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Review: Perfect Strangers

Manolo Caro’s film uses its characters as rigid markers of cowardice, lust, and entitlement.

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Perfect Strangers
Photo: Pantelion Films

The premise of director Manolo Caro’s Perfect Strangers—one of many remakes of Paolo Genovese’s 2016 film of the same name—capitalizes on the fear of exposure that’s been intensified by the age of the internet, cellphone, and the cloud. There’s a palpable dread in our culture of a day of reckoning, in which the multiple selves we present to people are united and contrasted for everyone’s delectation in a purging of our inner hypocrisy. In the various versions of Perfect Strangers, each of which is set in a different country, three attractive and seemingly affluent couples, and one oddball single friend, agree to place their phones on a table and share every text and call that arrives over the course of a long and drunken dinner. Needless to say, grudges are aired and betrayals are unearthed, revealing the characters’ projections of stability and confidence to be carefully nurtured illusions.

This premise, a riff on a “dinner from hell” scenario familiar from many film and theater productions, is essentially limiting, as it’s engineered to do little more than prove a thesis. The plot of Perfect Strangers translates efficiently in many different languages because it’s generic, utilizing its characters as rigid markers of cowardice, lust, and entitlement. In this telling of the story, Caro moves the action to Mexico, but the narrative has no more distinction or specificity here than it did when it was set in, say, France. And this generality is dulling as well as resonant, as part of the point of the various films is to underscore the banality of many of the inner demons that hold us prisoner.

Every character in Perfect Strangers underscores a potentiality of a privileged midlife crisis. Alonso (Bruno Bichir) is a surgeon married to a therapist, Eva (Cecilia Suárez), and they’re growing to resent one another’s professions and differing parenting approaches to their daughter. Ernesto (Miguel Rodarte) and Flora (Mariana Treviño) have become similarly distant, in part due to Ernesto’s mother moving into their house, while Mario (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Ana (Ana Claudia Talancón) are in the throes of passion, though they’re seemingly terrified that their bliss might be lost on any of their seething friends. Pepe (Franky Martin) appears to be the most miserable of the group, however, as he’s gained a significant amount of weight, recently lost his job, and is given to speaking of a romantic partner who may not exist. Which is to say these people all have closets that are overburdened by skeletons.

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Caro’s staging is impersonal yet efficient, as he moves succinctly through a procession of exposition and twists that are unsurprising save for one, which belatedly grafts emotional meat onto the film’s contrived bones. Ernesto and Pepe trade phones, as Ernesto expects to receive an erotic picture from a young acquaintance, and Pepe could easily justify this photo as belonging to his absent lover. Caro allows the audience to forget the planting of this narrative bomb, which results in confusion when a character is inadvertently outed as gay. What follows, then, is a roleplay in which a straight man must pretend to be gay, alienating his lover as a gesture of repaying his friend’s willingness to help him cover his own tracks so as to not alienate said lover.

Though this scenario is as convoluted as many of the others that glut Caro’s film, it casually illustrates a loyalty between the men involved in the ruse that transcends their various deceptions, pivoting on a sense of trust and respect that they don’t quite seem to be capable of extending to their lovers. With this development, Caro, screenwriter Filippo Bologna, and their cast imply that friendship is easier to believe in than a romantic relationship, which is fertile ground for an uncomfortable examination of marital ennui.

This narrative thread, an unexpectedly moving rendering of the divides of gender, sex, and intimacy that fragment this group almost subliminally, should’ve been the starting point of Perfect Strangers. Instead, the film largely suggests a longer episode of Three’s Company, with wearying repartee, stereotypes, and forgettable formalism taking the place of the dangerously personal psychological manna that drives a significant dark comedy.

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Cast: Bruno Bichir, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Franky Martín, Miguel Rodarte, Cecilia Suárez, Ana Claudia Talancón, Mariana Treviño, Camila Valero Director: Manolo Caro Screenwriter: Filippo Bologna Distributor: Pantelion Films Running Time: 104 min Rating: NR Year: 2017

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Awards

2019 Oscar Nominations: The Favourite and Roma Lead Field, Bradley Cooper Snubbed for Director, & Cold War Surprises

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced today and The Favourite and Roma led the way.

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The Favourite
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma led the nomination count with 10, followed by Adam McKay’s Vice and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born with eight, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther with seven, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman with six.

Cold War made a strong showing, with Pawel Pawlikowski claiming his first nomination for best director. Notably snubbed in the category was Bradley Cooper and Peter Farrelly, whose Green Book is considered the favorite to win best picture after its victory at the Producers Guild Awards. Elsewhere, Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) had to make way for Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) in best supporting actor, while Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) snagged a spot in the best actor race thought to be reserved for John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman).

See below for a full list of the nominations.

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Best Picture
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Adam McKay (Vice)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Best Actress
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

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Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Costume Design
Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns
Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots

Best Sound Editing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

Best Sound Mixing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

Best Animated Short
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Best Live-Action Short
Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Best Film Editing
Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite
Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book
Hank Corwin, Vice

Best Original Score
Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns

Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Best Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

Best Foreign-Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Production Design
Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton, The Favourite
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas, First Man
John Myhre and Gordon Sim, Mary Poppins Returns
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez, Roma

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Matty Libatique, A Star Is Born
Lukasz Zal, Cold War

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice

Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Adapted Screenplay
Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth, A Star Is Born
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk (s)
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Original Screenplay
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Original Song
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight, RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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Review: Never Fear Is Driven by Its Maker’s Personal Demons

If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Ida Lupino’s own.

