Thursday, August 20, 2015

BABY GIRL DARING BATTLE OF WITS IN A MOTHER/DAUGHTER LOVE TRIANGLE

An explicit and unconstrained look at the red hot topic of underage romance with older men, but with a twist


AVAILABLE TUESDAY, AUGUST 25TH ON iTUNES AND VOD


by Dwight Casimere




BABY GIRL approaches the issue of underage girls involved in romances with older men in a very unique way, from the perspective of a love triangle involving a 16 year old girl, her mother, and a conniving shyster who starts out as the mother's suitor.  Starring up-an-comer Yainis Ynoa (Starz hot prime-time drama POWER), as the impetuous, scheming daughter Lena, the film unfolds innocently enough, with man-crazy mother Lucy (Rosa Arrendondo), who has a penchant for dating losers, meeting a flirtatious, good-looking 26 year old Lothario, Victor (a slick, fast-talking Flaco Navaja, in an electrifying performance), while riding the bus through the Bronx. 

The film, by Irish-born director Macdara Vallely is surprisingly spot-on its its vivid portrayal of Puerto Rican-Americn culture as its realized in the Bronx. The film makes stunning use of the realistic locales; the streets, parks, playgrounds, bodegas and dingy apartments that are the milieu of BABY GIRL. Production Designer Carmen Cardenas uses the streets of New York to great advantage, making the streetscapes and its habitu├ęs a part of the story. Its rare that a reviewer sites a Location Manager, in this case, Rolando Hudson, but all praise is due for scouting locations that serve as much to tell the story as the script, cinematography ( by Director of Photography Jarin Blaschke), which is superb,  and the acting, also outstanding and realistic.

One notable, comic-relief character is that of Mr. Krugman, played by Charles Techman. He's Xavier's regular pizza customer, who lives in a drab walkup. The only bright spot in his day seems to be his daily delivery from Xavier. When the boy shows up with Lena in town, Krugman  comes to the door in shabby shorts and declares, "If I'd known you were bringing company, I'd have worn my pants!"

The score, composed by Brendan Dolan, also serves the plot effectively as do the songs, in Spanish, primarily composed and sung in large part by Rebio Diaz and Jose Conde, among others.  Whether you like Spanish music or not,  it's a killer soundtrack, well worth downloading!

Victor and Momma Lucy hit it off right away, much to the chagrin of budding-into-womanhood daughter Lena. Victor, with all his fast talk and fresh-out-of-prison tattoos is all wrong for Momma, in Lena's estimation , and, since she seems to have fallen into the cross-hairs of his roving eye, she decides to use her nascent feminine whiles to whoo him. The goal is  to prove to her mother what a creep Victor really is.

The scheme backfires, of course.  Rather than earning her mother's gratitude, she instead finds herself thrown out on the street and her mother desperately trying to repair the broken relationship with Victor.

Along the course of their reunion, there are telltale signs that things aren't going to work out, but Lucy wipes away the obvious mess and blindly plunges on, while her daughter looks on with growing disdain for both her mother and Victor.

Lena has remorse over her scheme, no matter how noble her intentions. She has a nightmare that she is confessing her affair with Victor on a Spanish-language Maury Povich/Jerry Springer-type show called Claudia (Karina Casiano).

In between the plot points of this all-to-brief film (only 77 minutes), there's a squeamishly uncomfortable examination of the sexually-charged, headlong relationship between Lena and Victor. Victor thinks its all for real, and for just a moment, Lena too seems caught in the vortex of the untangling web of deception that she has so carefully woven.

It's a terrific film, with an uncanny feeling for time, place and character. It's even more so remarkable that the film is almost wholly an Irish endeavor, from the Irish Film Board and Samson Films of Dublin.

Directed by Macdara Vallely, who is also the screenwriter. The film takes great care to depict the intimate details of Puerto Rican-American life and culture.  A central plot-point, and the film's key scene in the early story construction, is a Sweet 16 birthday party for Lena in a local New York Park. We see the extended family and friends mixing and unique celebratory nature of the event. which is a Spanish female coming of age.

The script takes great care to highlight its importance, with the mother explaining to the gathering that the normal 'coming out, should have been in the previous year, when Lena was 15,  known as Quinceanera (15th birthday celebration), or  "Quinces." Lucy says tearfully to the gathering, "We couldn't celebrate Quinceanera last year because of a lot of personal things in our family." Lucy goes on to say, with uncanny prescience; "My Baby Girl is a full grown woman....My Lena has been more than my daughter, she's been by best friend"....words she will later regret.

