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Movie Review: ‘The Wolfpack’

To say that the six brothers profiled in the documentary “The Wolfpack” have had an unusual upbringing is to put it mildly. Raised in near-total isolation in a public housing complex on New York’s Lower East Side — in a run-down apartment that one of the boys compares to a prison, because of their Hare Krishna father’s paranoia about the outside world — the Angulo brothers were rarely allowed outside for most of their young lives.

Ranging in age from 11 to 18 at the time that this remarkable film was shot, the siblings seem to have learned about life from two main sources. First is their mother, who home-schooled them well, judging by how thoughtful, articulate and self-aware they come across on camera. Second is the cache of some 5,000 Hollywood movies that they own, on DVD and VHS. Several of the movies have been lovingly re-created, in home-movie versions of such thrillers as “Reservoir Dogs” and “The Dark Knight,” with the boys casting themselves in all the roles.

If this situation sounds like a recipe for disaster — let alone an invitation to child-abuse charges — “The Wolfpack” will surprise you. Although filmmaker Crystal Moselle tiptoes around the subject of psychological damage — five of the brothers are reportedly no longer on speaking terms with their father — the Angulo boys come across as astonishingly well adjusted, articulate, warm and even forgiving.

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Of course, some seismic shift in the family dynamic had to occur to even make this tender, compassionate and inspirational film portrait possible. In 2010, one brother, Mukunda, then 15, slipped out without his father’s permission, precipitating regular breakouts by the rest of his brothers. It was during one of these unauthorized excursions that Moselle, a first-time feature filmmaker, met and befriended the boys. Oscar, the Angulos’ father, barely appears in the film, coming across as still weirdly reclusive, if chastened.

Much of the film takes place within the four-bedroom apartment where the boys live, though one is shown moving out toward the end. Moselle intercuts footage of the brothers’ filmmaking exploits with one-on-one interviews with the teens and their mother, Susanne, who, since filming was completed, began using her maiden name, Reisenbichler. A daughter, who is developmentally disabled, is largely absent.

The setting of “The Wolfpack” is claustrophobic to be sure, but the space appears larger than it sounds, filled as it is with the boys’ seemingly boundless creative energy. One brother shows off a convincing Batman suit fashioned out of cereal boxes and yoga mats. Movie scripts were transcribed by hand, using the pause button of a remote control to stop the action and write down dialogue.

But in addition to the crazy artistic foment, there is also big, big love in this place.

More than a testament to the power of cinematic storytelling as food for the human spirit, “The Wolfpack” also is a portrait of a family that has had to rely on each other to survive. The circumstances may be extreme. But as becomes obvious during scenes near the end of the film, when the Angulos are shown visiting the beach at Coney Island and an apple orchard, the brothers’ bond is extreme as well.

Despite the nickname the boys chose for themselves — the Wolfpack — they don’t resemble those apex predators at all. In this disturbing yet uplifting true-life fable, they’re much more like exotic, yet oddly hardy, hothouse flowers.

★ ★ ★ ★

R. Contains some coarse language. 89 minutes

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Out of Sight’

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Histories of modern are typically—and rightly—centered in Paris and New York, where museums, collectors and dealers were well established to serve artists. Until 1965, there was no art museum, few collectors of note and even fewer galleries in Los Angeles, Hackman writes.

All this changed in the 1950s and 1960s, when Los Angeles experienced a burst of artistic energy and invention rivaling New York’s burgeoning art scene a half-century earlier. As New York Times art critic Roberta Smith has noted, it was “a euphoric moment,” at a “time when East and West coasts seemed evenly matched.”

“Out of Sight” tells of the quick rise, fall, and rebirth of the L.A. art scene—from the emergence of a small bohemian community in the 1950s to the founding of the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1980— and explains how artists such as Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, and Ken Price reshaped contemporary art. Hackman also explores the ways in which the L.A. art scene reflected the hopes and fears of postwar America—both the self-confidence of an increasingly affluent middle class, and the anxiety produced by violent upheavals at home and abroad. Perhaps most of all, he pays tribute to the city that gave birth to a fascinating and until now overlooked moment in modern art.

Having lived in Los Angeles in the 1970s through 1992, I saw much of this expansion of the Big Orange into a major art center. Hackman quickly filled in the gaps in my knowledge of the art scene. It’s a wonderfully readable account, accessible to the general reader as well as the art specialist.

