Oscar History

The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. All material herein is written and copyrighted by Nathaniel or a member of our team as noted.

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Q&A: It's a zoo in here.

Hello! It's your host Nathaniel checking in from a screening frenzy. I'm at the Nashville International Film Festival briefly to serve on their New Directors jury but coming back to you, dear readers, on Monday night. Meanwhile here in New York, Jason and Manuel have already lept into Tribeca Film Festival reporting.

For this week's Q&A column I asked readers for a few animal questions since Monty, my baby boy and the world's first Oscar predicting cat (unfortunately he was never a very committed pundit), has been ill. While he's on the mend (hopefully) it's hard to pull my thoughts away from our four legged friends. Herewith 9 reader questions, some animal themed some not...

JAMES: Ever named a pet after an on-screen animal (or human)? 

My cat is named after Montgomery Clift and unfortunately the name suited him because he has been quite a moody thing from his teensiest days until now. He was found in the streets of the Bronx, as far as I know, as a tiny mewling mama-less thing and I got him way too young from the shelter. But even grumpy as he is, he is always right next to me no matter what room I'm in and every once in a while he looks at me like I'm Elizabeth Taylor and snuggles up and it's all worth it. 

(I was actually going to get a second cat years ago and name it Liz but for various reasons it didn't happen.)

HAAJEN: Which animal should be paired with Julianne Moore, Juliette Binoche and Jennifer Law in a movie?

What a weird freaking question that I love. It's like when Kidman's familiar was a monkey in The Golden Compass. So I'm going to say black panther for Julianne, seagulls for Juliette (I always picture her in the salty air near water -- is this a ghost image of Lovers on the Bridge (1990)?) I would also pay to see JLaw in the Clint role in a remake of Any Which Way You Can (1980) if only because I can't imagine the outcome of an absolute war to steal scenes between JLaw and an Orangutan. 

Naturally I have no photos to support this so please enjoy this photo of Idris Elba with a fake tiger.

It is extremely easy to enjoy. 

PEARL: What are your thoughts on Barbra Streisand and Barry Levinson embarking on yet another production of Gypsy for a start up studio? My spirit animal (fox) says they likely face a difficult and painful journey.

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A Flag Waves In Brooklyn

Team Experience is at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here's Jason on Contemporary Color.

I vaguely remember Color Guard being a thing we had at my high school -- I know it might shock and awe you that this particular film nerd writing at you today wasn't all that into sports back then (besides the occasional loitering around a wrestling match now and then, ahem) so I don't recall ever seeing them at work though, flinging their prop guns like ballistic missiles through the air.  They seemed like a sub-set within a sub-set, not quite band and not quite the cheer-leading squad. Something in between, but also outside of.

Contemporary Color, which documents the recent shows in Brooklyn that Talking Heads' legend David Byrne organized in an effort to toss this sport under a great big spotlight, pairing ten different teams with ten different modern musician-composers (people like St Vincent and Nico Muhly) captures that strange off-center vibe well. Quirk runs far and wide, oft gloriously so. It's just a very weird spectacle, one of a kind, and even though I'm personally allergic to jazz hands I found myself captivated anyway.

Documentarian-brothers Bill and Turner Ross usually train their eye on a small community (with films like Tchoupitoulas and Western) to suss out the over- and under-lapping strands that knot them together and hold them tight - here that sense of place is abstracted; it's about movement flowing into movement, sound into sound. Make no mistake this is first and foremost a concert film, capturing the spirit of the show, but the brothers allow plenty of backstage personality to flow in too. They give us gorgeous moments of homespun artistry (there's a shot of two young girls exhausted and giggling behind a scrim mid-performance that I adored) exploding onto a big stage. It's miraculously intimate and "Muppet Show" epic all at once.

Bonus! Several of the performers highlighted in the doc were there for the premiere screening on Thursday night to give us a performance, which I managed to capture on video! (Sidenote: I had to edit the music off of part of the performance because copyrighting was blocking it; the two male dancers are dancing to this song) Enjoy:


Tribeca: Madly

Team Experience is at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here's Manuel on Madly.

Anthology films are always, by definition, a mixed bag. This omnibus collection, which features short films by Gael García Bernal, Sebastián Silva, and Natasha Khan among others, is concerned with “Love.” Each short tackles this loaded emotion in decidedly different ways, tackling impending marriages, stale relationships, burgeoning romances, and everything in between.