The term "Baby Girl," is one of those terms used frequently in the 'hood, that can cut both ways.  It can be a pet name in one sense, and a form of derision in another context. We hear it used both ways in this film, first as a term of endearment by her mother and later, as a form of derision by her closest friend. "You too uptight, Baby Girl! You need to get yourself 'some' (sex)!" Carmen says.

Along the way, there's a playful flirtation and a tugging interest toward Xavier (Joshua Rivera), a smart-alecky charmer, with a quick wit. He's the local pizza delivery boy who has an eye for Lena. He keeps hot on her tail, even in the midst of her messy love triangle. They're first encounter is a 'meet cute.' After initially rebuffing Xavier's advances on the playground, she is forced to acknowledge him when he pays the fifty cents she doesn't have to the local slushee vendor, so she can get some ice for her mother's rum cocktail (out of pint bottle, no less. How tacky,  Urban and Ghetto!) on a hot day in the park.

Another standout performer is Sandra Rodriguez as Lena's best friend, Carmen, another smart mouth who observes "You ought to hook up with Xavier. I hear he's from the same state you're from...."Virgin....ia."  Clever!

For someone who is not American, much less from the Bronx, director/screenwriter Vallely displays an uncanny aptitude for picking up the lingua franca of the characters, and their frequent ventures into double entendre. One fact that I found particularly fascinating, is how Vallely, in writing the script, portrayed how fluidly American Hispanics slip between English and Spanish  in the coarse of normal conversation. It's a trait I've noticed from living  lengthy periods of time in South Beach, Miami, which is, with the exception of the tourist strip on Ocean and Collins Avenues, almost totally Hispanic.

The dialogue bristles throughout, alternately heightening the drama  and lending an air of humor.

When Lena comes on to Victor with a proposition to get together behind her mother's back, Victor says to her, "I know you feel something for me," Lena responds in a rueful tone of voice, "I do feel something for you Victor." To anyone but clueless Victor, the word "contempt" is the missing word that's almost understood in the sentence.

Baby Girl had its World Premiere at last spring's Tribeca Film Festival and is finally reaching a wider audience this summer. Its available beginning Tuesday, August 25th on iTunes and most Video On Demand (VOD) platforms. I'd recommend it highly.

BABY GIRL
a film from the Irish Film Board and
SAMSON FILMS
In English and Spanish
USA, Ireland
77 minutes

Director and Screenwriter-Macdara Vallely
Producers-PauL Miller, Gigi Dement, David Collins
Director of Photography-Jarin Blaschke
Production Designer-Carmen Cardenas
Executive Producers-Kathrin Werner, Felix Werner
Primary Cast-Yainis Ynoa, Rosa Arrendono, Faco Navaja, Joshua Rivera, Gleendilys Inoa, Sandra Rodriquez

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

LINCOLN CENTER'S MOSTLY MOZART AN INSPIRED TRIBUTE TO GENIUS COMPOSER

49TH FESTIVAL FEATURES GALAXY OF INTERNATIONAL STARS

Mostly Mozart Festival through August 22



by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK---Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart 49th Festival concludes with a Closing Night performance Friday and Saturday, August 21 and 22 at 7:30pm at Avery Fisher Hall. Renee' and Robert Belfer Music Director Louis Langree' leads the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in Haydn's Creation with British soprano Sarah Tynan headling an all-star vocal cast, including Metropolitan Opera favorite, Canadian bass-baritone John Relyea, British tenor Andrew Staples and the Concert Chorale of New York, directed by James Bagwell.


 Mostly Mozart 49th Festival at Lincoln Center
 Renee' and Robert Belfer Music Director Louis Langree'

Soprano Sarah Tynan sings Haydn' triumphant oratorio "Creation"

Opening-Night Program of the Mostly Mozart Festival featured Grammy-winning Sony Classic exclusive artist Emanuel Ax  as soloist for Mozart's mercurial Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flar major.

Emanuel Ax is a master at articulating smooth, arcing musical lines in his solos. This fact was supremely evident in his playing of the Mozart Piano Concerto. From the opening bars, Ax set out the thematic material with clarity. Although the piece moved with restless energy from one thematic idea to the next, Ax never rushed through. Opting instead to play each phrase with distinctive character, allowing the ideas to unfold against the restless backdrop of Langree's precise handling of the orchestral ensemble.

The second movement, the slow Andantino was particularly revealing of Ax's luminescent playing style. Each note rang with its own expressive clarity as the beautiful central theme unfolded with orchestra blending in with a luscious voice in response. The effect became  even more pronounced in its understatement, which left a sense of longing at its conclusion.

