Tangerine: Girls gone wild

Tangerine certainly qualifies as a “gender bender” in that its two principal characters, Sin-Dee Rella and Alexandra, are transgender streetwalkers and played, respectively, by transgender actresses Kitana “Kiki” Rodriguez and Mya Taylor in truly show-stopping screen debuts.

Colorfully filmed on the streets of Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, the film follows these boulevard divas as they go about their daily lives in a “slice-of-life” presentation that includes moments of exultant joy and equally exultant pain.

Although the award-winning comedy/drama is bursting with attitude and sass, what’s lacking in director/ producer Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch’s screenplay is a sense of where these characters came from. We know that Sin-Dee has just been sprung from jail and that, of the pair, she’s easily the more volatile than Alexandra. The gals are tough yet tender, and both have clearly been through the mill, but a few hints might have made the proceedings more resonant.

Nevertheless, Baker and Bergoch have populated this landscape with memorable characters and talented actors, including Karren Karagulian as an Armenian cabbie drawn to Alexandra – his being the one character that rates a backstory; Mickey O’Hagan as an addled blonde prostitute Sin-Dee drags along to confront their mutual pimp, Chester (James Ransome); the very funny Ian Edwards, who shares some hilarious exchanges with Sin-Dee; and Hollywood veteran Clu Gulager, as a talky tourist from Oklahoma called “the Cherokee.”

Tangerine opens Friday at a/perture cinema, Winston- Salem and is scheduled to open Aug. 7 at Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema, Greensboro.

A captive audience

The award-winning psychological drama The Stanford Prison Experiment is based on Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s published case study of the project he supervised in the early 1970s, in which students were hired (at $15 a day) to simulate prison life for two weeks, playing either guards or prisoners.

Billy Crudup plays Zimbardo in this provocative yet pretentious film, and his purpose — to study the process of dehumanization and the authoritarian abuses of prisoner and captor alike – don’t seem particularly well thought out in Tim Talbott’s talky screenplay.

Despite some awkward hairstyles and facial hair indicative of the era, the ensemble cast – which includes Tye Sheridan, Ezra Miller, Logan Miller (no relation to Ezra) Michael Angarano and Nelsan Ellis – performs with a collective conviction that keeps the film watchable and, at times, engrossing.

If Zimbardo’s purpose was to simulate the drab, dull monotony of prison life, then director Kyle Patrick Alvarez has mostly succeeded in making a drab, monotonous film. The first act of violence in the experiment erupts in a fashion suggesting the filmmakers realized they’d better throw some action into the mix, likewise Zimbardo’s climactic realization that the experiment has gotten out of control occurs in similarly contrived fashion. The story cries out for a faster, tighter approach. Thus, The Stanford Prison Experiment rates as a missed opportunity. All the elements are there, but their assembly has been compromised.

The Stanford Prison Experiment opens Friday at a/perture cinema, Winston-Salem

Sunset Edge

Filmed entirely on location in North Carolina – much of it in the Piedmont Triad – writer/producer/director Daniel Peddle’s debut feature Sunset Edge is a triumph of imagery over narrative. Surreal, strange and intentionally vague, it is definitely not something of the mainstream.

Much of the film takes place in an abandoned trailer park frequented by a group of aimless teenagers, a setting that evokes a mood of restlessness, underlying tension, and even a hint of simmering menace. The past is gone, yet fraught with fragments of tragic (?) memories; the present is uncertain; and the future, if one even exists, is unknown.

Peddle, who grew up in rural North Carolina and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill, has a great eye for faces. The entire cast of the film is comprised of newcomers: Gilberto Padilla, Jacob Ingle, William Dickerson, Blaine Pugh, Jack Horn, Lilianne Gillenwater, Alex Padilla-Maya and the particularly good Haley McKnight. The world they inhabit may not be a promising one, yet it is a world that has been vividly realized in its own hazy, dream-like way.

Sunset Edge will be screened 7:30 pm Sunday at a/perture cinema, Winston- Salem with filmmaker Daniel Peddle in attendance. (For an exclusive interview with Peddle, see Page 31.) !

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