Los Angeles typically doesn’t get any respect, and the situation was even worse in the 1950s and 1960s when it came to the fine arts, writes William Hackman in “Out of Sight: The Los Angeles Art Scene in the Sixties’ (Other Press, 256 pages, in-text photos, color insert, $27.95).


About the Author

William Hackman, longtime arts journalist and former managing editor for public affairs at the J. Paul Getty Trust, has written extensively about the visual and performing arts. His essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in major American newspapers and magazines, including the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Los Angeles Times. His books include Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for the Art Spaces series (Scala, 2008), and Inside the Getty (J. Paul Getty Trust, 2008). He lives in Los Angeles.

Movie Review: ‘Dope’

Every once in a while, a movie and a moment converge in an uncanny collision of relevance. “Dope,” an exuberant coming-of-age comedy that beguiled audiences at Sundance earlier this year, engages the issues of race, identity and authenticity currently aswirl in the culture much in the way that Ryan Coogler’s 2013 Sundance hit “Fruitvale Station” eerily echoed the Trayvon Martin story that was dominating headlines when it came out.

Granted, “Dope” is much funnier than that sober-minded, fact-based drama, and by design. The story of a self-described geek trying to survive life while nursing an unabashed obsession with skateboards, Japanese manga, the band TV on the Radio and getting into Harvard, this giddy, observant picaresque tale hews more to lighthearted caper flicks and Ferris Bueller-type antics than grim observation of societal ills. And it doesn’t come by way of an audacious newbie, either. “Dope” was written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, best known for the turn-of-the-millennium classics “The Wood” (1999) and “Brown Sugar” (2002).

Famuyiwa’s pedigree surely explains the healthy strain of nostalgia for the African American pop culture that flourished in the 1990s, from hip-hop and rom-coms to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” But despite Famuyiwa’s status as a relative veteran, “Dope” brims with the energy and unbridled brio of someone discovering anew the unabashed pleasure of telling a story that, with meaning and purpose, hits perilously close to the bone.

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Rocking a high-top fade worthy of early Will Smith, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a straight-A student at his high school in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood, where he rolls with his fellow ’90s-nerd friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), reminiscing about the heyday of “Yo! MTV Raps” and trying to avoid the Crips and Bloods who occasionally harass him for his sneakers. When Malcolm meets Nakia (Zoë Kravitz), the sometime girlfriend of a neighborhood tough played by rapper A$AP Rocky, Malcolm becomes infatuated. Seeking her out, he runs afoul of a gang of drug runners, sending him and his crew on a wacky trip to an underworld rife with drugs, guns and mobsters, a journey that will eventually lead them into the darkest nether regions of the digital black market known as the Dark Web.

As frightening and even fatal as that world is, “Dope” is permeated with a sense of resilience and philosophical good humor as Malcolm tries to reconcile his role as a studious Ivy League aspirant with his new, far shadier life. Moore delivers a shy, sweetly disarming performance as the conflicted Malcolm, receiving able support from Revolori and Clemons, who is a revelation as a young lesbian who must regularly attend church so her relatives can “pray away the gay.” The fact that Diggy joins in on the movie’s lusty male gaze doesn’t do much to soften the near-constant allusions to “hoes” and other harsher epithets for women. The film’s male wish fulfillment becomes particularly preposterous when a gorgeous millionaire’s daughter, played by Chanel Iman, throws herself at Malcolm in an MDMA-fueled swoon. Admittedly, that improbable sequence ends in a grossly amusing instance of comeuppance, and Quincy Brown, as her anxiously entitled brother, manages to steal every scene he’s in.

Brown’s character, who has grown up in privilege far from Inglewood’s Bottoms, where Malcolm and his friend are from, is perpetually questioning whether he’s “black enough,” a complicated question having to do with performance, self- presentation and interior narrative that runs through the heart of “Dope.” Such questions of identity aren’t limited to black characters. In a scene reminiscent of last year’s similarly themed “Dear White People,” a white hipster receives an amusingly on-point tutorial on the don’ts and don’ts of using the n-word.

Like its fellow Sundance hit “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” Famuyiwa’s movie is nominally about a pop culture-obsessed teenager navigating friendship and love while worrying about getting into college. But where the African American Earl of that film was reduced to a one-note caricature of “ethnic” comic relief, in “Dope” it’s as if he has been given the visibility, voice and complexity that was otherwise denied him. The climax of the movie is really its penultimate sequence, when Malcolm delivers a soaring soliloquy on perception, reality and the racial assumptions that reduce so many young African American men to toxic media tropes.