 Emanuel Ax was soloist in Mozart's florid Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat major


The combined forces of the New York debut of German conductor Cornelius Meister and the fieryArgentine cellist Sol Gabetta as soloist in Haydn's Cello Concerto in C major, made this a particularly memorable night for followers of the Mostly Mozart festival.

The hefty program of Mozart's delightfully breezy Overture to the opera Le Nozze di Figaro (the Marriage of Figaro), Haydn's Cello Concerto and the finale of Beethoven's forceful Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, made for a music connoisseur's delight.

Gabetta quickly proved why her highly acclaimed debut with the Berlin Philharmonic at last year's Baden-Baden Easter Festival was one of the landmark events of the international music year. Gabetta soared in the sophisticated melodies of the opening Moderato with its various themes reflected between orchestra and soloist.

Gabetta was especially expressive in the moving Adagio with its melancholy theme. Her fierce attack in the Finale: Allegro molto, playing Haydn's cadenza's ended the piece with a dramatic flourish.

Conductor Meister proved that he was no novice when it comes to navigating contrasting shifts between delicate pianissimo and bombastic forte in the Beethoven. He especially brought out the orchestra's 'inner voices' in the woodwinds and rallied a stirring advance from the brass. It was a thrilling performance.
 Sol Gabetta in the throes of passion with the Haydn Cello Concerto
Below: Conductor Cornelius Meister in his New York debut

A special treat of the Mostly Mozart Festival was the 'nitecap' of A Little Night Music recitals post-performance in the Kaplan Penthouse atop the Julliard  School of Music across the street. It is literally a nitecap, with the festival offering each guest a complimentary glass of Napa Valley wine (William Hill), a bottle of sparkling San Pellegrino water at each of the cabaret-style tables and a spectacular, starry view of the encircling skyline. There is no more intimate setting to hear a great artist perform.

A leisurely post-concert stroll from Avery Fisher Hall, past the reclining Henry Moore sculptures at the reflecting pond landscaping Lincoln Center Plaza, is one of the decided pleasures of attending A Little Night Music, particularly on a star-studded, moonlit night. (Yes, this is the one place in mid-town Manhattan where you can actually see the moon and starts on a clear night, due to the comparative lack of street light pollution).

Gabetta performed Rachmaninoff's impassioned Sonata in G minor and Servais technically challenging Fantasie sue deux Airs russes, a piece by a French composer which reflects Russian thematic material, an obvious nod to her French/Russian heritage. Ilya Yakushev provided the seamless accompaniment. This night's concert was streamed live on the internet by Lincoln Center.

Scottish pianist Steven Osborne is a pianist who commands your undivided attention. His playing is lighting fast, but not a note is dropped. He also has the capability to pull the reins in and to allow the suspense to build. He and conductor Edward Garner worked hard to maintain a balance, often looking at each other for visual cues. The proof was in the pudding with a dramtic reading of the Larghetto slow second movement and a restless energy leading to a stirring finale in the Allegretto.
 Scottish pianist Steven Osborne and (Below) Conductor Edward Gardner

This notable performance was framed by kaleidoscopic reading of Weber's Overture to Der Freischutz and Beethoven's majestic Symphony No. 7 in A major.

The Calidore String Quartet provided a pre-concert recital of Haydn's delightful String Quartet is C major, "The Bird," so named because of the chirping sounds made by the violins in the opening bars.

A Little Night Music followed the concert with a thoroughly engrossing concert by the Danish String Quartet in their Mostly Mozart debut. The played a program of pieces that, on their face, seemed odd matched. Their intelligent commentary, however, showed how each of the pieces interconnected with the others. Mozart's Two Fugues for String Quartet from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, Thomas Ades Arcadiana and Beethoven's Grosse Fuge in B-flat major, which the quartet prefaced with humorous remarks about the composer's intent.

The Danish String Quartet

It was a delightful evening, which showed off the quartet's seamless cooperative playing, while showcasing the virtuosity of each of its members. The encore was an ingenious playing of Nielsen's Mit hjerte altid vanker, arranged by the Danish String Quartet. It was a musically humorous and virtuostic close to a most satisfyiing post concert experience. The Danish String Quartet proved that it truly deserves its own showcase in next year's festival on the main stage.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

MERU A TERRIFYING BUT RIVETING MOUNTAIN CLIMBING DOCU-DRAMA

Award-winning documentary tests the boundaries of human endurance and filmmaking




by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--MERU, the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner for U.S. Documentary, is the most adranelin pumping film you will ever see. It is terrifying in its nail-biting reality because you are constantly aware of the clear and present danger of the dare-devil climbers who are also, incidentally, the filmmakers and cinematographers . They accomplished the mind boggling feat of scaling the world's most dangerous peak while narcissistically filming the hair-raising adventure every grueling inch of the way.

