All posts by Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

SBIFF: Sam Elliot on his first Oscar nomination and being texting buddies with Bradley Cooper.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival -Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG
Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF

“I’m most intrigued by how you remember all that shit? It is just astounding to me,” joked Sam Elliot with his token southern drawl to TMC’s Dave Karger who moderated the Virtuoso awards at the 34th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Elliot, along with John David Washington, Claire Foy, Richard E. Grant and many more were honored with the prestigious award as the awards season campaign comes to a close. Elliot was the flagship honoree, saving his Q&A for last.

“He’s the most brilliant director I’ve ever worked with,” he said speaking of Bradley Cooper, who after their initial meeting, became text message buddies and that is how the two communicated all the way up until filming. Elliot was concerned that he was going to be unable to film his role in A Star is Born, due to his commitment to Netflix’s The Ranch, a four-camera sitcom that is filmed before a live audience that has a lot of moving pieces. Elliot expressed his concern to Cooper via text message and Cooper instantly replied: “I’m not going to let you go. We are going to work it out.”

Filming for The Ranch ended on a Wednesday and the following Friday Cooper arranged for a set to be constructed in the parking lot of the Greek Theatre in LA, where they filmed their first scene together, the emotional brother v brother moment where Cooper punches Elliot and knocks him to the ground. Elliot did not once say “Lady Gaga”, instead he referred to her as “Stefani” and spoke of her very affectionately.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival -Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG
Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF

The first time he saw the film in its full cut was at its premiere in Toronto, recalling how he was weeping throughout the film and was surprised at how much screen time he had in the final cut because when he had seen the rough cuts prior, his role was reduced substantially. Backstage, before the Q&A at TIFF, Stefani came up to him and asked if he was okay because he was still crying because he was so affected by the film.

“I’ve wanted this for so long,” Elliot candidly said about his first Academy Award nomination as the audience of over two thousand people erupted in thunderous applause. “Awards are great. Awards are a wonderful thing, but it’s all about the work.” Elliot turns his phone off at night and was awakened by his wife, Kathrine Ross, at seven-thirty in the morning the day nominations were announced. When asked by the moderator what it was like for his wife to be the one to tell him, Elliot instantly responded, “it was pretty cool.”

At the close of the evening, Elliot was asked what film came out this year that he thought that everyone should see, after thinking for a moment he said Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman and said that the film is very important and more relevant now than the period for which it took place. He was also asked what accent he thinks would be impossible for him to do, where he quickly quipped “anything that isn’t a south-western accent.”

 

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival -Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG
SANTA BARBARA, CA – FEBRUARY 05: Sam Elliot speaks onstage at the Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Arlington Theatre on February 5, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SBIFF)

Sam Elliot is effortlessly cool. He’s been a cinematic mainstay for five decades. He’s been a lifeguard, the President’s chief of staff, and countless cowboys and military brass. After all this time Elliot has been awarded a Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nomination for his finest role to date. He may not win the gold, and that is okay because Sam Elliot will always be Sam Elliot.

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SBIFF: Glenn Close on The Wife, Fatal Attraction, and Bill Hurt.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Maltin Modern Master Award Honoring Glenn Close
Roger Durling, Glenn Close, and Leonard Maltin. Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF.

 

Bounding across the stage during Leonard Maltin’s marvelous career-spanning discussion with Glenn Close was Sir Pip Close, the most adorable Havanese you have ever seen who, without question, stole the show. He also has his own Instagram account. Moments prior Sir Pip and Close draped in a crimson coat spent their time with each member of the press, speaking of her current film The Wife which bestowed to her numerous awards (the Golden Globe, SAG) and her seventh Academy Award nomination. Both on the carpet and with Malden, she spoke fondly of her bountiful career that is richly stocked with colorful and daring performances.

“Babe, I’m a whore,” Close giggled while recounting what Michael Douglas said to her when she lobbied for the original ending of Fatal Attraction to not be reshot and screamed at him; demanding to know what he would do in her situation. The film, but more importantly the character of Alex Frost, is important to her. She spoke at length about the deep backstory of abuse and incest that Close created for Frost, not only explaining but sympathizing with the characters motivation.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Maltin Modern Master Award Honoring Glenn Close
Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF.