Mia Wasikowska, for example, in a particularly interesting segment titled “Afterbirth” focuses on the love between a recent mother and her baby. Those of us who know she’s worked with David Cronenberg and Park Chan-wook will recognize the influences that run through this eerie, off-kilter attempt at depicting the disorienting world of new motherhood. Spoiler alert, it won’t pair well with Garry Marshall’s Mothers Day. Part of the strength of the film lies in Kathryn Beck’s performance; she’s all wide-eyed and beautiful so that it’s only when Wasikowska’s camera lingers on her blank, almost indifferent expression that we begin to intuit that something’s a bit amiss.

Kathryn Beck in Wasikowska's "Afterbirth"

Among the rest, I have to admit I wasn’t wowed by Silva’s work. I’m starting to feel I’ll just never “get” what he’s doing even as he offers the most overtly LGBT entry in the collection. As a fan of 2/3 of Nasty Baby, I somehow kept expecting the other shoe to drop in his young black gay kid in a rough neighborhood sojourn (and it does, don't you worry about that). As for Gael’s fragmented take on a couple's storied history, I found myself noting that it'd be the type of needlessly puzzling film you’d condescendingly describe as “arty." The other one worth mentioning? Sion Sono’s sex club/incestual family comedy which is definitely unlike anything you’ve seen before and perhaps even more bizarre than it sounds.

Grade: A through C (nothing is quite a disaster)


Tribeca: Of Straight Charros & Gay Uncles

Team Experience is at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here's Manuel on two Latino HIV flicks.

Charro de Toluquilla

Following a straight Mexican charro (“cowboy”) who makes a living fronting a mariachi band and who’s living with HIV sounds like a pretty fascinating premise for a doc. Imagine the film you could make. It could tackle ideas of masculinity and machismo, of HIV prevention and education. It’s a film I’d love to watch. Unfortunately, El Charro de Toluquilla is, to its detriment, a portrait of a man who embodies every Mexican macho stereotype you could think of.

He’s a proud womanizer (he’s constantly on his phone texting women, even sometimes while on the phone with his girlfriend who he plans to wed, and with whom he has a kid), an irresponsible father (you cringe when you see him doing nothing as his little girl picks up his loaded gun), a raging sexist (he calls out his girlfriend for jeering at him for cheating), and a rampant homophobe (within the first five minutes of the film he admits gay men with HIV shrivel up and die because of shame). You can tell that in his head, he's just a lovable cad, but by god is he insufferable. I kept expecting the filmmakers to give me a reason for watching this narcissistic, peacocking macho guy. But this observational documentary never quite convinced me that it had anything interesting to say about el Charro, so that by the end when it indulges its subject in recreating scenes right out of a Western serial (complete with corny music cues and a white horse), all I could do was roll my eyes and pray the film would be over soon.

Grade: C

Memories of a Penitent Heart

Memories of a Penitent Heart is a family scrapbook. It was born out of Cecilia Aldarondo's attempts to learn more about her uncle Miguel who, having fled Puerto Rico to New York to pursue his acting career, became “Michael” to his close circle of gay performer friends. Seeing as he was in New York City in the late 80s you can perhaps guess why he died at a young age. Except, of course, that the mystery surrounding his death remains elusive considering Cecilia's family (in particular Miguel's mother) never addressed it. The title, as cumbersome and unwieldy as it is, gets at one crucial part of Miguel/Michael's family history: facing death and egged on by his devout mother, he presumably repented his sins (read: his homosexuality) in order to die in peace.

The initial desire to solve that mystery is just the first step into what turns out to be a much richer and complicated history that has Cecilia trying to track down Miguel's longtime lover who no one in her family has seen since the funeral all those years ago, as well as learn more about the many secrets and resentments that her family has accrued over the years. Smart, warm, and visually inventive, this doc has been growing on me since I first saw it ahead of its festival premiere (even if its final turn still strikes me as faltering, perhaps a reminder that real life often doesn’t lend itself very well to the types of narrative denouements the doc structures itself around). Here’s hoping it nabs a distributor so that more people get to see it.

Grade: B+


Pfeiffer + Aronofsky = !!!!!!!!!!!

Pfeiffer in Beat-Up Little SeagullJust so everyone knows, I am indeed still alive. After briefly passing out. I was on a flight when news broke that Michelle Pfeiffer had signed on to the cast of the new untitled Darren Aronofsky film due in 2017 with filming to start this June.

