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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | instagram | letterboxd | deviantart 


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Entries in religiosity (48)


Foreign Quickies: Mustang, El Club, Ixcanul

Three quick takes on foreign film competitors from the long list of eligible titles, all screened at AFI.

Mustang (France) Opens November 20th in select cities. Cohen Media Group.
Given that 2015's loudest topic may well be the need for fresh cinematic female voices, the French/Turkish production Mustang deserves $100 million blockbuster status instead of art house ghettoization with a $300,000 gross which is what they're infinitely more likely to get. Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven and screenwriter Alice Winocour, two very talented women, team up to tell the riveting story of five spirited sisters living with their hands-off grandma who keep colliding with the confines, literal and metaphoric, of the patriarchy. An innocent 'schools out for the summer' beach romp prompts the end of their adolescent abandon as their horrified conservative uncle steps in to shape them up, train them to be subservient wives, and marry them off to respectable families. Though the premise is reminiscent of Sofia Coppola's elegiac and dreamy Virgin Suicides, the execution is not. Ergüven and Winocour are more physically grounded and rambunctous in their presentation and there is no distancing conceit of viewing the sisters through the eyes of boys. Mustang has successfully rowdy comedic moments, an earthy non-exploitive sensuality, often clever visual framing, and even a hard-won scrappy optimism to balance out its tough reality checks. In short: it's excellent. Let's hope the Foreign Film Oscar Committee agrees. A- 
(See also: Amir's TIFF Review)


Ixcanul (Guatemala) -Kino Lorber will distribute in the US. Dates TBA
At the well attended premiere of this memorable Guatemalan Oscar submission (their first!), the director brought out, not one of the actresses, but an older woman dressed in South American finery who was some kind of public official/icon (the applause was so loud I missed her title/name). The takeaway of the intro was that Guatemala has a tiny but newly excited film industry and they're extremely proud of this little movie. As well they should be. Ixcanul (or Volcano) looks at a poverty-stricken Kaqchikel family, living next to an active volcano and working on a coffee plantation. The volcano, in addition to being a beautiful and alien visual backdrop for a movie is also a monolithic wall, blocking their view of the rest of the world; Mexico and the United States, to the North, are more myth than reality. The family hopes to marry their sexually curious daughter off to their comparatively rich boss and thereby lift all their futures. Needless to say, things don't go as planned. While the actions of nearly all the characters are often enraging, Ixcanul is never mean spirited, condemning the exploitation of their ignorance rather than the ignorance itself. (One heartbreaking emergy trip to a nearby city shows the family utterly at the mercy of an untrustworthy translator since they don't even speak Spanish in the mountains.) Bustamante's well crafted film is authentically steeped in a nearly alien culture but its humanity is entirely familiar. B


El Club (Chile) - Music Box Films will distribute in the US. Dates TBA
My first encounter with the acclaimed director Pablo Larrain was the violent Tony Manero, a film about a Chilean sociopath obsessed with winning a Saturday Night Fever lookalike contest. It was altogether unsavory and though the director's command was evident I couldn't wait for it to end. The second was the wondrous No, starring Gael García Bernal as an unlikely hero who helps rid his country of their dictator through an unlikely ad campaign. Though not without its necessarily dark moments -- all the Larrain films I've seen take place during the Pinochet era in Chile -- it was an exuberant, moving, and technically amazing film which I was happy to champion; it went on to be nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. The third encounter is, sadly, more reminiscent of the first in its absolute mandate to rub your face, artfully, in brutal shit.

The film begins deceptively as a mellow observational drama about a strange retirement community in a yellow house by the sea. Shortly, though, the curtain of ambiguity is lifted by an uninvited drunk stranger who stands outside the house spewing a hostel tirade of obscenities. The house, you immediately realize, is a shelter/prison for criminal priests that the Catholic Church is hiding away and the man shouting was one of their victims, repeatedly raped as a young boy. The depressing reveal deepens when you realizes that there are houses like this all over the world. 

Fans of disturbing cinema might admire Larraîn's chutzpah but everyone else should steer clear. Though the film has strong performances, particularly Antonia Zegers as a despicable nun and Marcelo Alonso as a remarkably stone-faced priest sent to assess the inhabitants of the house, it's a tough sit through spiritual rationalization, disturbing psychologies, and actual brutality [SPOILER WARNING] Animals are viciously killed in the film -- albeit just barely off camera -- and I never would have seen it if I had known. [/SPOILER]. Even the resolution, which could be read as spiritually uplifting is ambiguous; it played for me more like a sick pitch-black joke about "penance" and "redemption". (I will be wary of seeing another Larraîn film despite my love for No.) No Rating.


Murder on the Orient Express: Ingrid Bergman steals the show - or does she?

We're near the end of Ingrid Bergman's career so here's the penultimate episode in our retrospective. Happy 100th to the superstar on August 29th. Here's Lynn Lee...