The World According to Garp was her first “big break”, which led to her being instantly cast in Lawrence Kasdan’s magnificent The Big Chill. There, is where her relationship with Bill (William) Hurt grew into an everlasting friendship (Close would later seek Bill’s counsel regarding the ending to Fatal Attraction being reshot) and made note of how she had dated Kevin Kline, and how he was then dating William Hurt’s ex-wife, Mary Beth Hurt which led to the reason for her not getting cast in the role of Sarah, Kline’s onscreen wife and central hub of the film. Most of the cast had been friends prior to filming, but she said it was Kasdan’s month-long rehearsal where the entire cast shared a house in Atlanta is what truly attributed to the ensemble’s chemistry.

She has always believed in the medium of television, stating it was something that Judi Dench and Maggie Smith took seriously in the UK, appearing on numerous BBC specials. Sarah, Plain and Tall (her first behind the scenes production), The West Wing, The Shield are all miniseries and television shows that she had appeared on, but it was not until FX’s Damages where Close made her mark. It not only was a show with two female leads but also reunited her with Bill Hurt. The show had a rabid fanbase, and when FX canceled it after the third season, diehard fans petitioned and then the series found a second life as a DirectTV exclusive for two more seasons.

Albert Nobbs was her passion project, taking nearly twenty years to get off the ground and for cameras to start rolling. Same can be said for her current film, The Wife co-staring Johnathan Pryce, but the limbo period wasn’t as long for her personally, she had only been attached to the project for five years. She absolutely loved working with Pryce, called him one of her finest acting partners, and how much he believed in the film.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF

As she accepted her Maltin Modern Master Award from Roger Durling, an admirable stand-in for Jeff Bridges who could not make the event, gave an impassioned speech that touched Close in a beautiful moment of many that night. As Close accepted her award and was midway through her speech, Sir Pip Close once again found his way to the middle of the stage and began to roll around and scratch his back. Close began to laugh and said that Sir Pip did the same thing during the filming of the Nobel Peace Prize scene in The Wife. As the final days of Oscar season come to a close, Glenn Close is on her way of finally taking home the gold on the seventh nomination for a performance that is very quiet, very subdued yet it is a wonderful showboat of a performance from one of cinemas finest actors.

SBIFF: Viggo Mortensen on David Cronenberg, Green Book, and putting Coca-Cola in The Road.

Vladimir Putin was an inspiration for his character in Easter Promises, he owned his two horses from the Lord of the Rings, and then T.J. from Hidalgo, and he thinks it is total bullshit that David Cronenberg has never been nominated for best director. Viggo Mortensen is an accidental movie star who is fluent in seven languages, has his own publishing house, and never tires of people walking up to him on the street to talk to him about Aragorn. The 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award was presented to Mortensen by his two-time co-star and one-time director, Ed Harris, which was preceded by a delightful two-hour Q&A with Deadline’s Peter Hammond.

Mortensen is currently making the rounds for his third Academy Award nomination for one of the year’s best films, The Green Book, knowing full well that he’s going to be three and out but continues to champion a film that he truly loves and believes in. He and Harris were about an hour late to the event, a serve storm prolonged their trip up from LA, diverting to take a private plane to a local airport and eventually hitting the red carpet and taking his time along the way promoting his latest feature.

“Coke doesn’t do R rated films, and then I asked if I could call the guy,” Mortensen continued, “I can’t remember his name, but I called the rep from Coca Cola and asked him if he had read The Road. He had not but his wife or someone he knew had. I told him to read pages, I don’t know, eighty-six through eighty-seven. And then to speak to his kids or his wife or whoever, and then in a few days he called back, and we could use Coke.”

His first on-screen appearance was in Peter Weir’s Witness, which came right off the heels of his scenes being cut from Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. He was in his very early twenties when he decided to become an actor, there was not a specific film or an actor who inspired him, but the theatre experience was an emotional enlightenment that was woven with curiosity about how film could evoke reactions from laughter to tears.

The Lord of the Rings series is a part of his life that remains incredibly special to him. Not only did he love making the films, but he also speaks to what that afforded him to achieve not only professionally, but also personally. He started Percival Press, a publishing house that produces works of poets, musicians, and photographers as well as his own music, poetry, art, and photo books.

The Extended Cut of The Fellowship of the Ring is his favorite of the trilogy, reasoning that it was the film with the most human to human interaction. As the films went on, there was more CGI, more green screens, creating less and less interaction with other people. That was not a slight towards the other films, he warned because he has stated the same prior and he has been taken out of context.

Mortensen has a flip phone and has gotten better at emailing since he launched his website, but he’s just not all that interested in modern technology and frankly doesn’t find an interest in it. He is more interested in bringing stories to the screen that would not otherwise have a voice. He finds unique narratives and uses his movie star cache as a vehicle to shine a light on compelling characters and writer-directors whose visions would not be told.