La Pfeiffer has been MIA from the movies in a significant way since White Oleander (2002) her last Oscar worthy performance (she has famously never won despite multiple breathtaking star turns)  and the last onscreen appearance without significant breaks thereafter. She flirted with a comeback in a brief flurry of activity around 2007-2008 (Stardust & Cheri being the highlights) but it's been relatively quiet since then. But no more?...

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Review: The Measure of a Man

Like Bicycle Thieves’ Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) almost seventy years before him, Thierry Taugourdeau (Lindon) the protagonist of The Measure of a Man, is simply trying to earn an honest living to support his family. He has been unemployed for well over a year and must make ends meet with a small unemployment check. He spends most of his days trying to find a job, and at night he puts on his best face to appease the fears of his wife (Karine de Mirbeck) and his teenage son (Matthieu Schaller) who has a disability that will require special education in the near future. While Thierry’s overall situation is absolutely lamentable, there is no “time bomb” outlook in the meditative film, rather than push this everyman into “Michael Douglas in any 90s thriller” mode, director Stephane Brize invites us to observe and perhaps develop empathy.

Thierry is both unique and one of many like him who lose their jobs on a daily basis. After being laid off from a factory, along with hundreds of others who we never see, we understand that Brize’s film is touching on a larger sociological phenomenon, without losing the insight that comes from a particular case. This balancing act between the specific and the universal is handled by Brize with elegant tenderness and passionate impotence; how have we allowed our society to become this?

Halfway through the film, and this is not a spoiler, Thierry finds a job as an inspector at a large supermarket where he must confront people who shoplift. Considering this isn’t Chanel or Dior, the items being purloined range from meat to “loyalty points” a cashier adds to her own personal card. We understand Thierry knows the poverty that forces these people to commit such acts, but then the film poses another question: is Thierry’s loyalty to his economic needs or his humanity.

Towering over almost every other actor in the film, Lindon gives a performance of such subtle power that you often ask yourself if he’s even “acting”. Seeing the pain in Thierry’s eyes, as Brize’s immovable camera pierces into the souls of people who must explain they can’t afford to pay for that piece of food they put in their pockets, is at times even harder to look at than the goriest Hollywood trick. Brize knows that the film won’t be able to solve the problems it exposes, and those looking for “entertainment” will certainly not be pleased with this feature, but as a window into the social realism perpetuated by the Dardennes, Bresson, De Sica and Rossellini, The Measure of a Man poses one pithy question: will we look out, or will we close the blinds when the view gets too hard to handle.

The Measure of a Man is now in theaters.



Women Who Kill (And The Women Who Love Them)

Team Experience is reporting from the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. Here's Jason on Women Who Kill.

Replace the hard gray rocks of a Provençal lake with the hard gray sidewalks of Park Slope Brooklyn and you'll find there's a lot in common between the gay men of 2013's Stranger by the Lake and the gay women of Women Who Kill, Ingrid Jungermann's droll black comedy screening today at Tribeca. Sure the lesbians are wearing a lot more clothes, but nature is nature, and who hasn't found themselves fetishizing sexy danger for the right mysterious someone? We want what we want, sanity be damned. (It doesn't hurt when maybe-crazy comes in the form of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night's sultry-eyed Sheila Vand either.)

Women Who Kill vibes on humor over heavy petting though, and the laughs are steady and smart and nigh on rollicking at times in Jungermann's script, and beneath her sharp straightforward direction - I probably recognized even more of myself in the foibles of these Brooklyn ladies, with their terror of swans and urine-stained grass, than I did their gender-flipped French counterparts. I'm just one serial-killer podcast and an urban rooftop garden away from a perfect storm of commiseration. Who isn't?

Grade: B+


Review: The Invitation

A dinner party reunion of estranged friends sets the stage for director Karyn Kusama's unnerving and twisted micro-horror The Invitation. The film's marketing has wisely eschewed going much further than that vague synopsis, for this one is most rewarding when experienced fresh. But don't just expect surprises with what unfolds, but from what's underneath the plentiful chills.

Shot almost entirely within one swanky Los Angeles home, the modest production is deceptive for how easily it gets under your skin and rattles. Its slim budget is hidden by a glossy presentation and a production design that finds the right alchemy of alluring and demonic (paging Daniel Walber!). Kusama treats this house as she does the many characters, all hidden corners of darkness packaged within a polished facade. If you watch The Invitation on VOD, prepare to have home jealousy, for this is pure house porn. And you'll definitely want a glass of wine.

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