Filming itself was a feat within itself. "We had to alternate film each other. One person would climb as the other shot with the camera," explained Anker in a post-clim interview. "That meant we had to take off the glove on one hand, and be sure not to drop it, because if you lost the glove, you'd subsequently lose your hand! You have to understand that our hands were freezing and we'd have to change out the memory cards on our miniature cameras in freezing cold and high wind without dropping anything.
One false move and you could not only lose a camera. You could die!"

 Produced and directed by the the husband and wife team of Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the film is the first-person account of filmmaker Chin and fellow elite climbers Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk. The fact that the three survived to film and tell the tale is a feat in itself. Even if the outcome is telegraphed by the fact that all three climbers contributed on-camera interviews well after the climb, its guaranteed that noone will take a potty break or rush out for popcorn during the 90 minute duration. It's pretty much a white-knuckle ride all the way from beginning to end. Stick that in your Mission Impossible pipe and smoke it!

 (Left to Right) Filmmakers Jimmy Chin and his wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi climbing partners Renan Ozturk and Conrad Anker.



MERU is the real deal, with no trick cover shots, stunt men or CG effects. This U.S.-India production from Music Box Films premiered August 14th weekend at New York's Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the Angelika Film Center and in Los Angeles at the Landmark Nuart. A national rollout follows.

MERU is no glorified wall-climbing experience. Sitting 21,000 feet above Northern India's mystical  Ganges River, it is awe-inspiring.  Known as Shark's Fin, it is a sheer  face of slick ice and granite that sits majestically against the sub stratospheric sky, both beckoning and daring the adventurous.

 Others have tried and failed, Many were sent to their deaths. In fact, Aker himself had attempted a climb in 2003 and was forced back by severe storms. Undeterred, he returned in 2008 at the behest of Chin and Ozturk, and the rest is now cinematic and mountain-climbing history.

Besides the heart-stopping adventure, the film goes behind the scenes to reveal the tremendous personal toll on family and relationships that the climb exacts. The film also celebrates the true bonds of friendship and loyalty, especially when the chips are down. There are many who perished in the pursuit of Meru, including the mentors of the climbers in this film. In many ways, this film is a tribute to their lives and their heroic effort.

I really don't want to ruin the sheer thrill of watching this film by telling you too much about it. If its not playing in your home theatres now, just be patient, it will head your way soon. It's just too good to linger on a few screens for very long. Showtime is also planning to air it in the near future.

Its guaranteed that your view of life and its challenges will change after seeing this film. The film proves that all things are possible, even against the greatest of odds.


MUSIC BOX FILMS presents MERU, now at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Angelika Film Center in New York and the Landmark Nuart in Los Angeles. Coming to theatres nationwide soon. Check your local listings for locations, dates and times.






Friday, August 14, 2015

'"PRINCE" AN EDGY LOOK AT JOURNEY TO MANHOOD

Young Moroccan toughs living on the edge in Amsterdam become a metaphor for all post-teens




by Dwight Casimere



"PRINCE" is the feature debut of acclaimed Dutch music video director Sam de Jong. In theaters and VOD beginning Friday, August 14th, it is one of the most compelling films to be released this past weekend. Debuted at the 2015 Berlinale where it received an honorary mention for the coveted Crystal Bear award for Best First Feature, it is sure to change the template for future 'coming of age'  films. Produced by 100% Halal films and released by FilmBuff in partnership with VICE Media, the film is in Dutch with English subtitles, and stars newcomer Ayoub Elasri as Ayoub. 

Filmed against the backdrop of the bleak  'jects that ring the outskirts of Amsterdam, PRINCE depicts the hardscrabble existence of a mixed bag of North African, African and local Dutch townies jousting for dominance, romance and bling.

 Just on the cusp of manhood, these post-adolescents are obsessed with the universal passions of all red-blooded Western civilization males--fast cars, designer clothes and pretty girls.  One of the opening scenes shows one of the local toughs hawking  fake designer clothes and knockoff luxury watches and jewelry from the back of a van. 

Although the setting of PRINCE is world's apart from the U.S. cities  of New York and Los Angeles where it is currently premiering, it depicts a social landscape that is all too familiar; bored, impoverished  teens living in a concrete wasteland with no money, too much time on their hands and the fool's gold lure of the thug life. Thus, the film's universal message and ultimate appeal.