Green Book is a special film to Mortensen, he loves it and the character of Tony Lip. He is very aware of the campaign against the film, especially how some are citing that the real Tony and Dr. Shirley were not friends and the film is a false representation of factual events. Firstly, Mortensen noted that Green Book is a movie, and only covers a span of two weeks and that Tony Lip went on to drive Dr. Shirley for another two years, and moderator Peter Hammond noted that Deadline has published audio tapes of Dr. Shirley speaking of his friendship with Tony and how the two remained friends for the rest of their lives.

He spoke very highly of the cast of Captain Fantastic and especially Mahershalla Ali, and how Ali was the greatest acting partner he’s had. He made not of Ali’s reactionary acting to him, and how so much of Ali’s performance is store within his reactions and economy of movement. He also spoke of his fondness for Ed Harris, who was there to present Mortensen with the award.

Dressed in cowboy boots and a red vest that looks like something William Holden would have worn in a genre-pushing western, Harris gave a rather straight forward yet emotional tribute to Mortensen, conveying that their friendship was built on a foundation of loyalty. Mortensen thanked Harris, SBIFF, and executive director Roger Durling for an award that he was not just a nominee for, but the outright winner. Mortensen is the strong silent type who is fiercely intelligent, and a man made up for passion and raw talent that elevates every single project that he touches.

SBIFF: An Evening with Alfonso Cuaron

At the emotional core of Alfonso Cuaron’s seminal works is sacrifice. Take his latest film ROMA, where he not only secured his second Academy Award as a director but also legitimized Netflix as a game-changing powerhouse. Within the fertile layers of the background, middleground, and foreground is a woman who is bound by servitude, putting the wellbeing and lives of the children she cares for above her own, as well as her unborn child. Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine all selflessly end their lives for the greater good in CHILDREN OF MEN, and same could be said for George Clooney in GRAVITY.

Alfonso Cuaron SBIFF

Speaking at a Q&A with Yalitza Aparicio after a free screening on ROMA at the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Cuaron spoke to memory and how for one to truly understand a memory, in particular, one of a deep personal meaning, they have to understand the present and where they currently are in their life. He then went on to caution how “memory is the biggest liar” and indirectly stated how memory creates a false sense of the past, allowing us to not just romanticize it, but also how we condition ourselves to be selective and allowing nostalgia to trump the continuity of our past. To quote Cormac McCarthy’s THE COUNSELOR, “reflective men often find themselves at a place removed from the realities of life.”

CHILDREN OF MEN is Cuaron’s most important work. It is not just some dystopian future shot by the remarkable Emmanuel Lubezki with tracking shots stacked atop one another; it is a premonition and it is a film that becomes all too real as we embark into the unknown future of humanity. Not only does is champion the current plight of migrants fleeing their warzone homeland and being put into cages, but also government propaganda strategically laced with a populous message of population control; all of this orchestrated by an overbearing and overreaching government to sew seeds of discontent in a power-grab that is designed to numb the minds of the people with the ultimate goal of total and complete control.

Upon a fresh viewing of the film, presented on the big screen by SBIFF as apart of the director’s showcase, what was striking was Michael Caine’s character Jasper, the once renown zany political cartoonist who has since become the voice of reason in a world that hasn’t just been forgotten and abandoned, but been erased. His glasses were circular shaped, he listened to music that came from a time and place of deep meaning and philosophical importance. His hair was long but parted perfectly, and his lexicon and accent were remarkably striking.

Michael Caine, Children of Men

“I don’t know if this is off base, but I could not help but think that Michael Caine’s character was John Lennon if he had not died.”

Cuaron’s eyes got big and smiled as he threw his head back.

“Yes! That was all Michael. He said, “I want to play it like John.” I said, “John who?” And then he said, “Lennon!” and then I thought to myself, oh but of course that is who Jasper is! It was all Michael’s idea. From the glasses to the wig with that was parted just like Lennon’s hair.”

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Cuaron is enigmatic, he is a stone cold auteur; a maverick filmmaker who constantly changes the formula of cinema, producing a pristine mosque with each new picture. His eye for detail is painstaking, birthing films that are so atmospheric that one can smell the cigarette smoke, feel the sweat, and obsess with the phantom ring in their ear. His films are unique, they tend not to string together aesthetically or thematically, yet with each one of his seminal works lies and unapologetic and selfless acts of sacrifice.