By 1974, Ingrid Bergman was a grande dame of film in the twilight of her career, with two Best Actress Oscar wins under her belt, and nothing left to prove.  Perhaps that’s why she deliberately opted for such a small part in the star-studded Murder on the Orient Express, despite director Sidney Lumet’s attempts to coax her into taking a bigger one.  And yet, despite her own efforts to stay out of the spotlight, it found her anyway, with her tiny role as a mousy, middle-aged Swedish missionary netting her an unlikely third Oscar.

We don’t see too many movies like Orient Express these days – A-list extravaganzas where most of the stars end up with little more than glorified cameos but just seem to be in it for fun.  And to be fair, the movie is fun and directed with flair, even as it plays up the absurd theatricality of the whodunit setup – something that doesn’t register as strongly when you’re reading Agatha Christie’s plummy prose.  It’s a bit much at times...

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"Junebug" is more than just Amy Adams

Lynn Lee revisiting Junebug, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this week…

Junebug is best known as the film that launched Amy Adams’ into the A list, and deservedly so.  Her wonderfully layered portrayal of the bright-eyed, meerkat-loving Ashley, should have taken home the supporting actress Oscar for 2005 (with apologies to Rachel Weisz).  But for a change let's talk about the best scene in the movie, in which another, more elusive character suddenly, if fleetingly, comes into focus. 

I’m referring to the scene in which George (the always-welcome, perennially undervalued Alessandro Nivola), the returning native who’s brought his new wife Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) to visit his small North Carolina hometown, attends a church social with his family.  By this point, Madeleine’s outsider status has already been made starkly clear: a long-limbed, graceful, effortlessly stylish and posh-accented art dealer whom George met and married in the big city, she stands out without even trying, like a greyhound among border collies.  George’s status, on the other hand, is more ambiguous. 


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Ann Dowd: Playing Patti on "The Leftovers"

The Film Experience is proud to turn the site over to Ann Dowd for the day. Enjoy...

As Patti Levin on "The Leftovers"

-by Ann Dowd

Finding the character of Patti on The Leftovers was a fascinating experience. I remember having a lot of questions about her when I first read the script. It was scary at first, it was daunting the not speaking. “What is this about? How are you going to play this?” There are always so many questions for an actor. You think “Where is this person? How am I going to find her?” And then the thought came, "Take a breath, settle down, The information will present itself." And sure enough it did.

There are always clues when you’re searching for a character. Not speaking actually turned out to be an incredibly powerful position to be in and here's a clue: make sure you know what the character wants because you are not going to be able to tell anybody with words so it has to be in your whole being. Other clues turned up each time, episode by episode: what she responded to, what she didn’t respond to, her intense aggression toward Kevin, trying to understand why.

It’s a process and in those first episodes, I had just enough to do to slowly put that picture together. [More after the jump...]

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"Are you a Catholic?" (Actually No, But I *Get* It)

For The Lusty Month of May, we're looking at a few sex scenes. Here's Nathaniel...

They like to say that people come into your lives for a reason. Also true of movies. When I saw Priest (1994) in its American release in 1995, I was just out of the closet but still very much struggling with having been a strict Mormon for then roughly 100% of my life. The movie is about a gay Priest (Linus Roache) who struggles with his vows .... and not just the sexual ones. It hit me in a seismic way. This had never happened to me before or since but I started crying at the end and actually couldn't stop until after the credits had ended. 

Where you are in life can dictate a lot about how you receive a movie. But this series is about sex scenes so let's narrow our focus. Today Priest's sex scene, which I had liked (okay, obsessed over - shut up) back then plays super tame. Why did it shock me then? I have the answer in 2015 watching it again...

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Stage Door: Hand to God

Dancin' Dan here for one of my favorite times of the year: TONY TIME! When the Tony nominations were announced, I had my usual reactions of shock and awe (congrats to all the supporting ladies from Fun Home, but did we really have to include all of them at the expense of their counterparts from On The Town?), but what made me happiest were the multiple nominations for Hand to God, hands-down the best play I’ve seen on Broadway in ages.

When you walk into the Booth Theater (most recently the home to Bradley Cooper’s Elephant Man), you’re immediately greeted with cheery posters extolling the beauty of the world and God’s hand in creating it, along with heavily southern-fried Christian country-rock. If you’ve ever been in a church school, the set will look freakily familiar… do all of these things look alike? But then the lights go down, and we’re greeted by… a sock puppet. This sock puppet’s name is Tyrone, and despite his adorable appearance, he has some not-so-adorable thoughts on his mind.


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Black History Month: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Our Black History Month through the lens of Oscar continues with Jason on Samuel L. Jackson...

If you'd like a master class in screen-acting (not to mention a Minor in Pronouncing Vulgarity in New & Unique Ways) then you couldn't do much better than by studying the two times Sam Jackson's called upon to recite his character's favorite Bible scripture, Ezekiel 25:17, in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. The scenes essentially bookend the film with Jules holding an audience captive through just the conviction of his delivery. Hardly the last time Sam would manage that feat.


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