Starring  newcomer Ayoub Elasri, the film follows  17 year old Ayoub, a mixed-racial youth whose Dutch mother, Saskia (Elsie de Brauw)  and comely half-sister Demi (Olivia Lonsdale) are set virtually adrift by her estranged Moroccan husband, Mo Bouslimane (played with elegiac pathos by Chaib Massaoudi in a standout performance), who has turned over his life for the needle.  He is apathetic figure, but there is something almost Christ-like in his suffering. He has chosen to view life from the sidelines, taking on the burden of suffering for all those around him.

The film begins with the usual mix of pubescent pissing contests and annoying pranks that are the hallmark of the young male species. The boys are seen standing around idly in the concrete square at the center of their drab public housing development, sucking on sunflower seeds, spitting and bragging about seducing girls (which they've never done) and amassing bling (which none of them can afford).  "I need new shoes," one of them says, to no one in particular. "I'm starting to look like a bum." The symbolism of that remark will play out later in the film when Ayoub is given an expensive pair of Zanotti sneakers by Kalpa, the local gangster, as a down payment for future fealty.

One of the funniest early scenes is one in which Achraf (Achraf Meziani) tries to show the rest of the gang how to kiss a girl. He goes through all the motions, with exaggerated gestures of his arms surrounding an imaginary girl, showing first how to hold her around the hips and then  apply some tongue action once their lips combine. Its an hilarious moment that truly exemplifies the folly of youth.

 The drone of endless bullshit is suddenly broken by the loud explosion of a nearby trashcan with an M60 firecracker by Oussi (Oussama Addi), an inveterate teen prankster who is part of the aimless group.

Ayoub and the group hang enviously around the purple Lamborghini that belongs to the local drug kingpin Kalpa, played with scene-chewing apishness by internationally known Dutch rapper  Freddy Tratlehner. Ayoub also has his eye on the local neighborhood blond cutie, Laura (Sigrid ten Napel), whose boyfriend just happens to be Ronnie (Peter Douma), the bullying leader of the local lunch-money stealing, low level crooks, who, in contrast to Kalpa's flashy Lamborghini,  parade around town on  noisy four-wheeler ATV's. They'd be pathetically comical if they weren't so malevolent.

Ayoub soon clashes with his best friend Frankie (Jorik Scholten) over Laura's affection. That puts him squarely in the cross-hairs of Frankie's older brother Ronnie, leader of the wolf-pack. Ronnie and his henchmen gang up on Ayoub. Ronnie  derides him..."you f...n'  Moroccan!" then spits in his face. That happens more than once in PRINCE. Then, Ronnie and his henchmen pin him down and beat him to a pulp. Again,  Ronnie spits on him, as if to pour salt on his wounds. Ayoub vows revenge.

Director de Jong and his production team do an excellent job of visually and audibly depicting PRINCE's mise en scene.  Production designer Sanne Schat and Director of photography Paul Ozgur, depict the spartan, flora and fauna-less world in which the characters live. The exterior is often played out in wide shots with little camera movement so that the audience clearly sees and feels the oppressive bleak nature of the world in which the protagonists exist. Editor Mieneke Kramer orchestrated the shots to allow for ample time for the emotion behind the words and actions to sink in, with sudden flashes of close-up violence resonating amidst the long, wide angled shots. Costume designer Nedda Nagel replicates the ad hoc mix of shabbiness, bling and copious tattoos that mark the current garb of today's youth.  The score, by Palmbomen (aka Dutch musician Kai Hugo) is a genius mix of  '80s synth Rock up to today's restless techno beats. The inclusion of Andrea Bocelli's moving rendition of Sartori and Quarantotto's Con te Partiro (With You I Will Leave) as the closing anthem, is a stroke of genius,

We very quickly meet Ayoub's family. He first stumbles upon his loopy mother in their cramped public housing apartment, dancing hypnotically to Spectral Display's "It Takes a Muscle to Fall in Love," no doubt a throwback to her comparatively happier and more glamorous past. She dances unaware of Ayoub's presence, who smiles, bemused by his mother's unexpected abandon. She turns, hair disheveled and mascara running. For her, it is a bittersweet moment. The internal angst and longing in her face is poignant.


Ayoub repairs to the cluttered bedroom he shares with his half sister Demi. They immediately have a heart-to-heart in which he demands of her "Promise me you won't turn out like Mom," to which she counters, "Promise me you won't turn out like your father."


Later, we see them together, Mother and Son, scrolling through an online dating website in search of a new mate for her. After Ayoub weighs in on a few obvious losers, they finally settle on an affable looking chap, who actually turns out to be the right stuff. We see Ayoub once again walk into the apartment, and upon seeing his mother relaxing blissfully on the sofa, her womanly desires satisfied,  in a bright yellow bathrobe (apprently reserved for that 'special occassion,' Ayoub declares, "Mom, I want you to have every happiness." It is an unusually prescient statement from a youth who has had to grow up all too soon in a single parent household.


