salon as an apprentice and Tomas at a local gym. Easily impressionable, Tomas brings two young trainers (who shows him how to break the cable code so he can watch porn) from the gym in to the house and they start living in their with them, doing dishes and taking charge of cooking. Bianca in turn starts having sex with them regularly.

One day the trainers have a plan: there is an old English or Australian recluse (Rutger Hauer) living in a mansion. He is a retired movie star/former Mr. Universe, who used to be known as Maciste (old Hercules style sword-sandal action movie hero). He must have a safe of some sort in his house. Maybe Bianca can sacrifice herself a little, earn his trust and rob him. It will be a big break for all.

Bianca finds out that Maciste is blind the first night when he put massage oil all over her naked body. For some reason, those lunkheads didn't mention his disability. Night after night, one intimate encounter after another, having great conversations, Bianca falls for this old man. Does he feel the same way about her, or is she just another whore at his disposal?

The way it is shot and its hazy atmosphere, Il futuro has an enigmatic quality that pulls you in. Matelli, with her cat eyes, small body and asymmetrical hairstyle is stunning as a girl who is thrown into an adulthood. With strong acting from both Matelli and Hauer, Alice Scherson makes the film about two damaged individuals getting together very poignant and seductive without ever becoming sentimental. Great premise, I'd love to read the book now.