Famuyiwa reminds viewers not to believe — or worse, internalize — the hype, and he provides a great deal of cheeky, infectious fun in the process. Put another way, “Dope” is the bomb.

★ ★ ★

R. Contains profanity, drug content, sexuality, nudity and violence involving teens. 103 minutes.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

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Publishers Weekly best-sellers for week ending June 14:


HARDCOVER FICTION

1. “Finders Keepers” by Stephen King (Scribner)

2. “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead)

3. “In the Unlikely Event” by Judy Blume (Knopf)

4. “Radiant Angel” by Nelson Demille (Grand Central Publishing)

5. “All the Single Ladies” by Dorothea Benton Frank (William Morrow)

6. “Dead Ice” by Laurell K. Hamilton (Berkley)

7. “14th Deadly Sin” by James Patterson (Little, Brown)

7. “Memory Man” by David Balducci (Grand Central Publishing)

8. “Piranha” by Clive Cussler and Boyd Morrison (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

9. “Memory Man” by David Balducci (Grand Central Publishing)

10. “Blueprints” by Barbara Delinsky (St. Martin’s Press)

11. “Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster)

12. “Beach Town” by Mary Kay Andrews (St. Martin’s Press)

13. “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press)

14. “Gathering Prey” by John Sandford (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

15. “The Fateful Lightning” by Jeff Shaara (Ballantine)


HARDCOVER NONFICTION

1. “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster)

2. “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up” by Marie Kondo (Ten Speed)

3. “Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: The Real West” by Bill O’Reilly and David Fisher (Henry Holt and Co.)

4. “Triggers” by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter (Crown Business)

5. “Adios, America” by Ann Coulter (Regenry Publishing)

6. “And the Good News Is…“ by Dana Perino (Hachette/Twelve)

7. “The Whole 30” by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

8. “The Road to Character” by David Brooks (Random House)

9. “Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir” by Wednesday Martin (Simon & Schuster)

10. “It’s a Long Story” by Willie Nelson (Little, Brown)

11. “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson (Crown Publishing)

12. “Brain Maker” by David Perlmutter (Little, Brown)

13. “The 22-Day Revolution” by Marco Borges (Penguin/Celebra)

14. “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande (Metropolitan)

15. “American Wife” by Taya Kyle and Jim DeFelice (William Morrow)


MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS

1. “Top Secret Twenty-One” by Janet Evanovich (Bantam)

2. “Zoo” by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge (Little, Brown)

3. “The 6th Extinction” by James Rollins (William Morrow)

4. “Only a Promise” by Mary Balogh (Signet)

5. “Paris Match” by Stuart Woods (Signet)

6. “Four Friends” by Robyn Carr (Mira)

7. “Act of War” by Brad Thor (S&S/Pocket)

8. “Personal” by Lee Child (Dell)

9. “Whiskey Beach” by Nora Roberts (Jove)

10. “The Marriage Season” by Linda Lael Miller (Harlequin HQN)

11. “Ghost Ship” by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown (Berkley)

12. “That Summer Place” by Debbie Macomber, Susan Wiggs and Jill Barnett (Mira)

13. “The Perfect Witness” by Iris Johansen (St. Martin’s Press)

14. “Gina & Emma” by Sherryl Woods (Mira)

15. “O’Hurley’s Return” by Nora Roberts (Harlequin/Silhouette)


TRADE PAPERBACKS

1. “The Martian” by Andy Weir (Crown Publishing)

2. “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai (LB/Back Bay)

3. “Hope to Die” by James Patterson (Grand Central Publishing)

4. “American Sniper” (movie tie-in) by Chris Kyle (William Morrow)

5. “Leaving Time” by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine)

6. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)

7. “The Vacationers” by Emma Straub (Riverhead)

8. “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin Press)

9. “A Work in Progress: A Memoir” by Connor Franta (Atria/Keywords Press)

10. “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (Vintage)

11. “In Real Life” by Joey Graceffa (Atria/Keywords Press)

12. “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman (Moody/Northfield)

13. “Things That Matter” by Charles Krauthammer (Crown Forum)

14. “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng (Penguin)

15. “The Husband’s Secret” by Liane Moriarty (Berkley)

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