Ayoub spends a great deal of time retreating into his own space in his tiny room, flexing his puny biceps in front of his mother and sister. "See my guns!" he says. The rest of the time, he's doing situps as if frantically trying to speed up the process of achieving manhood.



 Ayoub goes to visit his father, Mo,  in the abandoned squalor in which he lives, babbling non-sensically, wallowing in filth and shooting up with heroin.  Ayoub rubs his father's mangy, filthy hair incessantly, as if trying to scrape beneath the damaged, deranged surface of his tousled visage to find the loving father, mentor and husband he and his mother apparently once knew. "He's a little bird," his mother said of her estranged husband's danaged soul, remorsefully.

Mo remains distant, only briefly coming to life when Ayoub declares "Dad, I'm in Love." But even that door remains unopened. Mo only laughs and offers no constructive advice. Ayoub gives him what little money he has so that is father has money to buy dope. It's a pathetic exchange that seems to be routine and the only concrete connection between them. They exchange a wrinkled postcard, which the father declares is "Whistler," perhaps its an image painted by the famous artist. However, its a cinematic conceit that escaped this reviewer and probably will go right over the heads of most filmgoers.


The pathos  between Ayoub and his father is achingly touch. Mo asked Ayoub for his last two euros so he can get another fix. It turns out to be his last. This is the film's denouement. 


Director de Jong's camera follows Ayoub through the barren, concrete landscape of  his environment. He is brutally honest in his portrayal of the in-your-face brutality that is part of the day to day lives its inhabitants. (One of the opening scenes shows Ronnie slit the throat of an obviously addled young man who had approached his younger brother in an inappropriate manner. This happened right out in the open, in the complex square in broad daylight!)  Ayoub desperately wants to strike back at all the ugliness around him. It almost begins to take him over and make him a part of it. Yet, within him, we sense that there's something more.

Kalpa also sees something in Ayoub, and early on enlists him to be his understudy. Ayoub resists, but after the death of his father, relents. He enters Kalpa's lair and the two engage in much chest-beating and consumption of lines of cocaine, like Marines gorging on raw meat in preparation for battle. It is then that the reasoning behind the film's title comes to light. 

 Kalpa gives Ayoub a garrish crown that he keeps atop a bust of Julius Caesar. With its fake purple gem stone as the crown jewel, it is an almost surreal coronation. Kalpa throws Ayoub the keys to his Lamborghini and tells him to drive. It is Ayou's crowning moment both literally and figuratively. He is finally given the props that have eluded him. Later, Kalpa gives him a gun and instructs  to exact revenge against his tormentors. Gun in hand, with the crown on his head, Ayoub has to make a choice. It is only then that his father's dying image gives him the courage to become his own man.

Although a newcomer,  de Jong  shows considerable directorial 'chops.' He interweaves scenes teen pranks and slapstick physical  comedy with sudden bursts of violence,  and surreal images in a masterful way. The dream sequencees  symbolize both Prince's inner turmoil and his lofty aspirations.

Clocking in at just under 80 minutes, the film seems to wrap it up a bit abruptly, as if the producers suddenly had run out of money or had another project to rush off to. Its too bad, because this film could have used a little more explication and definitely a more precise ending. Still, its a compelling look at the problems and pitfalls that confront urban teens everywhere.


Director de Jong shot the film very near the tough neighborhood where he grew up and, in some ways, the film is somewhat autobiographical in terms of its portrayal of a specific environment. In this film about young, urban Dutch life, he has created a work that resonates across national and cultural lines. It shows how youth in western society are all living life poised on a razor's edge.


PRINCE
80 minutes long
in Dutch with English subtitles
presented by FILMBUFF and VICE
in select theaters August 14 and on all major VOD plarforms, including Amazon Instant Video, Comcast's Xfinity TV, Google Play, iTunes, Sony Play Station Store, Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS, Vudu and Xbox Video.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

FORT TILDEN AN ENDEARING LOOK AT 'QUARTER-LIFE' CRISIS

by Dwight Casimere


Claire McNulty as Allie (l) and Bridey Elliott as Harper in "Fort Tilden"


NEW YORK---Thursday, August 13th marks the New York Premiere of a film that has already garnered the Gand Jury Prize at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival and critical raves from the likes of Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and The Huffington Post.  "Fort Tilden" is the first feature film outing for writer/directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers. In spite of their novice stature, they've hit it out of the park with a film that strikes just the right note between satire and wry observation. The film charts the meanderings of Harper and Allie, a pair of Williamsburg twenty-somethings, trying to make something out of the loose ends of their life, but who aren't quite sure of what they really want.