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Never Fear
Photo: Eagle-Lion Films/Photofest

In a 1985 interview with DeeDee Halleck conducted at the Chelsea Hotel, filmmaker Shirley Clarke stated that she made films about African-Americans as a way of working through her own ambivalence about being a woman in a male-dominated culture: “I identified with black people because I couldn’t deal with the woman question and I transposed it. I could understand very easily the black problems, and I somehow equated them to how I felt….I always felt alone, and on the outside of the culture that I was in.” One can detect a similar tendency in the work of Ida Lupino, whose independently produced dramas of the 1940s and ‘50s tackled hot-button issues such as rape, bigamy, and unwanted pregnancy. These films are no mere homilies on contemporary social problems, but complex and deeply personal explorations of what it means to be an independent woman in a world ruled by men.

Lupino’s pioneering work is suffused with a profound sense of alienation and self-doubt. Her films are about people whose conventional middle-class existence is suddenly, sometimes violently, upturned, causing them to feel completely unmoored. No longer sure of where they’re going in life or what they truly want, these people find respite away from their old life, in an unfamiliar place with a new potential lover. And Lupino tells these stories with an empathy that’s striking for its directness and lack of condescension.

Such is the case with the first film Lupino directed completely on her own, Never Fear, an emotionally complex drama about a young dancer, Carol (Sally Forrest), who seems to have it all, as she’s just gotten engaged to her partner, Guy (Keefe Brasselle), and their careers are on the verge of taking off. But then, all of sudden she’s stricken with polio, and everything changes. Carol, depressed and bitter, enters a rehab facility where she eventually makes strides toward walking again, thanks in part to the inspiration of a hunky fellow patient named Len (Hugh O’Brian). As Carol struggles with her own will to get better, she grows increasingly distant from Guy, urging him to keep pursuing his dancing career rather than settling down into a conventional job selling pre-fab “Happy Homes” as he waits around for her to recover.

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Free of the noir-ish inflections Lupino brought to her other films—most notably The Hitch-Hiker, and the rape sequence in OutrageNever Fear is directed in a simple, straightforward style that bears comparison to the stripped-down neorealism of Roberto Rossellini. Lupino is captivated by the process of physical rehabilitation, offering detailed observations of Carol’s stretching routine, swim therapy, art classes, and, in one show-stopping sequence, a square dance featuring lines of wheelchair-bound patients twirling each other around in consummately choreographed synchrony. Carol is clumsy and awkward as she struggles to operate her wheelchair, a marked contrast to the film’s opening scenes, in which Carol and Guy move together with lithe sophistication as they perform a romantic swashbuckling tango.

Never Fear’s subject matter was personal for Lupino, who survived polio after an attack in 1934. But the filmmaker isn’t merely interested in the physical ailment itself, but also in the complicated pressure that recovery places on Carol. There’s a tension in the film, which was released at the height of the U.S. polio outbreak, between what Carol wants and what the men in her life want for her. When Carol begins to reject her own treatment, it’s in part because she’s rebelling against the expectations that her doctor, her fellow patients, and especially Guy have placed on her. “Be a woman for me,” Guy asks of her, but the demand is counter-productive, as Carol can only truly recuperate when she decides to do it for herself.

In Carol’s dilemma, one can sense Lupino wrestling with her own artistic ambitions, coming to grips with the reality that as the only woman director working within the Hollywood studio system in the ‘50s, she too would have to accept the guidance of the men around her, and in so doing she would be forced to bear the weight of their expectations for her—their demands, hopes, dreams, and pity. Unfortunately, Never Fear closes with a cop-out, a last-minute reconciliation that cheapens Carol’s hard-fought struggle to learn to live on her own terms by suggesting she’s fundamentally lost without a man. Almost as if the film is embarrassed by its own denouement, the final screen assures us, “This is not THE END. It is just the beginning for all those of faith and courage.” If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Lupino’s own. Never Fear wasn’t the end for her either, but merely the start of one of the most unique and pathbreaking directorial careers in Hollywood history.

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Cast: Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, Hugh O’Brian, Eve Miller, Lawrence Dobkin, Rita Lupino, Herbert Butterfield, Kevin O’Morrison, Stanley Waxman, Jerry Hausner, John Franco Director: Ida Lupino Screenwriter: Ida Lupino, Collier Young Running Time: 82 min Rating: NR Year: 1950

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WATCH: Stylish Queer Short Film Stay Makes Its Online Premiere

Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay debuts for free online.

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Stay
Brandon Zuck

Writer-director Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay made its premiere on the film festival circuit back in 2013, but the L.A.-based filmmaker is finally debuting it for free online. The short film, which Zuck claims is loosely based on events from his past, follows Ash (Brandon Harris) and his ex-boyfriend, Jacks (Julian Brand), on a road trip to the Florida Keys where the pair get mixed up in a fatal drug deal.

“I think maybe I was holding onto the film because it’s such a part of me,” Zuck says about his decision to release Stay on YouTube, which has been criticized by queer creators and organizations like GLAAD for ever-changing content guidelines that appear to target content made by and for LGBT people.

“YouTube started age-restricting my other LGBT films and—to be totally honest—I got furious. YouTube is this faceless behemoth and there’s nothing someone like me can do to fight any of it directly. Really the only thing I could think of was just putting more queer content out there. And Stay was sitting right there on my desktop where it’s always been. So I just hit upload. And it got age-restricted. C’est la vie. Next.”

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Watch Stay below:

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