For Your Ears Only: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

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Tom and Frank out back with PTS’ first podcast of 2019. We discuss Lewis Gilbert’s second to last entry into the Bond franchise, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. We speak about Roger Moore’s continuation of Bond, the wonderful Barbara Bach, and Stanley Kubrick’s involvement.

Best of 2018: Peter Farrelly’s GREEN BOOK

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Had 2018’s GREEN BOOK been made in the late 80s or early 90s by Martin Scorsese or Sydney Pollack with Robert De Niro and Denzel Washington in the lead roles, it would have been hailed a seminal classic of that era it would be one of those films that revolved around in conversation when discussing DRIVING MISS DAISY, PHILADELPHIA, or CITY SLICKERS; films that have a dramatic narrative that encompasses topical and social issues, but also have an undercurrent of humor, electrifying chemistry between the leads, and made with a mature and classical aesthetic that does not come across as heavy-handed, agenda driven or overly preachy. Yet, in 2018 the film and its filmmakers find themselves embroiled in controversy as the film leaps to the top of the pack as the awards season intensifies.

 

The picture is a charming and good-hearted road film between Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip, a rough-edged Italian from an inner-city gulch and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Shirley, an over-educated worldly maestro who embark on a musical tour that takes them well below the Mason Dixon Line in 1962. The film has many laugh out loud moments between the micro worldview of Mortensen and the macro view of Ali. GREEN BOOK has an inverted narrative of most current films about racism and sexuality as the primary focus of the plot is the friendship and connection that builds between the two leads, as race and sexuality are dealt with in a reserved and respectful manner.

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Mortensen is wonderful as he channels the archetypal blue-collar guy with a high school education at best. He gained weight for the role, chain smokes cigarettes, speaks in double negatives, and folds an entire pizza in half and eats it. Ali is just as good with his stoic and physical presence, giving a calculated reserved performance that is the definition of the economy of movement with his absolute disdain that turns into love for Mortensen.

Based upon a true story of happenstance meeting turned into a lifelong friendship, the film does not aim to cure racism nor does it intend that white people can solve the problem with a snap of their fingers, the film is about personal growth and enlightenment. Had this film been made in the late 60s or 70s by Hal Ashby, Sydney Lumet or Mike Nichols starring James Caan and Sydney Poitier GREEN BOOK would be a film that revolves in the same conversations as NETWORK, THE LANDLORD, or THE GRADUATE.

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Sergio Corbucci’s DJANGO

There is an inherent perversion that comes with Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 masterpiece, DJANGO, that is incredibly alluring. The coffin dragging masochistic antihero saves a women in distress, only to bring her to a town in deep dilapidation that is the battleground between Mexican federales and a group of red hooded Christian zealots. The film has an innate ability to transcend the norms of cinematic violence, sexual liberation, and religious faux pas to create a truly unique film that not only acts as a genre setter, but a template for the “hero” to come up victorious yet still accrue the vengeance of his previous transgressions.

Franco Nero’s performance as the mysterious stranger is a revelation. He’s part Paul Newman with his steely blue eyes and movie star looks and part Clint Eastwood with his ominous presence that is a visual embodiment of the shadow of an axe that looms. He gives a command performance that is filled with a confidence that can dwarf mostly any performance it is stacked up against. Nero’s economy of movement is mesmerizing as he fills the frame with his stoically soft and strategic physicality.

The film intentionally leaves little to the imagination. The violence is projected right on screen, forcing the audience to be culprits in the tale of bloody revenge and sacrifice. The shock value of the film, while tame by current standards remain a stark reality of what pushing cinematic boundaries used to be. The film is not self righteous or heavy handed in its messaging. It is solely an entertaining film that operates in extreme shades of grey that tiers off its villains, uniting its world to overcome the overarching villain of oppression coddled by greed.

Luis Bacalov’s score and title theme, which has populated many Tarantino films and used as the title theme for DJANGO UNCHAINED, is as big a star of the picture as Nero and Corbucci’s visceral brutality towards its characters. The main theme is triumphant and empowering, yet the trials Django has to endure are a combination of wrong place at the wrong time and acting as swift and appropriate justice to those who are on the opposite side of his post Civil War machine gun.

The narrative capsizes in the final act by stripping Django of his ability and forces not only the hero, but the audience as well, into a tense and ultimately rewarding showdown in a graveyard. The film’s ultraviolence and commentary is not for everyone, but one of the purposes of its existence is to invert and pervert the heroes journey. While the viewer is unaware of Django’s previous encounters and misgivings; what is certain is that he’s a force to be reckon with and one of the most dangerous and satisfying lone wolves to be on screen.