Allie is grappling with her decision to join the Peace Corp in Liberia after becoming a college dropout. Harper still clings to her dream of being an artist while reluctantly receiving checks from her globe-trotting father whose more absorbed in his own life than giving even fleeting credence to his daughter's  emotional upheavals, as she copes with her day-to-day anxieties.

The film centers around the girl's desire to have at least one carefree day at the beach with a couple of guys with whom they share a passing sexual fancy. What starts out as a carefree day of recreational drugs and beer at an abandoned beach, Fort Tilden, turns out to be a seemingly endless journey, fraught with pitfalls and unexpected twists and turns that are symbolic of the turmoil in their own lives. For every disappointment or setback, there's a dose of self-discovery, that at least gives some meaning to their meandering journey.

The two start out on a pair of bikes, one loaned, reluctantly, by an upstairs neighbor, which eventually wind up either abandoned or stolen. Their misfortune lands them in an ill-fated cab ride with an Indian-born driver who takes exception to Harper's father's employ at a company he deems as exploiting his homeland.

The girls finally make it to their beach rendezvous, only to find out that instead of having the carefree afternoon they were promised, they're once again forced to confront their inner demons and life's outward disappointments.

Starring Bridey Elliott as Harper, the daughter of Saturday Night Live  alum Chris Elliott and Clare McNulty as Allie, who has worked in San Francisco and New York with Cutting Ball Theatre Company and the NYU Graduate Film Program and Columbia's School of Theatre Arts, the two maintain a refreshingly candid rapport throughout the film that veers between mutual contempt and acceptance, sarcasm  and empathy and a healthy dose of self-criticism. It's especially delightful how the writers weave in the important role that social media plays in the lives of their  young  protagonists.

Allie, for example, is called out by her Peace Corp mentor for lying about canceling an appointment due to illness after Harper posts an Instagram photo of her at the beach. Harper, meanwhile, maintains a running dialogue with her father, which reflects their contentious relationship, via her Smartphone. Fort Tilden reveals all of the paper-cut wounds of post-adolescence and fledgling adulthood in a iight-hearted fashion, that reveals their character's foibles and vulnerabilities in a way that makes them endearing and irresistible. "Fort Tilden" a hard film not to like!

ORION PICTURES RELEASES "FORT TILDEN" THEATRICALLY AT THE IFC CENTER NEW YORK CITY AND ON VOD AUGUST 14TH

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"THE WOLFPACK" DOCUMENTS COMING OF AGE IN A WORLD FILTERED THROUGH FILM

Now available in iTunes, You Tube, VUDU, Google Play Movies, Amazon, and in select theaters including:

NEW YORK:
Film Society of Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
Sunshine Cinema-Landmark Theatres, New York City
Nitehawk Cinema, Brooklyn

CHICAGO:
Music Box Theatre, Lincoln Park,  Chicago  
Landmark Theatres: 
Century Centre Cinema, Lincoln Park
Renaissance Place Cinema,  downtown Highland Park

LOS ANGELES:
Sundance Cinemas, West Hollywood
Regent Theatre, Westwood
The Landmark, Los Angeles
Quart Theatre, West Los Angeles
Laemmie Playhouse 7, Pasadena

Also available in theaters nationwide, check local listings for theatre locations and times 


Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

"THE WOLFPACK," independent filmmaker Crystal Moselle's first full length documentary (recent projects include the series "Something Big, Something Small," featuring Pharrel Williams, Aurel Schmidt and Shepard Fairey, picked up by The New York Times, "Excavating Taylor Mead," a documentary portrait of the downtown New York artist and Warhol Superstar, which was part of the 2006 Whitney Biennial), is a somewhat free-form look at the lives of the six Angulo brothers, raised by their parents while locked away in an East Village apartment, whose only contact with the outside world is through film. It's a realistic look at a subject that cuts to the heart of the role of film in society and its psychological influence, and is a case study of the intersection of film and reality. 

It was filmed over a five year period, when the boys began their foray into the outside world. Director Moselle first encountered the boys by happenstance, following them as she was cruising down First Avenue in the East Village and noticed a band of teenaged boys with long hair weaving in and out of the crowd. 

She chased them down and began questioning their identity. Initially distrustful, she began to gain their confidence through their mutual interest in film. Their  friendship was  based on their interest in learning more about the business of filmmaking. She began by showing them her cameras and equipment. Gradually, she further gained their confidence by teaching them the filmmaking process. Four months in, they allowed her to come into their home to begin filming. The depth of their story then began to unfold.

Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krsna and Jagadisa all have names derived from the Hare Krishna Center in West Virginia, where their parents, Susanne and Oscar Angulo, lived during the first years of their marriage. A daughter, Visnu, the oldest and only girl of the siblings was born there in 1990. She is mentally disabled and was not included as a subject in the film. 

A word about their parents. Susanne, a hippie from the Midwest, met Oscar Angulo, an aspiring rock star,  while traveling in Peru on the road to Machu Picchu. Oscar offered to lead she and her friends.  Along the way they fell in love and moved to the States. After traveling the world, they settled into the Hare Krishna Center  where first Visnu and then Baghavan, the eldest son, was born. Twins Govinda and Narayana were next. 

The family then traveled the country in search of music opportunities for Oscar. While still living in the van, Mukunda was born in LA. Hearing that there was cheap housing to be had in New York, the family moved to the Bronx and Queens, then to Brooklyn. Gunshots became part of the daily soundtrack of their lives. The parents then became fearful for their children's safety.

Moving to the projects in Manhattan's Lower East Side, the father forbade the mother and children to leave the house on their own. Thus began their odyssey into social isolation.

Susanne Angulo became the educator and provider for the family, supporting them on public aid. Oscar Angulo continued his futile search for a music career.   Along the way, he managed to teach all of his children music and impart to them his deep devotion to world religion and philosophy.  

As long as the children were little, it all went swimmingly. At least once a year, particularly during the summer months, the family ventured into the outside world. But one year, Oscar locked the door for good.  That's when the seed of rebellion was planted in Mukunda, the Alpha male of the pack.  He was the first to break out of the apartment disguised in a Michael Meyers mask.



The rest of the film recounts their complete absorption of the dialogue, culture and style of the films Oscar brought home.  It's odd, one would think, that a father so protective of his children, would expose them to the very pop culture and society he is shielding them from, but, there it is. 

Dad brought home both classic and cult films. The more violent, horrific and complicated the film, the more the boys seemed to like them.

PULP FICTION was the first film they saw together on television. That began an obsession with all things Quentin Tarantino. 

Film led them to fashion their wardrobes and their personalities into the characters they saw. Oscar would bring them clothes he'd found on the street and at the Salvation Army. The boys, aged 11 to 18,  would  fashion them into makeshift costumes based on their favorite characters. A pair of beat up old tennis shoes would be taped with a blue Nike swoosh to look like Marty McFly's, an old woman's rain coat would be cut up and re-sewn to resemble Mad Max's leather bike vest.

 Filmmaker Moselle described the lengthy filming process as somewhat of a rollercoaster. She said it took several years for the boys to finally open up and show their more tender side. She said her experience in working with teenagers in general helped her to weather the ups and downs of the project. In between, she worked on other short film projects, including commercials and music videos, and even filmed an artsy short on the boys called "Lightning People" for Nowness.
 

Besides winning the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance,  Moselle is also a Tribeca Film Insttute grantee. At last spring's Tribeca Film Festival, she and the Angulo brothers walked the Red Carpet and did a filmed homage to Tribeca's co-founder, Robert DeNiro, reenacting scenes from Goodfellas(1990), Mean Streets (1973), Analyze This (1999) and Taxi Driver (1976). The brothers got to walk the same red carpet as their filmatic hero and to drop enough F-bombs to make even Harvey Keitel raise the hair on his now-famous pompadour. "You talkin' to me?!"




Surprisingly, she said, their parents were open to the idea of documenting their family; perhaps seeing the opportunities it would open up for their children. In fact, a couple of the boys are actively pursuing careers in film or related endeavors. 

THE WOLFPACK is a fascinating and unvarnished intimate portrait of an extraordinary family. Moselle was not only privy to the family's inner sanctum, she also had unprecedented access to their  vast archive of home movies, which documented the boy's on camera mimicking the characters and dialogue of the films they watched.

The more ominous questions of spousal and child abuse and involuntary confinement are faced head-on, but, as Moselle noted in subsequent interviews, the boys seemed rather well adjusted in spite of their unusual upbringing.  That fact, more than anything, speaks to the transformative power of movies.


THE WOLFPACK

A Magnolia Pictures Film
84 minutes, in English

Conceived and Directed by Crystal Moselle
With, Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana,  Mukunda, Krsna and Jagadisa Angulo


Executive Producers  David CrossTyler BrodieCameron BrodieLouise Ingalls Sturgess